The new conception of Puccini's operatic masterpiece — using a rotating cast of young principal singers and set in 1957 Paris — will play the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles beginning January 2004 and then London starting in spring 2004.
Kevin McCollum, one of the producers of La Bohème, told Playbill On-Line many scenarios for future mountings of the production are being explored, including limited engagements in North America. The staging would seem to be the perfect project for co presentation by those who run local opera seasons and those who book Broadway tours into regional houses.
"The good news is that we're looking forward to Los Angeles and London, and cities such as Chicago, Detroit the Twin Cities, Berlin," McCollum said. "Now that the show is available in its Broadway incarnation and they can offer a limited run, we feel it will be very, very popular. There is great interest in the show [regionally]. When you can do the kind of business we did for 31 weeks — really, our losing week was the musicians' strike week — people get interested."
In many ways, the show was a Broadway risk: An opera in Italian, with supertitles, with no stars except the late, great Italian composer. It nevertheless earned six Tony Award nominations and won two Tonys, for Best Lighting Design (Nigel Levings) and Best Scenic Design (Catherine Martin). In addition, the Tony Awards committee gave the 10 principal players in the show honorary Tonys for excellence.
Did the producers regard the show as a risk? "I'm scared out of my mind," producing partner Jeffrey Seller previously told Playbill On-Line, prior to the Dec. 8, 2002, opening. "But I don't think that Kevin and I are really interested in producing anything in New York City that doesn't break the rules, turn convention upside-down on its head and make us feel like we could be on the brink of utter catastrophe."
Seller and McCollum's risky past productions of Rent (the Jonathan Larson rock opera inspired by La Bohème) and De La Guarda have paid off with international success. Their hope back in 1995, when they first approached Luhrmann about a U.S. staging of La Bohème, was to see both Rent and Bohème playing in New York City at the same time. The latter continues its smash run on 41st Street, at the Nederlander. Seller and McCollum's next Broadway show is the musical comedy, Avenue Q.
"Some people loved the fact that we were taking the opera out of the museum of the opera house and that we were charging a much lower ticket price than the Met," McCollum said. "It's a different experience. We weren't trying to be the Met. We were trying to be something different."
For McCollum, La Bohème was a success.
"Thirty-one weeks, eight shows a week, over 400,000 people," he said. "I think we achieved a lot of our goals. The goal we didn't achieve is returning all the investors' money. It was just not the greatest economic situation, but artistically we were thrilled. And we're very excited that more people will get to see it around the world."
McCollum said that Manhattanites came to the production, but a suburban audience didn't flock to it. The war, a musicians' strike and a depressed tourism market didn't help, either.
With a weekly running cost of $550,000, the show was facing a summer that might be soft for tourism in New York City, so "it needed to close now and strong, and keep the brand strong so we can go to another city," McCollum said. "If people aren't gonna travel to New York, we're gonna take the show out to them. It's an event, it's not just a show. Events run best when it's a limited period of time. Now, people know what it is."
Asked if New York might see La Bohème return to Broadway as, say, a limited-run holiday event some day (the opera's first two acts are famously set on Christmas Eve), McCollum said, "Nothing is impossible — don't be surprised by anything."
The show closes at a loss of about $6 million, having made back about $2.5 million.
The production will play the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles Jan. 9-March 7, 2004, followed by a run in London, May 30, 2004-Oct. 30, 2004, the producers announced.
In a statement from Australia, where he is currently working on the film "Alexander the Great," director Baz Luhrmann said: "What drew [designer] Catherine Martin and me to mount our production of La Bohème on Broadway was not only the challenge to make Puccini's most popular of operas more accessible to a broader audience, but also the opportunity to live and work in our second home, New York City, and to be part of the Broadway experience. We can only be incredibly happy at the high artistic standards our company has maintained night after night and the enthusiastic responses of audiences and critics alike. Of course we all dream that any production on Broadway will run for 50 years but having done over 200 performances here in New York City we're now looking forward to taking our company on the road to L.A. and other major cities."
Luhrmann has promised he is working on a stage musical version of his film "Strictly Ballroom," and said he would like it to be staged in a non-traditional arena in Manhattan — like a ballroom. No timeline for a Broadway (or Off Broadway) run of it has been released, but Luhrmann said it was a natural for New York City, which has a rich dance and ballroom tradition.
The producers pulled the plug on the staging three days after it got a June 8 prime-time TV spotlight on the Tony Awards telecast. Scenic designer Catherine Martin (Luhrmann's wife) won a Tony for her sets and Nigel Levings won for lighting.
Luhrmann told Playbill On-Line in recent weeks a national tour cast would, like the Broadway staging, boast multiple casts taking on the roles of the four central lovers. In New York, David Miller, Jesús Garcia and Alfred Boe play Rodolfo in rep, opposite the rotating Mimis of Ekaterina Solovyeva, Lisa Hopkins and Wei Huang. Jessica Comeau and Chlöe Wright share Musetta opposite the Marcellos of Eugene Brancoveanu and Ben Davis.
The principals are being offered a future with the show, if they want it, McCollum said.
The day after its Dec. 8, 2002, Broadway opening, La Bohème did close to $1 million in ticket sales, pointing the Italian-language Puccini classic down the road toward being a hit.
