He's 86 years old and his health has had setbacks, due to a stroke he suffered in the mid 1980s, but legendary producer David Merrick hasn't quite left the building.
Sure, rumors occasionally surface about a big return to Broadway, including talk (in 1996) of creating an awards show to rival the Tonys or of reviving 42nd Street on 42nd Street during the year 2000 (which the Merrick organization thoroughly denies). The last real Merrick news, though, was his investing $2 million in Broadway's State Fair in a failed attempt to keep the musical going.
But now Merrick and longtime associate Natalie Lloyd have reorganized the producer's own philanthropic David Merrick Arts Foundation in an attempt to create a breeding ground for new musicals. The Fund will now be broken into three different foundations: The David Merrick & Natalie Lloyd Foundation, a public charity; The David Merrick Arts Foundation, Inc., newly incorporated as a not-for-profit theatre production unit; and The New American Musical, Inc., dedicated to developing new musicals for theatre, film and television.
The latter organization will hold competitions for new works, with cash awards and further development as the prize.
Asked about the need to take one organization and turn it into three, executive director Zack Manna told Playbill On-Line (June 19), "The previous organization was a private trust, so it had to be reorganized. The three-tiered organization will be broader and more flexible. It just makes more sense." Manna expects the organization to be in place by July 1 -- the beginning of the fiscal year. Merrick started his initial foundation in 1959 with profits from such hits as Gypsy and Look Back In Anger. Among Merrick shows later supported by the Fund were Marat/Sade, A Taste of Honey, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Loot. Merrick's biggest Broadway hits include Hello, Dolly! and 42nd Street.
Said Merrick in a statement, "I am convinced that the future success of developing American musicals on a broad scale, not only in New York but also around the country, is in the subsidized, not-for-profit arena, unencumbered by commercial concerns."
Foundation trustee Lloyd added that Merrick has already begun special annual scholarships at the Juilliard School, and discussions are underway with NY's Primary Stages and other theatres for developing and producing shows. Merrick, Lloyd, Samuel Liff and Zack Manna comprise the Foundations' board of directors. Lloyd noted that the organization specifically wants "story and character-driven book musicals, which we believe has become an endangered species. Unfortunately, the word `traditional'...has come to mean musty. We believe there is an audience for musicals defined by story and character."
Howard Kissel's unauthorized biography of Merrick, The Abominable Showman, is considered the prime source of biographical material on the producer, whose Broadway shows include Fanny, Carnival, Promises, Promises and the ill-fated Breakfast At Tiffany's.
-- By David Lefkowitz