Production: “The Producers” (Working In The Theatre #294)


(APPLAUSE) A warm welcome, once again, to
the American Theatre Wing seminars on “Working in the Theatre.” These seminars, now in their 28th year, are
coming to you from the new Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Today’s seminar is devoted to the new production,
Broadway’s hit, THE PRODUCERS. With the members of the creative and production
teams, we will follow the show from its inception to a work for the stage, through to the current
production, which is now on Broadway. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, Chairman of the
Board of the American Theatre Wing. I think this seminar will inform and excite
you, as you see the process that makes a production for the Broadway stage. And now, it is my great pleasure to introduce
our moderator for this seminar, a veteran producer and President of the American Theatre
Wing, Roy A. Somlyo. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Isabelle, and all. We’re delighted to have this group with
us today, sparing a few minutes with us, or hours. And let me just introduce you, who they are,
right away. On my far right is Tom Meehan, who’s co-author. Who’s helping Isabelle. (LAUGHTER) On far left! (LAUGHTER) Tom Meehan. Next to him is a man named Mel Brooks. Mel is a producer and a genius (LAUGHTER)
and co-author, etc., of this. I’m a writer-director, but in the newspapers,
I’m always “comedian-producer.” That’ll be on my gravestone, “comedian-producer.” But all my life, all I’ve done is really
written and directed. That’s all I’ve ever done. But in columns, I am a “comic producer.” (LAUGHTER) He is today, but – We’ll make our own evaluation! (POINTS TO RICHARD) Really, there’s a comic
producer! (LAUGHTER) He’s the funniest guy I know. But, Roy, he [Mel] is also our composer and
lyricist. Yes, we’re going to hear all about what
a genius is. (LAUGHTER) And on my right is Susan Stroman
– we also call her “Stro” – who’s the director and choreographer of THE PRODUCERS. And then on my left is a producer of the show,
Richard Frankel. The general manager is Laura Green, and then
John Barlow, who’s the press representative of the show. Now, it’s our intent to try to develop exactly
the history of the show, how it came about and how it got to be this enormous success
it is today. So let’s start by asking you, Mel, give
us the basic origins of this show, please. It was a movie. We all know there was a movie called, originally,
SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER and then called THE PRODUCERS, because Joseph E. Levine, whose
company distributed the film and put up half the money for it, called all of the exhibitors
in America, who were Jewish at that time, and said, “What about SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER?” (LAUGHTER) “Not on my marquee!” (LAUGHTER) So he was soundly rejected, so
he asked me for another title, and you know, I didn’t fight him. I said, “Joe, you’re right. I mean, unless you know the work, just to
throw that title up there would be off-putting, to say the least.” So I thought of a kind of salute and irony
at the same time, in calling these two guys THE PRODUCERS. And it’s been THE PRODUCERS since then. That was 1967. And it was a perfectly fine movie. Could I back up there for a minute? How did you get to writing the movie? I mean, you wrote and directed that movie,
correct? Yeah. Well, there was a guy – So the beginning of that. All right, the true story is, there was a
guy – (LAUGHTER) Shucks! There was a guy in the public library, when
I was doing a term paper, and he was writing something. And I looked over his shoulder, and it said,
“Bialystock and Bloom, Hitler.” I was fascinated! (LAUGHTER) So I stood behind him for hours,
making notes. (LAUGHTER) And this guy, I don’t know who
he was, but I can never thank him enough! (LAUGHTER) Anyway, but I guess you want the true story. (LAUGHTER) I don’t know. Years and years ago, I worked for a fellow. He used to do shows. Every one of them was a flop. (LAUGHS) He never had a hit. And he raised money by making love to these
dowagers, ladies, these widows who would give him money. And they’d write out the checks to the name
of the play, which was always “Cash.” (LAUGHTER) And he’d raise money with these
little old ladies. He was doing swell. (LAUGHTER) What a name for a play! Yes, “Cash.” He never had a hit. And I worked for him, and he wore an alpaca
coat, a kind of charcoal gray alpaca coat, in the winter, in the summer. (LAUGHTER) And he wore his producer’s hat. He was never out without his little producer’s
Homburg. He always had this kind of producer’s hat. And he was an unforgettable character, and
I loved him. And years later, when I wanted to do more
than just be one of the writers on “The Show of Show,” one of the sketch writers,
and I said, “I want to do something bigger, a piece, you know, a play,” I began writing
a play about this guy making love to these old ladies and having to produce a flop. It had to be a flop, because he always raised
more money than he could pay out. And if you have a flop, nobody asks for the
money back. So that’s the genesis of it. And then, what’s the worst flop in the world? Well, how about something about Hitler, you
know, with all the Jews in New York? And then you get the world’s worst director
and then the world’s worst actors. And you know, one thing follows [another]. So you put that into the film? Yeah. It all worked beautifully. I was lucky. Dustin Hoffman was going to be the first Franz
Liebkind, the first crazy neo-Nazi. And he came to me and said, “I probably
won’t get the job, but they want me to do a screen test opposite – my wife – Anne
Bancroft,” you know? We were just married. And I said, “Dustin, go! You’ll be Franz Liebkind. Go, you’re a little mutt, they’re not
going to cast you! (LAUGHTER) You’re about the funniest-lookin’
little guy I ever saw in my life, why would they want you in Hollywood? (LAUGHTER) Go, do your screen test, you’ll
be back in two days.” And he got the job [THE GRADUATE]. (LAUGHTER) He got the job, and we were very
lucky, because a couple days later, Kenny Mars, who played Franz Liebkind, walked in
and he was Liebkind on the hoof. He was the guy! I mean, he was this crazy Nazi, so that all
worked out. And it was my first job as a director, as
a film director. I directed in the Borscht Belt, in summer
stock. And I directed some of the sketches on “The
Show of Shows,” with Sid Caesar, you know? Not in the booth, but on the floor, you know? It all just was a miracle. Just like this show! Two miracles in my life, the movie and the
stage show, because nothing went wrong. Just the right people fell into this position. Well, we’ll try to develop that. Those shows don’t really happen, though. They don’t really happen. Right. I know! They tell me it’s a miracle. There are too many other people here on this
panel who, I’m sure, can contribute to that. Now, who was the first person – It was a perfectly good movie, never made
a nickel. (LAUGHTER) To this day, I get statements. It goes from one owner [to another]. Movies go from one owner to another. People go out of business, they sell their
library, which consists of a bunch of movies, to somebody who’s still in business. Now, THE PRODUCERS went from Joseph E. Levine,
AFCO (PH) Embassy, to Dino de Laurentis, Embassy AFCO or whatever (LAUGHTER), to a guy called
Jerry Weintraub, to some strange place for two days. (LAUGHTER) I forget the name, you know? I think it was the Horn & Hardart cafeteria
(LAUGHTER), they bought it for two days. And then it rested in a place called Cannell
Plus (PH), which is a French company, and they are the owners of the underlying rights,
together with myself. And they’ve been very cooperative on helping
us with this show. So it’s now a Cannell Plus movie, and my
job is to stop them from getting the DVD out and competing with our show. (LAUGHTER) That’s my current problem. Now, we all know that you first brought the
script of the Broadway musical to David Geffen, I guess. And David Geffen was originally involved. Oh! Now, when that happened – I didn’t bring the script. He started it all. He started it? There was no script. Well, we’ll give David all the credit in
the world. He really was responsible. Except for one fatal mistake, he didn’t
stay with the project. No, no. But he had to bow out, because he said we
had problems. You know, he was running DreamWorks, it’s
a big, big company. He has much to be proud of. They have two Academy Award movies in a row. Wasn’t it? I mean, it was AMERICAN BEAUTY and then, what
was it? VARIOUS VOICES
GLADIATOR. Yeah, GLADIATOR. So, I mean, they do wonderful work. They need his advice, his expertise, and he’s
gotta be a hands-on guy. And he said, even though he started it, called
me and said, “You gotta do THE PRODUCERS, it’s a natural for a Broadway musical.” And he got as involved as he could and then
he said, “I can’t really be a hands-on producer, because I’m gonna be in Hollywood
with DreamWorks, and you’re gonna go to Chicago and you’re gonna be casting, and
you’re gonna go to New York.” And so he said, “Just get me a couple of
tickets for opening night.” (LAUGHTER) And that was it. He’s a wonderful guy. Yeah, well, we’re very pleased, because
you know, he happens to be on the Board of Advisors to the American Theatre Wing, David. Oh, really? Yes, and so the only reason we’re sorry
is that if he had continued as the producer, why, we’d have more access to tickets! (LAUGHTER) Which moves me to Richard – Ask him, yeah. Now, Richard, now you’re a producer of the
show and there are others as well. How did you get involved in bringing the show
to Broadway? Well, after the long process of Mel and Stro
and Mike Ockrent of putting the show together and writing it, they had a reading. And after the reading, faced with all the
enthusiasm of every producer in town, basically interviewed – more or less auditioned – all
