Manny Kladitis: King of the Road?

Manny Kladitis: King of the Road? NEWS FROM THE ROAD -- July, 1996

NEWS FROM THE ROAD -- July, 1996

In the Fats Waller musical revue, Ain't Misbehavin', the ladies of the cast promote a recipe for love: "Find out what they like and how they like it, and give it to them just that way."

The lyric, however, also serves as a motto of sorts for one of the busiest‹and shrewdest‹producers on Broadway and on the road. "You can't do a show for just the love of it; you have to know what the audience is going to want and let that guide you," says Manny Kladitis, whose Niko Associates is currently responsible for either general managing or producing seven major productions, including the successful road company of Ain't Misbehavin' and the recent Tony-nominated revival of Hello, Dolly!

The Waller revue, starring the Pointer Sisters, concludes its run in July in San Francisco, while Dolly!‹with Carol Channing in the title role‹is getting ready to rev up its engines once again in September. The latter show plays dates in the Midwest and Boston before heading for the Far East. Meanwhile, Kladitis, who is the general manager for Victor/Victoria and the Broadway-bound Jekyll and Hyde, is readying touring productions of Deathtrap, Funny Girl and Inherit the Wind (should star George C. Scott feel strong enough after heart surgery to return to the role he recently played on Broadway).

The Ohio-born producer, who cut his teeth working for the legendary John Kenley Players and joined the Acting Company when he arrived in New York, says that creating productions for the road has changed dramatically since he formed Niko Theatricals in 1979. "The scepter has been passed from the producer to the presenters, who are largely responsible for financing and routing the shows," says Kladitis. "With the exception of producers like Garth Drabinsky and Cameron Mackintosh, producers put together the packages for the presenters, who then determine the routing, marketing and audience on the road."

Deathtrap is a case in point. About a year and half ago, Kladitis met with a group of road presenters who were looking for a touring show that would generate enthusiasm among subscribers at theatres across the country. "Thrillers are popular, and Deathtrap, which is one of the best, hadn't toured in some time," says Kladitis of Ira Levin's thriller. "It had the marketing advantage of being a recognizable name."

Securing the rights from Levin, Kladitis spent 18 months casting the leads, choosing Mariette Hartley and Elliott Gould. "Elliott Gould is a curiosity," he adds. "He hasn't been around all that much, is a good actor, and many people aren't aware that long before he became a film star, he had a New York stage career. That, in fact, is how he met and married Barbra Streisand."

Funny Girl, of course, is the show that made a star out of the first Mrs. Elliott Gould, and the impending revival, starring George Hamilton as Nicky Arnstein, may do the same for the actress chosen to play Fanny Brice. Whoever is cast, Kladitis is reluctant to predict how the revival might do on the road. "Audiences have a way of surprising us . . . I thought Hello, Dolly! would just do okay on the road with an older audience," he adds about the show that racked up more than $27 million on its tour. "But people brought their kids and grandkids and introduced the show to a whole new generation." -- By Patrick Pacheco