For awhile, it looked like it was doing O.K., but now it's R.I.P. for Rollin' on the T.O.B.A.. The revue, about black vaudeville entertainers in the first half of the century, closed Sunday, April 4, at the Kit Kat Klub in Henry Miller's Theatre.
T.O.B.A. left a successful Off-Broadway stint at the 47th Street Theatre to try its hand at Broadway -- and rolled into trouble at every turn. The show had planned to start previews at the Klub March 17 but got caught in the middle when the building's landlord (the Durst Organization) and tenant renewed their long-standing dispute. T.O.B.A. postponed its March 17 and 18 performances, not because of any financing problems with the production, but because Durst, upset at not being asked permission by the Kit Kat Klub to book T.O.B.A., asked for a court injunction to keep the show from starting previews on the 17th. A New York Supreme Court judge granted the temporary injunction.
That injunction was soon lifted, surprisingly enough, at the behest of the Dursts, who came to a mutual understanding (involving an escrow account) with T.O.B.A.'s producers. The Klub tenants balked at the deal at first, but by mid-afternoon, March 19, all three sides agreed, the show began previews that night, and officially opened as planned March 24.
But more trouble loomed ahead. On April 1, the Tony Award Administration Committee ruled that Rollin' On The T.O.B.A. would not be Tony eligible -- even though last year's Kit Kat Klub tenant, Cabaret, was.
"The committee made a special case for Cabaret," Tony spokesperson Keith Sherman told PBOL (April 2). "Even though the Miller's is not an eligible house, Cabaret had a long Broadway history, and the Roundabout -- which had been working on producing it for years -- tried several houses before bringing it to that space. From time to time, productions don't comply with the rules, but their situation extends beyond the boundaries of Tony rules. Looking at the totality of the situation regarding Cabaret, the committee felt it should be eligible. On the other hand, a similar look at T.O.B.A. deemed it not eligible." Sherman continued, "There were many factors in the decision, though it should be noted that no one has requested that the Miller's Theatre be an eligible house. They've had that opportunity since last year, when Cabaret won the Best Musical Tony. I've spoken with the tenants of the Klub space and with [Tony managing director] Edgar Dobie and explained the process, but no one applied. Besides, had T.O.B.A. gone into Town Hall or Madison Square Garden, it wouldn't have been eligible either; those are the rules on those spaces."
For his part, T.O.B.A. producer Ashton Springer told the New York Post's Michael Riedel, "Sometimes the unfairness of our theatrical community is extremely painful to accept. I will never understand why Cabaret was deemed Tony-eligible at the Kit Kat Klub and our show was not. I guess it must have been a different Kit Kat Klub."
Springer, John Grimaldi and Frenchmen Productions, Inc. produced both the 47th Street Theatre engagement and the move.
Conceived by Stevens and Jaye Stewart, T.O.B.A. was subtitled "A Tribute to the Last Days of Black Vaudeville" and offered segments devoted to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Bert Williams and Butterbeans & Suzie. Several pieces are taken from Langston Hughes' "The Simple Stories."
T.O.B.A. is an acronym Theatre Owners' Booking Association, but performers had a different phrase for it: "Tough On Black Asses." No deals have yet been made regarding recording the show for CD release.
Stevens and Leslie Dockery directed the show, which featured musical direction and arrangements by David Alan Bunn and additional material by Irvin S. Bauer. Jon Kusner (lighting), Michele Reisch (costumes) and Shabach Audio (sound) were the designers.
According to producer Springer, the show was originally mounted for $200,000, with an extra quarter million added for the move. The break even point, not counting advertising, was $70,000 per week.
Neither Springer, nor representatives from the show's press office or the Durst's representatives, could yet be reached for comment by press time, Monday morning.
-- By David Lefkowitz