the producers to pick the people they wanted. And we were chosen. (LAUGHS) Mmm-hmm. Well, you are one of the Chosen People. That’s right, we are one of the Chosen People! (LAUGHTER) Which is entirely appropriate! Well, Stro, he mentioned that you were involved. Now, were you involved first, or was Tom involved
in creating the project? Well, Tom and Mel, because they’re done
SPACEBALLS together and also TO BE OR NOT TO BE, so they go way back. So when Mel, I suppose, decided to do this,
you called your good friend Tom, and it started there first. And then – A hundred years ago, I had done some work
on Broadway. The first thing I did on Broadway was NEW
FACES OF 1952. ’52. Ronny Graham (PH). Eartha Kitt. Paul Lynde, Carol Lawrence. It was like teenager’s row there (PH)! (STRO LAUGHS) They let teenagers write that
at the time! Yeah, yeah! And it was a hit, the show was a hit. So I thought, “Well, that’s what you do.” Then I did a show, I wrote the half the book
with Joe Darien. Joe Darien wrote the lyrics to MAN OF LA MANCHA,
and Joe Darien and I wrote the book of a show called SHINBONE ALLEY. This was sometime in the fifties, maybe ’59,
at the Winter Garden. No, it was at the Broadway Theatre. It was a very big house. It was a little show, which should have been
at the Cherry Lane Theatre, it was at the Broadway Theatre. Eartha Kitt and Eddie Bracken, based on the
Don Marquis stories about a cockroach and a cat. (LAUGHTER) Delicious, wonderful stuff, but
certainly not commercial. So that one ran about an hour. (LAUGHTER) Didn’t even get into the second
act. As long as it pays for it (PH). Right! And then I did the book for ALL-AMERICAN,
which went on for, I don’t know, three or four months at the Winter Garden. And I still couldn’t make a living on Broadway. And then, I guess, I made my movie, THE PRODUCERS,
and from then on I found film a lot more comfortable and more profitable than Broadway. Broadway is very (MIMES THROWING DICE; LAUGHTER)
That was it, you know? This is now, this is now! You can’t make a living, but you can make
a killing! Yes! You are all making that killing right now. It’s true. So Tom got into it … And then, I met Tom when I was making movies. Tom wrote two movies, TO BE OR NOT TO BE,
with Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks. (BREAKS INTO SONG; LAUGHTER) We sang in Polish. And he also wrote SPACEBALLS, you know? Yes, I wrote SPACEBALLS. And Tom also wrote ANNIE. Right. Meanwhile, I’d written ANNIE. Yes. Meanwhile, he’s written ANNIE on Broadway,
so when I got involved, when Geffen said, you know, “Could you do this?”, I thought
and then I called Tom and said, “When do they sing?”, you know? (LAUGHTER) “Why do they sing?” So, I mean, right from the beginning, he was
in on how to structure, how to take this wonderful movie and destroy it. (LAUGHTER) So he was there. When Mel asked me, it took me about a nanosecond
to say “Yes,” because I’ve loved THE PRODUCERS ever since it came out. And I always thought it was a musical. It had all the elements of a musical. How did you find working with Mel? I love working with Mel. (LAUGHTER) It’s more fun than anything in
the world. But you had worked together before. The two movies, yeah. We spent about three years on those two movies
in the mid-eighties. I was out in California a lot, and we had
a lot of fun doing that. I mean, your personalities are not exactly
alike. He’s Bialystock, I’m Bloom. (LAUGHTER) Exactly, yeah. But I gather that the net result has a certain
amount of your input to it. Well, Mel wrote the original script. It was an Academy Award-winning script. That was all there. We just did some reshaping and changed it. He’s just being modest. But he’s being true, also. (LAUGHTER) Right. Well, Stro, then you got involved at some
point early on. Yes, I’m sure – We had been working for a while. Yeah. Tom and Mel wanted now to come to somebody
who can structure a musical and make it sing. Right! And help guide them. Because, of course, Tom did ANNIE, of course
he knows how to structure a musical. And Mel coming from this wonderful screenplay,
trying to now structure it into a musical, I think it was at first probably hard to let
go of some things. It was very, very hard! But once he was introduced to new thoughts
of how to guide it, he was off and running! Yes, yeah. Music breaks. And music just poured out of him. Well for me, the reason I did the whole thing,
the challenge was to write the songs. Now, when Geffen suggested, wisely at the
time, you know, “Don’t write the music. Get a professional. Get somebody who knows how to write music
and lyrics. And you just stick to, you know, what you
do. You’re a comic and you’re a comedy writer,
do that.” I said, “Well, I’m not going to turn the
[show over].” In my own mind, I said this to nobody but
me! (LAUGHTER) I said, “Mel?” I said, “Yeah?” (LAUGHTER) I always listen when I call myself. “What is it?” I said. I said, “If you’re gonna do this, make
it exciting. Do what you’ve always wanted to do ever
since you were nine years old, write songs.” So I was determined to do that, no matter
what. Geffen introduced me to Jerry Herman, who’s
one of the great Broadway songwriters of all time, and I had been following his career
ever since OF MILK AND HONEY, that far back. Because a friend of mine, Don Appell, who
wrote a play called THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which is on our wall – when you see the set, you’ll
see THE KIDNEY STONE and THIS TOO SHALL PASS. (LAUGHTER) And nobody knows this, but it’s
a salute to Don Appell. And Don Appell introduced me to Sid Caesar. And then Don Appell was the bookwriter with
Jerry Herman on MILK AND HONEY, so I’ve been following Jerry Herman’s career ever
since he began. And MACK AND MABEL and LA CAGE and – DOLLY. And of course, MAME and DOLLY, his biggest. Whatever Jerry did was fabulous. So I met with him at David Geffen’s behest,
request. And I said, “David thinks, you know.” He said, “My favorite movie is THE PRODUCERS. I love it more than any other movie.” And he said, “But I can’t do it.” I said, “Why can’t you do it?” He said, “Well, there’s another guy who’s
perfect for it.” And he sat down at the piano and he said,
“Let me play you some of his tunes.” And he played, “Blazing Saddles” and “High
Anxiety” and “I’m Tired” from BLAZING SADDLES. And “Springtime.” And “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.” “Springtime for Hitler,” “Prisoners
of Love.” He said, “That’s the guy!” And I said, “I’m that guy.” (LAUGHTER) He said, “Okay, you’re the
guy!” So I went back to Geffen and I said, “Jerry
Herman thinks I’m the guy!” (LAUGHTER) So Geffen said, “Okay, take a
crack at it, but you know, don’t make anything tame.” He wanted a lot of dirty lyrics, you know. (LAUGHTER) Well, it occurs to me that, since the show
has just opened a few days ago, maybe not everybody knows enough about the show. So John, you were good enough to bring us
a little bit of footage. Maybe this would be a good time to show a
little montage of what the show is. Sure. Would you? So maybe we can ask to roll the tape for that,
please, and we can all get a look at it. NATHAN LANE
Rules! The two cardinal rules of being a Broadway
producer are one, never put your own money in the show. (LAUGHTER)
MATTHEW BRODERICK And two? NATHAN LANE
(SCREAMING) Never put your own money in the show!! (LAUGHTER; (APPLAUSE)
CHORUS GIRLS (SINGING) Opening night! It’s opening night! (MUSIC; MONTAGE OF SCENES)
NATHAN LANE and MATTHEW BRODERICK (SINGING) You wear me out! The guarantee, oh, you’re looking at me,
oh! And that’s – (MUSIC)
CAST (SINGING) The producers, we are, and that’s
us! (PH) (APPLAUSE) Now, that’s professional music. And obviously, you didn’t need Jerry Herman
to do that. Now, you took over at this point, as we’re
getting back to our tale of getting the show on. Yes. Well, actually, my husband, Mike Ockrent,
and I got a call saying that Mel Brooks wants to meet you. And we were in rehearsals for A CHRISTMAS
CAROL. And we said, “Sure, maybe we can meet him
next week. That’d be wonderful.” He said, “No, he wants to meet you now,
tonight. He wants to meet you in the next hour.” (LAUGHTER) So! Great, patient man. Always been! I know! (LAUGHS) So we rushed home and he came over
about seven o’clock. And I opened the front door, and there was
Mel, the legendary Mel Brooks. (LAUGHS) It was so exciting! (LAUGHTER) But he didn’t say “Hello.” He launched, full voice, into the song, “That
Face,” that opens the second act. My new song. I had just written that song. He had just written that song, and he just
started singing, “That face! That face!” And he waltzed right past me, went down my
long New York hallway, and ended up on top of the sofa, finished the song. And then he said, “Hello, I’m Mel Brooks.” (LAUGHTER) So that’s how we met. And they liked the song! (LAUGHTER) And we liked the song. And then he just talked about how he had some
other ideas for songs. And we both knew the movie so well, and of
course, we were a huge fan of Mel’s. And also Tom’s, from ANNIE. So we absolutely said, right away, we would
meet and talk about how it could possibly be made into a musical, ‘cause the structure
would really, really have to change. So we started to meet. We actually spent some time in London together. Yeah, Mike was so helpful. He talked about a love story for Leo Bloom,
that on the stage, it would be very appropriate for the musical stage. And meeting this tall Swedish blonde (SUSAN
LAUGHS) he could climb like a mountain! (LAUGHTER) We went to London for about ten days. That was great! And we sat in Mike’s apartment. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. And talked structure. He died at a very young age. He contracted leukemia out of the blue. And he was doing well with it, and then they
give you drugs to lower your immunity and just, he couldn’t survive it. So we were just – it was a true tragedy. What did John do, though? (LAUGHTER) I come along much, much later. Yeah. What we did was, we took the show, we asked
Susan not to just be a choreographer, but to direct it. Because we had just seen her work on CONTACT. We saw rehearsals of CONTACT. We said, “This young lady is a great director,
