EXCLUSIVE: Shubert Organization chairman and CEO Philip J. Smith confirmed the deal by Broadway’s biggest landlord to purchase New World Stages, an off-Broadway complex on West 50th Street just outside the Broadway theater district. “I would say, ‘Yes, it it’s going to happen,’ ” Smith told Deadline.com when asked about a report in the New York Times speculating on the sale. “I can’t say when, but it will happen.” He declined to say how much Shubert would pay for New World.
Comprising five grotto houses ranging in size from 199 to 499 seats, New World is owned by Dutch entertainment mogul Joop van den Ende’s Stage Entertainment, currently lead producer of the musical Rocky, which is set to close in August at the Shubert-owned Winter Garden Theatre. Van den Ende’s involvement in New Workd goes back to a co-production arrangement his former company, Endemol, had with New York-based Dodger Theatricals. It was the Dodgers who took over the former discount-movie theaters after they went out of business in 2001. The Dodgers spent $23 million converting the space into a “theater mall” with a total of more than 1,900 seats, three bars and more restroom space than many Broadway theaters.
Since then, the Dodgers’ fortunes have improved vastly with global hits including Jersey Boys. And New World Stages has become a kind of Broadway retirement home where shows that have worn out their welcome in the larger, costlier evirons up the street can enjoy a profitable afterlife. Avenue Q is the best example of a show that was able to continue at New World when it no longer could sustain a Broadway run, along with Peter And The Starcatcher and Million Dollar Quartet. Budget-conscious producers, cognizant of the vastly reduced labor costs of producing outside Broadway’s Production Code contract, have also originated work at New World, with shows like the currently running Heathers and the pop-sci-fi-enviro hit The Toxic Avenger. Jackie Mason and Mandy Patinkin have both performed there.
Shubert owns 17 of the 40 designated Broadway houses; its main competitors are the Nederlander Organization, with nine houses, and Jujamcyn Theatres, with five (the others are independently owned). The Shuberts have a mixed record off-Broadway: In the early 1990s, the company partnered with manager Ben Sprecher to refurbish Variety Photoplay, a former nickelodeon and porno house in the East Village, reopening it as the Variety Arts Theatre; it flopped as a commercial venture and was torn down in 2005.
Then Shubert decided to build an off-Broadway house of its own: The 499-seat Little Shubert opened in 2002 at the base of a residential tower on West 42nd Street. While that stretch of real estate has seen significant growth in nonprofit theater activity with the home bases pf Playwrights Horizons and the Pershing Square Signature Center, as well as the off-off-Broadway complex called Theatre Row, the Little Shubert has struggled to find first-class bookings and is often dark.
Shubert also has a long history of investing in off-Broadway productions such as Little Shop Of Horrors. And by another measure, Shubert is the most active off-Broadway producer in the country: The Shubert Foundation, which is the nonprofit parent company of the theater-owning group, gives millions annually to the country’s most important nonprofit theaters, including, in New York, the Public ($230,000), Lincoln Center Theater ($300,000), the Roundabout Theatre Company ($235,000), Manhattan Theatre Club ($240,000), Playwrights Horizons ($265,000), and others, including the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles ($185,000) and the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego ($160,000). Many of those theaters have become the de facto tryout venues for Broadway-bound plays and musicals — not a few of which end up in Shubert-owned houses.