Production: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Working In The Theatre #301)

Production: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Working In The Theatre #301)


(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 30th year, coming to you from
the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Today’s seminar is devoted to the production
of the Broadway musical, THOROUGLY MODERN MILLIE. With the members of its creative and production
teams, we will follow this show from its beginning as a work for the stage through to the current
production now on Broadway. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, Chairman of the
Board of the American Theatre Wing. And now, with great pleasure, let me introduce
our moderator for the seminar, Roy A. Somlyo, a veteran producer and President of the American
Theatre Wing. Roy? Thank you, Isabelle. We’re delighted to be here to dissect THOROUGHLY
MODERN MILLIE and find out why it became such a hit. So let me introduce our panel, if I can. On my far right is Rob Ashford, the choreographer. Next to him is Jeaninw Tesori, who did the
music for the show. Dick Scanlan, who wrote the lyrics and the
book. And left is Hal Luftig, a producer of the
show. Nina Lannan, the general manager. And Michael Mayer, the director. Now, these are the people who really made
the show what it is today. So what we’d like to do is trace the history
of the show, what happened from the kernel of an idea through the marketing of it today. So I think I’ll start with you, Dick. I think you have the deepest roots in THOROUGHLY
MODERN MILLIE. How did it come about? Well, I got the idea very early on in my writing
career. I was actually just beginning to write, and
I had seen the movie sort of a few times in a short amount of time. And I had been struck by how idiosyncratic
the characters were, that they were not stock characters. That the writer at work, who turned out to
be the film writer, Richard Morris, had a really wonderful, delicious sense of language. And mostly by the fact that the three young
people in the story – Millie, Jimmy, and Miss Dorothy – all had the same objective,
and I found it to be a profound one. And that was that they were, on a gut level,
very dissatisfied and unhappy with the life that they were fated to live, with their lot
in life, for varying reasons, and they set about to change that. And I thought that was really a big idea that
I really related to, because that’s what brought me to New York City and that was sort
of the story of my young days. And when was this that you [saw the movie]? This was in the late eighties. And at that time, since I had, you know, just
begun writing, and I instantly knew, Hal, that it would be a ten million dollar musical,
(LAUGHTER) I didn’t think anybody would say, you know, “Hey, unknown, unpublished,
untried writer, of course, we’re gonna let you do this.” So I set about writing many, many other things. And I, you know, began to accumulate a lot
of publication and whatnot. And finally, I completed a novel that I had
been working on for some time, and this idea never went away. It just was always there with me. Was this before there was a trend to take
Hollywood movies and turn them into Broadway musicals? Well, it was 1988, so I guess the answer would
be, “No.” Yeah, they did it then. Yeah, I think the answer to that – I mean,
it’s certainly nothing like it is today. And again, it was never about, “Boy, this
movie, and the way the movie chooses to tell its story, should be put on stage.” It was that the story and the characters,
I thought, were stageworthy. And from the beginning, I had the sense that
the stage version could be re-imagined in many, many ways to make it theatrical. And one of the things that attracted me is
that the movie, unlike, say, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, which had already [had] a Broadway
adaptation, the movie THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE isn’t a classic. It’s by nobody’s definition, including
Richard Morris, who wrote it, a great movie. It’s got charm, it’s got some kick to
it. But you know, many criticisms could be leveled
at it. And I actually thought that was a good thing,
because I thought it was an opportunity to take this story and make it even tighter and
better and more effective, and more what I thought it wanted to be. It wasn’t a successful movie, would you
say? It was actually financially enormously successful,
and that was because it starred Julie Andrews, who at that time was the number one box office
star in the world. It rescued Universal from bankruptcy, that
year. (LAUGHTER) Every year, Universal seemed to
be on the verge, and every year a movie came out that rescued it. And THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE was the movie
that year. So it did enormous numbers, but it didn’t
have much of an afterlife. It’s not a movie that has lived on, except,
you know, in sort of a cult way. So that’s how it began. And then at a certain point, I decided to
pursue the rights, which you know, very fortunately for all of us, Richard Morris had had the
foresight to retain. And I say “fortunately” because movie
companies are very difficult to get anything out of, whereas individuals are easier to
approach. And though Richard was initially exceedingly
unreceptive to my advances (LAUGHTER), he was the most curmudgeonly, and turned out
to be the sweetest man I’ve ever known. But initially, I would call him and I’d
prepare my little speech and I’d have it in front of me, and I’d say it, and I’d
finish. And I’d say, you know, “Blah-blah-blah,
so I’d really like to adapt THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE for the stage!” He’d say, “No!” Click! (LAUGHTER) And this went on for a long period of time,
until finally, I basically showed up at his doorstep. And we discovered that we were fated to be
collaborators and pals. He was a six foot two Irishman named Dick,
and from the moment we met, it was just sort of simpatico, and that’s when the writing
began. Well, I’m going to interrupt the story for
a moment. Of course! Do you find him today as audacious as he was
at the time he went to see Richard Morris? Dick Scanlan? Totally! (LAUGHTER) Totally, totally, which is how
we got to a ten million dollar show! (LAUGHTER) Well, Michael, the same way, this is a very
bold move for somebody who’s never written a musical. Well, I’ve known Dick since 1978, when we
were kids together in a summer production of WEST SIDE STORY. As six year old kids, that was. (LAUGHTER) So his exuberance has been maintained wonderfully
through the years. So this is the same person that I knew then. All right then. So now you’ve gotten Richard Morris. Yes. Keeping the “Dick” and the “Richard”
separate. Everybody called him Dick and the only reason
I call him Richard is ‘cause he said, “Honey, it’s going to be very confusing to have
two people named Dick in the room.” (LAUGHTER) He put it slightly differently. (LAUGHTER) So we called him Richard and me
Dick, and that made it easier. And he passed away? He passed away in April of ’96. And he, unbeknownst to me, by the time I got
to him in 1993, by the time he finally let me, the stalker, into his house, he had been
diagnosed with cancer, which he didn’t reveal to me for some time. And I don’t know why, but it was something
that he kept very private. And he would live to see the very initial
draft of the book completed and to give me sort of marching orders and instructions,
and most importantly, permission to change whatever needed to be changed, in order to
make this a sturdy, funny, moving and true stage vehicle. That’s what he cared about. Back to the story. You drafted, then, a script. And at what time did you decide that – you
knew always that it was going to be a musical. At what time did you decide who would do the
music for it, who would be a collaborator there? That was in 1997. Michael and I had done a reading of it, Michael
directing it, using existing music that had some new lyrics written by me. And we were pleased with the way the story
was unfolding and very dissatisfied with the way the existing music was serving us. And you know, it’s called a musical, and
we felt that the music was lacking and didn’t have the singularity, sort of a voice we wanted. So we thought, “Well, let’s get a composer
on here.” And Jeanine had written VIOLET, which I had
seen and loved. And Michael had done some work with Jeanine
on another project. And he, in addition to her incredible gift
as a composer, as a woman he admired her ferocity and her passion and her tremendous intelligence. And, I think, saw in her sort of a Millie
figure, and thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be great to have one of the writers be a Millie,
you know?” Right. And so we called her and she was, you know,
holding basically a two-hour-old baby (JEANINE LAUGHS), you know, and she said, “Well,
maybe not this week, but really soon.” (LAUGHTER) And that’s when it began. Well, the original music from the film was
all by Sammy Cahn and – Actually, it was – It was a hodge-podge. It was a hodge-podge. There are two songs in the movie by Sammy
Cahn and James Van Heusen, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and a song called “The Tapioca.” And in the stage version, we’ve retained
the title song, but we don’t use “The Tapioca.” And then there were some other new songs written
for the movie. Jay Thompson contributed a song called “Jimmy,”
which is in the stage version. And there were old period songs. It was a lot of different sources. So how did you address this audacious young
man who was going to take his first shot at a Broadway – a ten million dollar Broadway
musical? I said, “No,” and I hung up. (LAUGHTER) No, I’ve written a lot of darker
pieces. A lot of dramas, VIOLET. You know, the music for TWELFTH NIGHT was
very exotic. So Dick and I, we literally hit it off immediately. I’ve known Michael for a while, and I think,
holding a two-hour-baby, for me, it changed my point of view. I really wanted to write something that I
could bring my daughter eventually to. And at that point, I had not written anything
that she could see or [that] was really geared for anyone under fifty inches tall. (LAUGHTER) And so, actually when people ask
me, you know, “How long have you been working on MILLIE?” I say, (POINTING IN FRONT OF HER) “That
long,” forty-five inches worth of a little girl, because she was two hours old when we
first spoke. So that was part of the reason, was really
to – you know, to be there night after night at this theatre and hear people laugh so hard,
it’s just the most incredible feeling I’ve ever had. I’ve never done a musical comedy before. They’re absolutely the most difficult form,
I think, because they’re so collaborative. You know, we work completely as a team. But it’s been the absolute thrill of my,
you know, dare I say, call it a career? It’s been the thrill of my career to hear