as well as a terrific choreographer.” And then she did MUSIC MAN last season, a
sensational job. So we begged her to take on both jobs, and
she did it for Mike’s sake, for her husband’s sake. And it was never-ending. She needed that, at that point. It was important for her, really. It made me laugh! (LAUGHTER) Yes. And we all glued together. Did you get any business advice at this point? Or were you still totally in the creative
sense? Or had you thought about cost, that Laura
is a specialist in? I know she wasn’t in on it at that point. But did anybody decide that maybe you were
getting too big or too expensive. Not yet. No, ‘cause we – No, we just went like a runaway train, until
we got to our April 9th reading of THE PRODUCERS. And then, when David Geffen actually gave
us the bad news that he wouldn’t direct [SIC; he means “produce”] it, about a
week before our April 9th reading. We got Nathan Lane to do it. We got Gary Beach to do it. We got Cady Huffman to do it. And we got a couple of other people. And Glenn Kelly (PH), our musical supervisor
and arranger, was at the piano. And we did this incredible reading, first
reading to the world of THE PRODUCERS. And Laura and Richard and Rocco Landesman
were invited. And all of these, we had to assemble a bunch
of producers in a hurry. Because we didn’t know we needed ten and
a half million (LAUGHTER), but we knew we needed at least a hundred thousand dollars. Right! (LAUGHTER) So that’s when we got them involved. All right, now you called them all together. Who paid for that? This man here. (MEL RAISES HIS HAND) Yeah, actually, we just – I always have a hundred dollars on me. (LAUGHTER) Really, we had a studio and we had these actors,
and we did it ourselves, really. Made some personal phone calls to producers
that we’d worked with and admired and we had them come and listen to our reading. But we got it to the point where we wanted
to hear it ourselves, read back to us, too. So it was gonna be helpful for us, and then
at the same time, we needed now to find a producer of THE PRODUCERS. And that was just a year ago, in April. So this happened quite fast. It was very helpful, because everyone loved
it and the money was raised. But the other thing was that we saw a lot
of flaws. And we were able to [work on them]. And we worked very hard to fix [them]. Well, you sure worked ‘em out, I’ll tell
you that! Yeah! (LAUGHS) Yes, but we did a lot of work and new songs. It was not a hit, I can tell you that. Yeah. Not then. Well, Laura, first of all, have you ever paid
him back for the cost of that first reading? (STRO LAUGHS) Oh, yeah! So you were paid back. (LAUGHTER) Yes, we’re working on it. She paid me back! So then, the next step was, somebody had to
put this into focus, in terms of dollars, to decide if it could be done. Now, were you involved in that before the
selection of all the producers? What was the next step? You decided who the producers would be. No, after they decided who the producers would
be, we all got together and tried to figure out a sensible financial strategy for it. Well, how did you decide – Let me tell you about the producers. Laura is part of a very important team. We sat and decided, instead of just having
one dangerous producer (LAUGHTER) – there’s always one maniac producer, you know? And he says things like, “Oh, we’re not
going out of town. No.” (LAUGHTER) No producer wants to go out of
town. They’re all the same! All producers are the same. “Why? We could rent the studio in New Jersey, and
then, you know, we’ll get a taxi and we’ll go to New York.” (LAUGHTER) They never want to go out of town. I didn’t beg. I demanded. I said, “You can’t come on board if we
can’t go out of town.” Because when you go out of town, not only
do you work out the kinks and the bad stuff and cut it out and put new stuff in, but the
actors get to bond. They love each other. They work so much better on stage, you can
see the love on stage. They’re familiar with the material, they
love their costumes, their parts. And when they come into New York, they come
in as a unit, instead of a disparate bunch of actors with egos, fighting each other. And you know, out of town is critical. If you’re ever going to do a show, take
it out of town! (LAUGHTER) Or don’t do the show. Don’t do it. Especially comedy. Were you in agreement with that, Richard? Yeah. So you amassed this collection of producers,
each one with their particular specialty that you felt that you needed? Richard Frankel, first of all, he wrote the
best letter. (LAUGHTER) No, you did. You wrote a great letter! You wrote a great letter. He was at the reading, and he wrote us a heartfelt
letter. I wrote it the next day, too. I think you spent money for FedEx-ing it,
right? (LAUGHTER) Did you get that back? The FedEx? No, probably. You know, what we did was, we talked about
the symbiotic relationship of the producers to the work itself. I produced a lot of movies, and I know what
it takes to be a producer. It takes a love of what you’re doing. Without the love, if it’s just business,
(DOES A BRONX CHEER, WAVES HIS HAND), go away, it ain’t gonna happen! You gotta love what you’re doing. Richard loved THE PRODUCERS. Rocco Landesman, who runs the Jujamcyn Theatres,
the St. James Theatre, during intermission – we had a little piano, we did half the
show, Rocco Landesman grabbed me and said, “I love this show! You have the St. James Theatre if you want
it!” I said, “Okay, you’re in! You’re one of the producers.” (LAUGHTER)
The next day, (POINTS TO RICHARD) he wrote a letter, and I said, “Okay, what do you
do, Richard Frankel?” “I’m a producer. I’m a general manager. I manage shows. I do the bookkeeping, I make sure the scenery
goes in and out of the theatre.” I mean, “Okay, you’re the general manager. (LAUGHTER) You’re also one of the producers.” Then we said, “We gotta go on the road one
of these days, we need a distribution producer, somebody who knows how to take a show on the
road.” And there’s a company called SFX, they do
that, and they do it brilliantly, and so we made them a producer. And then there was this guy, Robert Sillerman
(PH), who ran SFX and then sold it and ran it and sold it, and a very wise, bright guy,
who loved the show so much, I said, “Just for your love alone, and your two billion
dollars” – he’s one of the richest guys on earth (LAUGHTER), the richest guys that
ever were – I said, “You’re in!” What producer am I leaving out? Jim Stern, I think. Well, you guys, I didn’t know – no, no. You don’t know what you get. When you hire a producer, you don’t know
what you get. (LAUGHTER) He is the original Bialystock,
he’s got ten thousand little old ladies in New Jersey! (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) I didn’t know that. But really, he’ll explain in one minute
how he raises the money, you’re going to be embarrassed. I think that’s very important right now. Okay, so at some point you had to decide how
much – Let him explain! (LAUGHTER) — how much money to raise. What do you want first? Well, first we have to know what your target
is, and then, how you got to it. So? As Mel insisted on going out of town – I
mean, everything that he said about going out of town is absolutely correct. It’s absolutely the best thing to do. You didn’t want to do it right away. Generally, you can’t afford it. It cost us almost two million dollars to go
to Chicago. Two million dollars extra. So whereas we had been thinking in the beginning
that the show might cost eight or eight and a half, after contemplating going out of town,
we decided that we had better raise ten and a half. Mel was completely right. And in this instance, given him and Tom and
Stro and the material and the rest of it, it seemed like the completely sensible thing
to do. In fact, it would seem utterly foolish and
suicidal not to go out of town and test the jokes and have the cast bond and the rest
of it. So it was two million dollars, you know, well
worth spending. We agreed right away. And so, you created a budget for that, then
– Yeah, sure. – or you just took that out of a hat? You lock (PH) it in at that point. Pages and pages. Pages. I don’t know. Twenty, thirty pages of budget. Had you formed an entity at this point? And you’d formed a limited partnership or
–- Yeah, we had formed a joint venture among
the producers and were beginning to form a limited partnership. How do you raise your money? How do we raise our money? (LAUGHTER) I have three partners myself. And one of my partners, Steve Baruch – You know, it’s like meeting a little kid
who wants your autograph. (RICHARD LAUGHS) Suddenly, an entire family
from the Midwest appears out of nowhere! (LAUGHTER) And they send a little kid eight
years old, a cute little kid, he says, “Oh, Mr. Brooks, can I have your autograph?” I say, “Sure.” Suddenly, this entire family comes all over,
they’re taking pictures with you, one of them wants to marry you. (LAUGHTER) It’s the same with him. He was the little eight year old kid. (LAUGHTER) I didn’t know there was this
family waiting somewhere in New Jersey. Yeah, it takes a village. (LAUGHTER) These are not – Bialystock didn’t
do shows that cost ten and a half million dollars. Yeah. And were as complicated as these are today. So we have, over the years we’ve produced
thirty or forty shows, forty to forty-five shows. And we have four to five hundred people who
invest with us. And we encourage them to invest relatively
modest amounts of money. And we go to them when we’re about to do
a project, and we ask them, tell them about the project and tell them if they’re interested
they should contact us. In this instance, we had two million dollars
to raise, and four million dollars worth of interest within – Explain your part of it was two million. Yes, our part of the overall capitalization
was two million. And four million dollars’ worth of interest
arrived within four days. How did you do it? You had more backers than could get in. Yeah, so if we had any nerve, we would have
collected all four million dollars (LAUGHTER), invested the two and kept the rest. What caused this buzz? What caused this, at the very beginning? Oh, the movie is beloved. Mel is beloved. Stro, Tom, the entire project had a lot of
