Even in these tough times, Howard Panter has big plans for Broadway.
The Brit co-founder of Ambassador Theater Group, the producing org and owner of 23 U.K. venues, has two spring productions on the Rialto sked: the upcoming remount of “Guys and Dolls” and a revival of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” starring Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon.
And despite a gloomy economic climate, that’s just the start of the ambitious list of projects he’s targeting for Gotham — including a handful of productions and a possible new theater space.
He acknowledges that these days, money for new projects is harder to come by. “I’ve noticed a flight of investors from the Broadway scene,” he says.
But partly by bringing in coin from his contacts around the world, he’s hoping to push forward with globe-spanning aspirations to expand intercontinental legit traffic beyond the well-worn path between Gotham and London.
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“The majority of money for ‘Guys and Dolls’ has come from outside the U.S,” he says. “Every other industry has an international, global dynamic, but theater sometimes doesn’t. It seems to me a shame.”
Among the offerings Panter has on tap:
- A new staging of Frank Loesser’s 1956 tuner “The Most Happy Fella,” helmed by Casey Nicholaw (“The Drowsy Chaperone”);
- A New York incarnation of “Elling,” Simon Bent’s adaptation of a 2001 Swedish pic about a pair of socially stunted roommates. The show, which played in London in 2007, would be directed in Gotham by Doug Hughes (“Doubt”);
- A Rialto transfer of the stripped-down London revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Sunset Boulevard,” in an actors-as-orchestra staging by Craig Revel Horwood; and
- A potential Gotham berth for the recent West End production of Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig.”
That’s in addition to Panter’s search for a building he could turn into a two-theater legit complex.
The seemingly sudden spate of New York activity for Panter, who runs ATG with his wife, Rosemary Squire, is partly an accident of timing, he says, and partly the result of having opened an Ambassador office in New York during the last year.
First up in Gotham is “Guys and Dolls,” opening at the extensively renovated Nederlander Theater March 1. This “Guys and Dolls” is not the same production as Michael Grandage’s hit Donmar Warehouse incarnation, which Panter also produced on the West End and in Australia.
If there’s a juicy reason behind why the Donmar version isn’t coming Stateside, no one’s talking. The switchup, which came after months of casting rumors that ultimately came to nothing, is attributed to scheduling concerns and availability of talent, including Grandage.
For the New York incarnation, Des McAnuff helms a cast topped by Oliver Platt, Lauren Graham, Craig Bierko and Kate Jennings Grant.
McAnuff comes to Loesser’s “Guys” after staging a hit Broadway production of the composer’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” in 1994. Panter has known McAnuff since he produced “Pump Boys and Dinettes” — an early offering of Dodger Theatricals, with which McAnuff is affiliated — in London in the 1980s. Loesser’s widow and keeper of the estate, Jo Loesser, liked McAnuff’s work on “How to Succeed.”
The revival is capitalized at $9.5 million, and advance sales look solid, with daily ticket revenue in the $100,000-plus range, according to Panter.
Meanwhile, “Exit the King,” opening March 26 at the Barrymore Theater, comes to New York after preeming in Australia in 2007 with Rush in the title role. Neil Armfield, who adapted the script with Rush, directs a cast that also includes Lauren Ambrose and Andrea Martin.
The other projects on the list have no definite timelines yet, although Panter says he hopes to get “Elling” to Gotham this year.
The Ambassador’s New York outpost — also shared by Sonia Friedman Prods. (“Boeing-Boeing,” “The Seagull”), a creatively independent subsidiary of ATG — will aim to bolster the company’s North American presence.
“It struck me that if we’re an international company, which we are, we should have an import/export office in New York,” he says. “Because then we’re really plugged in. We’re developing work here, we’re bringing stuff over from London.”
The New York activity reps an extension of ATG’s influential presence in the U.K. “What ATG has managed to do is embrace producing as well as owning theaters,” Friedman says. “It’s got a much broader and wider influence.”
Ambassador also has developed strong roots in Oz. In addition to “King” and “Guys and Dolls,” it has productions of “West Side Story” and “The Rocky Horror Show,” plus “Elling” with Sydney Theater Company. ATG also transferred Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Sydney production of “Riflemind,” by STC co-topper Andrew Upton, to London for a short-lived season late last year.
Now that Panter has staked out plans to become similarly prolific in Gotham, it seems logical to ask about his theater-owning ambitions in New York — even if Rialto real estate doesn’t look likely to come up for grabs soon.
Panter is exploring the possibility of setting up an entirely new complex, with a couple of theaters that could serve as home bases for the companies with which he’s developed ties. They include New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company (of which Hoffman is a co-artistic director) and London’s Menier Chocolate Factory.
“We are actually looking at other buildings around New York and hoping to find a place which would be an international home for LAB, for Sydney Theater Company’s work, for Chocolate Factory work, for our work,” he says.
Panter eschews Broadway or Off Broadway classifications when discussing the size of the two new spaces he imagines. “One would be big enough to make money, and the second would be big enough to make things work which deserve to work, and may have a future life,” he says.
Regardless of whether those new theaters materialize, Panter is nonetheless holding onto his vision of a newly globalized legit industry.
“If someone’s got an idea, we can produce it in New York, London, Sydney, Tokyo,” he says.