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    June 9, 2013
  • Tony Awards: Producers go for second win this year

    Emily Hardy chats to Producers Jack W. Batman and Bruce Robert Harris in New York, about Pippin, the Tonys, Scottsboro Boys, GayFest NYC and Carrie.

    Tony Awards: Producers go for second win this year
    Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman

    EH: Pippin has been nominated for ten 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival. Do you think it might win?

    BRH: Pippin is a very special innovative show. Jack and I went up to ART (American Repertory Theatre, Boston) where it tried out and we knew in the first five chords. The audience went ballistic. We knew that it was time for this thing to come back.

    JWB: And, you’ll definitely be seeing it in the UK. There’s no question about it. It is probably the best revival I have ever seen on Broadway. Yes, I’m one of the producers but I do believe it is exceptionally well done.

    EH: What makes it so special?

    BRH: Diane Paulus.

    EH: The director.

    BRH: She really had a vision and she stuck to her guns. It’s all in the melding – the melding of the dancers, acrobats, the Broadway stars. I’ll tell you, when Jack and I saw that short preview at ART (six months before the show went up on stage), the passion and enthusiasm just flowed out of her. We looked at each other and we knew it was a definite win. She must have done the same with all the shows that have won her Tonys.

    You watch them in the opening number and you can never tell who the dancer/singers are or who the acrobats are because everybody does everything – Jack W. Batman on Pippin

    JWB: We are both connected to it in different ways: Steven Schwartz and I go way back and Bruce knows the choreographer and a number of the cast very well. Pippin has a lot of appeal and an enormous crossover. It appeals to high school students, and college students, and grandparents and everyone in-between. When it was announced, we both just said, yes!

    BRH: My roots are as a dancer; that’s what I did in my previous life. To see real triple threats like the cast of Pippin, I mean real Broadway gypsies like there used to be, is so special. What a fantastic responsibility to have to do that show every night.

    EH: They’re more than just triple threats though. They are acrobats and musicians too?

    JWB: Very true. I don’t know what you even call that. It’s amazing. You watch them in the opening number and you can never tell who the dancer/singers are or who the acrobats are because everybody does everything.

    EH: Pippin has been put on many, many times over the years, in various venues. It has a beautiful score, but it is a slightly quirky show…

    JWB: This production has brought real clarification to the script.

    BRH: In other productions we haven’t seen the pure Pippin, but this revival really brings that out. I was in the audience one night (Jack and I go to see our shows a lot) and a woman was sat next to me with her daughter and grandchild in the row in front. I asked the woman if she wanted me to move so they could sit together and she said, ‘No, I want them to experience Pippin on their own, in just the way I did.’ At intermission, I asked her what she thought, and she said, ‘They love it! It’s exactly how I remember feeling.’ Things like that make it all worthwhile.

    JWB: So promise us Emily, that you will tell us what you think.

    BRH: Yes, write and tell us.

    For quality of production, we are 100% on, but you can never tell what an audience is going to like… or not. – Bruce Robert Harris on Pippin

    EH: I’ll come back and tell you in person. I’ve been looking for an excuse to visit again! I can’t imagine how proud you must feel, and relived too, because obviously producing is a huge risk; not every show is as successful.

    BRH: No. We’ve had a couple of wins, a couple of losses and some mediums.

    JWB: For quality of production, we are 100% on, but you can never tell what an audience is going to like… or not.

    EH: So, will you occasionally take a risk on something that you love, even if it’s not an obvious hit?

    JWB: Absolutely. We did that with Bonnie and Clyde.

    BRH: And we did that with Scottsboro Boys.

    JWB: Scottsboro Boys is probably one of the best shows of the last 100 years.

    BRH: I absolutely agree. It’s brilliant, but financially less so. It brought the investors their money back and it will continue to grow. We’re producing it at the Young Vic in London, actually.

    EH: Yes, the hype around that is already huge, and tickets are selling very well!

    JWB: The Young Vic is perfect for it.

    BRH: Cutting edge.

