Solo Shows Have Many Allures, Many Challenges for Producers

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02 Apr 2013

Holland Taylor in <i>Ann</i>.
Holland Taylor in Ann.
Photo by Ave Bonar

This season Broadway welcomes (mostly) solo shows starring Holland Taylor, Fiona Shaw, Bette Midler and Alan Cumming.


Producer Ken Davenport didn't have to think too long or too hard when he signed on to co-produce the 2009 Will Ferrell solo show You're Welcome America, in which the comedian reprised his "Saturday Night Live" impression of President George W. Bush.

"Why I did it was I'm a huge Will Ferrell fan," said Davenport. "I know the effect that he had on me as an audience member, and I knew the effect he would have on other people."

A Broadway show starring Will Ferrell, then at the height of his film fame, was hardly what you'd call a risky bet. And, it paid off for Davenport and his many co-producers. The show turned a very healthy profit.

Shows like Ferrell's and other box-office-bonanza, star-driven, solo outings like Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway and 700 Sundays starring Billy Crystal are the gold standards on Broadway. For a producer, hitching on to one can be the equivalent of minting money. But bankable stars are only one of the factors that draw a producer to a one-person show.

This spring, Broadway will see a rush of solo outings, each very different from the last. Already open is Ann, actor-playwright Holland Taylor's take on the charismatic Texas governor Ann Richards. On April 21, Alan Cumming opens in his nearly solitary rendition of Shakespeare's Macbeth (he gets a little help from a couple other actors, but plays most roles himself). The day after that is the premiere of The Testament of Mary, starring Fiona Shaw as the mother of Jesus. A couple days later, John Logan's I'll Eat You Last, featuring Bette Midler as legendary Hollywood agent Sue Mengers, takes it bow.


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