Production: “Urban Cowboy” (Working In The Theatre #311)

Production: “Urban Cowboy” (Working In The Theatre #311)


(APPLAUSE) Welcome to the American Theatre
Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars, now in their 31st 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, URBAN COWBOY. With the members of its creative and production
teams, we will follow the show from its beginning as a work for the stage, through to the current
production 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, who as a producer or a manager has gone through this process
about a hundred times, at least, the President of the American Theatre Wing, Roy A. Somlyo. Roy, would you start? (APPLAUSE)
Thank you, Isabelle, and thank you, panel, for being here. Let me introduce this group from URBAN COWBOY,
so you can understand what we’re going to talk about. On my far right is Aaron Latham, who is an
author, and the author of URBAN COWBOY. Seated next to him is Jason Robert Brown,
the composer, musical director. And then Chase Mishkin is on my right, producer. Leonard Soloway, producer. Lonny Price, among other things the director
of this production. And Pete Sanders, who’s the public relations
specialist on URBAN COWBOY. Now, normally, when we do a production seminar,
we talk about the genesis of it and how this show began and who had the idea and then how
it came to Broadway and how it became this raging hit. We don’t have quite that same story to tell
this time, because URBAN COWBOY has yet to become a hit. It’s a struggling show. And we thought, well, let’s find out, why
is it worth struggling for? So let’s learn a little bit about this show. And I think maybe we should begin at the beginning. And Chase, maybe you can tell us at first,
give us the origins of URBAN COWBOY. We all know that there was a movie. Tell us what happened after that. Well, it’s the same story. In the beginning was the word. Aaron Latham always had the words. He wrote the original movie. He also wrote the book for the musical. Phil Oesterman, a director who is well known,
came to Aaron and – you should really tell this part of the story – tried to get him
to do it. Well, in 1997, I got a letter from somebody
named Phil Oesterman, whom I’d never heard of, saying had I ever thought of turning URBAN
COWBOY the movie into URBAN COWBOY the musical? And I had thought of it, but I didn’t know
who to talk to about it or what to do about it. So I called him up. We had lunch at his place, except the lunch
was never served. We talked for two hours and then he said,
“Goodbye.” (LAUGHTER) And I thought, “Where was lunch?” Give you a clue how it works on Broadway. (LAUGHTER)
Right! So that was the beginning. And we started meeting every day at ten o’clock
and working until one. No lunch? Yeah, no lunch, right. (LAUGHTER)
And that was with Phil Oesterman, I think. Right. Well, Phil Oesterman had come from Houston,
Texas, which is where the Gilly’s (PH) Club, the honky-tonk I wrote about, was located. He’d worked with Tommy Tune a lot. And he really began to teach me how theatre
is different from movies. For instance, at the very beginning, I had
a scene where my hero is falling off a tower, and in the next scene, I had him in a bathtub. And he said not even Houdini could make that
change. (LAUGHTER) And then we worked and did more
subtle things, like the theatre being a little more direct than movies. Nobody can see your eyes batting from the
third balcony. So he really began to teach me how this thing
works. I think that it’s important that we explain
that Phil Oesterman passed away before the full realization of this production. Before we started rehearsals, he passed away. So let’s see. With the help of Phil, you created a script. Right. And now, with the script, what happened? Well, we started having readings in my apartment. And Mike Nichols came to an early reading
and liked what he saw and gave us fifty thousand dollars, which was a fortune for us, early
money and we needed it. Then we had readings at Lincoln Center. Then we did a production in Gloucester, Massachusetts,
one summer. Then Chase and Leonard came into our lives
and really saved us and put us on the right road. Well, Aaron, what kind of music were you using
at that time for the production? Well, our first thought was they would all
be Clint Black songs, ‘cause my partner thought that he was a really close friend
of Clint Black’s. But when we asked Clint if he was willing
to write a whole bunch of songs for a Broadway musical, he said he had other things to do
(LAUGHS) and anyway, he wasn’t that good a friend, as it turned out. (LAUGHTER) So then we started working with
just existing country music and picked out all our favorite songs, existing songs. So the first couple of readings, there was
no original [music]. We had three songs from the movie, “Looking
for Love,” “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and “Could I Have This Dance for the Rest
of My Life?” And then we just plugged in country hits that
we liked for the rest of the music. Several years later, we began to get more
serious and went down to Nashville and auditioned songwriters. We had songwriters coming in every fifteen
minutes and playing songs they thought would work for the movie and listening to my spiel
about some specific songs that I wanted. Like, I wanted a bull song and I wanted up
a breaking-up song, which it turns out Jason wrote in the end. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) So we got some original
music from Nashville. And then when Jason came on board, I think
the first fifteen minutes he was hired, he wrote the first song, and has been going at
that clip ever since. (LAUGHTER)
Well, let’s see, then. At this point, you and Leonard? Yes. Let me sort it out a little bit for you. They finally realized it might be nice to
have producers. So Leonard and I did indeed come on board,
and we prepared to do a workshop, which we did in New York. It wasn’t very good. It was really pretty bad. And after the workshop, we looked at each
other and said, “Okay, now our work is cut out for us. We know what we have to do.” So the entire script was rewritten. Everybody was recast. Everybody, except I think one dancer we retained
to this time. And we kind of started doing the work from
there. Unfortunately, Phil passed away in the summer,
and we were really blessed to get Lonny Price to come on board to direct. And at that time, we realized also we needed
a genius in the music department, so we got Jason Robert Brown. And you’ve done very well with the music
(PH). Who did all the material-specific songs, which
you have to have in a musical to move the story along. Lonny was instrumental in working with Aaron. It’s a collaborative process, as you know,
and these guys did it. They were terrific, all of them. Well, don’t forget, though, that before
the workshop, our director, who had a heart problem, had to have open heart surgery. That’s right. That’s right. So he had no time to recover. We were doing the workshop at Westbeth, where
