Friday, April 5, 2013

Taking a flyer on Broadway

Yesterday, I interviewed Jed Canaan, a theater man who is a resident of Armonk, N.Y., which is in Westchester County, just north of New York City. He and his wife, Bronna, run Theater Extras, which "papers the house" (gives away tickets) for producers who have seats to fill.

(An aside: when producers do this, it doesn't necessarily mean the show's a loser. It could also mean the producer really believes in it and wants to boost word of mouth. Or a celebrity or critic is coming and a full house creates a better atmosphere. It's often a win-win for the producer *and* the ticketholder.)

Are these happy producers, or what? Jed and Bronna Canaan contemplate the opening of Matilda the Musical.
With their latest venture, they would seem to have both ends of the producing equation covered, as they will be making their debut as producers at the very top - a major Broadway musical.

I waxed a little nostalgic about my time as one of the 700 producers of Godspell -- this blog entry wrapped up the whole experience -- and wish them a heartfelt "break a leg." 

The story first appeared at AllAboutArmonk:

When Matilda The Musical opens on Broadway on April 11, Jed and Bronna Canaan will mark their first time as Broadway producers, first Broadway opening night -- and the first time they've seen the show.

Isn't it a little unusual for producers not to have seen some version of the show that's eating their hard-earned cash? "It's highly unusual!" said Jed Canaan in an interview.

However, it's also a measure of the faith the couple has in a musical version of Roald Dahl's much-beloved book of the same name, featuring an irresistible story about a precociously intelligent girl who uses her wits and telekinetic powers to triumph over the idiotic adults in her life.

Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company (which has co-produced musicals since "Les Misérables" 25 years ago) bought the rights in 2009. Musician and comedian Tim Minchin wrote the music, playwright Dennis Kelly crafted the book and Matthew Warchus (Tony winner for "God of Carnage") was hired to direct. When the musical opened in London in November, 2011, Canaan took notice.

"I had read the book many years ago. My wife and I loved it. I wrote to the RSC and said if they ever brought it to New York, I'd like to raise money to produce it," he said.
The Canaans may be new to Broadway producing, but they aren't theater novices. Their decade-old company, Theater Extras, makes free show tickets available to a paid membership when producers are seeking to fill unsold seats.

Their producing arm is called North Castle Theatricals. They and their two daughters, who are 13 and 10, have been based in Armonk for six years, "love it" and have seen local theater such as the Armonk Players.
Canaan's instincts about "Matilda" were spot-on, as the British say. The show was a huge hit in London, winning seven Olivier Awards (including Best New Musical) and moving to a larger theater to accommodate demand.

Capitalizing the New York production at $16 million, the producers -- now including long-time Broadway players The Dodgers -- received a number of expressions of interest from producing groups. The Canaans were among those chosen to be co-producers, contingent upon raising funds from other investors.

Putting in some of their own money, the Canaans "picked up the phone," calling people they knew with the means to invest a minimum of $25,000 and understand the risks of Broadway, where eight in 10 shows lose money.

"I had to reach out to some heavy hitters. Basically, you sell the show a lot and beg just a little. But you have to believe in the project. One of the guys who invested saw the show in London and loved it, and that helped," said Canaan.

They reached their target and next Thursday, Jed, Bronna and seven couples will walk the red carpet at the Shubert Theatre and celebrate at the opening-night party.
However, the Canaans are already looking further ahead. "We're considering [investing in] 'Tuck Everlasting,' which opens in Boston this summer, and 'Diner'  from the movie," said Canaan.

Break a leg, Jed and Bronna.