    JWB: It is one of Kander and Ebb’s 3 finest shows. It can have the same 12 year life as Chicago, it just didn’t have it on Broadway, and neither did Chicago on its first time out, come to think of it. Chicago, Cabaret and Scottsboro Boys are dangerous shows, not standard Broadway, but they are so appealing to audiences everywhere. I think audiences will embrace Scottsboro Boys.

    There is nothing better in the theatre than word of mouth, there truly isn’t, and we have about the best we could ever have on Pippin. So, yes, it’s exciting – Bruce Robert Harris

    EH: Surely it has got a lot to do with timing – whether or not Broadway is ready for a show or not? People weren’t sure how Matilda was going to be received here, for instance.

    BRH: We’re still not sure. We’re still really not sure. It’s 50/50.

    JWB: It sells a lot of tickets.

    BRH: It sells tickets and it’s doing well but it’s not doing what it has done in London.

    JWB: It’s a very expensive show. We will see. We are all fans but…

    EH: So, how are you feeling about the Tonys on Sunday? Excited?

    BRH: You know, there is nothing better in the theatre than word of mouth, there truly isn’t, and we have about the best we could ever have on Pippin. So, yes, it’s exciting. I’m going to the Astaire dance awards tonight and I am certain that Pippin will pick up awards. When we go to the Tonys on Sunday, I am certain we will get them. It’s just exciting to know that your taste is vindicated. Not everyone jumped on Pippin you know, people were hesitant.

    JWB: The bottom line on Pippin is that, for the past month, it has been breaking all house records at the Music Box Theatre, even with all the free tickets that had to be given away to Tony voters, so awards aside, that is fantastic.

    EH: So, what you’re saying is, a Tony would be lovely but you’re already satisfied? You’ve done everything that you endeavoured to do and more.

    JWB: It’s the best show in the Music Box since One Man, Two Governors!

    BRH: There are people out there though who won’t see a show unless it has won best musical or best revival, for example. Look at Once – not for me a typical Broadway show, but it won the Tony and has thrived because of it. I am almost certain, and I could be wrong about this, but if Once hadn’t won the Tony, I’m sure it wouldn’t still be open.

    JB: It’s based on a movie that no one saw, so it doesn’t have anything to support it. It’s a fantastic show, but it is so awfully hard to get people through the doors. Compare it to something like the Michael Jackson show in London, which is doing extraordinarily well. London audiences have a tendency to support that kind of show more than ours.

    BRH: The bubblegum musicals.

    JB: Although, having said that, the number one selling show on Broadway today is Motown. Motown. MOTOWN!

    BRH: It is fascinating to us.

    JB: It is selling out big bucks and it is because of the music, not reviews or awards. It’s not a real musical comedy at all, it’s a showcase for that fantastic music – much the same as Thriller in London.

    EH: I’m fascinated by how different audiences respond to the same shows, the things that appeal to London audiences that are unpopular in New York, for example.

    BRH: We saw Priscilla in London and were on our feet, but it didn’t have the same flair over here. The other two shows this makes me think of are Chess and Sunset Boulevard, which I saw back to back in London and then here shortly after. Chess was ruined here, for whatever reason I can’t say and Sunset Boulevard was not as successful either. Then some shows, like War Horse, do fabulously well in both cities. It’s interesting. Who is to say? As producers it’s our responsibility to have a hold on these sort of statistics and facts.

    EH: If you could forget all of that, throw caution to the wind and pick one show to produce, what would it be?

    BRH: When I was a little boy I saw Sugar Babies with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney. I waited to meet her in the rain after the show, and since then I’ve always wanted to do that. It made a huge impression on me. But, my favourite show, that I would love to put on is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It has just got such great dancing in it! The story might not be the best ever told…

    JWB: Yes, you’ll be doing that one by yourself.

    BRH: Yes, alright. I know.

    JWB: This is going to sound odd: The show that I’ve always thought should have a major revival is Irma la Douce. When it was made into a movie the score was only used as background, but it is a fantastic, French musical that did extraordinarily well here in New York. It is a farce set in Paris… and it is a dance show!

    BRH: That means he’s going to convince me to produce it with him at some point down the line.