you have to climb up three flights of stairs (AUDIENCE GASPS), and he had just had open
heart surgery. And he had to rest a lot, and so, he was really
not totally focused on the workshop. No, that’s right. As he was going in for his open heart surgery,
I said to him, “Break a heart!” (LAUGHTER)
And he did! And he did. This kind of set the tone for the entire production. (LAUGHTER) There’s always the crisis of
the day. Really, the crisis of the day. But actually, the way we got involved is that
Mike Nichols called me one morning about two years ago. That’s right. And said, “I went to a reading of a new
musical last night and it was wonderful, and they don’t have a producer and you should
get involved with it.” So I didn’t know how Mike got there, but
it’s no secret, I think, that Aaron is married to Lesley Stahl and one of her best buddies
is Diane Sawyer, who’s married to Mike Nichols. So when Lesley asked Diane to come to the
reading, she brought Mike, and that’s really how we got involved. You know, it occurs to me that maybe people
don’t know – not enough people have seen URBAN COWBOY yet, it’s only been open for
a month – It’s IRVING COWBOY. (LAUGHTER)
Maybe we should just have a clip of it, so you can get an idea. We have a general montage of it. So why don’t we just look at that tape now. (MUSIC)
(SINGS) I said, hey, go down to the Low K.I.N.G. (PH)
I smell T.R.O.U.B.L.E., yeah! I was a little bitty baby when my father hit
the skids, Mama had a time tryin’ to raise nine kids. She told me not to stare ‘cause it was impolite. She did the best she could to try to raise
me right! But Mama never told me ‘bout nothing like
Y.O.U.! I betcha Mama must have been a good-lookin’
honey, too. I said, hey, go down to the Low K.I.N.G. I smell T.R.O.U.B.L.E., yeah! Well, now! Go (UNINTEL)! Well, you’re a sweet-talkin’, sexy-walkin’,
honky-tonky lady. The men are gonna love ya, and the women gonna
hate ya. Remindin’ them of everything they’re never
gonna be. Maybe the beginning of a World War Three! The world ain’t pretty for nothing like
Y.O.U. Yeah, betcha Mama must have been a good-lookin’
honey, too! Hey! I said, hey, go down to the Low K.I.N.G. I smell T.R.O.U.B.L.E, yeah! I said, hey! All right! I said, hey! I said, hey! I said, hey! I said, hey! I said, hey! I said, hey, hey, hey, hey! I smell T.R.O.U.B.L.E., yeah! (APPLAUSE)
That really is the story of URBAN COWBOY. Pete, as the press representative, did you
put that together? We did. We shot that and edited it, and it’s part
of the B-roll (PH) that goes out to all – It’s a great clip for us. It sort of gives you the idea, in a nutshell,
in about a minute’s time, of what this show is about. I think that’s probably the first time a
show has done something like that. Certainly, for country music, it’s a great
way to introduce the show, and very impressive. Did you direct each aspect of this, Lonny,
of the piece that we just saw? I had nothing to do with that piece we just
saw! (LAUGHTER) I think it’s terrific, though. I mean, obviously, it’s clips from, you
know, our production, which is very exciting to see. I think it’s a great job. I was quite impressed with it, and I think
an audience will be. And if enough people see that, I think it’ll
make a difference. Well, let’s pick up the story. Now, you’ve gotten everybody on board. And at this point, you said you did the workshop
and your work was cut out for you. You’re going to have to tell what a producer
does by telling us what happened. What’s the next step? What does a producer do now, when your work
is cut out for you? Why don’t you answer this, Leonard? (LAUGHS)
Well, from the workshop, the decision was whether to continue or not, because the workshop
was an absolute disaster. (AARON LAUGHS) And unfortunately, the crème
de la crème of the American theatre was present at these workshop presentations. So you know, Gerry Schoenfeld, everybody was
looking at us as though we were out of our minds. But Chase, more than I, was very emotionally
involved with the play. And we felt that if we replaced some of the
actors – and for no fault of their own, they were very talented, but somewhat miscast
– and we wrote what we thought we – we learned a great deal from the workshop, of
where to go with the show, basically. I think you should explain, pretty much, what
is a workshop? Well, it’s really a staged rehearsal. We had two weeks rehearsal, wasn’t it? Mmm-hmm. Two weeks rehearsal, and people are carrying
books. But there is music, there was a small band
playing, and it is somewhat directed and somewhat choreographed. And it’s done in a rehearsal room, with
just a suggestion of costumes and practically no scenery. And we invite everybody, try to get those
people in the theatre that might be interested in investing in the show, the theatre owners
and individual producers, to come and see it. And in some cases – well, as in – what
was the show at the [Martin] Beck? THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, I think they only
did one of these, and it was so successful that they raised all the money with no problem
whatsoever. And of course, that doesn’t mean the show’s
going to work, because it didn’t eventually work. It was the reverse with us. We had a lot of trouble, as a result of the
workshop, getting people interested in helping us financially. But then Arnold Mittelman, who runs the Coconut
Grove Playhouse in Miami, had a show drop out for October. And we had been talking, and I mentioned the
show to him, and we sent him the script and a CD of the music that we were using at that
time. And he said that he would put it into that
slot. And that was last summer, wasn’t it? Mmm-hmm. God, is that all? It feels like ten years ago. (LAUGHTER) And we were only about, what? Four weeks away from rehearsal when Phil died. He died in the end of July, so it was a little
bit more, but we were just a couple of weeks away from rehearsal when Lonny came on board. When did you come in? Well, I had just gotten back from Japan. I was doing Chase’s show, A CLASS ACT, in
Tokyo. I was performing in it, with the original
cast. And I got back to find this message from Chase
to call her. And Chase told me that Phil had –
It’s clear that Chase had produced A CLASS ACT. I produced it. Chase had produced A CLASS ACT, as well as
the SWEENEY TODD TV (UNINTEL) and video that I had directed. So Chase has been my friend and supporter
for many years now, and lucky for me! So when she called, she said, you know, Phil
had passed away and would I be interested in the material? And I had –
He said no. I said no! I’m a planner. See, I’m a planner. And this was five weeks before they started. And I was doing this MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG
reunion concert for my theatre, Musical Theatre Works, which was to happen September 30th,
and they were going into rehearsal I think October 1st. Right. And so, I thought that wasn’t quite enough
time to figure it out. And I said no a couple of times. And then I said, “Here’s what I will do,
