Podcast Episode 197: No “Ordinary” Composer/Lyricist, Mr. Adam Gwon

One of the super fun parts about being in this biz for a bit is that you get to watch the careers of folks you admire go from someone that no one is talking about to someone that everyone is talking about.

And that someone is today’s guest, Mr. Adam Gwon, who broke through with his musical, Ordinary Days and is about to open Scotland, PA at the Roundabout Theater (which I’m proud to be helping along the way).

Adam is on everyone’s “watch list,” like a financial advisor might be watching a stock, just waiting for it to turn into the next Apple.

We sat down with only a microphone between us to talk about his status as a writer-to-watch, as well as . . .

  • How he transitioned from writing 3-minute songs to 3-hour musicals.
  • Choosing a collaborator:  The true story of the “3 blind dates” he went on before he made the choice to write Scotland, PA with Michael Mitnick.
  • How not having an answer to a question led him to create Ordinary Days.
  • Does Broadway mean you’re a success AKA what it’s like to still be “emerging” despite being produced all over the world?
  • What it’s like being a Tony Award Nominator

Enjoy the podcast, and then, go enjoy Scotland, PA, currently in previews NOW!

  • Click here to listen on our site!
  • Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review while you’re there!)
  • Download it here.

This week’s #SongwriterOfTheWeek is Anna Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson!  Check out “I Want To Choose” from their musical TEETH at the end of this episode. If you enjoyed the outro music in this episode, go on over to www.annakjacobs.com/ & www.thelivingmichaeljackson.com for more tunes.

This week’s episode is brought to you by TERRY KNICKERBOCKER STUDIO. Terry Knickerbocker Studio offers a two-year acting conservatory, workshops, studio rentals, one-on-one coaching, beginner acting classes, and the best actor training in New York, period. While the conservatory training is based on the Meisner Technique, Terry Knickerbocker Studio offers a holistic approach to actor training with a commitment to nurturing the total actor: Mind, Body, and Soul. For more information, please visit www.TerryKnickerbockerStudio.com.

TREND ALERT: Is the new model for musical revivals on Broadway NOT to be on Broadway?

This past season there were only two musical revivals on Broadway.  And one of the duo was produced by a non-profit.

And next season, I only see one comin’ . . .

Why the sudden lack?  Are we running out of musicals to revive?  Are they so reliant on stars that they’re becoming more difficult to cast?  Is their limited shelf life not as attractive to a theater owner compared to a new musical?  Are Producers shying away from revivals because they’ve just become harder to make a nickel . . . never mind a dime?

Having produced a couple of very critically acclaimed revivals that couldn’t find a path to profitability, including the Tony-winning Once On This Island and the Tony-nominated Spring Awakening, I can say from first-hand experience that the answer is yes to all of those questions.

So is it time for a new model for the musical revival?

Seems like there are now three options . . .

1 – The massive must-see event, like Hello, Dollywith Bette or The Music Man with Hugh (By the way, here’s a Broadway investing tip – if your star only has to be referred to by a first name, it’s a solid bet)

2 – The non-profit production (My Fair Lady or The King and or Kiss Me Kate)

Or, the 3rd model . . . which, is the real shocker . . .

3 – Take it Off-Broadway

!!!

I KNOW!  You never thought Off-Broadway would be a model for anything these days, did you?  But with the man-eating plant sized announcement of the Off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors this week with Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard and Christian Borle, Off-Broadway musicals revivals are now officially a thing.

Trends happen in sets of three, and Little Shop is the third big ol’ revival to forego Broadway for more intimate pastures.  There was the tiny Sweeney that recouped . . . the Yiddish Theatre Company production of Fiddler, still running at the previously cursed Stage 42 . . . and now the revival of the classic Ashman/Menken musical, which I’m sure has musical theater fans all over willing to prick their fingers and bleed for tickets.  (And the buzz on the street is that the announcement of Little Shop sold a @#$%-ton of tickets on its first day . . . maybe even a record for a commercial Off-Broadway production.)

The success of Little Shop could bust this trend wide open.  Already the show is demonstrating that stars (including its Tony winning Director, Michael Mayer) will work Off-Broadway, and that some shows just belong Off-Broadway (the other rumor is that the Authors of Little Shop insisted the show go to the same type of small theater it played when it opened decades ago.)

And maybe, just maybe, high profile Off-Broadway musical revivals could get the Tony Awards paying attention and honoring what happens Off-Broadway.

