arts 02.2.07

Inside Theater

By George Spelvin

ONE SINGULAR PRODUCER: It's rare these days to see only one producer's name above the title of a Broadway musical, but look at the credits for the current hit revival of "A Chorus Line" and there it is: "Vienna Waits Productions presents…" Vienna who? It's the corporate identity of Broadway power player John Breglio (pictured) — a longtime partner at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison who is making his producing debut. Of course, it's easier to produce a Broadway show when you also represent the rights holders and can cut a lucrative deal with, um, yourself. As the attorney for, among others, the show's conceiver-director-choreographer Michael Bennett, composer Marvin Hamlisch and original producer (the Public Theater), Breglio has kept this project all in the family, even raising the $8 million capitalization from his firm. Quick as you can say "conflict of interest" — Breglio is also a beneficiary of Bennett's estate — the show has recouped after just 18 weeks. Thus he and his firm can now profit from both their investment and the weekly royalties. But I'm confused: with real money to be made, why am I hearing that Breglio is looking to other producers to re-mount the show in London?

ARE THERE WORSE THINGS THEY COULD DO? First, there was the British reality show "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria" which let TV viewers cast the star of a West End revival of The Sound of Music. Now American viewers have been treated to our own multi-part infomercial, "You're the One That I Want" to choose the leads for a Broadway revival of Grease. Plans are underway for a TV competition to cast a UK revival of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. And now comes news that TV One, a fast-growing cable channel aimed at black viewers, has commissioned "David E. Talbert's Backstage," where aspiring actors compete for roles in a touring production of the latest show by prolific playwright/director Talbert (pictured). But here's the twist: the contestants are not vying for the leads; they are going to be the understudies. So what's next — a reality show for theater ushers?

THE GREAT WHITE (OAK) WAY: Grey Gardens may be a Broadway baby now but it got early, crucial support from the Sundance Theater Lab's development program which takes place at the idyllic White Oak Plantation in remote northern Florida. Established 25 years ago by the late philanthropist Howard Gilman, White Oak is located on 7,400 secluded acres (including a 600-acre preserve where exotic animals roam freely). According to those who have been there, it's a paradise that is about as far away from the bustle of New York as you can imagine. Last Sunday, a musical version of The Women of Brewster Place and a new performance piece by Mabou Mines finished 2-week workshops there. Whatever happens next to these shows, you can be sure the artists involved had an amazing time — enjoying good food, luxurious accommodations, a huge rehearsal studio, and best of all, no press or 'chatterati' to second-guess their every move. Meanwhile, keep your eye out for a recent alumnus of the Sundance Lab: Passing Strange, which got rave reviews at Berkeley Rep last fall, comes to the Public Theater in May.

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO? If you're going to Los Angeles between February 10th and March 4th, try to catch Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald (pictured) in one of the seven performances of L.A. Opera's new production of Mahagonny — that is the Brecht & Weill opus, not the Diana Ross movie "Mahogany," although come to think of it, Audra would be fabulous in a musical remake of that, too. (By the way, did you know that LuPone is the great grand-niece of legendary opera singer Adelina Patti?) According to the press materials, director John Doyle, who staged the Broadway revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company, "will deliver a risqué new production as controversial as the original one banned by the Nazis in the 1930s." And for a change, his actors won't also be playing musical instruments when they sing.

AND SPEAKING OF INSTRUMENTS: Remember that huge fuss the Broadway musicians union made a few years back about producers using synthesizers and other computerized machines to replace live players? I wonder if we will hear similar complaints now that one of the major licensors of Broadway musicals is launching two new products which will allow schools and regional/community theaters to do just that. R&H Theatricals, a division of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, has teamed up with Realtime Music Solutions to offer InstrumentalEase and AccompanEase — computerized keyboards that can supplement a small band by playing any (or all) of the other parts. "The classic musicals we represent were written for acoustic orchestras," says R&H President Ted Chapin (pictured). "The simple fact is that a 25+ piece orchestra is simply not always available today." The first five titles in the R&H library to be available through this service are Annie Get Your Gun, Cinderella, Joseph…, Once Upon a Mattress, and The Sound of Music.

JUST ASKING: How many straight men do you think will attend the February 28th Singles Night on Broadway — the latest audience development scheme from the League of American Theatres and Producers? Maybe they should have a "Bi-Curious Night" instead? It would certainly give added meaning to those attending I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.

cbgb september 2006

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