Kit Kat's T.O.B.A. Not Yet Rollin'; March 18 Show Canceled

News   Kit Kat's T.O.B.A. Not Yet Rollin'; March 18 Show Canceled
 
The Off-Broadway sleeper, Rollin' on the T.O.B.A., expected to begin previews March 17 at the Kit Kat Klub at Henry Miller's Theatre, postponed its first performance, but by press time the reason for the delay was not known. According to a box office spokesperson, the March 18 performance has also been canceled, though performances are expected to begin "sometime this weekend." (Other spokespersons for the show were not yet reachable for comment the morning of the 18th.)

The Off-Broadway sleeper, Rollin' on the T.O.B.A., expected to begin previews March 17 at the Kit Kat Klub at Henry Miller's Theatre, postponed its first performance, but by press time the reason for the delay was not known. According to a box office spokesperson, the March 18 performance has also been canceled, though performances are expected to begin "sometime this weekend." (Other spokespersons for the show were not yet reachable for comment the morning of the 18th.)

A spokesperson for the show said (March 17) it was not clear when previews would continue. It also could not be determined if the delay involved the relationship between the Kit Kat's tenant-operators and the building's landlord.

The revue about the early days of black vaudeville previously played at the 47th Street Theatre before moving to the larger Kit Kat venue, former home of Cabaret. The official opening is March 24, if and when previews continue.

In its move to the Kit Kat Klub, the three-person show added drums, bass saxophone and trumpet to the original piano accompaniment. Also added was a larger set (by designer Larry W. Brown). The cast -- Sandra Reaves Phillips, Rudy Roberson and co-creator Ronald "Smokey" Stevens -- remains the same.

According to producer Ashton 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, will be $70,000 per week. Conceived by Stevens and Jaye Stewart, T.O.B.A. is subtitled "A Tribute to the Last Days of Black Vaudeville" and offers 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 direct the show, which features 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) are the designers.

Springer, John Grimaldi and Frenchmen Productions, Inc. produced both the 47th Street Theatre engagement and the move.

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Assuming T.O.B.A. gets back on track, the question still hangs as to whether the show is officially "Broadway" and/or Tony eligible, though the musical is on a Broadway contract.

A spokesperson for Actors' Equity at Dick Moore & Associates told Playbill On-Line (March 18) the show was on a "special Equity production contract," a variation of the regular contract that makes T.O.B.A. "a Special Production Broadway show." The spokesperson added that Cabaret operated under a LORT contract.

A spokesperson for the League of American Theatres & Producers told Playbill On-Line (March 16) the show was "not a member of the League," though this would not necessarily reflect on the show's Tony eligibility.

A Tony spokesperson at the Keith Sherman press office told Playbill On- Line (March 17) it was too early to determine the show's award eligibility. "The administration committee haven't seen the show yet. Once they do, they'll meet and make a decision sometime next month," said the spokesperson. A League spokesperson noted earlier that while Cabaret was considered Broadway (and Tony eligible), the theatre itself isn't necessarily a Broadway house.

T.O.B.A. producer Ashton Springer told Playbill On-Line that both he and the theatre have independently applied for Tony eligibility. "The theatre made its application, and if they get it, that would start next year for every show that goes in there. Separately, we as a show applied. I've been told the meeting to decide our status is the first week in April.

"We'd wanted to move to a bigger Off-Broadway house," Springer continued. "Broadway was the farthest thing from my mind, especially since there wasn't a Broadway house available. But my accountant mentioned the Kit Kat Klub. It took me a whole week to absorb that concept. Originally, my partner was just hoping to be Obie eligible. We never anticipated... it just sort of happened. They wanted us and worked out a deal that made the whole thing work."

T.O.B.A. opened Off-Broadway Jan. 28 after starting previews Jan. 20.

For tickets to Rollin' On The T.O.B.A. once it gets rollin' at the Kit Kat Klub at Henry Miller's Theatre, call Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200.

-- By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz

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