is let me meet with Aaron. I think that there are some dramaturgical
issues that I might be useful for.” So I met with Aaron, and pretty much fell
in love with Aaron, is really the truth. Everything that I had wanted to do with the
show, from what I had seen in the workshop, Aaron said, “I’ve always wanted to do
that!” (AARON LAUGHS) So it was very confusing to
me, because Phil had had very different ideas, and the ideas that I had had were ideas that
Aaron shared. So that made me think, “Well, this is insane. I really don’t have the time to do this.” But a couple of things. One is, I believe very much in loyalty, and
it doesn’t exist very much in the theatre. And it does with me, and it does with Chase. And I came in because Chase had been there
for me at all times, and I thought it was selfish of me to not do this, and I thought,
“I need to do that.” So that came to me first. That was the main reason I said yes. And then I met with Aaron, and everything
that Aaron had wanted to do, I wanted to do. The workshop had a very interesting and, for
my taste, sort of peculiar choice, which was, for instance, the chorus didn’t sing or
talk. They would come on and dance, and then they
would leave. And I thought that was a rather odd thing
for a musical. So I suggested that they sang. (LAUGHTER) And that, also, the music was instrumental
in the storytelling. The music that they had was largely decorative,
or in some ways, the songs would happen after the events of the scenes. So my instinct was, why don’t we incorporate
the music into the show? There are a lot of weaves in the show, where
there’s dialogue amidst songs. And Aaron and I put them together with the
original musical director, some of them, before Jason came on board. Right. And so, I started to try to make it a musical. To have the songs not only reveal character,
move the story forward and comment, but that the songs themselves would be part of the
storytelling structure of the show, which they were not in the workshop, for, I guess,
the reason that Phil somehow did not want that style show. Well, Phil’s concept of the show really
was a play with music. Most of the numbers were presentational and
were done on the bandstand. Right. And except for “Lookin’ for Love,” most
of them were numbers that were done in the club that were outside of the love story but
did comment on the story. And what Lonny did was that he made it into
a musical, which is what Chase and I – Were going for! Had been trying to do (LAUGHS) from Day One
with the show! But I do have to say that for Lonny to have
undertaken this – I mean, you have to understand, it wasn’t just the time slot, the limitations
of time. But he came into a show that had already been
designed. We had scenery, we had costumes, it had already
been cast. He had to take this package as a whole, that
he had no hand in creating, which is an enormous handicap for a director. We did make some cast changes before we opened
in the Coconut Grove, and wisely so, for what we were going for, in trying to make it more
of a musical. But it’s amazing what he did in that period
of time, considering that he was working with a concept that was not his to begin with. I’m not clear about at what point Jason
came in. I want to ask about workshops. Are workshops a necessity? Because Roy, isn’t this something in the
past twenty years that’s come about? Yes, it is. I mean, you addressed Roy, I’m sorry to
[interrupt]. Well, I think a little longer than that, because
A CHORUS LINE was the first one that really worked through that procedure, and it became
so successful that people learned that was the way to do it. There are two kinds of workshops. One is where you just work exclusively on
the material itself, and you just develop the material. There’s a second kind, which I think is
what you used, which is to introduce that material to investors. And today, it’s almost essential that you
have a workshop, so you can see what the material is. Sure. Everybody has to look at it. And they learn an enormous amount. How expensive is it? How much does a workshop cost? It’s anywhere from a hundred thousand to
five hundred thousand dollars. It’s very expensive. Depending on how complicated you want to get. Don’t forget, in the old days, you know
when I was a kid doing shows like FADE OUT, FADE IN and HIGH SPIRITS, we’d go to New
Haven and then we’d go to Philadelphia and then we’d go to Boston. We’d be on the road for twelve weeks, and
we had time to fix whatever was wrong with the show. And shows, I mean, FADE OUT, FADE IN cost
six hundred thousand dollars. It was the most expensive musical ever done
at the time, and it wasn’t a problem to raise that kind of money. But now, when you’re talking about four
to ten million dollars, unless you get somebody who’s going to give you hunks of money,
you can’t go to fifty people for, you know, two hundred thousand bucks apiece ‘cause
– I mean, I don’t know fifty people with two hundred thousand bucks! (LAUGHTER)
What percentage of money did you raise through the workshops? Zero. (LAUGHS)
Well, no, Mike stayed. Oh, that’s true. Mike stayed in. Mike Nichols stayed in, and somebody else
who contributed to the workshop presentation stayed in. And the Shuberts contributed a certain amount
to the production as well. Subsequent to the workshop, but before you
went to Florida? I think that it was after Florida, wasn’t
it? Well, it was after Florida. But well, you know, the Shuberts are very
supportive of people in the industry, and they were very helpful to us. I just want to add something, just parenthetically,
which I think is too bad – not to get on a soapbox about it – but when shows cost
six hundred thousand dollars, they didn’t need to appeal to vast majorities of people,
globally, you know? They could get their money back in six months
or eight months and make a profit in a year. And shows that have to raise ten million dollars
and those sort of things, I think we’ve dumbed down the kind of innovation that we
can expect on Broadway, because the shows now need to run five years. They need to appeal to a lot of people. And the homogenization of them has, I think,
really hurt the creativity of the theatre, which is, I think, a really sad thing. I wish the economics were not what they are. And it’s too bad. I think if you look at the street, and you
see a lot of revivals, a lot of composers and lyricists that are tried and true, a lot
of them in their sixties and seventies. And you know, for people like Jason and young
composers and lyricists, it’s really tough to get someone to say, “I’ll give you
ten million dollars.” Whereas, if it was six hundred thousand or
a million dollars, we might see a lot more interesting work than we’re seeing. A lot more new work. A lot more new work. And I think it’s a sad state of the theatre. But anyway, every time I hear that six hundred
thousand dollars, or FIDDLER was produced for three, or you know, FOLLIES at seven hundred
