Why I’m producing Daddy Long Legs Off Broadway.

“What the heck was that?” I wondered silently.

“It feels like there’s a leak, coming from the corner of my eye.  There’s some sort of liquid coming . . . wait a minute.  Is this a . . . a . . . yep, well dangit, it is.  It’s a tear.”

It happened somewhere during the middle of Act I.  Me.  Cold-hearted Ken Davenport.  Tearing up at a musical about a young woman escaping the orphanage where she grew up, becoming a successful writer, and finding true love in the process.

Why did this show get me?  Was it the heroine’s against-all-odds journey?  Was it the heart-crushing performance of Megan McGinnis?  Was it the sweet and sweeping music of Paul Gordon (I was a huge fan of Jane Eyre)?

Answer?  Yes.  Yes.  And oh yes.

If you had told me that this was the reaction I was going to have the first time I saw Daddy Long Legs, I would have thought you had been smoking some of that stuff that is legal in Colorado and Washington.

But I did.  I cried.  I’m dude enough to admit it.

And that’s why I knew I had to produce it.

If this show could find it’s way into my heart, then I knew it could get into the hearts of thousands of others.  And the funny thing is, it already had!  By the time I saw Daddy Long Legs, it had already been produced across the country world, from Los Angeles to London (including its world premiere at the Rubicon Theatre), and at lots of theaters in between (including a couple stints in Tokyo!).  And it even generated reviews like this from The Huffington Post:

Whereas 2003’s Wicked may have been the most successful musical of the first decade of the 21st century, I’d be willing to bet that, in this century’s second decade, Daddy Long Legs will become much more deeply adored and cherished by women of all ages.

Add up all those productions, the reviews, direction by John Caird (of Les Miz fame), and then douse it with a few of my tear drops, and I knew it had to come to New York.  And I knew I had to be a part of it.

But how?

With so few Broadway theaters available, would a theater-owner take a chance on a two-person musical without a major star?  Doubtful.

So that leaves Off Broadway, where a show like this belongs.

Off Broadway is a riskier proposition for sure.  Unless.  Unless you can do something different.  Something unique that goes against conventional wisdom.  Something that also gives you great control.

The traditional approach would be to put a show like this in a 299 or 350 seat theater, to make the numbers look better on paper.  But one of Off Broadway’s biggest challenges today is that it doesn’t have the media dollars or the marketing power to compete with Broadway.   Or simply put, Off Broadway doesn’t have the dollars to fill those seats anymore.  So why try?

Why not put it in a smaller theater, and create a tighter ticket and a much more intimate experience (especially for a show like this)?

So forget 350, 299, or even 199.  How about something around 150?

And wait . . . I happen to have one of those.

So why not put it in my own theater, which is a heck of a lot cheaper than the other Off Broadway houses in town? As the theater operator, I can make it more efficient and economical since I control both sides.

I pitched this idea to my partner on the show, Michael Jackowitz, the authors of Daddy Long Legs (the aforementioned Paul Gordon and John Caird), and the darling Ms. McGinnis, and they were all for it.

So we’re doing it.  We start previews at the Davenport Theatre on September 10th, and open on September 27th.

It’s an intimate show, in an intimate theater, produced in an ultra-economic way.  You know, how Off Broadway started.  Kind of like . . . well . . . The Fantasticks.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could create the next one?

Come see it and find out if we do.

You can get tickets here . . . and with each ticket, you get tears for free.

And watch/hear Megan sing “The Secret of Happiness,” here.

 

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10 Shows that Stand Out at the Fringe – 2014

Some people like to read Stephen King or John Grisham novels in the summertime.

You know what I like to read?

The Fringe Festival catalog!

Oh, man, there’s nothing like downloading that sucker, flipping through the pages, and looking at all the potential!  There are one-man shows, one-woman shows, and even a few one-man-who-used-to-be-a-woman shows!

The New York International Fringe Festival is the melting pot of the theater.  Give me your tired, your poor, your odd ball musical, and the Fringe will give you a space to showcase it to the world . . . and to Producers like me.

Several years ago, I started sharing my Fringe Catalog flipping process with you, to give you insight into what a Producer like me looks for when “shopping” for shows.

And this year is no different.

Below are the 10 Shows from this year’s Fringe Festival catalog that piqued my Producer interest and why.  And they are (in no particular order):

1.  No One Asked Me

If you’ve watched the news at any point in the last, oh, four days years, then you know the topic of illegal immigration is at a boiling point.  No One  is about exactly that, but smartly they’ve focused on the most innocent of all – the undocumented children, and used actual stories of “illegal” NYC stories as the foundation for their piece.  Controversial “ripped from the headlines” subject matter is sure-fire way to get attention from Producers . . . and press.