sixteen hundred people laugh that hard, listen that hard, and then jump to their feet. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Spontaneously applauding and jumping to their
feet. I was happy to see it. It’s bizarre! (LAUGHS) Well, no, it’s earned. I think it’s earned. No, you’ve earned that. Really? All right, if you say so. So now, let’s see, we have the three of
you on the team. We have Michael – Right. And Jeanine and you. And at some point, you decide that it’s
got to get on to the stage, and the three of you are not going to put it on in a garage
somewhere, you hope. So how did you find a producer and a manager? Well, Hal went to a very expensive tea party
one day. (LAUGHTER) Really, that’s true! (LAUGHS) I knew Michael for a while, and I
was invited – We spoke at the Tonys one year! Yes, right. And you came up to me and you said, “What
is this I hear about THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE? Tell me about it.” I said, “It’s fantastic.” Yeah. Because I had a friend, my producing partners
are Fox Theatricals, based in St. Louis. And I had known them for a while, and they
were talking to me about this, and I knew the film. You know, as Dick pointed out, I knew the
film, and it wasn’t a great film, but I had seen it. And I was talking to Michael at the Tony Awards,
and then I received a phone call. I guess it was ’99? It was ’99. Yeah, it was. ’99, to come to not exactly a backers’
audition, I was told. And you know, I’ve been doing producing
for about twelve years now, and I go to a lot of these things. But because Michael was, you know, asking
me to go and he was involved, I went. And it basically turned out to be in someone’s,
you know, very lovely Fifth Avenue apartment, a one person show. Dick Scanlan, with somebody on the piano,
did the entire show. Michael Rafter, our conductor! (GESTURES TO JEANINE; MICHAEL RAFTER IS HER
HUSBAND) It was Michael Rafter? Yes, it was. (GENERAL AGREEMENT FROM THE PANEL) Oh, forgive me. And Michael Mayer holding cue cards whenever
I sang in Chinese. Chinese, I would hold up cue cards. (LAUGHTER) It was the singularly strangest day of my
life. (LAUGHTER) Because I had no idea where I was
going. Normally, when you go to these backers’
auditions, they’re at, you know, the Dramatists’ Guild or they’re at, you know, 890 [Broadway],
or they’re at a place that you know. So I was given the address, you know, of someone’s
apartment. And I went in, and it’s a beautiful [place]. It was a grand old, you know, apartment, with
wood paneling. I was like, “Where am I? You know, what am I doing here?” And there was nobody but just us. There were about eighteen people, I think,
maybe. Well, when I walked in, there was nobody there. And there was about eighteen people, yes,
total, sitting in this room. But it was Dick Scanlan, doing the entire
show. Doing Millie, doing Jimmy, doing Trevor, doing
Dorothy. (LAUGHTER) I look like them all! (PH) Singing in Chinese! Singing in Chinese! And I was riveted. Riveted! I couldn’t, you know, take my eyes off not
only him, but what he was doing. And I thought this was the most charming thing
I had ever seen. And they actually, bless their hearts, they
scheduled this reading around my schedule, because I left that apartment, had to fly
out to the West Coast. And the entire flight out there, I couldn’t
stop thinking about this, which was a signal that, “Wow, this is really something.” ‘Cause usually these things, you know, out
of sight, out of mind. This stayed with me. And that was my beginning of [producing the
show]. Did you respond that you wanted to do it at
that time? Yes, I actually did. I mean, we then had a discussion about what
was the next step, and you know, where they were and what we were doing. And we decided that the best thing to do would
be sort of a semi-staged reading, is that what you would [call it]? What was that thing we did at the Lamb’s? (LAUGHS) I would say it was a reading. It wasn’t really staged, it was just a really
good reading. Yeah, right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And so everybody could see exactly where,
you know, we were in the process. We had more rehearsal than you usually have
for a reading. It was about three weeks. And we did a lot of writing, which was unusual. And we did a lot of writing. When did you do that? Fall of ’99. October. That’s right. That was the second time, then, you had it
on its feet, as it were? Not counting your audition? Well, we had done readings along the way,
for us. Right, all along. Right. We did four readings. The first one we did was of Act One. Right, we did one of Act One. We did it for three people! For the National Alliance of Musical Theatre. I remember that one, yes. That was before Jeanine. Oh, right. And then when Jeanine came on, we did that
reading of – For four people. For four people. (TURNING TO NINA) I think you were there. No, Nina wasn’t at that one. No, Nina wasn’t there yet. No, that was at Manhattan Theatre Club. Just Act One. That’s right. It was literally for four people. And it was just Act One, and it was very little
book. It was almost all – Score. Of course, Rob, you weren’t involved, because
you weren’t – Well, you went to the Lamb’s, so – Yeah, yeah. So then, soon – Rob came to the Lamb’s reading. He wasn’t actually – He wasn’t really invited? He just came, he wasn’t invited? (LAUGHTER) Rob? No, we invited him! I was invited! Absolutely. Or did you smell out a good thing? (TO MICHAEL) Did you invite him? Hal Prince wrote to me and told me about this
guy Rob Ashford that I should really get to know. And he said, “He’s the real thing, and
I just have a hunch that you two would hit it off really well. And he might be just the person you’re looking
for for MILLIE.” Also, we almost all came through you on this
project, in a way. Yeah, that’s right. You’re the center of everything! That’s right! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) As a good director should be! Ho about Nina? Yes, because I was working on CHARLIE BROWN
in 1998, with Fox Theatricals and Michael. And near the end of CHARLIE BROWN, Fox Theatricals
said, “We have this show, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, and we’re about to get ready to
do a staged reading. Do you want to come on and help us manage
the staged reading?” This was the reading at the Lamb’s. Right. And that’s all I thought it was, for a moment. I had no idea what the plans for the project
would be. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I had no idea that
I would be working on this for the next four years! (LAUGHS) This is such an example of how hard it is,
I think, to break into a team, because how we happened, it is all through talk and conversation. And you called me, and I called you, and you
came to the Lamb’s, and Hal Prince called you. You worked together, you – and suddenly
you’re a team. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) You know, I wondered when
I was twenty-one why I couldn’t (LAUGHS) get any jobs in anything! Well, that’s the beginning of a real collaboration,
how you grew. Yeah, that’s true. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And I think what I’m amazed at is that this
was the team that started in the nineties, and it’s still the team that’s here in
2002, past the opening, and you’ve stayed together. And I think that – Oh, yeah. And we’re going to do something else. We are, definitely. Starting tomorrow! (LAUGHTER) We will work together again, I think! Do you have a two-hour-old child? (LAUGHTER) I hope not! (LAUGHTER) There’s something you haven’t told me,
exactly! Roy, one of the things that’s, I think,
really amazing about the team is that not only are we still together, but I think that
our respect and admiration and love for each other is even deeper and stronger than it
was when we first started. And that’s rare, when you go through so
much. It’s so hard to do a musical! And it has, I think, bested better people
than we in the past. And the fact that we have maintained our friendship
and our collaboration in such a great way is huge. Well, it’s clear you’ve all grown with
the experience. Before going into this, you didn’t have
that many musicals under your belt. You had done CHARLIE BROWN. CHARLIE BROWN and TRIUMPH OF LOVE. TRIUMPH, right. And they were both small! TRIUMPH OF LOVE had a cast of seven and CHARLIE
BROWN had a cast of six. All right. And then (TO JEANINE) you say you didn’t
do any musical comedies before. I mean, you’ve done music. I know you’ve done a lot on Broadway. Well, I’ve done probably about forty musicals
since the time – ‘cause I started conducting when I was nineteen. So I’ve music directed a lot, a lot of musical
comedies. And I’ve been part of a lot of teams. I’ve done about six or seven Broadway shows
with other directors, who were really, really, you know, like Michael. Des McAnuff. I worked on AIDA. I’ve worked on just so many, watching other
teams, on THE SECRET GARDEN, and just how everyone kept this – you know, musicals
are these huge, huge ships. They’re like tankers. And you really have to be able to, I think,
as the center, Michael’s really done very well to be able to steer it. And everybody else is a little bit to the
side. So getting to be one of those people on the
side was just extremely important for me. Well, how do we get to a production now? You’ve got Nina on board and she tells you
you couldn’t afford it, probably. Is that right? Which she has never done. But it was a very slow and long-involved process. I mean, first, as I said, I jumped on board
to help pull this reading together at the Lamb’s. And then it seemed like you guys needed to
go back and do some writing, or some working on the project for a while. Mmm-hmm. I think there was a period of assessment,
and you guys all went back and did some writing. And the producers went off to try to sort
of figure out who all the partners would be and where the money would come from. And then, over the next two years, we seemed
to sort of go in between what would be the right steps for the show, right? Well, one of the things that did happen from
the Lamb’s, you know, when we did this reading, besides money people there, there were several
regional theatres there, which you know, you always invite, just either to see if they
have any interest or if you have friends. In this case, one of Michael’s friends was
taking over the – Annie Hamburger (PH). Annie Hamburger was taking over the La Jolla
Playhouse. And she saw this and said, “This would be
great. I would love to have this as part of my, you
know, first season at the La Jolla Playhouse. This could be our, you know, premiere musical.” And you know, God love the La Jolla Playhouse,
they start a lot of shows there. Obviously, you know, TOMMY started there,
HOW TO SUCCEED started there. And she was taking over and said, “I would
love for this to be part of our season.” Where their musical slot was was at almost
a year after we had done the reading. That’s right. So it gave us time for these guys to go, you