heat. And you only had to mention THE PRODUCERS,
Mel Brooks wrote the music, Stro, everything else, and people responded instantly. So having no nerve to take all four million
dollars and pocket two and invest the rest, we had a lottery. And Steve Baruch arranged, literally, to pick
names out of a hat. And about half of the people who wanted to
invest did. So we have our two hundred people. There are a few attractive little old ladies. There are dentists and stockbrokers and all
sorts of nice people. And they each put up about ten thousand dollars,
in other words. Each. We restricted it to ten thousand dollars. People wanted to invest more, but we wanted
to involve as many people as we could. All right. In the forty-five shows that you’ve done,
have you ever encountered anything like that before? Never. Never. (LAUGHTER) Do you think anybody has ever encountered
that? They’ve never had a hit before! (LAUGHTER) I know a little bit about that, too, Mel! (LAUGHTER) We have had a few modest successes. But truth be told, you are not prepared for
this. What we prepare for, what producers and general
managers prepare for, is survival in the face of catastrophe. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) That’s what we’re
good at. That’s what requires all the skill, is making
a show work when the circumstances are less than perfect. That’s what we train for and that’s what
we practice. This leaves one somewhat unprepared, this
kind of success. Well, John, I don’t know at what point you
came onto the team, but clearly this situation poses an interesting dilemma for you. There’s a great demand to invest in the
show, the word is getting out immediately that this is a hit. How do you proceed then, from a promotion,
public relations point of view? Well, like Richard said, there was so much
heat on this project. I don’t think that there was a person who
works in the theatre who didn’t want to work on THE PRODUCERS. And that’s press agents and advertising
agencies and promotion people and marketing people, everybody sort of wanted to. And the sort of beautifully ironic part of
this is that my partner, Michael Hartman (PH), and I just recently started this company. And we auditioned, as it were. We met with the producers a couple of times,
and we met with Mel and we met with Stro, up in her apartment. We didn’t go singing down your long New
York hallway! (LAUGHTER) They brought me flowers, though. I remember that. (LAUGHTER) Bialys! Bialys, yeah, yeah. Bialys. And it’s a press agent’s dream come true. I think every press agent hopes that maybe
once in their life, they can bring how they feel about theatre to a large audience. That’s what a publicist does, is spread
the joy. And when it’s as widespread as THE PRODUCERS
is, and when it leaps off the stage and off of 44th Street and out into the mainstream
media, you sort of feel as a publicist, it’s everything you ever wanted. It goes beyond publicity. It goes beyond the press agent. You’re like, “You know what? I can quit now. (LAUGHTER) It’s never gonna happen like
this again.” Did you ever have a show that you represented
that was the headline in the Daily News? I’ve never had that! I’ve never had anything that was close to
this! Nobody has. Did you notice? Did you see the headline in the Daily News? “PRODUCERS STAMPEDE”? Usually, it’s “COP SLAIN IN SHOOTOUT IN
THE BRONX,” you know? (LAUGHTER) You never get [something like this]. You gotta die to get a headline! (LAUGHTER) Well, that’s actually coming next! That’s coming next, as people try to get
tickets! Yes, that’s right. That’s going to make the headlines again. For months, in marketing meetings, I bored
the producers talking about the line the day after opening. And I said, “This is gonna be like MY FAIR
LADY.” When I was a little kid, I used to read this
book about the making of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and there was a picture of a line the day
after FIDDLER opened, outside of the Imperial box office, going down the street. And I thought, “That’s the kind of theatre
I always wanted to be a part of!” And the producers, they would all roll their
eyes in unison in these marketing meetings, “Here goes John about FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
again!” (LAUGHTER) I said, “No, it’s true, it’s
gonna happen!” Can you imagine, Roy, the next day, though,
what it was like, when it felt like FIDDLER, MY FAIR LADY combined, in one day? Right. There’s never been a show with this kind
of reaction at all. I mean, we can remember the big hits, whether
it’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF or A CHORUS LINE or PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. GUYS AND DOLLS and MY FAIR LADY, in their
time, might have been that big, but nothing has approached this in any time. Now, that poses a problem for you, in a way,
because if everybody’s heard such wonderful things about the show, how do you keep the
press from taking potshots at it, because it didn’t measure up to the hype? This is one instance, and the singular instance
that I can recall, both in my career and in my sort of years of studying the theatre,
where there have been no potshots. And I think that’s a testament to the excellence
of the work. There is a feeling of celebration amongst
the press and the community, a community which can be notoriously ungenerous! Total generosity here. Total embrace, total love. And I think that that is about one thing,
the excellence of what’s on the stage eight times a week at the St. James. I mean, that is indisputable. Right. I think that in some of the reviews – you
opened last week, the reviews are still coming in – each reviewer seems to try to outdo
the other in his accolades. (LAUGHTER) Exactly. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) First time I ever got good reviews! (LAUGHTER) When THE PRODUCERS opened as a
movie, it was killed. Very few critics liked it. Gene Shalit, he wrote for Look magazine, he
liked it. And I think somebody at Time magazine. The New York Times destroyed it, said it was
the worst thing that could ever happen on the screen, you know? A lot of bad reviews. Well, I’m going to now try to talk about
how did this come about, in terms of cost? Somebody decided they wanted scenery, somebody
decided they wanted costumes. (STRO LAUGHS) A lot of scenery. (LAUGHTER) A lot of costumes. And at what point – We would do, as a director does, a breakdown
of how many cast members, after we had our [reading], because our reading was only twelve
people, and they read a lot of different parts. But it’s being able to hand them a spreadsheet
of how many people I think should be in the company, how many singers and dancers, how
many principals we have, how many understudies are needed or standbys or swing. So when Laura came on board, it was preparing
that for her to then go away and find out how much all this would cost. That spreadsheet of how many people and what
they would do also then goes to William Ivey Long, our costume designer, to find out how
many costumes he would need to make this happen. And also, collaboration with Robin Wagner
about how many set changes. So she needed all that information first,
so we had to be quite right in our decisions of what we ultimately wanted the show to look
like, before they can do their budget. And then, giving them that information, they
can go and now break down how many costumes there are and how many set changes and how
many people can play a million different parts. Stro wanted to get people that she’d worked
with before, that she trusted, and Robin Wagner was one of the first names that came up. He did CRAZY FOR YOU. Yeah, Robin’s wonderful. And William Ivey Long has done so many of
Stro’s shows. And so all of these people were just like
– Who’s William Ivey Long? (STRO LAUGHS) He’s one of the family up there. (LAUGHTER) William Ivey Long is our costume designer. You just can’t throw out a name without
identifying it. (LAUGHTER) Oh, pardon me! (MIMES CHAGRIN) I’m intrigued. Who asked John to come on board, and who asked
Richard? Who does the casting, in a sense, for the
production? Who starts with it? Well, Johnson-Liff did the casting, and they
did the casting for the reading. No, but the casting for he’s going to do
the publicity. Oh, that was a producorial decision with the
agreement of Mel and Stro. Producorial means — (LAUGHTER) Leave no doubt! Producers means … (WAVES HIS HAND) That’s right. Who does that? How do you start with that? Well, we had four main producing entities,
at the time. Right. And we sat down, and we batted around our
favorites. And everybody agreed on John, and then we
had him interview with Stro and with Mel. And we were very happy with Barlow Hartman. We like those guys. Yeah, they’re wonderful. Let’s pick up – Have there been any other publicity agents
that have applied for it? Yeah, everybody! Everybody, they all did. Everybody wanted to. Any press agent that all the producers had
worked with at any time in their lives all wanted to do the show, of course. I’m intrigued by that. Why is that? Apart from love for Mel, which you said, that’s
the answer. But there must be more to it than that, that
this was such a favorite, that you had to be part of it. It’s a wonderful project. It’s been known as a wonderful project. It’s been the dream of all of Broadway that
Mel turn this into a musical for thirty years. Everyone has had this fantasy that one day
he was going to turn this into a musical. Including me! (LAUGHTER) Including him! Let me continue on the thread, if I might. We now know that we have William Ivey Long
– the costume designer! (LAUGHTER) – and Robin Wagner, the set designer,
on board. Now, you told them how much money they could
spend on their work? We certainly talked about it. (LAUGHTER) Several times. You’re talking about the two top people
in their field. Yeah. And actually, I’m sure they worked as collaborators
with you. Yes, very strongly. Yeah, the same thing, like Stro said about
