Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres majority owner and president Jordan Roth talk about the state of the industry, the only stipulation being no holds barred.
GERARD: I have two things on my mind for our discussion this week, Jordan. First: In the last up, first to go category, was Nerds, a long-aborning musical about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that just a few weeks ago was given an opening date at the end of the season at the Longacre Theatre, and was in rehearsal when we got an “Oh, never mind” email saying the show had been nixed. Word was that a key investor had dropped out. I didn’t see the original production of the show but I do know the writers are a talented duo — their The Bombity Of Errors was terrific — who have been riding a roller coaster to Broadway for more than five years and were devastated by the neck-twisting, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t turn of events. Something smells fishy here, though — especially as grumblings grow louder in these precincts that the show’s creditors have been left with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. Maybe you can explain how a show can be as far along as in rehearsal without its capitalization securely in place? Shades of Rebecca!
Second: I had a long and entertaining talk the other day with producer Jean Doumanian and Tim Levy, who runs the National Theatre office over here. Jean is excited because her film adaptation of Blackbird — currently being given a superb revival on Broadway with Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams — is finished. The Benedict Andrews film is retitled Una and stars Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelssohn and is making the rounds of international festivals. Levy just announced the September closing of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time after a smashing run at the Barrymore. Now Doumanian and Levy have just opened Lucy Prebbles’ The Effect downtown at the tiny Barrow Street Theatre — I think it’s about 199 seats — marking the NT’s first commercial off-Broadway venture. Prebbles is the author of Enron, which was a hit in London but a flop on Broadway. The Effect is a much smaller-scaled play about medical ethics and romance under the influence (in this case, under the influence of an experimental anti-depressant).
I thought The Effect was less than successful — notwithstanding an attractive cast and production, there are enough plot-holes to fill a Manhattan side-street in springtime. More to the point here, however, is that there’s been a lot of talk lately about the demise of commercial off-Broadway because of its limited potential for profit. So I found it extremely encouraging that a big operation like the National Theatre is adding commercial off-Broadway to its ventures on our side of the pond. So: Augur or anomaly?
ROTH: On the first: The writers of Nerds are actually a terrifically talented trio. In addition to Jordan Allen-Dutton and Erik Weiner’s hilarious and heartfelt words, the joyous and infectious music is by Hal Goldberg, who in addition to being a gifted composer is our Vice President of Theatre Operations at Jujamcyn, expertly overseeing all of our theatre teams. It’s a heartbreaking turn of events for them and everyone who was putting so much love into this show, as well as for all of us who will have to wait to see it on Broadway. It deserves to be here.
While I can’t speak to the economic specifics of this show, it is not very unusual for producers to be accepting investments during rehearsals and even into previews. Capitalization papers generally have to be closed before opening night, but not necessarily before. The decision to move forward in that case then is a calculated risk that there’s enough money already in the bank and more than enough commitments, real prospects and back-up plans to cover the rest. I say more than enough because the frustrating reality of raising money — for anything, not just theater — is that there’s always a drop-off between the amount of money people may say they’re putting in and the amount they actually do.
On the second: Unfortunately, I say anomaly. With Our Town, Tribes, No Child and The Flick, Barrow Street, led by Scott Morfee and Tom Wirtshafter, has had a uniquely strong track record for many years now that others haven’t been able to replicate: Long, profitable runs that defied the more typical trend of commercial off-Broadway doldrums. Jean Doumanian has produced many of these hits with them, and David Cromer has directed many including The Effect. This talented team, now joined by the National, has figured it out — great taste, great work, great artists, great economics. That last one may be a big part of why many others haven’t been able to follow. As both theater landlord and producer, Barrow Street is in a unique position to create those great economics.