James M. Nederlander, Sr., the longtime patriarch of the Nederlander dynasty and one of the towering figures along Broadway over the past half century, died this week. He was 94.
Every producer in New York knew Jimmy, as he was known. The Nederlander empire—the largest family-run theatre-owning concern on Broadway—encompassed nine Broadway theatres, as well as a few in Detroit, Los Angeles and elsewhere.
James Nederlander was a big noise from Detroit—where his father began a theatre empire in 1912—when he arrived in the Big Apple and began buying Broadway theatres. His first acquisition was the fabled Palace Theatre, once the epicenter of Vaudeville. When his father died in 1967, Jimmy took the reins. Soon, he had holding bested only by the Shuberts.
There was no mistaking a Nederlander for a Shubert. The latter had artistic ambitions and talked grandly of the theatre as a noble calling. Jimmy, though he often produced shows, knew he was just a businessman and was content with that role. The bottom line was never far from his mind. He loved a hit, and he hated a flop. “I'm in the moving business—I move them in, and I move them out,” he liked to say. (He had other interests as well. In 1972, he and his brothers bought a piece of the New York Yankees.)
Broadway pros liked him for that plain-spokenness and his generosity. He even eventually became friends with the Shubert executives.
In 2004, he was presented a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement.
Unlike the theatre artists whose work he regularly gave a home, he seemed to be worry-free. He professed to having no regrets. “I did what I wanted,” he said. “I worked hard at it, and I wound up successful."
The theatre lost another giant this week in the form of Zelda Fichandler, a leading player in the regional theatre movement that began in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Her influence on the American theatre during the last half of the 20th century is hard to overstate. Until the 1940s, the only stage productions most Americans got to see were touring versions of Broadway hits. There was no organic, home-grown theatre.
Arena Stage, which Fichandler co-founded in theatre-starved Washington D.C. in 1950, was one of the first major resident regional theatres. Many artistic leaders in many other cities would follow her example in the years to come.
In 1967, she blazed another trail, when Arena Stage’s hit production of The Great White Hope went to Broadway and became a hit. It was a pattern that would be followed by other theatre and commercial producers countless times over the ensuing decades.
It’s easy to take America’s bountiful regional theatre landscape for granted today. But without pioneers like Fichandler, it might never have happened.
The theatre world may finally have something other than Hamilton to obsess over.
Though Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, the new play by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne currently playing in London, is only a few weeks into its young life, it looks as though the show has already blown up into a genuine cultural phenomenon.
This is perhaps not surprising. Any new property by Rowling with “Harry Potter” as part of its title was going to garner attention. But, if the play had been a poor piece of goods, it could easily have been rejected by Potter fans as unworthy. This, however, has not been the case.
The show boasts an unprecedented advance sale of $32 million and is sold out well into 2017. The script is being published in book form and released at midnight between July 30 and 31, the way most of the original seven Harry Potter books were released. Moreover, the New York Post published a report saying that producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender are seeking a theatre for a Broadway opening, “possibly next season” after a North American premiere in Toronto.
Finally, in an unusual move, the show let it be known that they would welcome reviews before the four-plus-hours-long production actually officially opened. Their bet paid off handsomely. The reviews were uniformly excellent.
“It is, quite simply, spellbinding: The Show That Lived Up to Expectations - and Then Some,” wrote Variety. It is “no mere rehash, but a whole new chapter - proves a proper theatrical blockbuster. Not just at the box office, but onstage as well: a captivating story given a spectacular staging and - Rowling's specialty - a big, big heart. Twenty years ago, Harry Potter turned a generation onto reading. The Cursed Child could do the same for theater.”
The Chicago Tribune went further in its proclamations: “Heretical as this may sound, I walked out of the theater quietly lamenting that the movies ever were made. Tiffany, Hoggett, and, not least, the set designer Christine Jones and magic persons Jeremy Chernick and Jamie Harrison collectively make the case that it is the theater that more naturally expresses the Rowling gestalt beyond the page.”
“Cursed Child goes far beyond dutiful brand extension with an entirely original and hugely ambitious sequel to the Potter books,” asserted Entertainment Weekly. The team has “delivered a production that's as spectacular as it is ambitious, stuffed with special effects and twists that had a preview audience gasping, Cursed Child is a story that doesn't play it safe with the Potter canon and will change how fans see certain favorite characters forever.”
Soon Hamilton will debut in London. Get ready for a fight over West End dominance.
The Lincoln Center Theater production of J.T. Rogers’ Oslo, a political thriller about the secret talks that led to the 1993 peace agreement between Israel and the PLO, is moving to Broadway.
The Bartlett Sher-helmed play will move to LCT’s Vivian Beaumont Theater next spring with the original cast, including headliners Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays. The Broadway production is set to kick off March 23, 2017, with an official opening night set for April 13.
The Yankee is going home sooner than expected.
Broadway’s dance-filled Gershwin musical An American in Paris will close October 9, it was announced this week. This is three months ahead of a previously announced January 1, 2017, closing date.
On June 23, producers announced that the production would end its run January 1 at the Palace Theatre. “We are announcing our closing six months ahead so that as many people as possible can plan to experience the uniqueness and beauty of the show before it leaves Broadway,” they said at the time. “The production is expected to recoup its entire investment before the end of its Broadway run.”
Finally, just a week after the death of television and film giant Garry Marshall, producers Bob Israel and Larry Hirschhorn announced that Marshall’s movie The Flamingo Kid is being developed as a musical, with sights set on a Spring 2018 Broadway opening.
The coming-of-age story, set at a country club where a blue collar teen gets a summer job, will feature book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music by Scott Frankel. It will be Mr. Freedman’s first musical since 2014’s Tony-winning Best Musical, A Gentlemen’s Guide To Love and Murder, and Mr. Frankel’s next after his War Paint.