the casting breakdown. William would take Stro’s casting breakdown
and see how many costumes were needed for each scene, and try and put a number to that
costume and ideas of where they would come from. But did Robin tell you, for example, what
he thought it would cost, or did you tell Robin what it should cost? No, no, no, no. Neither, actually. The good news about these breakdowns, for
example, is Stro only designed twenty-four parts. Twenty-three, twenty-four? Twenty-three. Twenty-three parts. Which is a relatively low number. When we did SOUND OF MUSIC, we had a cast
of about forty. That was the good news. The bad news was that because there were only
twenty-three people, they have multiple costumes. So we have three hundred and – ? Twenty. Three hundred and twenty costumes. Gorgeous costumes. Wow, wow! Which from shoes to hats can cost twelve to
fifteen thousand dollars each (THE AUDIENCE GASPS), in the more elaborate scenes. So there are various, different variables,
that are based upon the requirements of the show. Since the structure of the show is similar
to the structure of the film, in terms of scenery, we had a problem in that the scenery
had to be, to some degree, cinematic. You go from one location to another location
to another location, and then back to location A. It demanded a lot of locations – and
it being comedy, where it had to be real, you couldn’t do something abstract and get
laughs – you needed multiple “real” sets, which put a lot of pressure on the budget,
I should say. Now, what they really want to hear (LAUGHTER)
– this is supposed to be very academic, we’re learning how to do shows! Learning about who does what! How much money the costumes [are]! Who makes it! They want to know, is Matthew Broderick fooling
around with any of the chorus girls? (LAUGHTER) They only want to know about this. “Is Matthew Broderick really in love with
his wife? Can we marry him? (LAUGHTER) Will he marry any of us? We don’t even care if he’s married, we
want to marry him.” That’s all you care about! (LAUGHTER) Now, I think that’s a great lead-in to something,
Mel. (LAUGHTER) Something! Not the show, right! I think maybe we should see that number about
“I Want to be a Producer” and maybe that will explain it all. Show that to the audience. We have some videotape, and maybe if the audience
could take a look at the monitor at the same time, and we could see, maybe the set, a shot
from “I Want To Be A Producer.” You could turn it that way. (GESTURES TOWARD THE MONITOR) Turn it, turn it, yeah. Thank you. (AUDIENCE GASPS) Yeah, there we go. MATTHEW BRODERICK
(SINGS) I want to be a producer, with a hit show on Broadway! I want to be a producer! Lunch at Sardi’s, every day! I want to be a producer, sport a top hat and
a cane! I want to be a producer, and drive those chorus
girls insane! (MUSIC; MATTHEW BRODERICK DANCES WITH CHORUS
GIRLS) CHORUS GIRLS
(SINGING) He wants to be a producer! MATTHEW BRODERICK
Tell it, girls! CHORUS GIRLS
Of a great big Broadway smash! MATTHEW BRODERICK
Don’t forget the balcony! CHORUS GIRLS
He wants to be a producer, every pocket stuffed with cash! He wants to be a producer, pinch our cheeks
till we cry “Ouch!” Oooh! Ah! He wants to be a producer, with a great big
casting couch! (APPLAUSE) That was the happily married Matthew Broderick. (LAUGHTER) Yes, Sarah Jessica [Parker]. Forget that question that Mel asked. (LAUGHTER) Well, we want to really get into
some dollar talk, if we can. So for example, at fifteen thousand dollars
a pop, and three hundred and twenty costumes, how much did you really spend for costumes
for the show? (LAUGHTER; LAURA LOOKS TO RICHARD) They didn’t all cost fifteen thousand. Thank goodness. Those you saw. But did you spend over two million dollars
on costumes? No, no. You didn’t? I would say that we spent less than half of
that. Well, that’s great. And how about the scenery? More than that. (LAUGHTER) Right. Well, I think that what’s important in understanding,
since Mel was the driving force in your going out of town, and you said it cost two million
dollars more to go out of town, first of all, did you recover that two million dollars while
you were in Chicago? We didn’t recover the two million dollars,
but we offset it by profits from the Chicago engagement. Explain that. Yeah. What’s the difference? (LAUGHTER) Well – We have the producer now, “We offset it.” (LAUGHTER) What the hell is “offset”? (LAUGHTER) “Offset”! We were a hit in Chicago! “Offset it.” We nearly – What did it cost? We – we – They got their money back! It cost two million dollars to go to Chicago. Right. We made – How much money did you make in Chicago? Eight hundred thousand. Wait a minute! That’s all you made in Chicago? That’s all we made in Chicago. (LAUGHTER) I don’t get that. I don’t understand. What was the total? What was the gross? What did you gross? (LAUGHTER) What did you gross in Chicago? Oh, God, what did we gross? (LAURA MURMURS TO HIM) What did you gross in Chicago? We grossed three eight? But that was the net – What did you gross? We grossed three eight. What does “three eight” mean? Three point eight million dollars. Oh!! (LAUGHTER) They didn’t want to go to Chicago! (LAUGHTER) They grossed three million eight
hundred thousand dollars in Chicago! Right. But the trick is not what you gross, it’s
what you’re left with. Oh, no. What you’re left with is called “creative
accounting.” (LAUGHTER) That’s your bookkeeping! We don’t know what really goes on! We’re just recipients of little white pieces
of paper with numbers! (LAUGHTER) “Oh, and that offset – oh,
I see. That offset that, and that offset that. (LAUGHTER) So you mean, you made three point
eight million, but the actual money – ” Very little. The three point eight million actually made
about four dollars and fifty cents. (LAUGHTER) Something like that. Somehow, they worked that out! (LAUGHTER) I think our problem is, Mel, you’ve made
too many movies! We know the movie accounting. Why do I see all this on Page Six in tomorrow’s
Post? (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) So, to add, the net cost of Chicago was about
one point two. It cost us a little over a million dollars
to go to Chicago and watch the show. Absolutely every penny was well worth it! Okay. What about Tom? What did you do in Chicago? Oh – You don’t want to know! (LAUGHTER) He looks quiet, he dresses like
a writer, he’s all kind of tweedy and corduroy! But when I get to Chicago, that totally tack
(PH)! Every waitress was saying, “Who was that
guy?” (LAUGHTER) “Pinching me all the time!” He’s terrible! Oh, you can’t let Caroline (PH) see this! No! I’ll tell Chris. (PH) What did you do in Chicago? I mean, other than the waitress. (LAUGHS) Well, Mel and I worked on the show
about eighteen hours a day, with Stro. I mean, we were working. We didn’t get much sleep. We only worked on the show. Although, uniquely, we went to out of town
with the same score we came back with. We didn’t replace a single song, we just
did lyrics. Well, we replaced different lyrics. We changed some lyrics. Did you respond to critics? Did you find the critics valuable in Chicago,
or was it your own judgment? It was our own judgment. Yeah. The critics were actually too kind to us there. Yeah! It almost wasn’t even worth it to read the
critics, because they were too [kind]. We knew the show was too long. Like, we were running long in Chicago. And the thing is, we were cutting things that
actually worked. I mean, there were laughs, and then we would
cut. Then the next thing would land even bigger,
so the laughs would go longer. (TOM LAUGHS) So we would get ourselves into
a bind, because we were cutting really wonderful laughs, but the show would have been too long
to bring back to New York. So it was very helpful, to pick and choose
what laughs we wanted, while we were in Chicago. But it was tough to do. Amongst yourselves, was there any friction,
trying to decide? Any of these decisions? When I first came in to doing THE PRODUCERS,
my first vision of it, before I met Tom and before I met Stro, was basically what David
Geffen had seen originally. It was THE PRODUCERS, the movie, on the stage
as a play with music. You needed “Springtime for Hitler,” and
maybe you needed “Prisoners of Love,” maybe. But certainly, you needed one or two songs,
and it would have been a play with music. Then when I met Tom, Tom who had done ANNIE
and some other wonderful stuff on Broadway (TOM SHRUGS; ROY LAUGHS), Tom said, “No,
no, no. A musical is a musical.” Then we met Mike Ockrent, and Mike Ockrent
said, “Well, you gotta open – you need a curtain-raiser.” I said, “What’s that?” “Well, it’s a little number at the top
of the show, that says hello to the audience. And then you have to end the first act with
a great big production number.” Then I said, “Oh, I get it!” (LAUGHTER) Then Stro showed me – she kind
of cleaned up my act, really. (LAUGHTER) She took all the vulgar stuff out,
and she polished me up and made me pretty. (LAUGHTER) And she’s a genius, she really
is. She is. And she showed me what the audience wants
and needs on Broadway, a musical comedy. It has to sing, it has to dance, it has to
have beautiful girls, it has to look splendid, it has to be funny, it has to be rich. It has to really thrill the audience for two
hours, two and a half hours. And she showed me that, and then in Chicago,
we worked toward that, to thrilling the audience. What’s wonderful is that the man who created
these characters originally was now going to make them sing, and I think that’s why
it adapted so well to a musical. Now, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom are going
to sing and dance about their wants and needs, and that actually heightens it emotionally. That was the big lesson. Yeah. That was the big sentence. “They have to sing and dance about their
wants and needs, rather than do it in dialogue.” Right. That was the big revelation for me. And because of that, I think the musical,
actually, you really root for their friendship and you root for their success as producers,
more so than you do in the movie, because it has been heightened emotionally because