know, do some more writing. Gave the producers time to go find the money
to do it, because these are “enhanced” productions, as they call them now. You know, they don’t pay for everything,
you have to “help” them. And that’s when Rob came on. And that’s when Rob came on. So we were gonna go to La Jolla with, now,
a new choreographer. Did you introduce any other creative team? Did you have designers who were with you at
that point? Designers were already – oh! Hmm. We already had designers attached. David Gallo, Robert Perdziola (PH) and Don
Holder, I think we had already talked to. And I don’t know if we’d already talked
to Otts about doing the sound for the La Jolla, Otts Munderloh. We had talked to him, absolutely. But he hadn’t necessarily signed on yet. No. Otts waits till the last minute. (LAUGHTER) Right. But one of the things that we didn’t really
talk about was, in terms of because there are not a lot of new musicals and we are so
lucky to have one, a new phenomenon has started where choreographers literally – Audition, yeah. Come audition, takes some relevance, so I
don’t know if you wanted to [talk about it]. ‘Cause that was the part where you did that. Yeah. Well, at the time when I came to this reading
at the Lamb’s, I was assisting Kathleen Marshall on KISS ME KATE, I think at the time. And I got the invitation, I knew through Michael
to come to this reading. And I sat there salivating, thinking, “Oh
my gosh, this is so fun! How great it would be to get to choreograph
a show like this, a show that naturally dances!” The show just has so much dance in it. But because I was an assistant and not a tried-and-true
choreographer on my own, I didn’t think I had very much of a chance. But they did hold some auditions. They were looking for a choreographer. And so, because of Michael and the Hal Prince
recommendation, I did get a chance to audition for MILLIE. How does a choreographer audition? Well, it’s not easy! (LAUGHTER) I have to tell you, it’s not
easy. The assignment was two numbers that you did
for the show. One was a number from the show, which was
the elevator number, which at that time was “Stumbling,” when Miss Dorothy and Millie
meet each other. That was the first assignment. And the second was totally up to you, not
necessarily from the show, but hopefully using a large number of people, so that they could
see that you could move a group around the stage. And at the time when they were actually seeing
the auditions, I was working with Michael on a play that had a little bit of dance to
it, down at the Vineyard. Right. And Michael said, “I’d really love for
you to do this.” Well, at that time, I was assisting Kathleen
on SATURDAY NIGHT at Second Stage. And we were in the middle of tech. And Michael was like, “Well, this is the
time.” This is it, yeah. I mean, you’ve got to do it this week. And so, you know, the people at Second Stage
were so nice. They allowed me to use their rehearsal room. I called dancers that I had worked with, because
I was just in VICTOR/VICTORIA two years before. I called dancers that I knew. You know, “Please come help me!” And we put together – and David Chase, who
is a friend and a great dance arranger, who ended up being the dance arranger on the show,
to help me put together these auditions. Well, I got together the elevator number,
but that’s all I had time for. So I just did the one number with three girls
and just hoped and prayed that that would be enough. It was great! It was great. It was inspired. It was, it was great. It told a story. That’s right. Well, who was paying for all of this at the
time? (MICHAEL POINTS TO HAL; LAUGHTER) And this
was blind, and you were just doing this on spec? Well, yeah. But with very assured spec, if there’s such
a thing. (MICHAEL LAUGHS) Because I just knew, my gut
just told me that these guys were the real thing, the team was the real deal. They all just worked well together and the
show was, you know, coming together. And everyone sort of had the same vision. And you know, there are times, as a producer,
you know, really you just sort of – I feel like, you know, you just push everybody, or
you’re just there to support everybody or create an environment to let the team work. And this team just functioned as one of the
best well-oiled machines that I had ever seen. Well, let’s see if we get it in perspective. Prior to going to La Jolla, how much money
had been invested in getting it that far? Well, I think just to put it in [perspective],
outside of the La Jolla enhancement, there was about four hundred thousand spent in the
development of the show over a period of five years? Four or five years? Yeah, that’s about right. Four hundred thousand, which includes the
little readings. It includes the little rehearsal times, the
workshop. The occasional lunch. (LAUGHTER) A lunch here or there! You know, legal fees to – And was all that recoverable out of the production
cost when you moved this? Yes. That became part of the capitalization. Yes, it’s all part of the [capitalization],
right. And had the show ended before La Jolla, you
would have invested four hundred thousand dollars – For naught, yes. Plus then you added the La Jolla enhancement
money to that? Yes. And that’s true. And if the show didn’t go anywhere after
La Jolla, yes, that would have been it. But we knew it would, Hal. That’s a pretty bold confidence, isn’t
it, in this? Committing half a million dollars on unknown
– That’s what I want to get to, about the
money part. Where did the money come from? This is such a big undertaking, and you’re
all so very young. How did you go about getting money? And what about, were there royalties to be
paid? Well, Isabelle, the same way that, you know,
that anyone really gets money. You know, the La Jolla production, even though
it was a financial undertaking, from a producorial point of view, it was a great showcase. We were able to bring money people out to
La Jolla and say, “Look at this!” I mean, you know, the show is so great that
in a way it was sort of the easiest sell I’ve ever had to do, ‘cause all I had to do was
march somebody down to their seat and stand back and let the show just wash over them. And then, you know, they came back to me and
said, “This is wonderful! What’s the plan? What are you gonna do?”, you know? So you know, La Jolla served, from the producing
point – And these people, Hal, are they all theatre
investors? Is that how you know them? Or are they from different walks of life? You know what, they’re from different walks
of life. Personally, I found it easier dealing with
people who had invested in theatre before, because then they understand the mechanics. How it works, how you make your money back,
you know, the recoupment. How does it work? (LAUGHTER) How do you get your money back? (LAUGHS) You get a good general manager! You’ve gotta have that! Yeah, a good general manager. You should talk about the IPN, also. Yeah. Yeah, well, they came on board after La Jolla,
but that’s a great case. I mean we have a big piece of investment from
this new group out on the road called the Independent Producers [SIC; the program says
“Presenters”] Network, or IPN. And what that is, is just recently with, you
know, the road sort of changing its face as it has, a lot of markets are, you know, now
owned by Clear Channel. There are, however, you know, about forty
independent presenters out on the [road]. Maybe you should explain Clear Channel Entertainment. Clear Channel Entertainment, yes. They have some hundred and fifty venues throughout
the United States and Europe. And almost all the radio stations are now
– They’re a huge entertainment conglomerate. And they’re now producers on this show as
well. Well, yes, they came on as associate. Well, this was a sign of how much they loved
the show. Right. But at the time, in La Jolla, when we were
just sort of at the ground level of, you know, seeing where this money would come from, these
independent presenters came out to La Jolla and said, “You know, this show would be
great on the road. Our audiences, our subscription audiences,
would love this. It has everything they’re looking for. Singing, dancing, you know, great story.” You know, whatever, they went down their checklist. And so, they came on board as one of our producing
partners, you know, in investment really, only, to make sure that when MILLIE goes out
on the road, it goes to their cities first. So that was a unique form of capitalizing
a show. I think that this is the first time that they’ve
invested at this level. Yes, totally. And you’re talking about forty theatres
across the country, each putting in about twenty-five, fifty thousand dollars. You know, small amounts, for the chance to
be a part of the show and for the chance to get it first on their season. Right. And they realize that they can’t just sit
out there and expect product to come to them. They want to jump in and support a show and
try to get that show out to their cities. Well, Nina, that serves you secondarily as
well, because once you’re ready to put a touring show out – now that we’ve lost
our secrets, let’s jump ahead for a minute – you know you’ve got bookings there. Yes. When you’ve got bookings in those theatres,
you know you’ve got a successful tour. There’s already forty weeks built for this
[show]. Well, then, a few weeks ago, Clear Channel
came to one of our previews and said, “Wow, this is fabulous! We want in on this, too.” And they came on as an associate producer,
for a smaller amount of money, with the caveat that they now, we’ve worked out a deal where
some of the forty get it first and some of the Clear Channel, you know, then get a tour. So we basically have now a two year tour just
from [investors]. One company? I’ve wondered if you had to go into a second
company right away, in order to accommodate both of those large venue groups? You mean IPN and [Clear Channel]? Yeah. I don’t know. Well, we’re talking about one tour at the
moment. (LAUGHTER) Nina’s turning white! (LAUGHTER) One tour at the moment! One tour! At this moment, how many producers do you
have on the show? When it came into New York, how many producers
are there? Well, there are two general partners. And there’s – and IPN is four – Stewart [F. Lane]. Libby [Adler Mages and Mari Glick]. Right, so that makes five. Jimmy Nederlander. I have them. So that’s five. There’s really six major producers, and
of those six major producers, you always see more than that above the title, because you
know, buyouts (PH?) and people, you know, whatever. I think you should explain that. No, I think you should explain that. You should. Why you have a dozen names or more. Well, when a person puts in a substantial
amount of money, you know, they want to have their name above title as a presenter, which
they’re certainly, you know, entitled to do. Do they contribute anything other than money? In terms of like, artistic or producorial? Mmm-hmm. Or name. Like Whoopi Goldberg. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Like Whoopi. Well, Whoopi brought in more than, you know,
