Producers and special guests are expected to appear at the final Broadway performance of the play by David Auburn, who was an obscure Off-Off-Broadway writer before his script about a mentally ill math genius and his afflicted daughter found its way to the respected Manhattan Theatre Club.
Barry Grove, MTC's executive producer, told Playbill On Line his troupe's literary staff was aware of Auburn's earlier play, Skyscraper, and programmed his new work — Proof — into a reading series.
"We have a series called 'Six at Six,' which is our in-house presentation of work by young writers: Six plays that happen on Monday night at six o'clock," Grove told Playbill On-Line Jan. 3. "[Artistic director] Lynne [Meadow] and the artistic team looked at it and said, 'Gosh, let's go right to production,' which is very unusual from that series. We were really thrilled with it from the beginning."
The Off-Broadway run at MTC's Stage I at City Center starred Mary-Louise Parker, Larry Bryggman, Ben Shenkman and Johanna Day.
"It seems a long time ago now for a play to still be running on Broadway," Grove said, "and it's had a terrific life everywhere it's gone ever since." Grove said commercial producers "heard the buzz" and caught the play in previews and jumped on the idea of partnering with MTC on a commercial Broadway transfer, which came in fall 2000. "There was no enhancement [money from producers for the MTC run], no pre-production commitments," Grove said. "This was born and world-premiered by MTC and we brought in colleagues to help us with the capitalization of the transfer."
Everyone in the cast ended up Tony Award nominated in 2001, and Parker won for Best Actress (Play). Director Daniel Sullivan won for Best Director (Play). Auburn and the producers won the Tony for Best Play. The Pulitzer had come weeks earlier.
Grove told Playbill On-Line that MTC "will continue to have a long relationship with David Auburn."
Of the Broadway transfer, Grove observed: "MTC is certainly a writers' theatre and this is about supporting a writer's work; you don't do them to move them to Broadway but clearly when one of them has the kind of impact on an audience that this did you want it to be seen by as wide an audience as possible."
Even through cast changes in the past two years (Jennifer Jason Leigh played daughter Catherine after Parker, and Anne Heche took over in mid-2002), audiences kept coming to be intrigued by the drama whose main character made them gasp at the Act One curtain.
By Jan. 5, Proof totals 16 previews and 917 performances (a performance was cancelled in December, which changes the previously-predicted 918 performance count). The producers bill the run as the longest-running play Broadway has seen in 20 years (since Torch Song Trilogy).
Proof made its investment back and made its producers happy, Grove said. "Yes, no question, a terrific success for everyone," he said. "Obviously, it's different if you're producing it by yourself than if you're producing it with six partners. Nonetheless, it's been a very profitable experience for everyone."
A film version is in the works and the stage script has already proliferated, becoming a major title in resident professional theatres all over the country (four characters and a single set don't hurt its prospects for a life beyond New York). The Broadway producing partnership participates in subsidiary rights, earning money long after the initial close.
Take Me Out, the well-reviewed play by Richard Greenberg, begins performances at the Kerr Feb. 4 following its hit fall 2002 run at The Public Theater (and a summer run at the Donmar Warehouse in London).
Proof has been celebrated by critics and audiences as a romance, a drama of splintered family dynamics and a mystery. Director Sullivan, who helmed from the show's beginning at Stage I at Manhattan Theatre Club, was hands-on throughout the run. He also staged the national tour, which featured Kunken as Hal. The previous 2001 02 Broadway cast, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Josh Hamilton, Patrick Tovatt and Seana Kofoed, exited the show June 30, 2002, following performances since Sept. 14, 2001.
Neil Patrick Harris played Hal to Heche's Catherine over the summer of 2002, to Oct. 6. It was his Broadway debut (he's now the Emcee in Cabaret). The London production of Proof starred Gwyneth Paltrow. Auburn himself directed a regional production of the play at the Coconut Grove Playhouse near Miami.
The back porch, University of Chicago neighborhood set design is by John Lee Beatty, costumes are by Jess Goldstein, lighting is by Pat Collins, and original music and sound design are by John Gromada.
The Proof national tour, led by Chelsea Altman and Robert Foxworth, with Stephen Kunken and Tasha Lawrence, ended June 23, 2002, at the Auditorium Theatre in Denver.
Proof is produced on Broadway by Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, artistic director; Barry Grove, Executive Producer), Roger Berlind, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Jujamcyn Theatres, Ostar Enterprises, Inc., Daryl Roth and Stuart Thompson.