Got a craving for Stew?

I saw Passing Strange on Wednesday night.

If you like Stew, and you want to see him in concert, then you will love this show.

You should also see this show if you think only commercial stuff that appeals to the masses gets produced on Broadway.

Because it’s not true.

Non-commercial stuff gets produced all the time (and thank God we have “Patron of the Arts” Producers like the ones above the title on Passing Strange that are in a position to push our manila envelope).

The non-commercial stuff usually just doesn’t run or recoup.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as you and your investors know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Establish expectations early.  Then if you exceed them and actually return money, it’ll be like finding a $20 bill in you pocket after doing the laundry.

There are zillions of reasons to produce shows that are exceptionally high risk and “non-commercial”:  commitment to the arts, possible Tony Awards, and so on.

My favorite reason for doing something that may not be the next Mamma-Mia is to develop and foster relationships with creatives, something I urge all young Producers to do.

Produce the plays of the passionate people around you.  Your peers are the playwrights of tomorrow, even if their plays of today may not be taking home Pulitzers.  But what about the one they haven’t even thought of yet?

And here’s a wonderful fact about human nature:  reciprocity works.  Do something for someone today, and they’ll be inclined to do something for you tomorrow, especially if you took a risk when no one else would . . . and lost.

My favorite example of this concept is the birth of one of the youngest producing houses on Broadway in the last few decades:  The Araca Group.

One of Araca’s first plays was called Skyscraper.  Cost them $30k and they lost it.

However, It was also the first play by David Auburn.

When David Auburn was at the Fringe Festival being wowed by a small musical, guess who he called first, before the show was even over!

“David called me at intermission and said, ‘You must come and see this show,'” Michael Rego recalled.  So they did.  Within months, they had secured the rights to Urinetown . . .
– New York Times

Careers begin, like life, with relationships.  It’s no coincidence that the Altar Boyz creative team consists of a guy I shared a room with in summer stock, a guy I shared a show with at the former Ford Center, and two guys I shared a tour with in 2000.

I got lucky. My first one paid off.  The people behind Passing Strange most likely won’t be so lucky.

But that’s ok.  They know the why they’re doing it.  And since one of the lead Producers is the owner of the theater, they have a little more control over one of Broadway’s biggest weekly expenses: rent.

Read the full story about the birth of Araca here.

Click below to see my favorite example of producing a show for a relationship in the last decade here.

But before you do . . . guess what the show was.

Click here as you think.

Click here for the results

BREAKING NEWS:  I wrote this blog last night, before Isherwood’s rave in the Times this morning.  It will be interesting to see if this review has an effect on the show’s financial and commercial viability.  Anyone want to take any bets?


  • RLewis says:

    Anyone want to take any bets? Yes, it will have an effect – a bad review and it would close next week, but this, and I loved the show, will keep it open until the Tonys, but not long after that.

  • BT says:

    I admire anyone or any group that perseveres and works hard enough to complete any creative endeavor. And this show took a lot of work.
    But the additional coverage (the NYT did TWO positive articles when PS was at the Public, which makes me wonder who knows who, etc.) will just give it a short bump.
    I can remember precisely TWO bars of music from this show (“AMSTERDAM! AMSTERDAM!”). Meanwhile I can still hear the stupid opening guitar riff from “Top Gun”.. something like 20 years later.
    Commercially viable (on Broadway)? No. Worth seeing? At $110?
    I could see PS being a fun “party”/drinking show running at the Zipper. But not for $110.

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