name. Right. But I’m just saying that – Yeah. But the name Nederlander is of value, just
as Whoopi is, in terms of prestige. But I think the producers have been very careful
in funneling comments from all those producers (GENERAL AGREEMENT) through Hal, or you know,
Fox Theatricals, our other general partner. Yeah. Because you really can’t have nine or ten
people – No, no. How many bosses do you have, in other words? Right now, would you say you have – Basically, I have Hal and Fox Theatricals,
too. Yeah, we’re the general partners of the
show. And then, everyone else, you know, the Nederlanders,
they’re involved, and there’s Stewart Lane and the Independent Producers Network. You know, some people are more involved, Isabelle,
as they come to more meetings. You know, Stewart Lane is very involved. He’s here in New York, he’s at the theatre
quite a bit. He comes to meetings, ad meetings, marketing
meetings, things like that. So you know, it varies from person to person. But most of the time, the reason that you
see so many names above the title, it’s a financial consideration. And the opening night party. And the opening night. Right, right. Oh, which was fabulous! (LAUGHTER) But can I tell you something? If producing this show was difficult, that
party, you know, arranging that party – and Nina is my witness – was like – you know,
I’ll produce a show any time! Who can’t sit by who, and who has to sit
next to who, but down front. It’s almost we’d rather give everyone
the money, and just say, “Go have fun!” Just go have fun! I couldn’t believe it! I just couldn’t believe, you know, the politicking. You know, getting those seats in that theatre. But it worked. The bouncers had to throw us out. Yeah, at quarter of six in the morning. The party was so fun. At the end of the evening, they had to call
security from the hotel. They had to kick us out! And literally form like a chain and push the
revelers out. ‘Cause no one wanted to leave! Yeah, it really was a great party, I have
to say. I can remember when you used to tell people
you were going to produce a show, and they wouldn’t say, “What’s the name of the
show? What kind of a show is it?” They’d always say, “Where’s the party?” (LAUGHTER) Right, right. They didn’t talk about the show! It is truly unbelievable. I want to go back. I might have missed something on the rights,
the movie rights. How did you get that? Well, do you mean the rights to do this? To do this. Richard Morris had retained what is called
“the dramatic stage rights,” when he wrote the film, which is not the whole story. That gave him the right to tell the story
on stage, to use the dialogue, the characters, the plot. What Universal still retained was the use
of the title, the use to advertise anything called THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, and the use
– The songs. The songs, and the right to merchandise anything
called THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. So clearly, you can’t produce a show if
you can’t use the title, you can’t advertise it, you can’t merchandise it, you can’t
use any of the songs. So Universal entered into a deal with the
producers. And as Dick had said earlier, it’s much
easier to get anything from an individual as [SIC] it is from a corporation. Right. We went through several months of either not
getting phone calls returned. “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s not my department,
I’ll have to transfer you.” “Well, why did they send you to me? That’s not my department. You need to go talk to So-[and-So].” “Oh, I don’t know.” We went through – Well, that’s what’s really tricky about
movie rights, because having tried to get some before, often they’re so collaborative
that they themselves don’t even know who has the rights. Right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) So you talk to someone and they say, “Oh,
we do.” And then you talk to someone else, “We don’t.” And so part of it’s just so athletic (PH),
just finding out the information. I have a history of this with Dick, because
at one point – eight, nine years ago, whatever it was – You were one of the people whose door I tried
to knock down. And I remember saying, “Dick, don’t do
this. Don’t go any further with this until you
get the rights from Universal.” Right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And when we went to Universal at the time,
they said, “Who’s Dick Scanlan?” and we said, “He’s approved by Richard Morris,”
and they said, “We don’t care. Dick Scanlan!” And suddenly, that property, which was collecting
dust on the shelves, nobody cared about, suddenly there was great interest in preserving THOROUGHLY
MODERN MILLIE. Right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And I know what you must have been gone through. You know, this is aside from THOROUGHLY MODERN
MILLIE, but just a lesson learned from all of that, I’m in the process now of trying
to obtain a right of a film. And it’s now – how people, you know, just
come out of the woodwork. What even the studio said, “Oh, we have
the rights to everything, you just deal with us,” now not only the woman who wrote the
screenplay has surfaced, the person who now claims [she] wrote the article on which the
– Screenplay was based, right. The screenplay, and another woman who has
said her book was based on the story from the article. You know, I finally said just the other day,
“You know what? You guys work it out. Here’s my number. When you do, call [me].” ‘Cause I’m not – you could spend years
chasing this stuff. Right. Actually, I remember they told us at the time,
the person who was in charge of it said, “Yes, you may do it, but – “ and he had to clear
it with a few other people, and it never got any further. Right, that’s right. But could we go back to La Jolla now? No. (LAUGHTER) But tell us about the travails, because there’s
something I sense you haven’t said. There was adversity there. What happened in La Jolla? La Jolla, what Hal said when he talked about
what our slot was in the season at La Jolla. We were the last show of Annie Hamburger’s
first and last – Last! Season as Artistic Director at La Jolla Playhouse. It was a strange choice. Right. THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE is a strange choice
for her. She has a reputation of – It was a strange choice for her, but she was
a strange choice for them, you know. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) We were actually a good
choice for the theatre. Yes, we were a great choice for the theatre. All right, this is not to denigrate her. No, she’s a wonderful person! A wonderful person! And her talent. And we all plan – I think we’re all going
to work with her, at Disney at some point. But the thing is, by the time our show came
around to their season, they had wrapped up, I think, four very ambitious, complicated
productions. Annie had resigned. The production manager was on the verge of
a nervous breakdown. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And Des McAnuff was asked to come back to
[take over]. But this was before Des came back. No one was running the ship there! This is a typical theatre, in other words! (LAUGHTER) And basically, they had no money and no support
at all! So by the time we got there, the set – (LAUGHS) Hadn’t been put in. Had not been started yet! And they didn’t want to tell us. So Michael and I would go into the shop, and
you know, MILLIE has an enormous set! And we’d say, “Well, you know, we’re
working!” And we’d be in the shop (MIMES LOOKING AROUND),
and there was nothing. There was nothing! There was a hotel desk for the Priscilla. “So, I mean, where are the big panels?” “They’re – they’re in another part
of the shop.” We couldn’t see them! “But this is the whole shop, right?” (LAUGHTER) “Oh, no. No! We’re workin’!” And finally, they sort of sheepishly said,
“You know, we’re a little behind. Behind! (LAUGHTER) We were like, “Oh, my God!” Then we were doing our thing, and getting
quite a lot done, actually, in the room, with the actors and with the dancers and everything. We were working really hard, plugging away,
rewriting constantly, as we are wont to do. And then we would have these horribly depressing
production meetings once a week, where it was just one bit of grim news after another. You know, reliving this is making my stomach
hurt! (LAUGHTER) I had forgotten! They had hired some woman to create a computer
program that would operate all of the automation for the show. (GROANS) Oh God, right. Which included a turntable and a series of
sliding panels. That was basically how the show moved. You couldn’t get from one scene to another
without the panels and/or the turntable working. Well, she – I think her experience to that
point had been – I don’t know, some sort of dot com stuff, you know. She had never worked in the theatre. Computer graphics or something, I don’t
know what. It’s true! So she created this program that didn’t
work. It simply didn’t work. So by the time we were supposed to start dry-teching
the show, the turntable wouldn’t move – It was more dry than tech! (LAUGHTER) Yes! It was more dry than tech! So that, truly, we had to keep postponing
the tech. Finally, by the time we were actually supposed
to be on stage, we looked at this sort of demoralizing report from the very depressed
production manager. (LAUGHTER) And she would basically say (SMILES
VERY CHEERFULLY), “Okay, guys, here’s the story! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) In two hours, we’re
gonna know whether or not we’re gonna be able to start work on the turntable before
dinner or first thing tomorrow morning!” (LAUGHTER) So, we would show up two hours
later and go, “Okay, what’s the story?” “Well, can you come back? If you come back in an hour, we’re gonna
know whether the turntable’s gonna be moving before dinner or – ” It’s true. And it went on like this day after day. I finally posed sort of the Sartre question,
“If a musical is produced in the forest and no one sees it, was it ever produced?” (LAUGHTER) Was the producer sitting through this? Had you moved out there? Well, yeah, you know, actually when – and
I took sort of like this very cavalier attitude. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Because I had, you
know, all the faith in the world that they would do this. (MORE LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) So these guys,
you know, the producers went out [at] the beginning of the rehearsal process. And you know, La Jolla’s a very lovely place. I mean, La Jolla, California. So, you know, I would go out there. They would be ensconced, you know, in the
rehearsal room, and we would go and have a lovely lunch on the beach, and you know, “Look
how sweet this is.” And I had total faith that when they said
they would build the set, [they would]. And these guys would come to me, and Michael