[thousand] was the biggest ever, or seven fifty. You know, and you think, the shows that I
grew up loving probably never would have been done today, because they wouldn’t have been
able to raise that kind of money. Lonny, I don’t think it’s quite as dismal
a picture as you paint it, because there are avenues now for all kinds of shows to develop
in our regional theatres. And musicals are now being done in regionals. It’s tough. I’ve done them. It’s tough to do them in regional theatres. They don’t have the money for the orchestration. They don’t have the money for copying. I mean, it can be done but it is tricky. It’s true. It’s really tricky to do them there. You see, you do have – take the example
of what you’ve just done. You went down to the Coconut Grove Playhouse
in Florida, and you enhanced it with money. Yes. I was just going to say we did, yeah. These producers enhanced it, and if you can’t
go out – and certainly, we know how difficult it is to raise a hundred thousand today –
Yeah, yeah. And you’re talking about ten million. But there are ways, of necessity now, that
these are getting done. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Jason here on
our platform. I want to get back to that, though, Jason. Thus far, we haven’t found your niche in
this! So why don’t you just tell us how you got
into it. Well, I can tell the long version or the short
version, but I’ll tell the short version. The newer version. Yeah. Tell the version when you called me, because
that was really good. What happened is that I saw that Lonny had
taken over. I knew Phil. I had worked with Phil many years ago. We had done a musical written by Yoko Ono,
called NEW YORK ROCK (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL), which none of you are sorry you missed. (LAUGHTER) And so I had known Phil briefly. And you know, I had heard that he was working
on URBAN COWBOY, and I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then Phil died, and I thought, “Oh,
goodness gracious! Well, I guess that’s the end of URBAN COWBOY,
what a shame.” And then I saw that Lonny was attached to
it. And at the time, I had sort of stopped writing,
which I can make this sound more melodramatic than it is, but I just thought, “I don’t
need to do this right now,” and I had sort of retired. And I was just sitting around. And I called Lonny and I said, “Look, I’m
not doing much. Maybe I could orchestrate the show. Maybe you need an orchestrator.” And Lonny said, “Well, the guy that Phil
hired is still on board, and he’s still doing it, so I don’t need anybody to do
that.” I said, “Oh, okay. Well, you know, I called.” It was worth a shot. I’ve always thought orchestrating was one
of the great shell games of all Broadway. You know, you sit at home by yourself, you
write a couple of charts, you make some cash and you go home. (LAUGHTER) It’s not a bad gig, if you know
how to do it. So I thought, “That’s it! I’ll be an orchestrator.” But that was the end of that, and I said,
“Okay,” and I went off to Hawaii to conduct some symphony orchestra doing some strange
Broadway program. It was bizarre. Anyway, I came back, and I was just doing
some concerts. I mean, I was doing a whole lot. And Lonny called me, and he said, “What
are you doing?” I said, “What do you mean? Now?” He said, “No, I mean, what are you doing
doing?” And I said, “Really, I’m just hanging
out.” I said, “What are you wearing, Jason?” (LAUGHTER)
And I said, “You know, I’m not doing much. I mean, I’ve got some commissions, little
things I’ve been working on.” He said, “Well, you know, do you want to
come in and take a look at URBAN COWBOY?” I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, I’m not sure that the
guy we have is working out.” And I said, “Um, okay. I mean, you mean just to orchestrate?” He said, “No, no, no. You know, you’d be playing piano on stage. You’d be music directing. And actually, there’s a song that you would
sing. And you know, there’s arranging to do.” I said, “Um, how much is done now?” He said, “Well, uh, nothing, you know.” (LAUGHTER) And I said, “I mean, when you
say ‘nothing’?” He said, “Well, no, I mean, everyone’s
singing in unison and the dance arrangements change every day.” (CHASE LAUGHS) I said, “Oh, so, nothing!” He said, “Yeah, nothing.” (LAUGHTER) I said, “When do you go into
tech?” He said, “In a week.” I said, “A week from today?” He said, “Yeah, a week from today we go
to Florida and we start our tech rehearsal.” (ROY LAUGHS)
And I said, “Um, okay, well, this is interesting. Let me come take a look at it.” And I came and I took a look at the rehearsal,
and I was very impressed with what Lonny had done, in terms of how the show was moving. And I was particularly impressed with the
girl who was cast in the lead, Jenn Colella, who I thought was magnificent. Great. And I thought, “Gee, I want to work with
that! I want to work with this situation.” But the music department was a mess, and I
said, “Look, you’re in trouble. I don’t know how to do this in a week.” And Lonny said, “Well, just do what you
can. Will you do what you can?” And I said, “Well, look, there’s a larger
problem, which is that there are some moments that are just sort of missing, you know, musical
moments that are missing.” And there was sort of a silence on the phone,
and he said, “Well, you write songs.” (LAUGHTER) And I said, “Well, um, okay. You know, maybe I can do that, too.” So it then transpired that we had – I mean,
we left literally a week later. I came on board and we had a week of rehearsals
in New York, during which I was doing a big concert also, at the same time. But we did a week of rehearsals in New York,
and we went to Florida. And in the space between the time I came on
board and the time we opened, I wrote five songs for the show. I orchestrated the entire show, did all the
vocal arrangements and all the dance arrangements. And I was playing in the show, and I sang
a number at the top of the second act. And I still can’t quite believe that I did
that! (LAUGHTER)
And great! He sure did. He was very tired. (LAUGHTER)
You were only sleeping three hours a night. Nobody else could have done it. He really is a genius with music. Thank God for drugs. Had you ever written this kind of music before? You know, people ask me that as though what
I’ve written is only Mahler, you know? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I mean, I’ve written
music in a popular vein before, and I grew up playing in this style. You know, honky-tonk piano is sort of the
most comfortable thing for me to play. Well, that’s also what he said when he called,
which by the way, was a great thing. Because I would never have thought of Jason,
because I think of Jason as this great songwriter, and I would never have thought that he’d
be interested in musical directing, or orchestrating, or arranging, or any of that. Well, orchestrating is a cinch, you see. You don’t have to worry about that. (LAUGHTER)
Apparently! I’m going to go into it, now that I know
how much cash there is in it. But I didn’t realize that his skill bank