    JB: It’s a show I just think audiences would love. I can’t even being to think how to untangle the rights for a film as successful as that though. We’re not all Disney. We can’t just click our fingers and pick up the rights to anything, regardless of cost. But, I always use Alan J Lerner as the basis for this fight, because he never gave up. He pestered and pestered George Bernard Shaw until he got the rights to Pygmalion, and we wouldn’t have My Fair Lady if he hadn’t. The rest is history.

    EH: We’ve talked a lot about the big Broadway shows. Tell me about what is going on in here, at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex.

    JB: This is the first revival in 17 years of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, written by Moisés Kaufman. This piece is being presented by a young theatre company called the BASiC Theatre Project.

    BRH: We are sitting in a room that’s an immersive world of these trials.

    JWB: The words of Oscar Wilde are all around us on the walls.

    BRH: Everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes. As Jack will agree, if compare this set to Matilda, with its scrabble words and letters, in here you sit and read full sentences written everywhere you look.

    JWB: The play is based on transcripts of the trails and biographies. There is not a fictional word in it. If you haven’t seen it in London, it needs to be performed. It is a worthy, worthy project and can be done on any scale. We only have 44 seats here.

    EH: 44 seats can’t be making you much money.

    JWB: No, but we’re not doing this for the money. That is not the point of our festival.

    Our beneficiary for the GAYFEST NYC festival is the Harvey Milk High School, who we do three major things for: we mentor them and bring in positive gay role models – Bruce Robert Harris

    BRH: GAYFEST NYC was started seven years ago. This is our seventh year and our fifth full festival. The reason we started it was to present or produce gay spotlighted material, things that were relevant and we get anywhere from 40-100 scripts submitted every year. We read them all! We try to focus in on things that are just about ready for their first outing, so we can premier new work. As J.P Morgan said, ‘The cream rises to the top.’

    JWB: That’s Ragtime! Everything you need to know, you can learn from musical theatre!

    EH: Thank goodness that’s true!

    BRH: Absolutely! Our beneficiary for the festival is the Harvey Milk High School, who we do three major things for: we mentor them and bring in positive gay role models; we offer them playwriting classes where they get to write their own, cathartic stories; and we raise money, throughout the year, to provide scholarships. Making money in the festival, making money in the theatre is nice, but we are grateful to fill the seats and we care more about people seeing the work. For Jack and I, seeing is believing. Everyone is very visual these days and when people come and see what we do, they become part of the family. So, GAYFEST is very important to us.

    JWB: Since 2007, we have given 40 scholarships. On Thursday, we are previewing a brand new play called The Loves of Mr Lincoln, by David Brendan Hopes, based on letters between Lincoln and his best friend.

    BRH: It’s a very lavish production, we’re very proud of this one. David is a Pulitzer prize nominated poet, so the language is gorgeous. GAYFEST is an opportunity for us to produce plays like this which are really tough.

    JWB: The plays we are doing here are all very dangerous. Anything you say about Abraham Lincoln that isn’t in the history book is dangerous to say the least. But then, after this, we are escaping to Los Angeles to do Carrie the Musical!

    EH: Yes, I’ve been wanting to ask you about that. You’re certainly taking a risk there, what with the show not having the greatest….um…..

    BRH: Pedigree?

    EH: Not the best track record.

    BRH: (laughing) Because it failed, Emily? Twice? Well, hopefully third time’s the charm! This immersive project is closer to the vision the creators had originally for the show. Who knows? We are going to take our stab at it and do the best job we can.

    EH: I would be fascinated to see that. It has a big cult following now.

    JWB: It’s going to have a much bigger life this time. We are building a pop-up theatre in a warehouse. You’re going to be ushered into the gymnasium to watch the events unfold.

    BRH: And we are actually doing everything. The horror, the gothic. We would do it in London too, exactly the same as in LA.

    JWB: There’s a movie out this week called, Now You See It….

    EH: I saw it yesterday!

    JWB: Fantastic. Well, the guy who consulted for all the magic in that, David Kwan, is our consultant for Carrie.

    EH: Wow! I’m sold. I wish I could be there to see it in LA.

    JWB: Watch this space, London.

    For more information on Jack and Bruce (SunnySpot Entertainment) - click here

    Published on June 9, 2013 · Filed under: Featured, Highlights, Interviews;

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