would tell me this, and I would say, “Michael, you know, calm down. You know, if they said they’re gonna do
it, they’re gonna do it! We have total faith in this.” And it wasn’t until really we got on the
stage and we saw that nothing, totally nothing, worked. And even then, I sort of said, “You know
what? It’s their subscription audience. It’s their problem, guys. (DICK LAUGHS) You know, they have to have
the performances. You’ll be amazed. This is regional theatre. They will make this work, just [wait]. It may not be perfect, but they will make
it work.” And it became clear, I don’t know, literally
a couple of days before we were supposed to have the first preview that – They weren’t going to make it work. (LAUGHTER) Well, it just wasn’t going to happen. And that’s when we kicked them [out]. They weren’t going to come close! No. Were you running up a huge bill? Is this a union operation backstage? No, it’s not really a union operation. And the difficulty, ‘cause I was back in
New York and I’d get these calls, like “Ooh, it’s really a problem out here,” or “They
don’t seem to know what they’re doing sort of technically.” But the problem is, when you’re in that
environment, that regional theatre environment, you have to let them sort out their own problems,
to a certain extent. Yeah. We ended up sending people out to try and
help them and to try to get them back on track. But they obviously undertook a set that they
didn’t have the resources to build. Right. But they were your designers? Right. That’s right. But we should say – It’s very important to say that they had
all the best intentions. Right, right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) But not only that. I mean, we did TOMMY out there, and TOMMY
was just this incredibly technically difficult [show]. So I want to be careful that – It was the end of a grueling season for them. Yes, absolutely. It was a happenstance that this theatre [had
this problem]. I mean, TOMMY had this and that. You know, Annie left and – There was a whole series of problems. It was a parade of problems. Yes. And we realized at some point, the producers,
you know, how this works, Roy, is, you know, as a producer you make a deal with the theatre. They say, “Okay, this show” – let’s
just make numbers up, ‘cause I don’t really remember at this point – let’s say the
show, you know, cost three million dollars at La Jolla Playhouse. The theatre says, “Okay, here’s what we
have budgeted. We have a million and a half. If you want to, you know, have a production
of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, you come up with a million and a half dollars, and here’s
what you will get, you know, for it. You’ll get to see the show on its feet. You’ll get to use it as a sort of try-out,
if you will, although things will change. You can use it to bring backers to see it,
to possibly raise money. And there are certain physical elements of
the show that you may be able to keep if you choose to, such as some costumes, some set
pieces.” You know, lights are usually rented, so you’re
not going to have that. Props. Props, yeah, things like that. So, for a producer, it’s – How about orchestrations, though? Perhaps the orchestrations, although the orchestra
is probably going to – Do you have the same size orchestra? No, we didn’t. We didn’t have the same size orchestra. No, that’s what I was going to say. But often, what happens, we had twelve pieces,
and Ralph Burns, who unfortunately is not here, he did those orchestrations. And we used them truly as the core and expanded. So it was a very useful thing. Yes, yeah, right. It wasn’t like going from zero to, you know. So you do get things, you know, for it. But does a general manager come in at that
point and the general manager say, “Look, this is not working, let’s do something
else”? What is the role of the general manager? Well, that’s when you sent people out to
– Right. But essentially, if the decision is made for
a regional theatre to do the production, it is their production. Right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) I can’t get involved in general managing
it. I don’t know how to hire the nonunion crew. They had their crew. They had their own general manager. They had their own manager. They had their own crew, their own staff,
their own way of doing things. What happened from my office at that point
was for everybody to go out and work on the La Jolla production, everybody wanted their
first class contracts done, sort of simultaneously with the La Jolla deal. ‘Cause people said, “I’m not gonna go
and work out in La Jolla for two cents unless I know I have my contract done and we’re
gonna go to Broadway.” So in a way, it was good for us, because we
got a jump on doing everyone’s contract. We got really a head start on getting all
the designers lined up, all the creative team, all of that sort of squared away, the orchestrators,
everything. So that when the time came to come to Broadway,
we actually were in really good shape. Everybody’s contract was done. There was no rush for that. And so, we prepared and sort of set up the
structure and got everyone’s deal squared away. But the actual workings of the production
in La Jolla, I can’t contribute to, because they have their own way of working. When it became difficult for them, we did
make some calls, we tried to get some people out and some technical people to help. And that turned us around. Well, it was still very difficult, though,
because they had their own programs and own way of working. That’s right. Mmm-hmm. It wasn’t like – you know, if I had a
problem in New York, I could call any shop in New York and they could come and help me,
and they would understand the language that was being used to sort of sort out technical
problems or to deal with scenery. It’s just slightly different. Well, we were hearing a lot about the show
while it was in La Jolla in New York, as people do. The vultures who were hovering, as you know. But had you hired your press people at that
point? They have their own press. La Jolla has their own press person. We did have a press person. We did have a press representative. Yeah, we did have a press agent. You had La Jolla’s? But you didn’t – Yeah, John Ellis (PH), he’s fantastic. The former Broadway – Right, exactly. Outstanding Broadway press person. Wonderful, absolutely. But you didn’t hire anybody then to talk
about New York, at that point? Yes, we had engaged a – well, we hadn’t
engaged them officially yet. But we did have a press person that we were
going to use. We have since changed, but at the time, yes,
we did. Well, I think at that time some of the job
of your press person was to keep information out of the press in New York. I think, and probably did a fairly decent
job. Yeah, I guess so. But the thing that was interesting was the
show was terrifically well-received, from the very beginning. It was, mmm-hmm. So any press that was coming out of La Jolla,
aside from just technical glitchs was all extremely positive. Look, but I think with the advent of the Net,
we all know what’s happening. You know, with chat rooms. And I think there is a confusion, it seems
to be – like what has been published, and typed gossip becomes believed. As news, right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) It’s my greatest pain of being a writer
in this business is that there is something that happens with computers, that when people’s
dialogue gets typed out, people believe it to be true. Well, it’s written down then. So it’s almost like people have become individual
press people, and it’s geometric. So that comes out, and I think that is a very
difficult thing to rein in as a press person. That started happening, much to our favor,
but any mishaps that were going on or delays became expanded. And they would come back to us, people from
New York, saying, “Oh, I hear that you’re delayed for three months.” It’s like, “What are you talking about?” Right, right. But tell about the company itself at that
time. You had a cast. Yes. And they were great. It was so sad to see them all in makeup and
costume – (LAUGHS) I know! Yeah, yeah. And we were sitting there, and we would call
them together and say – All dressed up and no place to go! “Stay together and go to the beach!” And go to the beach, that’s right! “Come back at six!” And they’d come back and they’d all get
ready and we’d say – “Take off your makeup!” (LAUGHS) “Go home, see you tomorrow!” We had one performance where we did it in
chairs. Yeah. The first preview that we had. No, it was supposed to be, but it was actually
like – We did the opening number and then we brought
up chairs. Yeah. And stands. We danced the opening number, and then we
brought up chairs. And what became our first preview – Right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Was, you know, a partially staged reading. Yeah. And, you know, the thing was, you know, as
we’ve all said, you know, La Jolla had the best intentions, so it wasn’t about that. They were more – and we were very, you know,
sort of freaked out by it. But they were much more freaked out by it,
because they’re a subscription house. And they rely on their donors and their subscribers
and their community. And when these people would show up, you know,
five, six hundred – I think it was like a six hundred seat theatre – they would
show up, and they would, you know – Have to be turned away. Yes. With their tickets in hand, and “I’m ready
to see MILLIE!” We’d have to turn them away, yeah. They would have to go home. And several – How long was this engagement? The initial engagement was – ? We extended several times. Several times, so it was supposed to be, like,
eight weeks, and then we kept extending. It was ten weeks, and we extended. Ten weeks? And we were supposed to extend it. But some of these people, Roy, would have
tickets for Monday night, and we didn’t have a show, so they would somehow pick the
next Wednesday. And some of these people came back two or
three times, never to see, you know, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. So they, La Jolla was really, really upset
by this. And they were trying ever which way to get
it done. Right. But as Nina said, we finally stepped up and
said, “You know what? We have a vested interest in making this thing
happen, like, now.” And you know, when you do a regional production,
for the most part, you’re a guest in someone’s home, you know? And you can’t walk in there and say, “Okay,
this is how we’re gonna, you know, arrange the china!” (LAUGHTER) You know, you have to sort of let
them do it. It was an extreme situation there. It’s not the way it usually is. But you extended? Oh, yeah! Once we started, yes. Sure, great response. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Great response! (LAUGHTER) Right from the beginning! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) I think that their subscription drive that
