T.O.B.A. Gets Rollin' at the Kit Kat, March 17; But is it Broadway? | Playbill

News T.O.B.A. Gets Rollin' at the Kit Kat, March 17; But is it Broadway?
Quick: what Broadway musicals have yet to open this season?

Quick: what Broadway musicals have yet to open this season?

Yes, The Civil War, The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm and the play with-music Marlene. But wait! Add another to the list -- maybe. The Off-Broadway sleeper Rollin' on the T.O.B.A., about the early days of black vaudeville, has moved from the 47th Street Theatre to the Kit Kat Klub, former home of Cabaret.

The three-person musical ended its run at the 47th Street Theatre March 7 and starts previews at its new venue March 17 for an official opening March 24. (Once called Henry Miller's Theatre, then renamed The Kit Kat Klub for Cabaret, the building now bears the moniker: The Kit Kat Klub at Henry Miller's Theatre.)

A production source didn't yet know whether the show was officially "Broadway" status and/or Tony eligible, though the musical is on a Broadway contract.

That said, a spokesperson for the League of American Theatres & Producers told Playbill On-Line (March 16) the show was "not a member of the League," though this would not necessarily reflect on the show's Tony eligibility. A Tony spokesperson at the Keith Sherman press office told Playbill On Line (March 17) it was too early to determine the show's award eligibility. "The administration committee haven't seen the show yet. Once they do, they'll meet and make a decision sometime next month," said the spokesperson. A League spokesperson noted earlier that while Cabaret was considered Broadway (and Tony eligible), the theatre itself isn't necessarily a Broadway house.

T.O.B.A. producer Ashton Springer told Playbill On-Line that both he and the theatre have independently applied for Tony eligibility. "The theatre made its application, and if they get it, that would start next year for every show that goes in there. Separately, we as a show applied. I've been told the meeting to decide our status is the first week in April.

"We'd wanted to move to a bigger Off-Broadway house," Springer continued. "Broadway was the farthest thing from my mind, especially since there wasn't a Broadway house available. But my accountant mentioned the Kit Kat Klub. It took me a whole week to absorb that concept. Originally, my partner was just hoping to be Obie eligible. We never anticipated... it just sort of happened. They wanted us and worked out a deal that made the whole thing work."

At the 47th Street Theatre, T.O.B.A. had just a piano. The show now has musical backing by drums, bass sax and trumpet, as well as a slightly larger set (by designer Larry W. Brown). The cast -- Sandra Reaves Phillips, Rudy Roberson and co-creator Ronald "Smokey" Stevens -- remains the same.

According to producer Springer, the show was originally mounted for $200,000, with an extra quarter million added for the move. The break even point, not counting advertising, will be $70,000 per week.

Conceived by Stevens and Jaye Stewart, T.O.B.A. is subtitled "A Tribute to the Last Days of Black Vaudeville" and offers segments devoted to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Bert Williams and Butterbeans & Suzie. Several pieces are taken from Langston Hughes' "The Simple Stories." "T.O.B.A" is an acronym Theatre Owners' Booking Association," but performers had a different phrase for it: "Tough On Black Asses." No deals have yet been made regarding recording the show for CD release.

Stevens and Leslie Dockery direct the show, which features musical direction and arrangements by David Alan Bunn and additional material by Irvin S. Bauer. Jon Kusner (lighting), Michele Reisch (costumes) and Shabach Audio (sound) are the designers.

Springer, John Grimaldi and Frenchmen Productions, Inc. produced both the 47th Street Theatre engagement and the move. Asked if, in dealing with the Miller's Theatre's owners, he encountered some of the difficulties the Roundabout Theatre apparently ran into when producing Cabaret there, Springer laughed said, "Suffice to say it ain't like dealing with theatre people. For whatever reason, a lot of what we do with dealing with people in theatre has always been verbal. When you say so-and-so and I say so-and-so, it's a deal, I walk away, and that's what it is. I've learned it isn't always that way. But we make adjustments."

T.O.B.A. opened Off-Broadway Jan. 28 after starting previews Jan. 20.

For tickets to Rollin' On The T.O.B.A. at the Kit Kat Klub at Henry Miller's Theatre, call Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200.

-- By David Lefkowitz

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