2.  Your Radio Adventure!

The first seven words of Your Radio Adventure’s marketing description tell me exactly what I’m in for if I buy a ticket:  “Radio play meets choose your own adventure novel . . . ”  Is that specific or what?  (If there were Fringe Awards for marketing blurbs, YRA would win hands down.)  Now that type of show may not be for everyone, but I’m a Producer that believes that “immersive” (the new word for “interactive”) entertainment is the wave of the future.  Tell your audience exactly what your show is from the get go.  Some people may move on to the next listing, but they were never going to buy a ticket anyway.

3.  The Flood

Breaking News:  Advertising works.  The Fringe Catalog is filled with quarter page ads, 1/8 page ads, and 1/232 page ads.  And with all those shows trying to grab your attention, the pages can start to look like you’re staring at a theatrical kaleidoscope . . . after you’ve eaten 140 “funny” mushrooms.  You know what The Flood did?  They broke through all that funny-stuff and sucked it up and bought a full page ad.  Sure it may have cost more, but they were smart enough to put their money in the place where they knew the most buyers would be.  I did the same thing for Altar Boyz back in ’04 at the first NYMF.  When you have a limited budget, don’t spread it out.  Focus in on where it’ll do the most good.  FYI, there were other shows that placed full page ads as well, but The Flood’s was first – and placement is everything (Ad agencies fight with the NY Times all the time about which full page ad will appear first in the A&L section every Sunday for this same reason).

4.  FUTEBOL

Guess what this show is about?  That’s right, it’s about Soccer Football.  And more specifically, The World Cup.  It’s as if the Producers timed this, right?  Duh.  They did.  Capitalizing on world wide crazes is an easy way to get people to line up at your box office.  Why do you think there are 147 versions of 50 Shades of Grey parodies?

5. King of Kong: A Musical Parody

First of all, if you grew up going to the arcade and playing Donkey Kong, then you must see the movie on which this musical is based.  Second, if you grew up going to the arcade and playing Donkey Kong, then you are probably in your early 40s.  You know who else is in their 40s?  The primary theater going demographic.  The video game generation is about to age into the theater going generation.  And they’re going to want shows that remind them of where they came from and challenge them in the same way those games challenged them (read this post for more of my theory).  And King of Kong is capitalizing on just that.  But they aren’t the only ones.  There’s another video game show in this year’s Fringe called Jump Man, and there’s a lot of buzz about this show from the DC Fringe that may be jumping to NYC at some point in the future.  All this activity means a show about gaming is going to hit.  But which one?

6.  a kind shot

A 6’1″ Pro Basketball player would probably have interesting stories to tell.  Now imagine that pro baller is a “chick” (her word, not mine!).  The best dramas open up the doors on worlds we’ve never seen before (The West Wing, any mob movie, etc.) and pro sports aren’t something we get access to everyday.  But we’re fascinated by it. Now take your hero and make it someone who may have been made fun of as a kid (she was 6’1″ by the time she was in the 6th grade), who may have been told she was playing a “man’s game,” and all of a sudden we’ve got an underdog that we’re rooting for to succeed.  And that’s a story that I, and the majority of theatergoers, want to watch.

7.  URBAN MOMFARE

You know who else is in the primary theater going demographic?  Women.  Women see shows. Women buy tickets.  And women tell their friends to buy tickets.  Urban Momfare is a musical about mom-hood on the Upper East Side.  The subject matter seems so commercial you can smell it (and no, it doesn’t smell like diapers).  A bunch of mom-musicals have tried to break through to this market, but I still think there is one “Menopause” like success to come.  Maybe this is it?

8.  The Picture (of Dorian Gray)

Speaking of other attempts at similar subject matter, I would run out of fingers if I tried to count on my hands the number of adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray I’ve heard about.  But people keep trying.  Why?  It’s a beautiful and innately theatrical story.  It seems to belong on the stage.  I’m still hoping someone can get it right.  Neal Utterback from The Gravity Partners is giving it a go with his adaptation this year.  I’m crossing my fingers for him.  Classic adaptations have produced a lot of big fat Broadway hits, from Pygmalion to Les Misérables. So whenever I hear about one that feels right, I take notice.

9.  I’ll Say She Is

This show has so much going for it I don’t know where to begin. It’s a Marx Brothers comedy (proven masters of entertaining audiences).  It is the first ever revival of the show (firsts are always great and revivals are less risky).  It was the only Marx Bros comedy never made into a film (so it’s rare – not many people have seen it – and why wasn’t it filmed?).  Although I might have added The Marx Brothers to the title of this like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, they had me at Groucho.