of the music. It works. It works. But now, the atmosphere, sounds like it was
very pleasant. Mel, there used to be an expression that when
you went out of town, maybe the reason producers didn’t want to go out of town, was that
the way to punish Hitler was to send him out of town with a Broadway musical! (LAUGHTER) We took him with us! Tom said we took him with us! (LAUGHTER) But I don’t hear any friction. Sounds again like, Stro, you were involved
in a show that worked too smoothly. Well, it was very collaborative, very collaborative. And everybody involved in it is very funny,
very witty. The entire company is filled with comedians. Yeah. Even the ensemble people had to sing and dance
and tell a joke at their audition, to make us laugh. They had to tell a joke at their audition,
in front of Mel Brooks, can you imagine? (LAUGHTER) And I’d say, “Yeah, okay, go
ahead!” (LAUGHTER) Next! Yeah, next. So, I mean, a very funny group. So the atmosphere in the air was always filled
with a comic electricity. As a producer, you’ve taken shows out of
town, and in town, that look like they’re in trouble and you have all kinds of friction. Right. Why not so in this one? This creative team. This creative team and this material. I mean, this is a blessed project. And we saw that early on, and within the confines
of the financial structure, I think basically see our role as service providers. I mean, our job is to give them what they
need. That’s what we are here to do. What they need, also, is to stay within a
financial context, so that the show can work financially, for the participants and the
investors. But basically, we all saw our job as giving
them what’ll help them do their best work. And they were sufficiently disciplined to
do that for you? Yes. Well, that’s great. (PH) Roy, I just want to say that the producers,
and there were many of them, and Richard and Laura were so good to us. They let us do the show. They didn’t step in. They didn’t come to rehearsals. They didn’t kibitz. They never said, “That’s too expensive,
you have to take that out.” No. Which is normal! But they never did. They let us do the show, and that was a great
boon to us, to be able to work that way. And just supportive, creatively. Right. On this love note, I’m going to ask that
we take a brief break, and stretch, and we’ll come back shortly, at which time we may have
some questions from our audience. That’s okay with me! (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE)
MALE VOICE This is CUNY-TV, the City University of New
York. (APPLAUSE) Welcome back to the American Theatre
Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminar, on Production. Before returning to our panelists, I would
like to remind you that these seminars and the Tony Awards, given for excellence in the
theatre, are only a part of the activities of the American Theatre Wing. They are, perhaps, the most visible efforts,
but the Wing is so much more than that. As a not-for-profit charity, the Wing’s
mission is to promote excellence in the theatre and to provide educational and humanitarian
services through the theatre as well. It’s a theatre we all love, and we want
to do as much for it as we possibly can. Our meaningful programs for students include
“Introduction to Broadway,” which in its ten year history has enabled close to 100,000
New York City high school students to attend a Broadway show, many for the first time. The Wing also introduces young people to theatre
and the magic it unfolds, by bringing professionals into schools, for workshops, as a part of
our “Theatre in School” program. Our hospital program, dating back to World
War Two, when we created the legendary Stage Door Canteens, continues to provide volunteer
professionals to entertain patients in hospitals, nursing homes, AIDS centers and child care
facilities. Grants and scholarship program provides financial
support where it is so needed. We take pride in the work we do, remain grateful
to our members and everyone who helps make possible the dynamic programs of the American
Theatre Wing. Our work strengthens the ties between the
theatre and the community, and we are proud to be a part of this very great effort. And now, some of the people that help make
the Wing what it is are on our panel today, and so, I’d like to return to THE PRODUCERS
and our moderator, Roy Somlyo, President of the American Theatre Wing. (APPLAUSE) Thank you very much, Isabelle. I think that I’d like to kind of switch
gears from where we were on numbers, and bring up the subject of what happened immediately
after this raging success is that you raised your prices, so the ticket prices are now
a hundred dollars each. I think they were ninety-one going into that. I want to preface this by saying that I believe
that it was a proper move, so this is not a critical statement. But I would like to air that a little with
you. What was the thinking behind it, and how are
you handling it with the press? You want to do it, Richard? A hundred dollars is more than ninety-one
dollars. (LAUGHTER) We thought that it was entirely
appropriate for one reason. The tickets were available, through scalpers,
widely, at three and four hundred dollars apiece. And the sort of arbitrary price of ninety-one
dollars didn’t seem to mean much. The value of the tickets seems to be much
higher, particularly in an environment where sports events, Knicks tickets, there are many
opera tickets [that are expensive]. It sounds odd, but the theatre is actually
underpriced, when it comes to hit shows. In all other fields of entertainment, the
tickets are far more expensive. We also have the ten and a half million dollars
that we discussed, to earn back for the investors. And it seemed like an appropriate time and
an appropriate number to do. Well, see if you can develop this for me. I believe that you’ve done a Broadway musical
and it’s a big success. Supply and demand should take over, because
after all, this is not an eleemosynary venture. It’s a business, and you’re in there,
and so you place the price where you think the public will pay it. However, there will come a time when a hundred
dollars is going to be too much money for many people to pay. And I wonder if you have any plans – I mean,
in a perfect market, you would say supply and demand would reign, and eventually you’d
reduce your prices. Perhaps if the demand shrinks, maybe you come
to ninety or something, or you provide lower price tickets. Is any of that in your plans now, so that
you can reach a broader market sooner than later on, in seven or eight years, when there’s
a little less demand? Well, we’re still dealing with the consequences
of this great success. But I have no doubt, like every other show
that we have done and everyone else has done, that sooner or later we’re going to get
to the very wide, extensive and deep discount programs that we’re all experts on at Broadway. I mean, generally, we’re all chasing the
customer very aggressively, and we’re chasing the customer with advertising and with promotion
and with prices. On many of our shows in the past, we’ve
had multiple discount programs that have made the tickets widely available to people. But that’s going to be a time off, hopefully,
for this show. Well, what I’m hoping for is that you’ve
got a product now which has universal appeal. And what better way to introduce young people
to the theatre than to expose them to this? So I’m simply hoping that maybe you’d
find a way, in your wisdom, to make this available sooner than later, to open an audience there. (APPLAUSE) There’s a scale of prices, too. I mean, the top ticket price is a hundred
dollars, but the tickets, exclusive of Wednesday matinees, go as low as forty-six dollars apiece. How much? Forty-six dollars. How do you know about that? Just by going to the box office or calling
Telecharge, you’re given a choice. You can pay anywhere between forty-six and
a hundred. There’s a series of price ranges, based
on where you want to sit. Not only where you want to sit, but what your
budget is. Do you have any student rush? Do you have any tickets available an hour
before the show? Standing room. We have standing room. We have standing room, I think. But I think what Isabelle Stevenson was referring
to is a “student rush,” which years ago was something very common, where you could
present an identification. And maybe that’s something you could get
into your plans. I know some of the other shows are considering
that, to help build an audience [and] at the same time take advantage of the huge success
that has been bestowed upon them. One of the most amazing things you see, if
you go to the front of the St. James these days, is that there’s a line for advance
sale and there’s a line for cancellations. Cancellations are for that day’s performance,
either the matinee or the evening. And I would say that that cancellation line
is populated by probably eighty percent young people, people who look like students, people
who look like they can’t pay the hundred dollars but are dying to see the show, a really
tenacious group. And the box office and the producers work
hard to make sure that as many of those people as is humanly possible are afforded the opportunity
to buy a ticket for that performance. But it’s just great to see the sort of young
people coming out in droves to stand in line to get in. I mean, it’s similar to the way, you know,
that RENT seemed when it first opened and you had a large influx of young people. We see it every day on 44th Street. It’s terrific. I wonder if you anticipate “groupies,”
such as some of the shows have had groupies. (LAUGHTER) When you mentioned RENT, that was
one, and we certainly had – Tell him about last night! Last night there was groupies – (LAUGHTER)
Stro, you – No, I wasn’t there! (LAUGHS) I wasn’t there. I was there! There was a group of about thirty guys, wearing
German helmets. (AUDIENCE REACTS) And they came. They had rented [them]. They had tuxedos and German helmets, and they
came to be groupies, to be PRODUCERS groupies. Like ROCKY HORROR. Yeah, like THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. But they showed up in a rented Rommels (PH)