was so right for this show, in terms of that he could do all of those things. But he said to me, “I have an affinity for
this kind of music,” and I wouldn’t have known that. Nor would I, again, have thought that he would
be interested in doing this sort of work. So as soon as this other gentleman who we
had – and it was really a disaster of enormous proportions, and the cast would say to me,
“You know, we’re really having a problem with the music director.” And I kept thinking, I had fired a whole bunch
of people, I wasn’t firing anybody else. You know, I felt like every time I –
Little did you know! Every time I’d call someone into a room,
you know, there’d be dead bodies behind me, so I thought, “I’m going to not fire
anybody else.” But then I sat through a music rehearsal where
it was very clear that he just didn’t have a handle on the show, nor on the cast. I mean, the cast was just – it was mayhem. So then I remembered, and I thought, “I
need to have – ” And the idea that we could get someone as good as Jason to do this. The other problem is that the score, because
we were using a lot of songs that are classic songs, what they never did was reveal character,
because they weren’t written specifically for any of our characters. So aside from moving the plot along, which
the score needed to do, it also needed to reveal character. And Jeff Blumenkrantz wrote a couple of songs
for us, before Jason even, one actually. One or two, I’m not even sure. Two. Two, before Jason. And then Jason came along and said, “I think
there are more spots that you need help,” and I thought, “We sure do. Great! How lucky am I to have Jason as the musical
director, who also is this spectacular songwriter!” So it really worked out. We were really lucky to get him, and that
he was that quick. The other thing about Jason that I just want
to tell you, too, is that he’s a spectacular musical director, in terms of keeping the
band together. I mean, we would put in changes in previews,
which we’ll get to, where a song went in and out. We rewrote. We’re starting here, we’re going from
there. And I would see him with the band, he’d
go, “Okay, we’re going number one, you’re cutting to number three B, and then you move
– ” And the clarity with which he worked, and the speed and the specificity was really
dazzling. And I have been in a lot of musicals that
were in trouble and on the road and had a lot of changes being done, but I’ve never
seen anybody attack them with such quickness and speed – which is the same thing (LAUGHTER)
– and such – Velocity! (LAUGHTER)
And he really is genius at it. I mean, he was really extraordinary. And altitude. He was really extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it. In addition to which, he’s a sensational
pianist. Oh, beyond great. Just great, just great. Yeah. Those of us who have seen the show – those
few of us who have seen the show can attest to that. (LAUGHTER)
I just want to say one thing, that the musical director that was replaced was not untalented. His style of working was not Lonny’s style. The style that he was working in was what
he had gotten from the previous director, who was not a very organized person, and that
was just the way he functioned. It was sort of coming out of summer stock
time, you know, “Let’s do this and have a good time.” The workshop was totally disorganized, but
it was the way that he worked, and the musical director picked that up from [him], and it
was a hangover from the workshop. What seems to be happening is that you looked
at the workshop, thought it was disastrous, but you knew –
No, we knew it was a disaster. But you knew there was something there. You knew there was something there to try
to continue. Absolutely. It’s an Americana love story. So you got it down to Florida, and at this
point – Well, wait. We didn’t get it down to Florida, because
when we got to Florida, we discovered – I wasn’t there, I just started getting phone
calls (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) from Lonny and Chase that none of the scenery was ready
to start techs. Because what they had not told us was that
they did not have the technical ability to build this show, which was a very complicated
– How do you get a theatre? You’ve got everything, but how do you get
your theatre? Well, it was Arnold Middleman at the Coconut
Grove, who had said that he would do the show. And they were building the scenery for us,
to our specifications. But when they got there, the scenery was not
built. I mean, for instance, they built the turntable,
and then they addressed the fact of how to motorize it to make it move, instead of working
from – you know what I’m saying? (LAUGHTER) So it was a nightmare. I mean, not only could he not do a tech rehearsal,
but the frustration of being in Florida, in the theatre, rehearsing upstairs and not being
able to be on stage. And then when we finally got on stage, there
was never a rehearsal where something didn’t happen. That’s right. As a matter of fact, even after we opened,
there was never a performance where something didn’t happen. At first, the turntable didn’t turn, and
the mechanical bull didn’t buck. And the turntable not only was supposed to
turn, but it tracked up and down stage, which it wouldn’t do, or it would do by itself
(LAUGHTER) or go all over the place. The first performance we finally did – we
canceled what? Four previews? Well, we had to stop one show about a third
into the first act. We did just the first act –
Yeah, the first performance we did, we did the first act, and it took two hours and twenty-five
minutes to get through the first act. (LAUGHTER) And we interpolated several songs
that were not in the score at that point, merely because actors would come on stage
and Lonny would say, “Why don’t you do a number to entertain the audience while they’re
waiting for the set to change?” (LAUGHTER) And so Rozz [Morehead] did “Think.” (LAUGHTER)
“Think,” yeah. A little Aretha Franklin. (LAUGHTER) We did “Stand By Your Man,”
the band did, a little instrumental tune. But I do want to say, though, at that disastrous
first preview, the show got a standing ovation. The first act got a standing ovation! (LAUGHTER) There was something about playing
this show in that theatre in Florida. They loved it from the first –
They did. From that terrible first act, they loved it! I mean, they stood up! They were so mad that after two and a half
hours, we said, “Please go home, because we really can’t put the cast through this.” They said, “We don’t care, just do it!” (LAUGHS)
“Just do it.” They would have moved the bull themselves. (LAUGHTER) And they would have had to. I mean, until we closed, you know, it was
great, working on a show in an environment that loved it. They just – and you know, that’s more
of our story, is when we came here, the difference in the reaction to the show was, um, was frightening. But you see, it’s funny now, but it was
not funny then. (LAUGHTER)
