Blog Archives

How an Entertainment Lawyer Became a Broadway Producer

John Breglio, author of I Wanna Be a Producer, was once an entertainment lawyer before he became best known for his critically acclaimed revival of A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls. In this featured article below from Playbill, they take a look at John Breglio’s book and “making a career change if you’re willing to take a leap”.  Read a snippet below to learn more.


IWannaBeCOVERJohn Breglio, one of the toughest and savviest theatrical attorneys on Broadway, decided to take down his shingle a decade ago to become, of all things, a Broadway producer.

A man who once sat behind the creators at the table on shows including A Chorus LineNineFencesDreamgirls, The Elephant Man and Sunset Boulevard, to name just a few, now sits at the head of the table.

In life, he says, “You have to be willing to take that leap.” He must firmly believe that, as he is leaping once again into uncertain waters as a first-time author. His book, I Wanna Be A Producer: How to Make a Killing on Broadway… or Get Killed, is equal parts autobiography, textbook and showbiz tell-all.

Those who get bitten by the theatre bug generally remember the precise moment that its mandibles sank in. For Breglio, the moment came at age nine, when he was hypnotized by Gwen Verdon in her Tony-winning role as Lola in Damn Yankees, singing the erotically charged “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.”

The electricity of that moment carried him through law school and into his entertainment law career. There are so many things that people speculate about in show business, like what really happened between Patti LuPone and Andrew Lloyd Webber during the fateful transfer of the musical Sunset Boulevard from London to Broadway. Or what exactly was the deal Michael Bennett struck to give members of the original cast of A Chorus Line a share of the profits. Breglio helped craft those deals, and is able to pull back the curtain on their mysteries, setting the record straight.


Read the entire article by clicking here.

 

Advertisements

The 2011-2012 Broadway Season

Robert Viagas PlblYrbook_AuPhoto_314865Robert Viagas is the editor of The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2011 to May 2012. Below, StageNotes.net asks Mr. Viagas, “How would you describe the 2011-2012 Broadway season?”

Given the economy people expected a contraction of both the number of productions and the amount spent on tickets. Suprisingly, it was exactly the opposite. Broadway had another season in which it sold more than a billion dollars with of tickets, and that’s billion with a “b.” Yes tickets are expensive—but there seems to be plenty of people willing to spend the money.

As I wrote in the preface to the 2011-2012 Yearbook, it was a richly diverse season of tuneful new musicals, delirious comedies, hard-hitting dramas and exuberant dances, plus revivals of some of the greatest works in the American theatrical canon: “Death of a Salesman,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Porgy and Bess,” in versions that earned their share of controversy, criticism…and several key awards.

Composer Stephen Sondheim, who turned 82 this season, rattled Broadway in summer 2011 by blasting Diane Paulus’s new shortened and punched-up version of “Porgy and Bess,” not just for assuming the vanity title “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” (elbowing out librettist and co-lyricist DuBose Heyward, Sondheim noted), but for bringing in Pulitzer laureate Suzan-Lori Parks to rewrite the libretto and even to change the show’s ending. Sondheim—a Pulitzer-winner himself—excoriated these maulings of the classic. But the result was pleasing enough to win “TGPaB” a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, incidentally beating a noteworthy revival of Sondheim’s own “Follies.”

The 2011-2012 season will be remembered for a pyrotechnic display of bravura performances, not least Audra McDonald’s Tony-winning turn as Bess. Audiences were thrilled by Danny Burstein’s heartbreaking performance as Buddy in “Follies,” Christian Borle as a Groucho-Marxian proto-Captain Hook in “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Nina Arianda as a fake (or maybe not) dominatrix in “Venus in Fur,” Ricky Martin as an audience-pleasing Che in “Evita,” Raul Esparza as a charismatic con-man in “Leap of Faith,” and Jeremy Jordan in TWO brightly etched lead performances in “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Newsies,” et al.

Even with all these, the showstopper performance of the season was James Corden’s brethless clowning turn in “One Man, Two Guvnors.” How good was Corden? In the Tony contest for Best Leading Actor in a Play Corden beat heavyweights Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frank Langella, John Lithgow and James Earl Jones, who were themselves giving stage-shaking performances.