And maybe, just maybe, Off-Broadway would no longer be a thing and like London, we’d just have Theater in NY.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Big props to the Producers of Little Shop for this adventurous move.  Let this be the start of something . . . small.

Get tickets to Little Shop here.


Want to hear more about the pros and cons of Off-Broadway, and how to navigate its challenging waters?  Come listen to Broadway and Off-Broadway A-listers talk about their success stories, and how you can succeed, at our TheaterMaker SuperConference.  Click here for more.  Early bird special disappearing soon.

SPINOFF ALERT: A New Broadway and Off-Broadway General Management Company

People ask me all the time what I look for when I’m hiring an employee.

That’s a complicated question, especially when you need someone with expert knowledge and specific skill sets, never mind someone who will not only hit goals but crush them . . . and fit in with your company culture.

But the simplest answer is . . . I like to hire people who have the same entrepreneurial spirit that I do and have had since I started a candy selling business in my Dad’s doctor’s office when I was seven years old.  (Yes, that’s right, I sold chocolate bars to heart patients.)

In other words, I like to hire people who want to build stuff.

Including their own businesses.

That’s why my Producers Perspective Pro Community Manager has her own photography business, why my Marketing Director has her own custom coloring book business . . . and why when my Davenport Theatrical General Manager, Ryan Conway . . . who helped me bring Spring Awakening to Broadway in 83 days, who helped me figure out how to live stream Daddy Long Legs, and who came up with a workable budget for Once On This Island with its 20 Actors in a theater with only 700 odd seats . . . came to me and said, “I want to run my own General Management Company and take outside clients,” I said . . . “Absolutely, yes.  How can I help?”

Honestly, it’s hard to let go of something you built.  I founded our Management Company with the same style that I used to Company Manage and General Manage shows, thanks to the mentorship I got from folks like Nina Lannan, Wendy Orshan, Charlotte Wilcox, Frank Scardino, and so many others.  So it means a lot to me.

And it’s hard to think about sharing someone like Ryan (I was an only child, after all).  But frankly, I was so supportive of Ryan heading up this endeavor because . . .

1) He wanted to, and he has been so helpful with the many things (some of them nuts!) I wanted to do.

2) He has been so instrumental in getting my shows off the ground, that I know he can help many others do the same.  And by unleashing his industry knowledge, crackerjack negotiating style, and unflappable positive attitude on shows with other Producers, he can help me with my #5000by2025 mission.

So it is my pleasure to announce that DTE Management has been spun off to create a new Broadway and Off-Broadway General Management Company called Architect Theatrical, run by President Ryan Conway.

And they’re open for business.

I took a chance on Ryan years ago when he walked into my office to interview for the Company Management position on Macbeth.  And that chance has turned into one of the most successful business partnerships and friendships I’ve ever had.

If you have a show you’re looking to get on Broadway, Off-Broadway, on tour, or frankly, you don’t know where it should go yet, I’d give him a chance as well.

Because (like he did with me) I guarantee he’ll help guide you to where you want to go.

You can reach Ryan and the folks at Architect here.

UPDATED: Is THIS a sign of a market correction on Broadway coming?

There have been a lot of closings lately.  Broadway has felt a bit like Barnes & Noble after Amazon took off.

Ok, ok, there are always a lot of closing announcements post-Tonys, but something seems different this year.

And it has me worried.

The signs I’m seeing say that we’ve got a market correction a-comin’ in the next 12-18 months, which could pull our grosses (and attendance) back a bit from the super highs we’ve had.

What has me all a jittery?

Even before the Tonys, three plays announced they’d be bringing down the curtain prematurely:

King Lear
Gary

Hillary and Clinton

Right after The Tonys, another set announced:

The Prom
Be More Chill
King Kong

And then came a couple of surprises:

The Cher Show
Pretty Woman
Frankie and Johnny

Yeah, all those shows.  Enough to make a non-Broadway blogger think something was rotten.

But believe it or not . . . those nine shows are NOT what got me thinking that we’re due for a pullback.

It was three OTHER shows.

You probably can’t name them, but three more shows went gently into that good night recently.

Know which three I’m thinkin’ of?

Go on . . . I’ll wait.

I’ll give you a hint . . . collectively these three shows ran for . . . wait for it . . . 23 years???

And you can’t even get one of ’em, can you?

Ok, ok, no more reality-tv, judge-like-stalling . . . the shows are . . .

Avenue Q
Puffs
Newsical

The reason, of course, you couldn’t name them, is that they were Off-Broadway shows (ok, maybe you got Avenue Q), and Off-Broadway doesn’t get the attention that its big brother Broadway gets.

