In a League of His Own: Cy Feuer

Tony Awards   In a League of His Own: Cy Feuer
 
The League Of American Theatres and Producers president looks back at his accomplishments:

Since the first Tony Awards network telecast in 1967, The League of American Theatres and Producers, the trade association for commercial theatre, has been co-sponsor and administrator. The League -- 400 producers, theatre owner/operators and presenters of Broadway and touring theatrical attractions in 85 major cities in the U.S. and Canada -- has provided leadership and promoted theatre for more than 75 years.

The League Of American Theatres and Producers president looks back at his accomplishments:

Since the first Tony Awards network telecast in 1967, The League of American Theatres and Producers, the trade association for commercial theatre, has been co-sponsor and administrator. The League -- 400 producers, theatre owner/operators and presenters of Broadway and touring theatrical attractions in 85 major cities in the U.S. and Canada -- has provided leadership and promoted theatre for more than 75 years.

The League president these last six years is Cy Feuer, a legendary name in the production of Broadway musicals with his late partner Ernest Martin. The post is not a staff position but goes to a producer who's a League member.

"The executive director is the full time, hands-on position," Feuer pointed out. "That was (veteran press agent) Harvey Sabinson for years and, since he retired last year, Jed Bernstein."

Under Sabinson's leadership The League sponsored or co-sponsored such audience development programs as a Broadway phone line, Stars in the Alley, Celebrate Broadway, Broadway on Broadway and the Theatre Development Fund and TKTS.

"Harvey loves theatre and always had its best interests at heart," Feuer said. "His greatest achievement was the Broadway Alliance, especially in these times of mounting expense when it's harder and harder to raise capital. It took over a year to organize. The League had $250,000 available, and Harvey said 'Let's find something to do with it.'"

The League asked 17 trade unions and guilds to agree to a 25 percent cut under certain conditions to bring in more plays. "'A cut?' they yelled!," said Feuer recalling the initial meeting. "Everybody wanted to help, but no one was willing to make it happen. It was like pulling teeth. The long-term effect on Broadway will be incredible, especially with the way being paved by (Terrence McNally's) Love! Valour! Compassion!, the first play under the Alliance guidelines that turned a profit, and the hit status of Master Class."

Feuer is a New York native who went to Hollywood after his army service as a musician, arranger and conductor at Republic Pictures. "It was the tail end of the Hollywood horse," he said, "that cycle of color western musicals, starring Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Trigger."

Martin was a West Coast native, who came East frequently for CBS. "We met during the golden age of the MGM musicals. We wanted to produce, but you had to have a studio behind you, and competition was fierce. In comparison the cockamamie little musicals we saw on Broadway looked easy to mount. Everyone in New York was going to Hollywood, so we went the other way."

Their first effort, Frank Loesser's Where's Charley (1948), with book by George Abbott (who also directed) and starring Ray Bolger was a hit, playing 792 performances. "Our second collaboration did pretty well," Feuer understated. It was the legendary Guys and Dolls (1950), book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, based on characters created by Damon Runyon, with music and lyrics by Loesser. Michael Kidd was choreographer, and no less than George S. Kaufman directed. It played 1,200 performances and spawned several touring companies.

Was the tryout for Guys and Dolls difficult? "Just the opposite," he said. "It was a dream. Everything worked."

Feuer & Martin had five hits in a row, including Cole Porter's Can-Can (1953) and Loesser's How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1961).

"We did one play," noted Feuer, "which was such a disaster we went back to what we were good at." The team produced 15 shows.

"With each season those cockamamie little musicals we admired got bigger, but they were still doable," Feuer said. "It's not so easy now. The economics of theatre have changed radically. To raise ten million dollars today is as much a feat as doing the show.

"There was a lot less money to raise then. Where's Charley cost $125,000. You couldn't do an Off Off-Broadway musical for that today! In the fifties there were investor tax breaks. The fact that losses were deductible was an incentive to get people, especially those well-heeled individuals, to invest. Now you either have to be crazy or simply love theatre."

He said the "secret ingredient of staging a musical is sweat. More so than any other medium, musicals are a collaboration, since there are so many elements to deal with."

Feuer & Martin's last production was Kander and Ebb's 1977 The Act starring Liza Minnelli and Barry Nelson. But Feuer proudly points out two movie musicals, Cabaret, winner of eight Academy Awards, and A Chorus Line.

"I can say without any undo bravado that Cabaret, directed by Bob Fosse, is one of the best pictures ever made." It was one of ten films recently chosen by the Library of Congress for their collection.

But what about the other? "I know it received a drubbing and wasn't a box-office champ, but it happens to be a good movie. It was unnecessarily hit. The theatre community considered it the Holy Grail. Any change we made was abhorrent."

The Feuer & Martin partnership, said Feuer, "worked very well. We stopped when it wasn't fun anymore. Though Ernie died last year, the partnership was never dissolved."

Feuer, however, has continued to dabble and is currently working on packaging a film. He says he's invigorated by his League duties. "I'm the outsider there but feel very much inside, since I participate strongly."

So strongly, that he belies his age. When he turned 85 in January, he was deeply embarrassed when The League paid tribute to his service and theatrical legacy with a party.

"Everybody showed up to celebrate," said Feuer. "But the idea of 85 sort of paints its own picture, and I don't want people getting the wrong idea. My energy level is very high. I have no plans to retire."

-- By Ellis Nassour

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