10. Bedroom Secrets

Don’t we all want to know what goes on behind closed doors?  The title tells the tale of this show about a shrink who delves into the sexual exploits of her patients (aren’t you curious what therapists hear from their patients?  oh man!).  This show was also one of the few of this year’s festival that showcased their actors in their description and listed credits like Nurse Jackie and Fat Pig.  When you show me that you’ve surrounded yourself with quality folks, then the show’s quality goes up a notch in my book as well.  Good people work on good projects.   And the authors won last year’s “Audience Favorite Award” at the Fringe.  There are a lot of shows at the Fringe.  And even the festival organizers would admit that they can’t all be of the highest quality.  The marketers of Bedroom Secrets made me feel that even if I came and decided the show wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t be disappointed with the production.

 

So there you have it. Those are the 10 shows that I’d see first in this year’s festival.

Oh, and because I was feeling a little indecisive this year, here are a few honorable mentions:  Clive Barker’s History of the Devil, Held Momentarily and Gary Busey’s One Man Hamlet.

What about you?  What shows are you going to see?   Comment below on what you’re seeing, or what stood out for you (you can look at all of this year’s Fringe listings here).

Oh, and then go see some shows. The Fringe starts this Friday, August 8th and runs through the 24th.  Get tickets here.  The next generation of artists are just a few blocks away.  Don’t you want to be able to say, “I saw that MOVIE STAR when he was in a show at The Fringe!”

 

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Did you miss TEDxBroadway? The 2014 TEDxBroadway Videos are now live.

One of the requirements for holding a TEDx event is that you have to, have to, have to film every talk, and put them online for the world (wide web) to see.  Since TED’s mission is to spread great ideas that could change the world for the better, it makes sense, right?

I kind of think that The Theater’s mission is the same.

Imagine if we were required to video every show and put it online for the world to see!  Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Since that won’t happen until hell freezes over and then melts into a river of ice cream, we’ll have to live with the TEDxBroadway videos!

That’s right, kiddies, the 2014 TEDxBroadway videos are now available for your viewing pleasure.

Hear Tony Winner Diane Paulus talk about the audience experience!  Hear EGOT winner Bobby Lopez sing “Let It Go!”  See why Mark Fisher thinks it’s important that people wear capes!

The talks are short. They make great lunch watching.  And they’ll definitely inspire you to continue to search for new and exciting ways to improve our industry and your work.

Watch them here:  TEDxBroadway 2014 Videos.

Oh, and while you’re on the site?  Sign up so you can be the first to know when the 2015 tickets go on sale (we’ve already scheduled the next one for 2/23/15).  It always sells out.  And sure, sure, you can always wait to watch the videos.

But let me ask you . . . is seeing a video of a play the same as seeing the play?

Nothing beats the experience of being in that room with all those other people who, like you, love the theater with all their might.

Oh, and the networking is worth the price of admission alone.

Enjoy the vids!

 

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Five Shows that Stand Out at the NYMF: 2014

Summer lovin’, had me a . . . festival!

The New York Musical Theatre Festival, the first of the summer show fests, starts in just 11 days!  Got your tickets yet?

If you haven’t scheduled which shows you’re going to see, let me give you some suggests . . .

Every year, I take a look at the NYMF catalog and I pick the five shows that “stand out” to my Producer eye.

You see, festivals are like outlet malls for Producers . . . we go shopping for shows, just like you’d go shopping for a pair of capris or those funky-webbed-toe-shoe things that I’m not cool enough to pull off.

But competition for a Producer’s eye is fierce at these show shopping malls.  Which is why if you’re producing a show, you’ve got to know how to get your show to jump off the catalog page (or the website in this case) and slap a Producer silly until they book tickets.

So which ones spanked me this year?

Here are the five shows that stood out to me in this year’s NYMF (one disclaimer – just because they stand out, doesn’t mean I’m advocating for the shows themselves – this is a lesson in getting Producer butts in seats – what the shows do when the butt is there is up to them!).

Here we go:

1.  Clinton:  The Musical

Could the timing be any more right for a musical based on the new American political powerhouse family, with Hillary looking like a shoe-in for the nomination, and a favorite to win the actual iron throne in 2016?  Not only did this show stand out to me, because of its timely subject matter, but it stood out to the mainstream press.  Earlier this week, the show got picked up by Fox, MSNBC, and about a zillion other news channels around the world.  I’m already hearing whispers about a NYMF extension.  A Clinton musical just sounds fun. And why not?  The Clintons are the new Kennedys. They just live out their dysfunction in the open!

2.  Somewhere with You

I’ve blogged about Broadway needin’ a country musical on several occasions, and yee-freekin’-haw, here comes one.  Somewhere is a jukebox musical (not sure if I’ve seen one of those at NYMF before), featuring some surefire Storme Warren-lovin’ hits like Kenny Chesney’s “Somewhere with You” and Uncle Kracker’s “Smile” all written by JT Harding.  But this show ain’t all tan lines and dixie cups . . . it’s got a dark side to it, as it’s set in post 9/11 rural south.  That said.  They had me at Kenny Chesney.

