"I really enjoy my opening nights," Berlind said.
He's in for some fun: Berlind has two of the biggest musicals of 1997 opening within a three-day period: Steel Pier tonight and The Life on Saturday -- an investment totaling in the neighborhood of $15 million.
"I had worked with Kander & Ebb on The Rink and loved their work. Scott [Ellis] was in The Rink, but we had never worked as producer and director. Susan Stroman I think is the best [choreographer] going. When they approached me with this project three years ago, I was very flattered. They showed me what they had up to that point, and I thought it was extremely promising material." With Berlind's backing they held a series of readings in 1995, which led to rewrites and an eight-week workshop at a New York City studio in July 1996, with most of the actors who will be opening the show tonight.
To help hedge his considerable bet in money and talent, Berlind adopted the unusual step (for Broadway, at least) of holding consumer-product type focus groups. Livent Inc. helped pioneer this innovation in theatre in 1995 and 1996 as it was preparing its Ragtime. Berlind said his focus groups dealt mainly with the marketing of Steel Pier, rather than its contents.
"I was doing what I thought was appropriate to develop some advance sales on a product no one heard of: not based on a novel, a movie or a play, starting from scratch and had no name value out there in the marketplace. We asked what the words ‘Steel Pier’ communicate to people. Some people thought it was some king of On the Waterfront thing. ”
Berlind said, “The focus group taught us how to present the show. It helped us identify what was interesting to them: a synopsis of the story. People want to know what they’re going to see, particularly in this case. So we developed, ‘From the composer of Chicago and Cabaret comes a new musical about a love affair that takes place during a dance marathon in Atlantic city in 1933.’ That told them what they were going to see.
Berlind -- who has had a fair amount of luck as producer or co-producer on City of Angels, Lettice and Lovage, Passion, the Nathan Lane Guys and Dolls revival and the Lane/Whoopi Goldberg Forum revival -- said, "There's nothing special I do for luck. I’m not smart enough to know what works."
As for whether he's a sitter or a pacer on opening night, he allowed, "I have paced, I have sat. I’ve found sitting is less strenuous. Pacing doesn't accomplish an awful lot. At that point, there's nothing I can do to help the show, I might as well enjoy it. So I enjoy it."