As first reported first in the New York Post, one new show that may reach a Broadway stage in the 1998-99 season is Complications, a rock/pop piece by composer/lyricist Steve Fox and his cousin, Robbie Fox. Backing the venture is producer David Permut, who's making his first venture into the theatre world since his live performance film of James Whitmore's solo, Give `Em Hell, Harry.
Permut told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 14), "Complications is an ensemble musical in the genre of Rent, though certainly very different. The similarity is that it has contemporary hip themes of today set against a dramatic backdrop." Asked about the creative team's credits, Permut said, "Robbie [Fox] has mainly been in the film business. And the piece is very sparse on book; the show mostly hinges on Steve's brilliant score. Steve is on the heels of becoming very hot; he just signed with the C.A.A. Agency."
"We had a read-through of the show in New York a week ago," said Permut. "That went exceptionally well. Also, we're trying to solidify the music deal. We're in the process of talking with two major record labels. A number of film companies are interested in the motion picture rights, but that'll be a ways off. The next step is to get the show on its legs and figure out where it'll go."
Continued Permut, "The story is about five guys, best friends since college. Something happens to the guys where they must deal with their own mortality, so they get to know each other so much better in the few weeks we share with them than they had in the 15 years they were best friends. One of the main themes in the show that I love is, `if you had only a few weeks to live..what would you be doing?' We should live every day as our last. I think it has a strong emotional impact."
Film director and Neil Simon specialist Herb Ross will direct the musical. His stage credits include I Can Get It For You WHolesale and 1977's Chapter Two. Reached by phone in Los Angeles (Aug. 15), Robbie Fox told Playbill On Line he hooked up with his musical cousin a year ago. "I was sent a tape of Steve's music, and I gave it to a record executive friend who said, `wow, he fuses a rock beat and rhythm with lovely melodies, plus his songs have a theatrical quality.'"
Robbie Fox also commented on the relevance of the material. "I saw Ragtime last year, which accurately portrayed what went on in America at the turn of the last century. But there are very few musicals accurately depicting what's going on at the turn of this century. There's such a dissatisfaction among people nowadays, and a lifestyle that just isn't reflected in the theatre. My favorite movie is always a Jewish guy gets his heart broken and whines for 90 minutes. That story is never really told. Instead, every show is revisiting the Titanic and Jekyll & Hyde or Phantom Of The Opera, I guess because the audience needs fantasy or spectacle."
Elaborating on the plot, Fox told Playbill On-Line Complications follows, "Five guys at a bachelor party in Malibu; each is in dire straits. Yet everyone maintains this facade of how wonderful they're doing. There's a hooker, Electra, at the party, and everybody has to spend 20 minutes in a room with her. A week later, Electra's found dead. It's not AIDS -- it's an unknown, uncharted virus, and she's the first victim ever. It becomes about the struggle of today's generation to find light through friendship and love. All we ever really have is today."
Explaining the show's title, Fox said, "You know how people always die from 'complications' due to something? Our guys die of 'complications,' but they've had them even before the play begins: a failing marriage, financial trouble, etc.
"We brought it to Herb Ross," continued Fox, "and played a 20-minute presentation. He said, `My God it's so dark! How are we gonna do a show this dark? Don't get me wrong, I'm gonna do it. But no flash, no tricks. You have to be honest and intimate. Tell the truth, that's the golden rule." Added cousin Steve Fox, "Herb is inspiring, the most musical director I've ever worked with."
Said Robbie Fox, "Herb's concept is no set, no rules. The point is that time is elusive, so for changes we can just change the lighting. I begged for a door and a window, but until they became absolutely essential, he made us work around them. He took us to the Whitney Biennial and walked us through the museum, telling us, `See how this goes from a watercolor to an abstract to a photograph -- going from one style to another? That's what the show is.'"
Although Complications will have fantasy sequences of each guy's worst nightmare, humor is also a strong component of the show. "I call it the Mexican prison theory," said Robbie Fox. "If you're thrown into a Mexican prison, the first day, there's no joking; you're just shivering. Once you're there a week or so, life takes over, and you're joking about the fat guard and the skinny general."
Asked about the score of the mostly sung-through show, Steve Fox noted that there are "Three different types of songs: melodic ballads; funky rock songs; and Italian insane asylum atonal Kurt-Weillesque warped music. It underscores the point of an uneasy time of five guys descending to hell."
Producing Complications are Terry Allen Kramer (Me And My Girl, Sugar Babies) and her son, Nathaniel, and Permut. The latter two are also developing a number of film projects. Liz McCann reportedly has just come onboard as general manager.
Though film is Permut's mainstay (he produced the John Travolta/Nicholas Cage movie Face/Off, which has already grossed more than $100 million domestic), Complications is not his only legit project. He's currently in discussions with "a writer of note" to develop the life of socialite and political mover-shaker Pamela Harriman into a one-woman show.
"She led life to its fullest," Permut said of Harriman. "The show will be very revealing because of her numerous marriages, as well as her life in politics and entertainment. It's like looking in the keyhole to another world. She just passed away this past year. Even in her death she went in a grand way -- in a swimming pool in the Ritz Hotel in Paris."
Harriman, ambassador to France, had political influence with several administrations. Said Permut, "Her personal life is fascinating. She was a survivor, no question. An auction of her estate at Sotheby's created a furor."
Asked about his jump into the theatre world, Permut reminisced about the theatre connections of his first films: With Give `Em Hell Harry we had six video cameras (later transfered to film) and a live audience. Whitmore was astonishingly brilliant, and we released the film three weeks later ourselves because no studio would touch it. The picture did $11.5 million on a $235,000 budget -- including the party we threw. It got Jimmy Whitmore an Academy Award nomination -- which shocked the hell out of everyone in the industry.
"When they saw that success, American Express then invested $50 million to bring theatre to movie audiences. So they filmed Rhinoceros and some other classics, and they failed, because they were all shot on these sterile sound-stages."
Continued Permut, "In 1979 we filmed Richard Pryor, Live In Concert on a budget of $750,000 (including $400,000 for Pryor). That, too, was filmed with the spontaneity and immediacy of a live audience. So my early roots are in the business. Nevertheless, this is a new venture for me in the theatre world; these projects [Complications and the Harriman idea] lend themselves more towards the stage than film."
Asked whether theatre was a riskier venture than commercial cinema, Permut replied, "A number of film people like Scott Rudin are venturing successfully into theatre. Then again, a lot of other people, including my attorneys, said "what are you, out of your mind?" But if I listened to my lawyers all the time, maybe I wouldn't be as successful as I am. Face/Off took five years to get made, and several studios turned it down. That only gave me more fortitude to get it done. Someone once said I was impervious to rejection. But if I believe in a project, my goal is to turn no's into yesses. Stay with it long enough, and really believe in it, and sooner or later it will happen."
--By David Lefkowitz