Candy Spelling is in New York this week, promoting her latest autobiography Candy At Last and checking in on the fourth Broadway show she’s taken on, following Promises, Promises; How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Nice Work If You Can Get It. Her current show is After Midnight, which started out as an Encores! concert at City Center and features Wynton Marsalis’s Jazz At Lincoln Center All-Stars playing the music of Duke Ellington and others, in a setting reminiscent of the Cotton Club.
“I grew up loving jazz, and I wanted to be Fred Astaire when I was a little girl,” she says. In this case, she also wanted to work with After Midnight’s vast phalanx of producers led by veterans Scott Sanders and Roy Furman. “Doing this one took me beyond what I’ve done before,” Spelling told me. “I wanted to be part of really producing it. Any time you invest in anything, it’s a risk, and each producer has a different style. They were very welcoming — Scott really makes it a family.”
Spelling said she’s been to every opening with a new headliner. k.d. Lang had special impact. “She really enjoyed doing the show,” she said, “but k.d. was really scared. Like me, she’s a very shy person.” You read it here first.
Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband and producing partner Dan Palladino say don’t be surprised if you see them in sandwich boards around Times Square, hawking their first Broadway venture, Violet. It stars Sutton Foster in the title role, a young woman who was disfigured in a childhood accident and travels by bus across the south in the hope that a TV evangelist will make her beautiful. It’s about as far from Reno Sweeney, the role Foster played in a lauded revival of Anything Goes, as anything gets. In fact, it’s closer in scale and tone to Michelle Simms, the ballerina-turned-Vegas showgirl-turned-small-town widow and dance teacher in Bunheads. That’s the series Amy co-created with Lamar Damon, which won a culty following on the ABC Family channel and was canceled after 18 episodes in 2013.
“We’re complete neophytes at this,” Amy confessed during my conversation with the couple, who recently relocated from L.A. to Brooklyn. “We’re stalker fans of Sutton, and when we saw the show at City Center [where it was presented last summer as a one-night-only semi-staged concert] we went to CAA and told them we would do anything to be a part of it going to Broadway.”
As it turned out the Roundabout Theatre Company, a nonprofit that operates three Broadway houses, had a slot for it but not the $4 million it would cost to present it. Foster had given the Roundabout a huge hit with Anything Goes, and artistic director Todd Haimes was eager to bring her back. He told the Palladinos that if they could raise $1.5 million in “enhancement funds” — that’s nonprofit for “money” — he would mount the show. “I thought Violet would be a huge hit when I first saw it in 1997 at Playwrights Horizons, but it wasn’t,” Haimes recalled. “Then I saw it with Sutton last summer at City Center and of course she was fantastic.” The Palladinos were joined by active Broadway investors Ted and Mary Jo Shen, Fran and Barry Weissler and Toronto’s David Mirvish. The Roundabout ponied up $2.5 million.
Because of the Playwrights Horizons run 17 years ago, the show is up for best musical revival in the Tony race. That’s unfortunate, because it’s the best musical around and it’s struggling to fill the seats at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre on West 42nd Street. The Palladinos and their pals probably won’t see any of their money back unless a miracle happens worthy of the one Violet seeks. (Better promotion would help: Is there a worse visual for any Broadway show today? Maybe Joe Allen needs a new wall just for flop posters.)
But don’t rain on the Palladino parade. “We went to the dress rehearsal for the concert and were just blown away by Sutton and by Jeanine Tesori’s music,” Dan said. The Palladinos are writers – their previous show had been The Gilmore Girls – and they weren’t shy about asking if they could sit in on rehearsals for the Broadway transfer. That took some persuading with director Leigh Silverman and the other creatives, but they got in. Hog heaven.
“This is our first show and who knows? It may be our last,” Amy said, with something between a laugh and a bark. I love her company’s name, btw. It’s Dorothy Parker Drank Here Pdns. “We think we upped the ante for this show,” she added. She’s the talker. “We’re in a a business where your’e always lamenting the fact that the small and delicate gets shoved aside. This was a chance to champion the kind of work we support. It’s not an artsy-fartsy show. It’s just human.” OK, I’ll tell you this one more time: Don’t miss Violet.