It wasn’t funny there. Oh, it was horrible! It certainly wasn’t funny. We had an actor who was walking around singing,
“Will I tech this show for the rest of my life?” (LAUGHTER)
Oh, and a stagehand, the bull, you know, collapsed on his hand, had to go to the hospital. Oh, yeah. Oh, I forgot about that. I mean, every day was just another disaster. In addition to which, we all gained twenty
pounds, (CHASE LAUGHS) because every time something terrible happened, we’d go have
a gelato or a piece of pizza. (LAUGHTER)
My image of Florida is Leonard coming down the aisle with twelve ice cream cones. (LAUGHTER) At like, two in the morning, just
saying, “Coffee? Chocolate? What do you want?” Pete, were you on –
So you’ve got the theatre. So now go on. You’ve got the theatre, now what happens? In Florida, we had the theatre. At this point. Well, we worked like crazy. Unfortunately, we were delayed because of
the set. Yeah. And then, you know, here we had the [musicians’]
strike. I mean, every time we did the show, we had
a whole problem (LAUGHS). Because what you want to do in a new musical
is work on it. You need to put it up there and see how it’s
working, see how the numbers are working, see how they’re leading into each other,
see how the book scenes are working, let alone the performances. But we spent a lot of time just trying to
get the show not to stop. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Teching, just teching. Just to get it to the end, that that was really
problematic. But we did a lot of work. We just started a list of things that we said,
“We’ll change in New York.” That’s right. In fact, one of the popular T-shirts among
the cast and crew – Oh, yeah! Opening night, they gave us. Is “We’ll change it on Broadway.” (LAUGHTER)
“We’ll Fix It When We Get To Broadway” was what they wrote on it. Because there were things we couldn’t do
there. Certainly anything technical was a disaster
there. But also, that’s part of your point about
regional theatres, they were not able to do the show we needed them to do, though they
committed to it, though they said they could, because they just weren’t equipped to do
the kind of musical. And by the way, we’re talking about a turntable
which has existed for thousands of years in the theatre, and drops. I’m not talking hydraulics. I’m not talking any chandeliers falling. A turntable and drops, that’s it! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) It was not a complicated
set. This just not brain surgery here! Well, one other thing I wanted to mention,
it’s true of all these regional theatres, that there’s this syndrome that they don’t
want to tell you that they can’t do something. They’re very prideful of what they do, and
they resent what they think are professional people coming in to help them. Because I offered, early on, to bring people
down from New York in the shop to help, and they said, “No, no, we don’t need it.” Well, guess what? We ended up bringing them down from New York
anyway, only it cost four times as much. That’s right, that’s right. ‘Cause they were working twenty-four hours
a day to fix, you know, what they had messed up. And they all had good intentions. Of course. And the head carpenter there actually was
a terrific guy. But they just did not have the ability to
make this stuff be ready for us. And the fact that nobody said to us, “Hey,
don’t come down on Sunday, because we’re not going to be ready for you.” I mean, the whole company schleps down there. They were very high, you know, after we did
some rehearsals in New York with friends coming in to see them, and everybody was very high. And then to get down there, it was like hitting
a brick wall. Well, let’s see what happened, though. Let’s see what happened. You did a disastrous workshop. (LAUGHTER) Now we’re standing at, you went
down to Florida and you started out in disaster. Yeah. And how long were you down there? Four weeks. Two years. (LAUGHTER)
We ran for four weeks. We played for four weeks. Rehearsed for two. Yeah, we teched for six years, and we ran
for four weeks. (LAUGHTER)
But at that time, had you plans for New York? Had you done anything about capitalizing it
for New York? Well, first of all, you have to understand,
we got a great audience reaction, always, down there. And we also got good reviews down there. So of course, we started talking to people
in New York. And Leonard was instrumental in obtaining
a theatre in New York for us, a Shubert house, which we’re very happy about. Then we came to New York. Oh. So that, despite the troubles down there,
you kind of had them fixed, so that you felt you could come to New York? At what point –
Well, the audience loved it. And we knew the work we still wanted to do. Right. That’s –
But basically, you know, you’re getting a standing ovation every night of people cheering
and screaming, it’s the best thing they’ve seen in ten years, it’s pretty heartening. You know, you think, “Wow! We really do have something here.” So it was very easy to think that, you know,
this was a show that was certainly Broadway-bound. Pete, were you on board at that point? I was on board, actually, a little after the
workshop. And we started to make the plans of the press
and marketing campaign. Unfortunately, we were at a little disadvantage
in the beginning in Florida, because that would be a situation where we would be able
to send people down to see the show, as far as press and T.V. And every time I would say, “We have someone
going down there,” Chase would go, “Unh-unh! You can’t! Send ‘em back,” you know. (LONNY LAUGHS) So we couldn’t use that time
for our purposes, to really start the ball rolling with New York press and with the word
in New York. So we were under a little disadvantage, because
it wasn’t until the end of the run, where things were running smoothly that we got to
bring people down there. Smoothed out, yeah. And so, normally you would have X amount of
months before to really create the campaign. And we really, as everyone had, was just very
– everyone involved in this panel came on this in a very short time frame, as we did,
too. So it was a little bit harder and more of
a challenge to all of a sudden have the show come to New York within a month of it closing
in Florida. But you had good reviews in Florida to work
with. Yes, we did. We had good reviews. And that, you know, works to a certain extent,
but it doesn’t always work in New York. I mean, you know, New York critics and the
New York press like to think that they’re the ones in command and they’re not going
to listen to someone in Miami. Well, they are. You can’t use those reviews. No, of course. Before you open in New York, as you well know,
because the critics in New York resent the fact that you are extolling your property. No, they want to discover it first. Yeah, they want to be the discoverers. But one thing was that Lonny had, rightly
so, insisted that there be four weeks of previews before the critics arrived. In New York. So we knew that we would have time to fix