car, with a Nazi chauffeur. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Yeah. We’re not really pushing that. (LAUGHTER) Well, I had heard that at some early performances,
somebody came racing down the aisle – it didn’t happen when I saw the show, and they
were wondering if it was a plant or not. Can you tell us that story? What happened? (LAUGHTER) Came racing down the aisle to do what? With his coat. Apparently, he was shouting things at the
cast. Was that it? That’s the way it came to me. No, we haven’t had any problems like that. We had one. One person. But one night, there was a fellow there who
was an older age, that wasn’t following the plot, and he got upset when he saw Gary
Beach come onstage as Hitler, as he would. And if you’re not following the plot, you
would! That why, within structuring the musical – He thought it was the show saluting Hitler! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) He got a few things mixed
up. He was upset with his wife, because his wife
wanted to stay. But I think that was just a one-off. Yeah, he wasn’t paying attention. Because part of our job was to make sure we
structured it so the plot kept being laid out about, “We’re looking for the worst
show” – And it’s offensive. – and how it’s going to offend, to make
a flop. So he was of the mind that he never followed
the plot. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t get it. Yeah. But we haven’t had any others. He hadn’t seen the movie, either. (LAUGHTER) So he went into the theatre, and
he said, “Well, we’ll go and see a nice Broadway musical, with nice beautiful girls,”
and suddenly he said, “That’s Hitler on the stage! What’s going on?” I mean, he hadn’t paid attention to the
– Plot. Yeah, the plot. He also was arguing with his wife, because
his wife was having a great time, and she wanted to stay. She did stay. She did! Because almost a hundred thousand people have
seen the show already. And that was the only person. And this guy was the only problem, so. Could we get back to this love fest that you
had out of town? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Now, Tom, we’ve
been out of town together. We know that shows don’t always work this
well. Tell him, Tom. Well, I’ve been out of town with a show
with you, Roy, so we’ve been there, Richard Rodger’s last show. But this was – What was Richard Rodger’s last show? It was called I REMEMBER MAMA. And what did you do with it? We did everything we could with it. (LAUGHTER) It never quite came together. What was your job on the show? I was the writer of the book. Oh! But I didn’t know about books, that was
the problem. But I think we made six or eight months out
of that, at the Majestic Theatre. Oh yeah, yeah. But we did not recoup our money, and we didn’t
make a million or eight hundred thousand dollars out of town, either, when we did that thing. I don’t think so! But this was a love fest, by the way. We all got along so well. The fourth person who was part of the creative
team, Glenn Kelly, is away right now. He was the other person. Our musical director. He was the musical director. As musical director, he was very close to
the creative process with us. Yeah, I would give him a thirty-two bar, crude
and rude simple little song, and suddenly I’d be hearing this incredible Broadway
musical sound come back at me, because he arranged it, chorded it, harmonized it. He’s a wonderful arranger. He’s done dance arrangements for me on many
shows. And he was the very right person to bring
on board, because the score had to be developed for a lot of dance and a lot of set transitions,
and he was really instrumental in helping us find that. And he was somebody who knew Mel’s work
very well. He’s very humorous. Loved Mel, and he was a perfect choice. Well, now, how did they stay on budget? Or did you stay on budget? (LAUGHTER) Yeah, we stayed on budget. We came in slightly under our ten and a half
million dollars. Well, does that mean you over-budgeted or
that they were very disciplined? We were pretty disciplined, I think. Yeah, disciplined. Very disciplined. Well, I think you’re all very experienced,
and I’m sure when you made a budget of ten and a half million dollars, you knew pretty
much what you were talking about at the time. And there’s a reserve built in there. Yeah. I mean, it’s not to say that there wasn’t
a dialectic between the designers and us and Stro and Mel about what we could afford and
what we can’t afford and how do we get this? If we really need this, we have to give up
that. But the process seemed to work. I mean, Stro surrounds herself, her production
team, surrounds herself with gifted people who are nice and behave as human beings. And it isn’t by happenstance that this was
a collegial experience. Well, in the process of building the show,
did at any point you throw out scenery or discard costumes? We rebuilt a few costumes. There are a few costumes that they got a better
idea later and could be improved upon and rebuilt. A couple drops we wanted to improve on. A couple of drops. But there were no major scenery rebuilds. And I think where that comes from is not only
how gifted Robin is, but also how well prepared Stro and Mel were and how well they prepared
everybody, how clear the vision was in their head, so that everything was communicated
to everybody in a very exact way. And the biggest reason, probably, is that
we didn’t throw out any songs. We didn’t change any [characters]. It turned out that all the characters were
fully formed. It wasn’t as if characters had to be rewritten. Songs would then have had to be rewritten,
things moved from one act to another. We had no major structural changes to the
script, and if we had had major structural changes to the script, it no doubt would have
resulted in big scenery changes and big costume changes. But don’t you think it’s important for
all shows to go out of town, and to have that in the budget, as you do first night parties
in the budget? Under ideal conditions, yeah. I think it would be great. Especially for a comedy. I think it is so important. For a comedy, I think it’s very important. It’s very important. Yeah. The sad fact is, though, that on many projects,
you just can’t afford it. And what you have to do is a much less perfect
solution, which is preview for a long time in New York. It would have been terrible in our instance,
and we could afford, because of the quality of the participants and the quality of the
material, to go out of town. It’s absolutely what everyone should do,
in the best of all possible worlds. Yep. And we haven’t really talked about the fact,
too, that in addition to it being a great experience creatively in Chicago, the audiences
were wonderful. And the press was wonderful. And the press back in New York was supportive. As part of this ideal scenario unfolds, we
should give credit to Chicago was a wonderful market for us. And musicals out of town can often be so dangerous,
because of the gossip and the word back in New York. The audiences were supportive. The critics were supportive. The editorial press was supportive. And then, back in New York, you could feel
that. You could smell it back in New York as it
began to – it ended up being a wonderful [thing], but you know, it could have gone
the other way. I’ve worked on shows – I worked on a musical
this season called SEUSSICAL, which had a completely different experience out of town
in Boston, which didn’t go so well with the press. But I just want to give credit to the audiences
and the press. Let me ask, John, had it done its previews
and not gone to Boston at all, would it even have opened? SEUSSICAL? SEUSSICAL. Yes, it would’ve. But I mean, let’s say it didn’t go out
of town. With SEUSSICAL, I mean, could it stand the
bad buzz, the bad hype, the bad word, and still, you know, survive in New York? It survived because it went out of town and
it got all that bad stuff in Boston, and they worked like crazy at least to make it presentable
for New York, right? Part of the reality of the bad buzz are the
reviews. When you go out of town, you subject yourself
to your local reviews in that market, and you subject yourself to a Variety review. So you are coming back into New York with
critics having weighed in. That’s the reality. That’s apart from the gossip or the editorial,
is you’re going to be reviewed. And SEUSSICAL was not well reviewed in Boston
by Variety or by the two main papers in Boston. And that’s hard! That affects morale, that affects buzz, that
affects sales. And it’s a crap shoot. You take your chances. You’re saying, “We’re going to have
the luxury of working on the show, but we are going to let critics [come].” Whereas in New York, if SEUSSICAL hadn’t
gone to Boston, it wouldn’t have been reviewed. They could have delayed their opening, and
they wouldn’t have had any bad reviews to come out from under. But they would have had bad word of mouth. That’s right. (JOHN NODS) And that’s the important thing. You hear in reviews, and in previews, I hear,
“They’re in trouble,” you know? The buzz, the buzz. “They’re going to change it.” And that colors your show for you, and your
opening. Well, John, what are you going to do now that
you have this enormous set of reviews and great word of mouth? (JOHN SMILES) What are you going to do, except
sit back and smirk? (LAUGHTER) I’m only smiling because I know this is
going to sound trivial. (LAUGHTER) Do you know what the most complicated
component of my job is now? Ticket requests! (LAUGHS) It’s really such a wonderful problem
to have, but so many people would love to see the show, and you know, we have a finite
number of seats every night to accommodate, and that’s difficult. I think what’s important now is focussing
on protecting the show and protecting all the participants in it. And making sure that every department on a
show feels supported and taken care of, both promotionally and protectively. And that’s sort of my job. Is there a need for full-page advertising
now? Richard? Briefly, we hope. I mean, there’s the need – You want to do it once, to celebrate the opening,
