John Breglio, New York Theatre's Legal Eagle, Honored by Public Theater

News   John Breglio, New York Theatre's Legal Eagle, Honored by Public Theater
John F. Breglio, the eminent entertainment lawyer, whose clients seem to include half the people seen in the New York Times' daily ABC listing of theatre productions, sees a double meaning in the title of advocate.

He is, of course, an advocate by profession. As the longtime head of the entertainment department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, his clients (those he will disclose) include Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Marvin Hamlisch, August Wilson, Anna Deavere Smith, Joe Papp's Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Second Stage, Playwrights Horizons, the Michael Bennett Estate, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Alfred Uhry and Julie Andrews.

But a single conversation with this ultimate Broadway Insider will quickly reveal the man to be that other sort of advocate—an ardent supporter of an industry in perpetual need of ardent support.

"I represent so many producers," Breglio told Playbll On-Line. "I am an aide-de-camp, I guess. I've never produced myself. Many times I've thought about it. But at the end of the day, I am a lawyer, and up until now, I've found enormous satisfaction in that. Your role is to help other people succeed at what they do."

One of Breglio's oldest clients, the Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival, will honor the lawyer at its annual gala benefit at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, on July 15. Breglio, who eschews publicity—though he is frequently quoted by the New York Times and other papers—was stunned when he was asked. He took 48 hours before agreeing to take part in the event.

"The reason I decided to do it is I am really devoted to that organization. I've been with the theatre for over thirty years, almost longer than anyone beside Gail Papp. I guess that's one of the reasons they ask you," Breglio laughed, "because you've been around a long time." Breglio said the most vital service he provides to the Public and other companies concerns the ferrying of hit productions from the safe harbor of the non-for-profit world through the rocky shoals of a commercial transfer.

"The complex relationship between commercial producers and not-for-profits is very delicate," he said. When bringing those two differently motivated worlds together on productions, the resulting deal "has to be calibrated carefully, not only financially, but artistically." Breglio explained that he and the Public's artistic director, George C. Wolfe, work together on the troupe's most ambitious projects to make certain the company's all-important artistic and monetary independence is preserved should the show leap to the commercial stage. "That is my critical role and has been for years."

Luckily for The Public, he has managed this trick several times over the past couple seasons, for shows like Topdog/Underdog, Elaine Stritch at Liberty and Take Me Out.

Breglio's far-reaching client list often makes these commercial transfers tricky matters. On more than one occasion, he has found himself the legal representative for parties on either side of the negotiating table. This occurred with Take Me Out, as Breglio is lawyer for both the Public and commercial producer Carole Shorenstein Hays. At such times, Breglio treads very carefully indeed.

"I've been Carole's lawyer for more than 20 years," he said. "The important thing is that both parties have to be aware of the conflict; they acknowledge it, and they waive any conflict in writing. I'm very careful to ensure that the separation of the firm is clear, that lawyers who work for the Festival are separate and distinct from lawyers who work for Hays; and in most cases, I will work on one side or the other. I think there's a high level of trust. More often than not, clients will say, 'Oh, we don't care. It's fine. Go ahead, John.' Even if they say that, I sometimes have to make judgemnts and decline from doing it if I have an instinct it's not a healthy way of proceeding."

Breglio, who is married to lyricist Nan Knighton, is close to many of his celebrated clients. Asked if it's difficult to simultaneously be a good lawyer and a good friend, he said, "I talk to young lawyers and I say a good lawyer is a client's best friend in the sense that, if you really think about it, when a client gets involved in a very difficult matter, the one person you have to depend on is your lawyer. If you can't confide in your lawyer, what can you do? I've been fortunate, because my relationships with my clients have gone on for many, many years. You can't help but get to know them, their personalities and families. That just develops a bond."


The benefit will take place at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, beginning with a 6 PM dinner. A performance of Henry V, the Public's park offering this year, follows, with an opening night party directly after. Henry V, starring Liev Schreiber and directed by Mark Wing Davey, officially opens on July 15.

Tickets start at $500 (for a single ticket to the show) and go up to $25,000 for "a premium table of 10 for dinner, 10 VIP performance tickets, the post-performance reception with the cast, and recognition in the Official Program as Vice Chair."

For information, contact Louie Anchondo, director of special events at (212) 539-8738.

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