what was wrong, what needed to be fixed when we were leaving Florida. Of course, that got all screwed up when the
musicians’ strike happened, and the poor guy lost a week with what we had to do, in
case there was a strike, and then when the theatres closed down. And there is a whole different aura about
bringing shows to New York now because years ago you could go out of town, like Leonard
said, and you could go to New Haven. And even though New Haven was close or Boston
was close, you were able to work on the shows without people really knowing about it, or
the general public or the general press. I mean, that was assumed that you worked on
the show. Or the Internet. Well, that’s what I’m saying. Because of the Internet, right now, I think
before a show even finishes the first preview, there are people on the Internet writing reviews
on it. Right. That’s right. So there’s no way of really having that
situation where you can really work on a show and really change things and improve things
or cut things, without everyone knowing about it, and everyone assuming the show is in trouble
or not in trouble. Well, there’s another thing I’d like to
bring up is that we are so high-tech in the theatre now, that it is time-consuming. Mmm-hmm. What it does do is that once you get it, you’ve
got it for all time, because it’s locked in the computer. But we used to change a musical number thirty
years ago in an afternoon. You can’t do that now. You’ve got to bring in a Vari-Light programmer
and a programmer for the slides, and they get five hundred bucks a day. And they’re all sitting there, and the lighting
people, and it’s a nightmare. To make two light changes in a number is a
nightmare today. It used to be done with a guy and a piano
board, you know, in two minutes, and now it takes an hour or two hours. Well, it’s all the mechanized scenery as
well. It’s all computerized, and so it’s not
just, “Oh, move the cue here.” You have to redo the cues from the beginning
of the act, because the turntable’s in a different [position]. It’s a lot of stuff now. You’re lucky you find these people for five
hundred dollars a day! (CHASE LAUGHS) You meant by the hour? No, a day. Well, that’s not bad, thirty-five hundred,
yeah. Well, that’s a bargain. Those are bargains! Do you make thirty-five hundred every week? I think, though, let’s see what happened. You left Florida, and you knew you were going
to go to Broadway then. Yes. And during that time, you arranged for a theatre. Right. Well, actually, we were hoping to get the
Music Box, and I was very upset when Gerry gave it to Barry and Fran [Weissler] for THE
MIRACLE WORKER. But as it turned out, it worked in our favor
because they couldn’t replace Vanessa – Williams. In –
INTO THE WOODS. INTO THE WOODS, so they announced their closing,
and that fit in with our time schedule. And Gerry and Phil did give us the Broadhurst,
which is – A top theatre. You know, a fabulous, one of the top Broadway
– Well, it’s a great theatre. Greater capacity. Greater capacity than the Music Box. Right. Now –
Roy, when do we get to the unions and the business? Unions? Are there unions? (LAUGHTER)
What happens with it? Well, we had no union problems, except when
the musicians – Except that they all left. (LAUGHTER)
I mean, we got a call at five to six on a Friday, I got a call to come up to the meeting
at the League [of American Theatres and Producers], and “The theatres are closing down. The actors are going on strike, are going
to, you know – ” What do you call it? Support? Not support the strike – [HE MEANS “HONOR”]
Well, I think also during the musicians’ strike, it was a time where Lonny really needed
to rehearse the cast, and I think a lot of that time had to be devoted to working with
the virtual orchestra, or the taped orchestra, in what case. So that took a lot of time out of the actual
preview rehearsal time, because they knew that this strike might happen. But then we were locked out of the theatres,
so that I called them at five to six and said, “You gotta leave the theatre.” They were in the middle of rehearsal. And there was going to be no performance. We had done, what? Three previews or something? What was it? Two previews. Two or three. Something like that. And so, we lost Friday night, Saturday, Sunday,
Monday. Then we were back. Then you were back on Tuesday. But those –
But the previous week, we were rehearsing with the tape, so we couldn’t do anything
new. We couldn’t make any changes, because we
were so – Well, clarity, yes. I think for clarity, you had set your preview
schedule. Mmm-hmm. And at that time, I think that nobody knew
what was going to happen with the musicians, so you did tape the show, is that it? Yes. We did. They went to Nash – (PH)
So he could rehearse with the tape? No, no. I had nothing to do with the tape. No, he had nothing to do with it. No, no. We went to Dallas and recorded all the music. So you had the music recorded, so that you
could continue possibly rehearsing. That’s right. Right, yeah. And performing, in the case of a strike. Whether or not you were going to use that
tape for the show is not important now. It was mostly about performing, Roy. We just wanted to –
It actually was. Yeah, the tape was actually made in the event
that the musicians struck. If Equity had not –
Walked out. You know, upheld the strike. Honored the picket line. We would have played that night with the taped
music. But you had a couple of previews with live
performances, live musicians. Yes. As live as Jason could be. (LAUGHTER)
I can’t speak for the other musicians, but I myself was live. (LAUGHTER)
And then the work stoppage, which went through the industry, and no musicals performed on
Broadway. Now, that strike lasted –
Five days. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. For the long weekend, at which time you suspended
performances. Right. And rehearsals. And rehearsals! And rehearsals because –
Couldn’t call the actors. Well, Equity was honoring the picket line,
also, so until the musicians went back to work –
Right, so the – Which was very strange, because they allowed
GYPSY and THE LOOK OF LOVE to continue rehearsals. But they were not in the theatre. They weren’t in previews yet, but we were. You had already started? We were in previews, yeah. So, you know, there used to be an Al Capp
cartoon, in Li’l Abner. Yeah! And there was a man named Joe Blitzflick (PH). And every time Joe Blitzflick came on, there
was a grey cloud over his head. (LAUGHTER)
And this sounds like this show was the Joe Blitzflick. Nothing ever happened easy for you! That’s right. No, but listen, I just want to say that we
did persevere, because look what happened. We hinged our advertising campaign on a great
commercial that we did. So we get through the strike. We hadn’t had time to make the changes. The previews were still old numbers that we
knew were coming out. We still kept going. The day before the first critic came is the
first time this piece was whole and finished. The day before! So we had, by that [time], a lot of people