Luhrmann, responding to recent events and their affect on Broadway previously said, "Snow. Strike. The war. Could you kick the theatre any more? But Broadway is incredibly resilient. Our world has such heaviness. It's time to get out and drink some wine, eat some food, see some theatre and have some life. There's always going to be conflict from now until we die, so let's get on with it. It's been a test for absolutely everybody. It only shows that the work itself, the shows, the care and the passion have to be that much greater. You can't be in any way complacent about it."
Enthusiastic reviews greeted the production, which Luhrmann sets in 1957 Paris rather than the Paris of the 1840s. Previews began Nov. 29, 2002, after a largely sold out tryout in San Francisco. The production at the Broadway Theatre uses a rotating cast of principals due to the show's vocal demands. With the thought that people on return visits might like to see a different cast (Ben Brantley said he cried at all three viewings of the varied cast), the producers have made the cast list public at the box office, through Telecharge and on the official website, www.bohemeonbroadway.com.
Luhrmann invited movie audiences in 2001 to think in a new visual language for his picture, "Moulin Rouge," and urged theatre audiences to reimagine the possibilities of the live form with La Bohème.
Reveling in a theatricality that some are saying hasn't been seen since the potent work of Harold Prince in the 1970s, Luhrmann freely shows stage hands and stage managers, props and effects-machines — the mechanics of the event behind the rich, classic romance that has been a sensation on opera houses for generations.
Luhrmann's goal was to rediscover the story using young, lean performers, placing them in a world that, if not as mammoth and opulent as what can be seen at the cavernous Metropolitan Opera, is still visually arresting. The Paris Latin Quarter section of the show (Act II) has had audiences gasping and applauding for the monochromatic, neon-punctuated work of designer Catherine Martin.
The Nov. 29 first preview of Baz Luhrmann's staging of La Bohème represented new territory for musical theatre: A major commitment from major producers to produce a major Italian-language opera on Broadway.
It helped that the title is a brand name like Puccini's La Bohème, arguably the most-produced opera in the history of the world. It also helped that this production, when it was first seen in a staging by the Australian Opera in 1990, was a sensation Down Under. Set in Paris of 1957 with comely young sopranos and tenors, it was revived twice in the 1990s, and director Luhrmann and designer e Martin returned to shepherd the American debut, complete with English surtitles.
Joining the six previously-announced international leads for the staging on Broadway are Daniel Webb as philosopher Colline, Daniel Okulitch as musician Schaunard, William Youmans as Musetta's Alcindoro and Adam Grupper as landlord Benoit. The ensemble of La Bohème comprises Enrique Abdala, Christine Arand, Janinah Burnett, Gilles Chiasson, Charlotte Cohn, Michael Cone, Vanessa Conlin, Sean Cooper (as Customs Officer), Patricia Corbett, Evangelia Costantakos, Lawrence Craig, Dan Entriken (as Parpignol, a toy seller), Graham Fandrei (as the Sergeant), Bobby Faust, Katie Geissinger, Jennifer Goode, Paul Goodwin Groen, Joy Hermalyn, Robb Hillman, Adam Hunter, Tim Jerome, Katherine Keyes, Laurice Lanier, Morgan Moody Marcus Nance, Daniel Neer, Debra Patchell, Patricia Phillips, Jamet Pittman, Martín Solá, Radu Spinghel and Mark Womack. The production also features a children's chorus of 15.
A 67-minute "highlights" cast album — featuring all principals handling various sections of the opera — was recorded in California for Dreamworks and is in stores.
The Broadway staging's producers are Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, Emanuel Azenberg and Bazmark Live, with Bob and Harvey Weinstein, Korea Pictures/Doyun Seol, J. Stine/I. Pittelman/S. Nederlander and Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Musical director Constantine Kitsopoulos conducts the 28-piece orchestra, which includes two electronic keyboard players, sweetening the orchestra. The company does indeed perform with body mikes. Brother Nicholas Kitsopoulos was Tony-nommed for his orchestrations.
The opera has a legendary score by Giacomo Puccini — even those who avoid opera will recognize "Musetta's Waltz," if only from its interpolations in movies. Reviews were not good 100 years ago, but the score outlived the critics.
Luhrmann's La Bohème premiered in 1990, and became the biggest hit in the history of the Sydney Opera House and a sold-out sensation. It played return engagements at the Sydney Opera House in 1993, when it was recorded for video, and in 1996.
The design staff includes "Moulin Rouge" Academy Award winners Catherine Martin (scenic design and co-costume design) and Angus Strathie (co-costume design), with Nigel Levings (lighting design) and Acme Sound Partners (sound design).
Onetime actor Luhrmann is internationally known for directing the films "Strictly Ballroom" (which he began as a play), "Romeo + Juliet" and the Academy Award nominated "Moulin Rouge." He has worked in film, opera, theatre, music and events management. With Martin he is the founder and director of Bazmark. In 1988, he created the critically acclaimed opera, Lake Lost, with composer Felix Meagher, where he first collaborated with designer Catherine Martin.
The four-act opera is offered with one intermission and two scene changes. The conceit of the staging has stage crew making scene changes in full view of the audience. The actors appear under a contract with AGMA (The American Guild of Musical Artists) rather than Actors' Equity Association, the usual union for Broadway performers.