Road Co. breaks out of Off Broadway

Legit booker touting prod'ns beyond Gotham

CHICAGO — When Diana Martinez, executive director of the Paramount Theater in Aurora, Ill., wanted to expand the legit offerings at her suburban Chicago venue for 2002-03, she looked at the roster of product being offered by the Road Co. And she booked most of it.

“They had a lot of affordable shows,” says Martinez, “which also are the kinds of things we want to do.”

Martinez’s venue — an old movie palace looking to raise its profile but lacking deep pockets or an affiliation with Clear Channel Entertainment — is prime prey for the Road Co., a booker that this season is breaking out of its self-created Off Broadway ghetto and touting Broadway product such as “The Graduate” and “Man of La Mancha.”

“People always have looked at us (as) the Off Broadway guys,” says Steven Lindsay, who founded the shop with partner Brett Sirotta, a fellow veteran of the Booking Group. “But now we’re taking on some of the more high-profile shows.”

One could argue the critically maligned “The Graduate” (especially when shorn of star power) is a good notch below first-tier road fare and the kind of show that will struggle in major subscription markets, especially after reviews are out. But the show consistently has exceeded box office expectations, and Sirotta insists there’s heavy demand for it.

Either way, with two ongoing companies of “The Vagina Monologues” on offer for the urban fringe crowd and the besweatered, sexy-but-safe illusionist David Copperfield for sale to urban auds, the Road Co. is looking well diversified. Willing to be tacky where tacky sells, it’s even shopping the singalong version of “The Wizard of Oz” (an attempt to cash in on the success of “The Singalong Sound of Music”).

Sirotta says most of this product has come their way as a result of the partners’ histories with a lot of people over the years. The shop’s staff has doubled in size over the last couple of years, and the Road Co. appears to have blossomed from its identity as a company that does not exist to push the work of a particular producer, but rather is willing to work with a diverse slate of independents ranging from redoubtable Gotham producer David Stone to Chicago “Late Night Catechism” entrepreneur Vicki Quade.

There’s also a hefty slate of nonunion Road Co. fare designed to compete with the offerings of networks. The main competish — William Morris, Columbia Artists Management and (Sirotta and Lindsay’s old employers) the Booking Group — still are far bigger and more prestigious. And some of the Road Co.’s shows, such as “Tribe,” never have lived up to their hype.

But presenters like Martinez, as well as small independent producers like Kelly Leonard of Second City Theatricals, say they find the likable duo who make up the Road Co. ready and willing to make individually tailored deals with venues and producers who might otherwise not get phone calls returned.

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