It was a season packed with romance (“Once”), politics (“Newsies”), adventure (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) race relations (“Clybourne Park” and “Stick Fly”), families in crisis (“Other Desert Cities,” “Stick Fly”) and religion. Lots of religion. Two shows depicted the crucifixion of Jesus, “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” “Leap of Faith” enacted a tent revival. Holdover show “Sister Act” rocked a convent full of nuns singing gospel. Another holdover, “The Book of Mormon” continued to have fun (and earn a million bucks a week) with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

“Once” won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, not just because the bittersweet Irish love story touched so many hearts, but because the show had a unique look and sound. In 1960 Richard Rodgers wrote “No Strings,” a musical that used virtually no strings in the pit. “Once” did the opposite: with a supporting cast of street musicians, it used only strings (plus an accordion).

And yet, 2011-2012 will be remembered as the season without a blockbuster—unless you count Hugh Jackman’s solo show that was so solidly sold out that they passed on the chance to be nominated for a Tony Award because they didn’t want to give out free tickets to all the potential voters. They sold them instead, kept the money…and watched as Jackman was given a special Tony Award anyway. But that show was only a limited run, as was the other SRO show, “Death of a Salesman.” “Once,” “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Newsies” were some of the biggest hits of the season, but none was solidly sold out until after the Tony Awards. There was no new “Book of Mormon,” “Jersey Boys” or “The Producers” this year.

Which is not to say that Broadway didn’t sell a lot of tickets. Though the number of tickets sold was down slightly, the overall gross for the season was a new record–$1.14 billion.

Keep reading this article on StageNotes.net.

The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: May 2011 to June 2012

Many of the people who work on Broadway keep scrapbooks of their experiences: photos, signed posters, ticket stubs, and, of course the Playbills. These are treasured keepsakes, something to be savored over a lifetime, and then passed on to friends and descendants. Playbill Books, a division of the iconic 128-year-old company that designs the programs for every show on Broadway, has expanded this idea into an annual project that has become a Broadway institution: The Playbill Broadway Yearbook. Taking the form of a high school or college yearbook, the eighth edition is packed with photos (more than 4,000 of them, many in color) and memorabilia from the entire 2011-2012 Broadway season.

High School Inspired Broadway: Q & A with Robert Viagas

Robert Viagas PlblYrbook_AuPhoto_314865Robert Viagas is the editor of The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2011 to May 2012. Below is a Q &A with StageNotes.net.

What first sparked your interest in Broadway and Theatre?

Being tall (now 6′ 4”) had a curious amount to do with it. Although I wasn’t raised in a theatrical household, I was often asked play the father or other adult roles in elementary school plays because I was the tallest. Then, when I was in my teens, I had a friend who loved theatre and got a reviewing gig for our local newspaper so he could see shows for free. But Times Square in the 1970s was a much more dangerous place than it is now, so he invited me to come along, partly as a bodyguard, I suppose. Well, the theatre bug bit me hard, and it’s been all downhill from there. I’m now a member of the Tony nominating committee, as well as being founder of Playbill.com and founding editor of “The Playbill Broadway Yearbook.” Over the years I have blocked the view of countless theatregoers sitting behind me, especially when I am accompanied by one of my sons, who are 6’8” and 6’6”, respectively.

What was your favorite subject in High School and why?

It would be easy to say Music or English, both of which I did like a lot. My 8th grade English teacher Miss Heidengen, took me to my first Broadway show on a field trip: “Man of La Mancha.” But my favorite was Social Studies, mainly because I also like history and, especially, maps. That interest has helped me a lot when watching plays like Shakespeare’s War of the Roses dramas or more recent plays like “Copenhagen,” “Democracy,” “The Coast of Utopia,” and even “Clybourne Park.” Every year our high school music department staged a big musical, and in 7th grade I was invited to help beef-up the chorus of “Guys and Dolls,” again because I was tall and could easily pass for a 10th grader. In 11th grade they gave me the lead in “Promises, Promises,” even though the lead usually went to a senior. So I did have a certain fondness for Music as well, although I played no instrument. However, I didn’t consider theatre as a career at that point.