3.  The Snow Queen

Adapting a Hans Christian Andersen tale is always a good bet for a musical.  Adapting a Hans Christian Andersen tale that has also been adapted into a certain Disney musical is an even better bet (especially with the original tale in the public domain).  Although I don’t expect there to be much in terms of special effects at a NYMF production, my imaginative eye can picture a pretty big spectacle for a show like this, and we all know how Broadway audiences love them some spectacle.

4.  Mr. Confidential

The marketing blurb for Mr. Confidential begins, “Before TMZ and Gawker . . . ” and already I’m intrigued.  America is obsessed with gossip, now more than ever, so of course we’re interested in where it all began.  And that’s what this show is all about.  I’m a sucker for true or even “mostly true” stories (as this show is billed).  A little history and a little music make for a musical that I want to see.

5.  Rescue Rue

Rescue Rue is about dogs.  You know who likes dogs?  Everyone.  Rescue is billing itself as a family-friendly musical told by a “colorful cast of puppets and people.”  So why did this catch the eye of the guy that produced the one-man Macbeth last year?  Disney introduced the family musical to Broadway two decades ago.  But not every family can see a Disney show.  But they still want to see a show.  That’s why the city has blown up with shows like Freckleface Strawberry, The Berenstain Bears, and many more.  There’s a market in the small family musical – especially one featuring dogs.

 

So those are the five shows that stand out to me.

What about you?  Click here to look at the NYMF Next Link listings and pick the show(s) that stand out to you and let me know in the comments below.

Oh, and if you want to win two Silver Passes to this year’s festival, click here to enter my Sunday Giveaway!

 

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Why I’m producing It’s Only A Play on Broadway.

A bunch of years ago I looked into commissioning a playwright to write a backstage comedy about the business of Broadway.

More specifically,  I wanted this play set at a Broadway ad meeting . . . over the course of the production of a Broadway show.   So you’d meet all the crazy characters that it took to put on a show . . . from the Producers to the Investors to the Director to the Mad Men-like Ad Men and so on . . . starting from the first ad meeting and following them through to the first preview ad meeting and finally to the, gulp, day-after-0pening meeting when the reviews are in!

Fun, right?

Well, I never did find someone to write it, thank goodness, because I stumbled upon a much “funner” idea.

When I was talking about this idea of mine last fall, a former staffer of mine said, “Hey, Ken, have you ever read Terrence McNally’s It’s Only A Play?

She had me at Terrence McNally.

I ran to the Drama Book Shop to get a copy of the play (ok, that’s an exaggeration – I had an intern run to the Drama Book Shop but I paid her a bonus in the form of a Starbucks frappuccino for the extra hustle).

I was two pages in, and about twenty laughs in, when I realized that Terrence had already written the backstage comedy about the business of Broadway that I was looking for . . . but, well, he had a much better idea than mine (shocking!).  He set his at the opening night party (it’s an ad meeting . . . with booze!).

And this play was fuuuuuuuuuunny.

I reached out to Terrence and his Producer, Tom Kirdahy, and wouldn’t you know it, Terrence had already done a revised version with tons of brand new topical theatrical references (I won’t ruin the “skewering” surprises here but you’re gonna love ’em) . . . and they were just starting to talk about bringing it to Broadway.

I begged like a puppy dog in front of a basket of brisket to get on the show, and they obliged.

And the next thing you know, we’ve got Jack O’Brien directing, and it’s like a monster constellation there are so many stars:  F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally and a couple more that we can’t even talk about yet.

(Oh – it also stars this terrific newcomer named Micah Stock who I saw in McNally’s And Away We Go at The Pearl.  Interesting fact – Micah is the only actor in the show with an active Twitter account.  He currently has 165 followers.  Anyone want to take bets on how many he has by closing night?  🙂  Follow him here.)

News about the show started to leak out a few weeks ago, and on Monday night, Megan Mullally mentioned her involvement on Seth Meyers (see the interview here).

But we’re officially announcing today, and officially putting tickets on sale (American Express cardholders and group sales only for a couple of weeks).  You can get ’em here.

And, well, I know this sounds like marketing-speak, but you should get ’em fast.  They’re going to go.  We’ve only got 18 weeks, and how many times in your lifetime do you think you’re going to get an opportunity to see a cast like this, doing a comedy like this?

And that brings me to the ultimate reason why I’m producing it.

I produce stuff I want to see.  Badly.  Stuff that I’d pay premium tickets for.

And boy oh boy would I be at the first preview for this one.

And then I’d come back halfway through the run to see what shenanigans these comedians have come up with.

See you there!

 

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