Elephant Eye trunks money

Producing org obtains $8 million in funds

NEW YORK — It’s all systems go for Elephant Eye Theatrical.

Devoted to developing new book musicals, the legit producing org, an unusual initiative that partners 12 nonprofits and three commercial presenting orgs, has just achieved its total capitalization of $8 million, including $4.5 million coming from private investment.

Even before all the coin fell into place, Elephant Eye had an ambitious slate in its sights, with an already-announced Broadway-bound version of “The Addams Family” on the way and a Rialto-aimed tuner inspired by the life of Bruce Lee percolating, among others.

Formed in late 2005, Elephant Eye is led by CEO Stuart Oken and prexy Michael Leavitt, along with Five Cent Prods., a coalition of five regional nonprofits led by the Bushnell in Hartford, Conn.

“Elephant Eye is really a content company, but it’s a shift in paradigm,” Oken says.

Adds Leavitt: “Usually, you’re going a show at a time. This is a corporation, not a show. What’s created here is an opportunity to take the necessary time for development. Because the money is there, we’re not running around fund-raising.”

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Besides the Five Cent theaters, Elephant Eye also is affiliated with seven nonprofits spread among Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia and New York state. Commercial presenters onboard are Broadway in Chicago, Toronto-based Dancap Prods. and Korean entertainment org Starmax.

“This is a chance for us and for them to spread the risk among a number of projects,” Oken says.

The initial Gotham outing for Elephant Eye is “Saved,” a new tuner based on the 2004 indie teen movie set in a Christian fundamentalist high school, with songs by frequent Civilians collaborator Michael Friedman and book by John Dempsey (“The Witches of Eastwick”) and Rinne Groff (“The Ruby Sunrise”). Gary Griffin (“The Color Purple”) directs the preem, set to open next spring at Playwrights Horizons, which produces the show in association with Elephant Eye.

Aiming to bow out of town before arriving on the Rialto during the 2009-10 season, “The Addams Family” matches book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys”) with composer Andrew Lippa (“The Wild Party”) for a tuner adaptation of Charles Addams’ famous cartoon clan. Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the creatives behind the comically macabre “Shockheaded Peter” that played Off Broadway, direct and design.

Further out, David Yazbek (“The Full Monty,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) will compose the tunes for “Bruce Lee: Journey to the West,” which intertwines the story of chopsocky legend Lee with the Chinese warrior god known as the Monkey King. (David Bowie had earlier been rumored to be attached.) Bartlett Sher (“The Light in the Piazza”) helms the show, which, according to the current Elephant Eye timeline, will arrive on Broadway during the 2010-11 season after one or more tryouts.

Talks also are ongoing about involvement in “The Boys Are Coming Home,” a post-WWII update of “Much Ado About Nothing” from book writer Rebecca Gilman (“Spinning Into Butter”) and tunesmith Leslie Arden (“The House of Martin Guerre”). David Petrarca directs the show, already set to play Chicago’s Goodman Theater next summer.

In the deal with the presenters, Elephant Eye is not obligated to have tryouts at a member theater, nor is any show required to tour.

“Of course, if we do tour, we’re going to try to route in a way that brings our shows to them quicker,” Oken says. “And because we have 15 markets that have equity in a show, they are more likely to encourage a show to tour, and then we all have a better chance of recouping our money on a middling success.”

With offices in Chicago and Gotham, Elephant Eye will aim to create event musicals (“Addams” and “Lee”) as well as more intimately scaled tuners (“Saved”). Potential future projects include a tuner set in the 1960s from Sheryl Crow, Taylor Hackford and Margaret Nagle (“Side Order of Life”), plus “Beauty Sleeping,” a musical from Jeanine Tesori, Tina Landau and Michael Korie based on Landau’s play “Beauty.”

“It only takes one hit to put a company on the map,” Oken says.

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