How did the Playbill Broadway Yearbook come to be 8 seasons ago?

It was the brainchild of our publisher, Philip Birsh, who had originally hired me to launch and run Playbill.com, and has since expanded Playbill from being just a theatre program company into a theatre INFORMATION company, with numerous websites, a travel branch, an online branch, a book branch, broadcast, etc. He walked into my office one day and said, “I have an idea. Let’s make a high school yearbook, but for the people who work on Broadway.” Everything else grew out of that.

Keep reading this Q&A on StageNotes.net.

The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2011 to May 2012

Many of the people who work on Broadway keep scrapbooks of their experiences: photos, signed posters, ticket stubs, and, of course the Playbills. These are treasured keepsakes, something to be savored over a lifetime, and then passed on to friends and descendants. Playbill Books, a division of the iconic 128-year-old company that designs the programs for every show on Broadway, has expanded this idea into an annual project that has become a Broadway institution: The Playbill Broadway Yearbook. Taking the form of a high school or college yearbook, the eighth edition is packed with photos (more than 4,000 of them, many in color) and memorabilia from the entire 2011-2012 Broadway season.

The new edition includes chapters on 70 Broadway shows, which is every show that ran during the season – not just such new shows as Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Once, Newsies, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and One Man, Two Guvnors, but the long-running ones from seasons past, such as Phantom of the Opera, The Book of Mormon, and Wicked. In addition to headshots of all the actors who appeared in Playbill, the book has photos of producers, writers, designers, stage managers, stagehands, musicians, ushers – even Leonardo, the “SM” fish who is the backstage mascot at Jersey Boys. This year’s roster is expected to top 10,000 names.

Performance of the Century Introduction

The following is an excerpt of the book Performance of the Century: 100 Years of Actors’ Equity Association and the Rise of Professional American Theater by Robert Simonson (Applause Books), as posted by Playbill.

Actors’ Equity Association is that most improbable of institutions: an artists’ union. It represents and looks out for the welfare of more than 48,000 actors and stage managers in the United States. In 100 years, it has not imploded, been exploded, or been declared illegal. It should be in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

As a journalist, I have covered the American stage for 30 years. During that time, I have tended to take Equity for granted as one of the immutable realities of the theatre. Yet, as I researched this book, it quickly dawned on me that Equity’s very existence was basically unimaginable. We tend to associate unions with blue-collar jobs — work that is often hard and unglamorous to begin with and would be so much worse if a union didn’t look out for its practitioners. A labor organization representing an inevitably elective profession like acting? Absurd, really. Surreal. Artists have never managed it. Nor novelists, nor poets. That a labor union governed by performers, and speaking for performers, has survived for a century is nothing less than a miracle.

Certainly the people who controlled the theatre back in 1913 didn’t think Equity would last a year. Actors were too self-interested ever to act in concert; too proud ever to call what they did a craft; too refined and impractical ever to worry themselves with the base matters of business; and too insecure ever to turn down work, no matter how financially punishing and personally humiliating the conditions. So went the conventional wisdom. And for much of the 19th century, the evidence did not seem to contradict it. Every attempt to organize actors had failed.

But by the 1910s, working conditions had become unendurable. Actors were not paid for rehearsal. They were made to buy their own costumes. They were abandoned when shows failed on the road. Contracts were regularly broken by unscrupulous producers. There was no security. Action had to be taken. And in 1919, it was. The fledgling union found its feet and its teeth six years after it was formed.

Keep reading this excerpt on Playbill.com.

Performance of the Century

Actors’ Equity Association, the union representing stage actors and stage managers, turns 100 years old in 2013. Shaped by the inequities visited on performers in the 19th century, the union has shaped the landscape of the professional American theater. Founded in 1913, it became a force to be reckoned with in an historic 1919 strike – the most entertaining and dramatic one (naturally) the nation had ever seen. Since then, Equity has gone beyond securing the safety, health, and rights of stage actors, to become arguably the most progressive force in theater. It stared down not only obdurate producers, but segregation – on and off the stage, the political hysteria of the blacklist years, and the challenge of the AIDS epidemic, its members forming what would become Equity Fights AIDS. It entertained the troops of several successive American wars and fostered the spread of stage culture across the land, from the government-fostered productions of the Depression-era Federal Theatre Project to the Equity Library Theatre, which offered the classics to the public at bargain prices. It oversaw the little theater movement’s growth into the regional theater movement, and was there when Broadway begat Off-Broadway, and then Off-Off-Broadway. To read this resplendent new book, lavishly illustrated with historical images and stunning photographs, is to learn not only the union’s glorious past, but that of American theater itself.