Why are these three shows’ final curtains significant?  Because they’ve been running for years . . . two of them for about a decade!

If a show closes that has ran for that long, and weathered many a storm (literally and figuratively), something has to be different in the market for them to choose to load out now.

And they all announced prior to the Broadway onslaught above, which is what first triggered me to think there may be some trouble in Broadway city.

Think about it this way . . .

If there is a flood, the people who live at the bottom of the hill (the less well “off” – or Off-Broadway, in this case), get wiped out first.  Then slowly but surely the water rises to those who live on top (the rich – or Broadway, in this case).

Those three Off-Broadway stalwarts goin’ down means trouble for anyone trying to launch or run a show now (which is why we’ve seen 9 shows close this summer).

But that’s not all . . .

I wrote a blog about corrections a few years ago and determined that Broadway “dips” occur every 3.67 years.

And those dips are always timed with three things:

  1. A Presidential Election.
  2. The Summer Olympics.
  3. A Leap Year.

(Read the original post about these three events and how they affect Broadway here.)

Guess what we’ve got in the next 12-18 months?

All three.

And guess how long it has been since the last correction?  You guessed it . . . about 4 years.

So buckle up all . . . it could get a little bumpy this Broadway season.

*****UPDATE AS OF 7/18/19

This subject is not something I like to be right about at all.   But since I posted this blog just a bit ago, two more Broadway musicals that have been around for years have announced their closing as well . . . Waitress which will close on January 5, 2020, and one of the most successful bio-musicals, Beautiful, which will shutter in the middle of October.

So yeah, to quote the title of another musical, something’s afoot.

We’re going to have a little vacuum of available theaters right now.  They’ll go fast, of course.  The theater owners won’t have a problem filling ’em, because Producers will by lining up to sign a lease PDQ.  But I hope they don’t go too quickly . . . because shows that rush their marketing just to get a theater first might be rushed out the door as well.  And that would only create a correction cycle that’s not good for anyone.


Curious how a show gets to Broadway, from the origination of the idea all the way to opening night?  Click here to check out my free Road to Broadway webinar.

Today, we pay respects to the man who gave us Tomorrow, Mr. Martin Charnin.

I loved Annie.

Not just the musical.  I’m talking about Annie herself.

Her name was A***** L*******, and she was the star of our local community theater production of the cartoon-turned-musical.  And she was also my first big crush.

Looking back, my elementary schoolboy Annie attraction wasn’t just because the young lady playing her was super talented and adorable.  I now realize I had fallen in love with the character herself.  How can you not go head-over-heels for an orphan who believes her one dream is “maybe far away or maybe real nearby” and is “never fully dressed without a smile”?  If only we all had that kind of optimism.

The spirit of Annie had a lot to do with the genius of Martin Charnin, the man who not only wrote the lyrics, but also directed the original production (and countless thereafter), secured the original rights, put together the rest of the writing team, and just made the whole effin’ thing happen.

We lost Martin over the weekend, and although I only met him a few times, I wanted to pay tribute to a man who gave us one of the biggest musical successes of the 20th century (Annie is right up there with Cats in terms of recognition) and who had the same never-give-up attitude of the orphan he made so famous.

See, as I was reading his obituary on Playbill, I was reminded that Martin’s first writing credit on Broadway was in 1963 for Hot Spot . . . which ran for 43 performances.  Gulp. Then he wrote Zenda . . . which you’ve also never heard of . . . because the Broadway production was canceled when the show was out of town.

Don’t worry, he went on to do a third show . . . Mata Hari . . . which David Merrick also canceled out of town.  Instead of giving up, he and his composer brought the show to Off-Broadway themselves, under a totally different title.

It wasn’t until 1977 that Annie finally arrived on Broadway . . . 14 years after Martin’s first “failure.”

And I’m sure he’d tell you today that he never would have written “Tomorrow” without all those shows you’ve never heard of that came beforehand . . . and that the only way he wrote it was really, truly believing that the sun WOULD come out tomorrow for Annie . . . and for himself.

The sun has just set on his incredible life and career, although thankfully, his words will echo throughout the halls of theaters for a long time to come.

Martin, I want to say thank you for inspiring me yesterday and continuing to inspire me today . . . as I look to my own tomorrow.


Curious how a show like Annie gets to Broadway, from the origination of the idea all the way to opening night?  Click here to check out my free Road to Broadway webinar.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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