EXCLUSIVE: Times Square is teeming this week with out-of-town producers who descend each year in the weeks before the Tony Awards to see shows and sit through seminars run by people who think they know their business better than denizens of the flyover. They’re an important block among the 860 Tony voters and courting them during the confab, run by the Broadway League, runs hot and heavy. Jon Stewart and Tommy Tune made heartfelt keynote speeches; producers worked the crowd. None more avidly, even passionately, than Scott Rudin, whose powerful production of A Raisin In The Sun – starring, as you may have heard, Denzel Washington — is in the running for Best Revival of a Play. If you’ve seen those ubiquitous ads for The Book Of Mormon, you know that Rudin goes his own way in promoting his shows; Raisin is no exception.
This week, the visiting producers began receiving what ticket buyers will have on offer starting next week: The first-ever digital souvenir booklet for a show. Instead of a cheesy oversize booklet, they’ll get a pocketable flash drive with a 68-page program. I have it (Tony voters will also be getting it next week, gratis) and it’s exquisite.
The Raisin presentation includes photos, both archival and from the production, along with extensive interviews with the entire company, plenty of commentary from Washington on the play and on his colleagues, and essays on the significance of Lorraine Hansberry’s accomplishment by such luminaries as novelist Jeffrey Eugenides and Veep executive producer Frank Rich.
“We felt we couldn’t do what we wanted to do in a short printed book,” Rudin told me. “We wanted the amount of content that the play demanded and this satisfied that. We also felt that the audience receives information differently than they ever have, and that with a few rare exceptions, most sophisticated theatregoers would rather take home a USB key they can put in their pockets instead of a printed book of an inconvenient size and minimal content. I hope we’ll do this for everything now. It’s got wonderful material — why would we ever now do anything else?”
So: Rocky may have the championship fight, but Raisin has the knockout. And look for another one this fall, when A Delicate Balance brings Glenn Close back to Broadway. No word from Rudin on whether a digital booklet is in the works for Mormon.
Of course, the major buzz during the conference is speculation on who’ll win the big Tonys. Here’s a secret: After talking to a bunch of voters, I’m betting that Best Musical will go to Disney’s Aladdin. Why? Because the visitors are coming away from all four contenders – Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder and After Midnight – well-entertained indeed. But Disney is in the unusual position of critical underdog in this race — while the producers are having a great time and hearing the ka-ching! of robust ticket sales for a surefire, pre-branded, family-friendly hit that will do spectacular business on the road. So don’t be surprised if you see a very happy Tom Schumacher making his way to the podium at Radio City Music Hall late in the evening on June 8.
Anne Archer is behind The Trial Of Jane Fonda, a new play by her husband, veteran producer Terry Jastrow, about Fonda’s still-fisticuff-inciting antiwar activities during the Vietnam era. Archer will be unveiling the play this summer — not in LA, New York or London, but at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe, the raffish event best known as the launching pad for a very young Tom Stoppard and his first play, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. The show will run July 30-August 24. “The Edinburgh Fringe is the perfect place to introduce a new play and let it breathe,” she told me when I asked why she picked such an out-of-the-way venue. “It’s an opportunity for The Trial Of Jane Fonda to be seen by theater producers and artistic directors from around the world, informing us of the next best steps for such an explosive piece of theater.” While Fonda consulted on the play’s development, Archer said, she has no creative input or veto power and hasn’t read or seen the play.