Closer to CLOSER: “What’s In a Name?” – Casting Pt. 2

 

Guest Blogger: Andrew Gerle is the author of The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition.

Casting calls can be very rewarding, and with sufficient preparation (see Casting Pt. 1) can yield excellent results. For many productions, this is the only way to find your cast: send out the breakdown, then either see who shows up, or see who gets submitted and have your casting agent (or artistic director, or director) sift through the resumes and schedule appointments.

However, with productions of a slightly (or much) greater profile, there starts to be the possibility of getting a star, or semi-star, or what people who spend their time looking at things like Gross Weekly Box Office Receipts like to call a Name.

What is a Name? Theoretically, it is an actor who, simply by having their name on the poster or flier or Playbill ad, will make someone want to buy a ticket and see the show, hopefully people who wouldn’t otherwise do so. If it’s a new show or a very large production, a name can also help a producer raise money. There are a lot of variables and questions built into this strategy. For example, who exactly will the Name get to buy a ticket? Answer this question and you will determine the size of Name you need to get the result you want. If you’re aiming for a general tourist audience, people who only see theater on their once-a-year trip to the Apple and who otherwise watch movies and TV, nothing less than a bona fide star is going to make them choose your show over another, or a movie, or a museum, or shopping.

But these days, who is really a star of that magnitude? Meryl Streep? Yes. Hugh Jackman? Yes. The latest boy band sensation? Probably (for better and for worse). Start going too much further down the entertainment food chain, however, and you’ll quickly get diminishing returns for this casual, occasional theater audience.

Why am I dwelling on this? Because casting a Name often necessitates a trade-off, especially in the music department. The names I listed above are the rare kind who are huge stars with real singing chops and who can truly carry a show. Most Names, however, that are strewn about a casting brainstorming session are not primarily singers. They may work very hard and make the most of the instrument and technique they have, but based solely on the voice and the musician, would not be an MD’s first choice. They are movie stars, or personalities, and if you can get one to be in your show, of course you do everything you can to make that happen, accepting the tradeoff of a non-stellar voice for a huge advance and a guaranteed run.

But when you go further down the list, an MD has to start to protect the show from Name-grabbing. Will the B-list ’80s TV star really pull in enough extra ticket sales to make up for the fact that he can’t sing, can’t deliver a Broadway-sized performance and will get shredded in the papers? Might it be better to cast a first-rate Broadway veteran who will bring the roof down and get rave reviews? Producers are wary (and rightfully so) of counting on the critics to sell their show for them, and obviously reviews can’t sell advance tickets before they come out. But it is my opinion that a fantastic, lesser-known actor is better than a mediocre one with a Name that generates merely a shrug and a “He’s still around?” There are few things more heartbreaking than a production that could have been great saddled with an actor who is neither wonderful in the role nor selling tickets.

But let’s move to another kind of potential target audience member, the one who is at least somewhat theater-savvy, who goes to shows fairly regularly, who might even consider themselves a “fan”. These theater-goers are familiar with probably a couple dozen first-rate theater actors and would be excited to see any one of them in a new role. I cannot imagine a production that wouldn’t want to attract this kind of audience member.

For more please visit Theatre Music Directors.

The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition

Award-winning New York theatre composer and pianist Andrew Gerle pulls no punches in this irreverent, fly-on-the-wall guide to everything you’ve never been taught about auditioning for musical theatre. From the unique perspective of the pianist’s bench, he demystifies the audition process, from how to put together your book and speak to an accompanist to the healthiest and savviest ways to approach the audition marketplace and your career. By better understanding the dynamics of professional auditions, you will learn to present yourself in the strongest, most castable way while remaining true to your own special voice – the one that, in the end, will get you the job.