Broadway Follies: Gerard & Roth On ‘Amazing Grace’, Long Shots And ‘Significant Other’

Jeremy Gerard has covered the evolving fortunes of Jujamcyn Theatres since it became a formidable competitor to the larger Shubert and Nederlander organizations in the late 1980s. In 2013 producer Jordan Roth became Jujamcyn’s majority owner and the Street’s youngest power broker. In this ongoing conversation they talk about the state of the industry — the only stipulation being no holds barred.

GERARD: Shortly before I left for vacation, Amazing Grace opened at the Nederlander Theatre. Most of my colleagues and I agreed that however noble its intentions, Amazing Grace is a very bad show that never should have opened in its present state on a Broadway stage. Not surprisingly, it’s bleeding cash and tickets are going, on average, at the fire-sale rate of $56.82. With a large cast, lots of moving scenery and a full orchestra, it’s a big musical that can’t cover its running costs, let alone recoup the astonishing $16.4 million its devoted producers raised to bring it in. Sure, every show is a gamble, but in this case, I can’t help but wonder what those producers were thinking.

Killing The UnicornROTH: That’s the amazing thing about producers: They believe. They are often the very first to believe in a piece when it’s just a germ of an idea or a writer’s first draft, and they are the very last to believe when everyone else has accepted the end. Without that belief, no show would ever be produced. Given how hard they are to make, given how many elements need to come together in just the right way, given how expensive they are to mount and run, given how dismal the success rate is, only a person of faith would set out to produce a show. And amen to them all.

I haven’t seen Amazing Grace yet, so I can’t speak to its merits. But on any show where you might ask “what were they thinking?” keep in mind, first, that no one sets out to make a bad show. And then know that stopping a show once it’s on course is one of the hardest and least often made decisions a producer can make. We made that decision with The Mambo Kings over 10 years ago and it still stings. More often than not, the years and money and love already invested in developing a show don’t register as sunk costs to ignore but rather as emotional fuel to keep going. Not always a bad thing as every show at some point has looked like a lost cause. But it’s easy to judge once the curtain comes down.

New topic… Last night I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I saw a play — Significant Other, at the Roundabout — for no other reason than I wanted to see it. I wasn’t there to vote on it or to evaluate its future potential. There were no stakes for me. And it was wonderful! That’s why I’m in this business, why most of us are Barbara Barrie— because just going to the theater was wonderful. And that’s what our audience feels. No agenda, just the hope of a transporting or illuminating or joyful experience. I love that going to the theater is part of my job, but now that it is, I realize I have to be deliberate about staying connected to that wonderful, fighting for it and making space for it.

GERARD: Well yes, we agree, though possibly for different reasons. I liked a great deal of Joshua Harmon’s writing, especially the big Act II barn-burner speech. But I treasured Barbara Barrie’s performance, which reminded me that one of the great rewards of being around as long as I have been is seeing great actors in great roles over the span of a lifetime or career.

ROTH:  You see so much theater as part of your job, always watching to evaluate and articulate a critical opinion, what’s your way of staying connected to the wonderful, just for the joy of it?

GERARD: You referred earlier to the dismal odds against success on Broadway. I’ve been seeing shows more nights than not since the mid-1970s professionally and as a stagestruck kid for a decade before that, so I’m pretty familiar with the odds. Still, every night I think I’m going to see the best show ever. When I lose that optimism, I guess it’ll be time to turn in my quill.

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