right? Yeah, we need to do a minimal amount of that,
and then we hope that we won’t have to do too much more after that. Well, certainly that’s true. But I think it’s well that you’ve made
that decision. You’ve become an institution instantly,
so I think the word is right, you want to celebrate that. Could we now take a minute – or more than
that – and take some questions from our audience, if you will? First question there? JANET EPSTEIN
Well, this is to Richard Frankel. My name is Janet Epstein (PH). I was wondering, how much profit would that
little old lady be making so far on her ten thousand dollar investment, if any? Oh, no, it’ll take months and months for
the money to be returned to the investors, for the show to recoup. Which is as opposed to years and years, or
never and never! (LAUGHTER) Which is also frequently the case. So they won’t be receiving profits for close
to a year. But I think what we’re saying is that, in
time, and perhaps within that first year, that ten thousand dollar contribution will
be returned. Yes. And then, how are the profits being shared
on this show, between the investors and the battery of producers? In an equitable, but somewhat complicated,
formula. (LAUGHTER) No doubt it’s equitable! (LAUGHTER) Would you like to tell us the nature
of the profit split? It’s at a – Now, we have a new show coming up at that
point! (LAUGHTER) I think that’s the one called CASH. Yeah, yeah. Is that the one called CASH? I may call this THE SWINDLERS. It’s only fair to note that Richard Frankel
was a press agent, before he was a producer! (LAUGHTER) I mean, as you know, the company basically
splits profits, in general, with the investors, and that’s the case here as well. Is it a fifty-fifty split? Yeah, in general, yeah. (LAUGHTER) Dollars are the best sights! (PH) Yeah, sure it is. These are very complicated endeavors. Well, we’ve got a very sophisticated audience. They’re probably going to understand. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, yeah. It is a fifty-fifty split. Well, that’s good. That’s fine. Yeah. All right, we have another question? RUTH GREENBLATT
Yes. My name is Ruth Greenblatt (PH). This is for Mr. Brooks. When did you first realize that you were funny? Could you describe the moment? You know, I think that when I saw faces peering
down at me when I was in my crib (LAUGHTER), and for some reason they were laughing, and
I thought, “I guess this is my job! (LAUGHTER) I guess I just have to keep making
these funny faces for the rest of my life.” But I just knew. It was in my bones and in my blood, and I
knew that I was a funny-looking kid, and I made (QUACKS) funny sounds, and I was meant
to be funny. So that’s my job, and I know how to do it. Well, were you the class clown? I was the class clown. I was always the class clown. I was the funniest kid at summer camp. I was meant to be funny! Did it ever get you in trouble? Sure! With every beautiful girl I ever met! “Oh, you’re kidding!” they’d say. (LAUGHTER) He was never kidding! I don’t know if this next question can top
that or not. Would you like to try? MARY BARKER
Hi, my name is Mary Barker (PH). My question is for Susan. You’ve been involved in so many successes
on Broadway. I’d like to know how you got your start,
and what was your first successful play? Well, I guess I’ve been in a dancing school
since I was about five years old. And I took piano lessons and guitar lessons,
and I grew up in a house filled with music. My father is a great pianist. And all sorts of different types of music,
and I was sent to all different sorts of types of dancing school. So it was a perfect background to go into
the theatre, because you actually have to know about a lot of different styles and different
periods and decades and more historical facts about dance, in order to support the plot
and the time period. And I guess my first [successful show], I
did an Off-Broadway show at the Vineyard Theatre called FLORA, THE RED MENACE, with Scott Ellis,
and it was very successful one summer. And Hal Prince saw it and Liza [Minelli] and
I got to work with Kander and Ebb. And so then, the next thing was AND THE WORLD
GOES ‘ROUND, which was an Off-Broadway show, and I think that’s what sort of exposed
me to the masses, before CRAZY FOR YOU. Let’s go round the board here. How did you get your first start, Tom? Somebody asked me to write ANNIE (LAUGHTER),
a show about Little Orphan Annie. I had been working at the New Yorker, in journalism. And ANNIE – But I’ve always been stagestruck. I always dreamed of the stage, and I tried
to write plays and things like that, but I hadn’t [done it]. And I was asked to [do ANNIE]. Was that Mike Nichols who invited you? Martin Charnin asked me. We met and he said, “I bet you could write
a Broadway musical.” I said, “I’d love to,” and he said,
“If I ever get an idea, can I call you?” And I said, “Please do.” And he called me and said, “I’ve got it! Little Orphan Annie,” and I said, “Eww! The worst idea I’ve ever heard! (LAUGHTER) I don’t want to do a show about
a little comic strip, two-dimensional.” But we did it. And did it well. Was it a success? (LAUGHTER) Well now, we’ve heard enough
about how you started. (MEL LAUGHS) So I’m going to skip and move
on. How did Richard begin? He was a press agent? Richard, tell us about your [start]. I was always stagestruck. I had two inspirational teachers in high school. And I worked at a radio station in college
and worked Off-Off-Broadway at La MaMa as a stagehand and a stage manager, and then
a press agent and a marketing director, and clawed my way up to this! (LAUGHTER) Well, you seem to have done a very good job! (LAUGHTER) And glad I am to be here. Laura? I actually grew up in a very artistic community
on Cape Cod, called Provincetown, with a lot of artists and writers and painters. And I worked for a very long time with the
Provincetown Theatre Company, before coming to New York, and working for various producers. Meeting Richard about seven years ago. How did you meet him? Where? On what? What were you working on? It was a blind date. It was a show called WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS
PICTURE? that opened and closed (LAUGHTER) quite quickly. But our run has continued. Yes. And I went right on to SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ
and brought SMOKEY JOE’S into New York. How did you get your expertise, though? How did you acquire your expertise in being
able to be a general manager? Doing it. Many years of doing it. Just doing it? That’s right. It’s all on-the-job training. For all of us. And John? I think I basically spent my whole childhood
trying to get people as enthusiastic about the theatre as I was. I sort of banged on my family and friends
and strangers, anyone who would listen, to say, “Isn’t theatre amazing?” And I met a guy named Josh Ellis in 1989,
who was a great press agent – is still a great press agent, moved to California. I met him on a Friday, and he spent about
six hours with me, telling me what press agents do. And I thought, “Well, this is exactly what
I’ve sort of been doing. I can’t believe there’s a job where you
can be paid to do this!” (LAUGHTER) And at the end of these six hours, he said
to me, “So what are you going to do now?” And I said, “Well, I’m going back to college
on Sunday night,” and he said, “No, you’re not,” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I want you here Monday morning
at ten A.M. You’re going to come work for me.” And I said, “Are you kidding?” and he
said, “No.” And I went home and I packed my bags and I
moved to New York and worked for Josh. That’s a great story! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Is it true? (LAUGHTER) It’s a true story! Well, we’re writers. It’s a true story. We have time for one more question. Can we hear that? ERICA
Hi, I’m Erica (PH), and I have a question for the entire panel. Where were you educated? College, high school, any dramatic education? All in one place? (LAUGHTER) Start, we’ll go around. I went to Hamilton College in upstate New
York. It’s a kind of small liberal arts college,
focuses on writing and literature. And I got interested in writing there, a great
place. I went to P.S. 19. (LAUGHTER; APPLAUSE) In Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Then Junior High School 50 in Williamsburg,
Brooklyn. And then a brief year at Abraham Lincoln High
School, another two years at Eastern District High School, back in Williamsburg. Abraham Lincoln High School is in Coney Island
and Brighton Beach. By the way, Eastern District High School also
has Rhett Auerbach (PH) of the Boston Celtics. He and I and, I don’t know, maybe Barbara
Stanwyck, they talk about her. But anyway, I went on from there to Virginia
Military Institute. (MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE) I know, it sounds
crazy! (LAUGHTER) A little Jewish boy from Williamsburg,
Brooklyn, to end up at VMI. But I did a year’s worth of college in six
months, took many units, at VMI. The Army specialized training reserve program
sent me there. And then when I was old enough to be killed
(LAUGHTER), they sent me to the regular Army, I was a combat engineer. I’m so sorry, I have to interrupt this wonderful
panel. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL; GROANS FROM THE
AUDIENCE) It’s just awful. I’d like you to go on and on and on, but
we can’t. Oh, okay. Then I got into show business! (LAUGHTER) After! Everybody’s going to stay after today. This has been the American Theatre Wing seminar
on “Working in the Theatre,” which has been coming to you from the Graduate Center
of the City University of New York. I want to thank all of you, this marvelous
panel – (WHISPERS TO MEL) You can’t behave. (MEL LAUGHS AND WHISPERS BACK, AT LENGTH) – the people who made THE PRODUCERS possible,
and their wonderful contribution of sharing their knowledge and time and talent with us
at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Thank you so very, very much. (APPLAUSE)

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