happened during the run of MILLIE increased their following year subscription hugely. Yes, yes, yes. It was a very successful [run]. Well, how long did you finally play? We played from early October and we closed
on December 10th. Yeah. And they wanted to extend further, but the
actors just wanted to go home. Yeah. It was just getting close to Christmas, and
people had lives. Right. At that time, did you know you were coming
to New York? Yes. At one point during the La Jolla run, the
producers, you know, we all made a decision that this was worthy of doing, and we knew
we were going to come to New York. It’s so funny how that works, because I
always knew. I never doubted we would. I never doubted that we would! Personally, I didn’t either. I didn’t either. But you know, there comes a moment, Roy, when
you have to say, “Okay, it’s official. Let’s say it officially! We’re coming to Broadway,” you know? Right. Where just because, as Jeanine said, it stops
being, you know, gossip, or it stops being rumor or it stops being “they possibly are.” When you say, “We are coming,” and you
speak to a theatre owner and the theatre owner commits a theatre, you know, you then enter
the highway. There is a story about the casting, and the
cast did not stay exactly as you had it in New York. Well, we did make a change. The actress who was originally playing Millie
in La Jolla, at a certain point, late into rehearsals, very near the time we were starting
tech, I had a conversation with her, and it was decided that she was not able to fulfill
the demands of the role at that time. And we were very fortunate in that her understudy,
Sutton Foster, stepped up to the plate in a completely miraculous way. And immediately defined the role of Millie
as it had never been defined in any previous incarnation, and it was completely illuminating
to us. And is that the company that came into New
York, subsequently? Some. Some are, some aren’t. Again, going to La Jolla, there were a lot
of considerations that we had to do. They wanted us to hire as many local people
as possible, which we tried to accommodate. Students. Students were in the show. At U.C.S.D. Their seniors there had to be in the show. And they were good! They were. They were good. There were some non-union dancers that they
insisted upon, just to keep costs low. We expanded the cast here. So there were a lot of conditions in La Jolla. And we defined the show, what the show really
needed and didn’t need. So there were some changes, as far as the
ensemble goes, according to those qualifications, yeah. And the principals, too. I mean, the roles were substantially rewritten
and rethought. I think that once we knew Sutton was our Millie,
I think she really determined a lot. Just in terms of who she is as an actress
and as a character, we needed to build a cast around her. So some changes needed to be made in that
regard, also. Okay, so we now are about at Christmas time,
and you know you’re coming to New York. Well, I’d also like to say, the producers
were terrific, because they kept us, the creative team, in La Jolla throughout the entire run,
to continue working on the show. So we were able to stay there and continue
the work. Which is not how it’s usually done. No, no. Which is not at all how it’s [usually done]. And we did a lot of good work. We were able to go there and see it in the
evening. We were able to brainstorm in the day, and
then go and then try to imagine the thoughts of that day fitting into that production we
saw at night. It was very advantageous to the process. It’s been produced so well, this piece,
and part of it is there is a new phenomenon, also, of using regional theatres as a means
to an end. And how you are – I mean, Hal said it so
well – you are a guest in their house, but you are a guest with great demands of being
a guest. You’re not a guest that’s just gonna sit
by the fireplace. Mmm-hmm. You’re gonna, you know, look out the window
and rearrange the furniture and that’s why you’re there. And so, there’s this constant balance. Nina said, like, they have their own government. They have their own press, they have their
own manager going on. But you are looking to be able to work and
change. And regional theatres are not always built
that way. You know, often they’ll produce something
that stays the same from opening night, and we kept working. Right. And they kept us out there so we could keep
looking at it, you know, because the piece is fluid. I mean, it was fluid all through previews
here. Right. But that’s very consistent with the way
that the show has been produced since the very reading that we did – Right. Was this producing team has been, I think,
unique in that they understood from the beginning what the developmental process for a show
like this needed to be. Because the changes – And every step of the way. Right. We had some very strange readings that were
just, like we said before, just singing the songs. For four people. For four people! But we had to hire actors and rehearse – Or just the producers, with Nina, in a room. We did a lot of that, to try it out. And that kind of work really paid off, to
have that kind of support. Well, we’re gonna want to move this show
to New York and hear all about that, but before we do, why don’t we pause now and have a
word about the American Theatre Wing given to us by Isabelle Stevenson? Can we please? (APPLAUSE) Before we go back to the American Theatre
Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre” – this in on Production, the wonderful show,
THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE – I want to remind you that these seminars are only one of many
programs that the Wing undertakes. You are probably familiar with the American
Theatre Wing Tony Awards, given for excellence in the craft of theatre. But we also have a very substantial grants
and scholarship program, providing aid to Off-Off- and Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway theatres
(MICHAEL LAUGHS), as well as to promising students, to pursue studies in the theatre
arts. As a long-established charity, the Wing has
other meaningful and thriving programs, all designed to promote excellence in the theatre
and to introduce young people and their families to theatre and the magic it unfolds. Our hospital programs, dating back to World
War Two, when we also created the legendary Stage Door Canteens, to entertain patients
in hospitals, nursing homes, AIDS centers and child care facilities, continue. We take pride in the work we do. Our work is very important to the theatre
and the community, and we are proud to be a part of this exciting industry. Now, let’s return to our panel on production,
and our moderator, Roy Somlyo, President of the American Theatre Wing. Roy? Thank you, Isabelle. You know, it occurs to me we’ve been talking
about THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea if we took
a look at what it sounds like and probably sounded like in La Jolla when you left it. So why don’t we take a look at Sutton Foster
and the company, with a little clip? Can we look at the tape now? CHORUS
But the fact is, everything today is (UNINTEL) Bands are getting’ jazzier! Everything today is starting to glow (PH). Cars are getting’ snazzier! Can’t say it’s criminal, what women’ll
do. What the (PH)? Forgetting is (PH)
SUTTON FOSTER This is 1922! (DANCE MUSIC)
CHORUS Goodbye! To goody-goods! I’m changing and how! SUTTON FOSTER
I’m changing and how! CHORUS
Be good (UNINTEL PHRASE) Hot off the press, (UNINTEL PHRASE) jazz age
(PH) Whoopie, baby, we’re so thoroughly modern! SUTTON FOSTER
Millie! CHORUS
Now! (APPLAUSE) Now, that was terrific! Now we begin to understand why so much hard
work took place, because that’s the result. I think we paused when you were just about
moving out of La Jolla, having had this lovely time down there. (LAUGHTER) And so, what happened? Then we’re going to go right to New York,
right? So there’s a story there, too, about your
theatre, etc. You want to tell us about that? Yeah. No, there is. You know, we made the commitment to come to
New York, and we were scheduled to open – first we had to find the theatre owner and a theatre. And Jimmy Nederlander had come out to La Jolla
and loved it, so the Nederlanders became our producing partner. And then we, you know, went through the process
of what theatre we could do. Well, I have to say, at that point I was doing,
it seemed liked, hundreds of budgets. Yeah. And variations on a theme, because it was
also a discussion about going out of town before we came to New York. Right. So the producers asked me to look at some
areas where perhaps we would do an out-of-town in New Haven, and then come into New York. And there was a scenario about going to the
Ordway in St. Paul. The Ordway, right, the Ordway. And then come into New York. But you know, as we discussed earlier, the
costs of the initial development and the cost of the La Jolla enhancement had to be included
in the overall capitalization for the show. You were up to about two million dollars at
that point, I would think. Actually, it ended up to about one point four. Point five, yeah. One point four, one point five. So adding an out-of-town to the budget would
have added another million dollars to, like, one point two. So when we actually did all of those budgets
and we looked at every which way we could reduce that cost and make it as inexpensive
as possible, we still couldn’t get the overall budget down to a number that would enable
us to go comfortably into a New York theatre and recoup. So the producers then got together with the
creative team and had this discussion with all of you, right? Mmm-hmm. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And said, “Even though you guys really want
an out-of-town, we just can’t afford an out-of-town financially.” Well, the one that was on the table, and you
know, we all agreed that it wouldn’t be purposeful for us was there was the Ordway
on the table. And again, the Ordway is a great theatre,
and it operates under a very, you know, sort of strange situation. You know, it’s a half-LORT, half, you know,
out-of-town regional, sort of. And we could have gone there, and perhaps
even made it financially, you know, workable, but we wouldn’t have had the full complement
of the orchestra. Our set wouldn’t have been the total full
set. And we all talked about that, and we said,
“Well, what’s the point? You know, that’s not going to – We’d already done that. Right, we’d already done that, so – The LORT being a League Of Regional Theatres. The LORT. Yes. LORT is actually a COST contract. As Hal said, it’s this hybrid. It’s this in-between situation, between,
you know, a real out-of-town Broadway try-out and a regional. Yeah. And it’s very strange about what you can
do and what they can give you, and what you – you know, it’s – The number of rehearsal hours you get once
you’re up and running are somewhat limited. Right, right. Would you explain, though – you said that
you came up with several budgets, and if you added an additional city out-of-town, it would
