Recalling Dick Cavett’s ‘Rocky Horror’, BroadwayCon’s Up ‘Periscope’ & Facing The Mad Crowd – Roth & Gerard

EXCLUSIVE: Each week Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres majority owner and president Jordan Roth have an email conversation about the state of the industry, the only stipulation being no holds barred.

ROTH: This weekend, thousands of theater lovers from all over the world will converge at the New York Hilton for the first-ever BroadwayCon. I’ll be there doing a special Saturday edition of #MakingMondays, the interactive artists’ salon I host on Periscope and Facebook Live. I’ve never been to ComicCon, but I do love seeing the Batmen and Yodas on the sidewalks around the Javits Center. I’m hoping to spot a gaggle of Glindas rounding 52nd Street or a Lola lunching with a Dolly and a Dot. But what I’m really hoping for is to experience that sense of Cavett2003community that comes from being with people who love what you love. From Rentheads to Hedheads, fan groups support their shows, their casts and most meaningfully, each other. My first experience with this was producing the Broadway revival of Rocky Horror. The film is well-known for its fan bases, but the show grew its own cult (just as the original, pre-movie version had). Our group adopted the name Idiot Savants after Dick Cavett, playing the Narrator, dubbed them that at one performance of particularly intense audience participation. They made weekly visits to the show, never missing the opportunity to support an understudy going on or an actor’s birthday. One of the leaders of the group, Sabrina, got a tattoo of our logo and told me that people would ask if she’s going to regret it years later when the show is a distant memory. Her answer: “I want to be reminded of this time in my life and what it felt like to be part of this.”

That kind of passion can only happen organically, when a show hits your heart in just the right way. But welcoming it, harnessing it, making the theater a place where people feel they belong — that’s our work, which is what these fresh events like BroadwayCon and Elsie Fest can do for us all. 

GERARD: Well their mettle will be tested if those reports of a Nor’easter heading our way for Saturday prove to be accurate. I’m looking forward to BroadwayCon as well, and I’ll be participating in one panel and moderating another. On Sunday I join several colleagues on a critics’ panel offering a direct confrontation between those who pay for their tickets and the ink-stained kvetches who — depending on your point of view — get to go free or pay by sticking our necks out every day under a tiny billboard called a byline that advertises our names. Perhaps in the spirit of the occasion I’ll dress in a blood-spattered butcher’s apron or as Death in a black hoodie from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, searching for Max von Sydow.

Rodgers & HammersteinOn Saturday I’ll be the interlocutor on a panel concerned with one of yours and my favorite topics, out of town tryouts. We’ll talk about how they’ve changed since the days of “No legs, no laughs, no chance!” made its way from New Haven to Gotham’s chattering classes after the road opening of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first show together (what was that one called again?). And I’ll stick my neck out again by arguing why critics should review those tryouts.

Next subject: I’m so intrigued by your mention of Dick Cavett, the intellectual talk show host who endowed nerdy teens like me with a sense of sophistication to lord over our Johnny Carson-obsessed schoolmates. Tell me a great story about working with the man who tamed both Norman Mailer and John Lennon.

ROTH: I might have to crash the out of town panel and share a word or two about tryouts being reviewed. Or better yet, let’s take that up here next week.

Dick Cavett was — and is — a genius! I remember the first time we all met, on a break in our audition room at casting agent Bernie Telsey. He came in, pulled a chair up to the table with me, Chris Ashley and Jerry Mitchell (our director and choreographer), and we were immediately on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show live! His wit, his turn of phrase, his sly smile, his effortless chat.

For the show, David Rockwell designed a Cavett perch surrounded by audience from which he would hold court, deliver his narration and trade quips with audience members in classic Rocky tradition. And sometimes those hilarious ad libs and stories got us close to going overtime.

We would often see Dick’s wife Carrie Nye strolling the upper aisle towards the end of the show on the way to his dressing room. She was always a vision in all white. Way too classy for the likes of our show.

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