It was the format of the old Hollywood studio system: create the product, distribute the product, market the product -- and keep it all under your own roof. Why not apply the same idea to plays and musicals? Take them from idea through the workshop stage, send them out on a pre-Broadway tour, bring them into New York, then send them back out internationally.
Garth Drabinsky's Livent has been making waves with this fully intergrated approach to theatre-making. He owns several theatres across North America and is in the process of building a Broadway house, The Ford Center, on New York's 42nd Street.
But the New York Times reports that a Goliath is in the works: a merger between Jujamcyn Theatres and PACE Theatrical Group. Jujamcyn is a major Broadway landlord, owning the Martin Beck, Walter Kerr, Eugene O'Neill, St. James and Virginia Theatres. PACE is a significant player on the tour circuit, bringing Jekyll & Hyde to dozens of cities and currently involved in touring A Chorus Line, Smokey Joe's Cafe and the Robert Goulet Man Of La Mancha.
The partnership will not only allow Jujamcyn to produce shows solely for touring but also create an investment pool of $20-$25 million "to foster and build new shows," Rocco Landesman, Jujamcyn's president, told the Times. With the cost of mounting Broadway shows rising beyond the level of small investors, such a merger would allow independent producers (working in conjunction with the partnership) to have sufficient capital to develop a project.
First to sign up after the agreement are producers Margo Lion, Richard Frankel, Steven Baruch and Thomas Viertel, all forming a consortium to help take some of the risk out of mounting Broadway shows. Landesman also said the appeal of the Jujamcyn-PACE merger had to do with its acceptance of touring as an vital part of the process. "At one time, the road accounted for about one-third of the commercial theatre business. Now, Broadway is about one-third and the road is two-thirds." Jujamcyn has theatres in Baltimore (MD), Green Bay (WI), Omaha (NE), Portland (OR), Minneapolis (MN). Pace has theatres not only across America, but two in Canada and five in England.
Though PACE and Jujamcyn have signed this agreement, the two are not about to merge companies in the near future, though according to Landesman, that isn't an impossibility. Projects falling under the wing of this new teamwork include Triumph Of Love, Barry Manilow's Harmony, and a one-man show starring television interviewer, Larry King.
Steven Baruch (pronounced Ba-Roosh'), co-producer of Smokey Joe's Cafe, told Playbill On-Line that if Smokey had been produced through this new merger, it would have probably gone on a lengthy pre Broadway tour before coming to the Virginia Theatre. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum would likely have taken the same route.
Asked if this mega-producing approach might lead to less risky choices -- a kind of production by committee -- Baruch replied, "To be sure, a certain number of shows would be spearheaded by the producing partners involved in this entity. And that would sort of be project-picking by committee. But there would still be independent producers producing the shows, just as indies do in Hollywood. It's too early to tell what this would do to the nature of the product itself."
Baruch also said that even though he and other producers have joined the aforementioned consortium, "We'll all still have our independent projects outside the scope of this. For example, doing shows Off-Broadway." Asked if having so many producers on one project would make it difficult for the show to be financially worthwhile, Baruch said, "The way these deals are structured, the investors get their money back before the producers take their profits. Then the producers -- who are generally in a limited partnership -- take their 50 percent."
Miles Wilkin, PACE's CEO told the Times, "What this allows us to do is to plan together. It's not just hope and prayer. It's a plan."
--By David Lefkowitz