make it impractical, because you couldn’t recoup your cost? Mmm-hmm. How do you come to that conclusion? Well, I think you need to look – we knew
this was going to be a large musical. We knew we were going to be with the Nederlanders. Everyone knew, very early on, that they wanted
to go into the Marquis Theatre. And so, you know, it’s got sixteen hundred
seats. You multiply sixteen hundred seats by the
top price that a musical can command these days, and you can figure out very quickly
on a piece of paper how much you’re gonna make each week. We know the numbers of people that are going
to be in the show. We know the cast. We know roughly the size of the crew and wardrobe
department. So once you subtract all of that, very quickly,
you can see, “We only can make this much each week. These are our expenses. This is what we’re going to be left with
each week to pay back our start-up costs.” I mean, most people look at a budget the wrong
way. They get carried away by a ten million dollar
show or a nine and a half million dollar show. The more important figure to look at is, how
much money can you make every week? Because you’re going to have to pay back
that initial sum of money. And what’s the period of time you think
is reasonable to pay it back? I always tell my investors that, you know,
to look at a number or budget, you really have to be looking at anywhere between thirty-six
and forty-five weeks. Almost, sometimes, a year. A year? Sometimes a year. And that would be at what percent capacity,
would you say? When I do these and I, you know, raise money,
I always look at between seventy-five and eighty. Because you can also get very fooled when
you look at these numbers, if you take the Marquis Theatre and you multiply every seat
times the full dollar amount, at a hundred percent capacity. I think we could pay back – it was like,
in twenty-two weeks or something. But you know, nobody, nobody does a hundred
percent of capacity. I mean, if you really take it, you know, literally,
yes. Maybe, you know, THE LION KING and maybe THE
PRODUCERS. But you know, you always have either press
or you have a couple of dead seats or you have obstructed view seats that you can’t
really sell at full price. You know, so nobody really does that. And if you buy into that notion that you’re
going to, you know, do a hundred percent, then you get disgruntled investors, because
they look at that and say, “Wait a minute! You know, how come we’ve been running for
thirty weeks and I haven’t gotten my money back?” So what did you decide then for the budget? What was your final figure for the budget? The final capitalization was nine point five. Nine point five. And you’d spent a million four already. Right. Let’s a say a million and five. Was part of that, so you now had eight million
dollars to spend. Eight million, yes. Yes, to spend. To bring that in. And did that frighten you? (LOOKS AROUND AT THE PANEL) Why? They didn’t raise it! Why would it frighten them? (LAUGHTER) They wanted more! If somebody gave me eight million bucks and
said, “Knock yourself out!” I’d be, you know – you’re asking the
wrong party! (LAUGHTER) I knew you could get the money. It’s a question, was that enough to reach
your ideals? Actually, I thought that the show was appropriately
capitalized. I think the director, who’s so much more
involved with the design, you know, there’s always sort of – And the choreographer. That’s right. There’s always – And the designers. Yeah, yeah, right. You could always keep going one level up. Oh! I was thinking of the music, as a matter of
fact. You know, but I have to say, the greatest
thing about opening is I sleep again. Not only, because I have a four year old,
but also it’s a huge pressure. I feel a lot of pressure to the orchestra,
the cast, the crew, the people in the audience, the investors. Because basically, it starts with a blank
page, and that would be us. Right. And I think to not acknowledge that this is
a business is really foolish. I mean, we are in as artists, but I’ve done
seventy-five seat black box, that’s where I really do pure art. This is something very different. We’re here to entertain, to get people into
the theatre, to get the investors back their money, to put New York theatre back and bustling,
I feel. And I have to say, we slept maybe two – (TO
DICK) well, you sleep anywhere! (LAUGHTER) Really, he’ll have like a Coke
and a Milky Way and he’s out, you know? But it’s a lot. It’s a lot to really take on. I feel that responsibility, you know, in my
conscience, that people get what they paid for. That I fulfill what we committed to each other. Right. Well, it’s always a balance, because you
want the thing to look like a ten million dollar musical, right? And you don’t want to have to pay ten million
dollars for it. So it’s a constant juggling. And when Rob and I were going through the
whole show with the designers, we had to make a series of compromises at certain points. And some of those hurt while you’re doing
it. And other times, what happens is – and I
love this about the theatre, I think it’s unique – is that when you’re faced with
a particular challenge, often the solution that you come up with is better than the solution
you would have had if you had all the money in the world thrown at you. Well, how much of the salvage was there, in
terms of scenery and costumes? We already talked about some orchestrations. But what was salvaged from La Jolla? From La Jolla? We salvaged the pouf that Millie sits on (LAUGHTER)
in her eleven-o’clock number. A couple of props. Some desks. Some banisters (PH) Some of the desks. A pencil! And props, yes. So none of the sets? So the sets that were having trouble working
in the beginning – They’re in Southern California or they’re
gone! (LAUGHTER) Right. They’re in Set Heaven, right. And none of the clothes, no. None of the clothes, right. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) So that’s why that eight million dollars
was like doing a ten million dollar musical for eight million dollars. That’s what we did. Oh, yes, we basically started from scratch. Yeah. I mean, I figured if we could use some La
Jolla pieces, that would be great, but that was like a bonus. Now, talk about recasting and regrouping. That’s when – Well, the size of the cast was the next question. How much more, how much larger of a cast did
we need? As you know, the producers felt that we did
need to enhance the cast a bit, size-wise, the ensemble especially. But we also didn’t want to get into the
thing of having, you know, sixty dancers and singers on stage, because we didn’t need
them and our story didn’t need them. But we just saw – the clip that we saw filled
the stage, and it told you a story. Right. So obviously, you made the right decision
there. Right. We added
five more on-stage ensemble members, and all of our understudies and swings, than we had
in La Jolla. That’s the difference in size. But the principals were the same? The number of principals, well, one of them
– Yeah, the standby. How about recasting? Basically, one of our principals was from
the ensemble, and Equity determined that her role was a principal contract. So now, instead of eight principals and an
ensemble, we have now nine principals. One of the other things that we – What’s the size of the ensemble? Twenty. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Nine principals. Four off-stage swings, one standby. And one standby. One of the other things that changed from
La Jolla – we made substantial changes in the play. And one of the things that we did was we decided,
wisely, very wisely, to populate the scenes more with characters, other characters that
we would pull from the ensemble. So, in addition to just expanding the ensemble,
we also cast the new members of the ensemble with an eye toward the character parts that
they would be playing throughout. Girls that stay in the Hotel Priscilla, people
at the speakeasy, that sort of thing. And because everyone in the show dances, everyone! And so, the difficult task was incredible
singers who danced really well. Because that’s not always the case. I mean, it’s tougher, but we – It’s a New York specialty, I think. I mean, they don’t have to be in New York. But I think everyone trains, and a lot of
people come here. Some of them stay in regional theatres, because
there’s a lot of talent out there. But it’s awesome when you really – I found
out in previews, really, what this cast can do. We threw so much stuff [at them]! They never played the same show! Not once, all through, until we froze the
show that Friday before we opened. Right. And I mean, substantial changes, not just
(DEMONSTRATES A FEW INCHES) this or that, but (DEMONSTRATES A FEW FEET) this and that
and this. You know, so it’s not just their ability
to populate. They had to shift gears and perform it every
night, as opposed to get through it. Right. It was astonishing. I want to talk more about the music, too. I don’t know how much that changed from
originally, but right now, you have a combination of various styles. And it’s so beautifully woven into it. Could you talk to that, as a matter of fact? Whether you’re talking about Victor Herbert
or you’re talking about Gilbert and Sullivan or you’re talking about Jeanine [Tesori],
it all works as a piece so beautifully. I appreciate that. I think our goal was – certainly, when Dick
and I started writing, what we wanted to do, I think, was achieved when someone said, “Oh,
I loved ‘I Turned the Corner’ from the movie. Thank God they kept it.” And it’s a new song. (LAUGHTER) You know? “Yes, well, isn’t it good? We’re glad we kept it, too.” So you know, certainly I wanted to almost
have an alter ego of someone who I could pretend that I wrote “Mammy” and the Gilbert and
Sullivan and “Jimmy” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” And the assignment was to just fulfill the
obligation of the score, as opposed to start with me. You know, if I were to write this from scratch,
I would not have written it this way, just because I would not have started with, you
know, pre-fab material. But the material was fab! So it gave me a wonderful assignment, in terms
of, I think, what Michael was speaking about, the limitations. Sometimes, when you have less money, your
creativity expands. And I think, for this, I just decided that
I was going to take it, to play a really great game of how could this be interwoven and that
be used in counterpoint. I just threw out all the accompaniments. And Dick and I, we probably wrote forty songs
that aren’t on the stage. Yeah, there’s a big old trunk lost in La
Jolla with our next CD! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, that’s right! So I had a really great time, just connecting
the dots of the score and giving it a point of view, a unification. I learned so much from Ralph Burns, and we
made a lot of decisions about what we would be inspired by, and not try to make it dusty. And I think the difference between this and
a twenties musical per se was that was much more tied at the time to vaudeville and to
songs that didn’t function to further story. And a lot of the songs that we have now are
book songs that were written for it. When were they written, though? How much musical changes were there from La
Jolla to opening night? There are only two Tesori-Scanlan songs of
the nine that are in the Broadway production that existed in La Jolla. So we wrote seven new songs between La Jolla
and Broadway. I mean, we actually wrote more than seven. Right, right. But there are seven that exist. And then, the sort of existing material, “Mammy,”
“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Jimmy” and “I’m Falling in Love with Someone,”
that was in La Jolla. They were all in La Jolla? Yes, they were. So I would say the score changed about fifty
percent from La Jolla? Mmm-hmm. We did substantial re-writing from La Jolla. How did you decide to put those numbers in,
the ones that you didn’t create? How did you decide to put those in in the
first place? The “Mammy,” what made you decide to put
that in? Well, in a sense, it sort of happened backwards
in that those songs, because Michael and I had started with a book that used existing
material, we had all old songs, many of them with new lyrics. And one of the songs was “Mammy.” And I guess I’ll just have to give away
the twist on it, in order to tell or explain. Yeah. The characters that sing “Mammy,” Ching
Ho and Bun Foo, they perform the entire show in Chinese, because they are immigrants, and
they are super-titled. And so, they sing “Mammy” in Chinese,
and they are super-titled, and it’s an extraordinarily funny sequence. And beyond that, Michael and I also think
there’s something really crazily subversive about it, because “Mammy” is this song
that’s so associated with racism. And to have it on stage in such a completely
turned-on-its-head way (LAUGHTER), it takes the onus off it, in a sense. And so, we didn’t want to lose that, even
when it became clearer and clearer that we wanted predominantly new music. Well, in a sense, in order to have “Mammy”
there, you needed throughout the evening to have an occasional moment where there was
an old song sort of sent up in a new way, so that when we arrived at “Mammy” near
the end of the play, there was a precedent for it, rather than suddenly at 10:20, the
rules changed. Mmm-hmm. And we also had a title song called “Thoroughly
Modern Millie,” which is familiar and beloved, and it seemed silly to do without it. So I thought, “Well, here we already have
two, one at the beginning, one near the end. Let’s pepper in, just occasionally.” There’s really only two more in there, and
that’s sort of how it came to be. Well, I think it gives, you know – I met
this man, I think he was probably seventy-five, and when the characters burst into a song
that he knew, he started crying. Because it was for him, I think – you know,
to me, the whole musical is about comfort and joy. And it’s wonderful to be associated with
this. And I think it hits younger people because
there’s new things that they think that they knew. Like, we do a whole Tchaikovsky “Nutcracker”
take on the twenties. And then, this character bursts into song
that this man knew and remembered from the time that it was new. And it hooked him in, in a different way. And the surprise of the show is that it’s
constantly surprising itself. How many musicians are in the show now? Twenty-four! (LAUGHS) Including my husband! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, my husband conducts it. And well, I must say. (GENERAL AGREEMENT FROM THE PANEL) Well, I’ll tell him! I’d like to know about previews. Who decides how many previews? And what’s the purpose of it? What’s the purpose – The purpose of previews? Well, you have to go back to the whole question
of deciding whether or not we had an out-of-town, before New York. Because when we decided not to have an out-of-town,
there was discussion with the creative team about trying to have – How many previews. Four weeks, at least of previews. And six weeks of rehearsal. Right. And six weeks of rehearsal. And no Wednesday matinees. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) That was the most important thing, was not
having a Wednesday matinee, during previews. So that we could work every day. During previews. They wanted the time to work on the show. What did that cost, cutting out the matinee? Well, you can say each show, you have a potential
to take in a hundred thousand dollars. So theoretically, that was about a hundred
thousand dollars. And you say it was well worth it, because
it delivered the product that you wanted. Oh, yes. It also didn’t break the momentum of the
week. They didn’t come in on Tuesday, rehearse,
and then – Do two shows. Do two shows Wednesday and then rehearse again. You could build this momentum of change. Yeah. Because your purpose during the daytime and
your purpose during the nighttime are slightly different. And so, it doesn’t break the momentum, as
you say. In the daytime, it’s to make people crazy
and throw it all around. In the nighttime, it’s to perform it. Right. And to make it seem like nothing had changed. I have to say, during the preview time, because
I don’t know if everyone understands, you can work with the actors from one to six in
the afternoon. Right. And then you do the show at night, so the
actors are called at seven-thirty. The show was coming down close to eleven o’clock
at night at that point. Which has since changed. Just make that clear. Which has since changed! Now ten thirty. And then the creative team would sit and give
notes to all of the staff that worked the show that night, of any technical problems
or issues, because of course the show was going through this sort of try-out phase. And that would take until midnight at some
point. And then the creative team would go and work
– Until three. Until two or three in the morning, to discuss
what they needed to do the next day. And then we’d get up and write. Right. Right. And choreograph for it. So it was an incredible – it’s a very,
very grueling process. That’s why, it was something about the Net
which I want to clarify. I think that the great thing about, you know,
the chat rooms, is the interest and the dialogue. The really hard thing that I really am trying
to understand, is when people publicly discuss what is not finished. And I think when we’re all working on three
or four hours of sleep, and someone calls you with these really, really hellacious comments
from the chats, you just think, “You know what? It’s just not fair. Wait till we open, and then chat away! And discuss away or discuss privately.” But during that period, when we’re all working
on fumes, it’s really (UNINTEL), I think. And even from out point of view, when we were
discussing going out of town, not this made or didn’t make our decision, but you know,
there was the time when you went out of town and the press left you alone and you were
able to do your work. And you know, you didn’t have that buzz
coming back to New York, so you came into New York fresh. There was a time (LAUGHS), hey, believe it
or not, you could do that. That’s over. That’s over. Because of economics, you can’t do that
anymore? It’s not just economics. No, Isabelle, because of the Internet you
can’t do that. When we were in La Jolla, as far away from
New York in the same country as you could possibly get, you know? (LAUGHTER) Maybe Hawaii. We still had that, (MIMES TYPING) “Oh, I
saw MILLIE. This isn’t good.” Or “That’s great” or “That’s whatever.” And so, one of the things the producers all
talked about when we were discussing out-of-town, before we came into New York, was its purpose
was to let these guys do their work in a sort of cocooned environment. Right. And we realized, that’s never gonna happen. There’s no such thing. No. Even if we went to, you know, Seattle or St.
Paul or whatever, people were still going to be talking, and it would still get back
into their little world, and we wouldn’t have really accomplished what we would have
wanted to, which is to let them work without having that kind of distraction. And it is – And that’s why we needed more time. Well, there is a flip side to what you’ve
been saying, though, and that is, you’re charging the same price for previews as you
are for the regular, are you not? Mmm-hmm. And so, why should someone go to a preview
and not feel free to get on the Net and say what they thought, if they paid the same price
as someone who came after the opening? I think you should explain that. Well, you know what? I have to take a little exception to that. Because yes, in theory, you know, you do charge
the same prices. But you know, we – you know, I can’t speak
for every producer, but one of the things that we at MILLIE did was we had heavy discounts
during previews. We sent out over four hundred and fifty thousand
pieces of mail to theatergoers and offered them tickets for fifty and fifty-five dollars,
close to half price. We were always at the TKTS booth, so people
could see a preview, you know, for half. We had student discounts. We had student rush. You know, and we made – How does one know about those tickets? How does one know about those tickets? We made it – the student rush was any time
anybody asked at the box office, they were told. The TKTS booth is, you know, there and we
were always there. The flyers were everywhere. Flyers were everywhere. No, our outreach through the direct mail – it
was a huge direct mail mailing, four hundred and fifty thousand pieces. Well, let’s wrap this up. Would you just tell us, where is the show
– how is the show going to be sold now? What’s the big push? Obviously, a show for everybody. Yes. What’s your thrust now in selling it? In terms of how we sell it? Yes, what’s your plan? Well, that’s our thrust, I think, what you’ve
just said. It’s a show for everybody. And that is going to be the thrust of our
campaign, that it is just sheer fun and joy, and everybody, from six to sixty, you know,
can appreciate that. There’s never enough time to find out as
much as we want to, about producing, but I’m sorry, we have to cut now. And so, thank you so very much for being with
us at the American Theatre Wing’s seminar on “Working in the Theatre.” Your production is wonderful, and we look
forward to many more productions of it, across the country, not only in New York. Yes! Thank you. Thank you so much. (APPLAUSE; REPRISE OF SONG FROM CLIP)

1 thought on “Production: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Working In The Theatre #301)

  1. This is very informative…The business aspect of "Show Business" seems like an absolute nightmare. Nina Lannan's position is so fascinating to me because even though I know there's got to be a regimented and unemotional numbers guy there, I didn't know most of that responsibility fell on the general manager. They didn't cover that in "Smash".

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