from the Internet, a lot of people from wherever, who had seen previews that weren’t very
good, either. It was just mind-boggling. Then, of course, we declared war, and they
pre-empted our television commercial. (LAUGHTER) So we didn’t have any advertising
venue. We couldn’t do anything. The week we opened, we didn’t have anything. We still continued, and then of course, we
got killed by the critics anyway, so. (LAUGHS)
Well, I think that you’re the Little Engine That Could, because I think that what’s
happened is, you’ve told us that you did this show against all odds. Everything was going against you, and you
finally brought it to fruition, and then you get the critics. Got knocked down. Yes. And then you get the critics. But somehow, you’re still alive. That was a month ago, so –
Well, we are, because we kind of have undying faith. Also, if we get four hundred folks in there
who stamp and laugh and have a great time, this show is a good time. But I think the problem with the critics is
that New York critics only review “art.” URBAN COWBOY is not art. It’s entertainment. It’s just a good time. It’s a simple story. Most musicals are. It’s not rocket science here. It’s just wonderful. And if we can get people in, they like it! Also, you know, it’s unfair for a critic
to review a show and say what he thinks it should have been. Two of the basic tenets of criticism are “What
are they trying to do?” and “How well did they do it?” They very seldom do that anymore. It’s so personalized, as to “What I think
it should be.” Well, who cares what you think it should be? We’re not trying to do what you think it
should be. We’re trying to do what we want it to be. I think it is a common criticism today of
our reviewers. Instead of taking a look at what’s on stage
and evaluating it, they do bring, often, preconceptions to their reviews. And they speak of the film, they speak of
what they would rather have seen up there, rather than just what’s there. And I think many times, also, that they don’t
really write for the constituents that are reading them. Especially in the suburban markets, because
I feel that many of them, and they’re all very good writers, but they really want to
make a name for themselves. And I think a show like URBAN COWBOY – I’ve
been involved with shows that have gotten bad reviews before and have gotten killed,
most notably, speaking of Bernadette Peters, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, which had a horrible review
in the New York Times. And also GREASE!, which we did. And those shows, the base audience for those
shows were people from New Jersey and Long Island and Westchester and the suburbs. The writers that review for some of those
papers really don’t take that into consideration, that those people would enjoy or could possibly
enjoy a show like that. And I think that’s a big problem, whether
they could have like a separate reviewer, like a “man on the street” reviewer. Sort of like the Zagat listings which are
in the Wall Street Journal every week, I think would help. Because there are shows that can definitely
overcome bad reviews, and there’s been a history of them. Even THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE last year didn’t
get slammed once by the Times, it got slammed twice by the Times. So if you can run long enough, and you can
build up word of mouth, the reviews essentially are forgotten after a couple of weeks. And that’s what we, and what other shows
like MILLIE and FOOTLOOSE and shows that ran a long time, GREASE!, try to do. And you know, I was interested to realize
on this show that the greatest percentage of our audience comes from New Jersey, when
we track it. It’s not from Manhattan. I think that, Leonard, you mentioned that
you used to go out of town, and at that time, you got reviews. And you used to learn something from the reviews
then. Well, but those guys were critics, they weren’t
reviewers. I mean, they had the schooling and the knowledge
to be a critic. You know, you loved going to Boston, because
Eliot Norton not only would write a review that was constructive, but he would meet with
the writers and the producers, as the guy in Chicago used to do. Christianson (PH). Claudia Cassidy (PH). And Claudia Cassidy, absolutely. But did you learn anything from reviews, either
in Florida, or even here? Have you learned anything from those reviews,
that could be constructive along the way? I mean, this is a show you –
Constructive? They’re never constructive. LEONARD SOLOWAY
No, I don’t think so. ROY A. SOMLYO
Well, but it can be. This is a show that you’re going to continue
– No. Well, I think the thing about the reviews
in Florida that we got were that they pointed to things that we all planned on changing,
anyway. I mean, so we looked at the reviews in Florida,
we said, “Yes, we agree with all of that. (CHASE LAUGHS) As soon as we get a chance
to work on the show, we’ll be happy to do that for you.” That’s true. And so, you know, we did. We came back to New York, and if anyone in
Florida wants to take credit for having changed the show, they can, though in fact we were
going to do all of that anyway. So what we’re going to do is try to find
out how you’re able to keep this alive, if you’ve got bad notices. You have great faith in the show. Very few audiences were coming in. But notwithstanding that, you still were able
somehow to put it together, keep it alive. Well, we are struggling. We are struggling now, still. But that was mainly Chase, who stepped in
and kept us alive. Well, we posted a [closing] notice the day
after we opened, because the reviews were so terrible. And we started getting phone calls from people. And I finally got smart enough to say, “Well,
would you make us a priority loan, so we can [stay open]?” (LAUGHS) Because we had dissipated our contingencies
in our budget, with the musicians’ strike, and we were pretty broke, so we needed money
to continue. Did you not have any advance sale? We had. Yes, we had. We had a little over a million dollars advance
sale. But a lot of it was in theatre parties, and
as soon as the reviews came out, they canceled. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in theatre
parties canceled when the review came out. And they have a right to do that. They do, sure, yeah. I think that this would be a good time, let’s
just take a pause. Let’s hear from Isabelle Stevenson, and
then we’ll pick up on the story of how this little engine is still surviving. Before we get back to the American Theatre
Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminar on Production, I would like to remind you
that these seminars are only one of the many year-round programs that the Wing undertakes. You are probably familiar with the American
Theatre Wing’s Tony Award, which is given for achievement of excellence in the Broadway
theatre. Well, we also have an important grants program,
providing aid to Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theatres. We have expanded our scholarships, to promising
students to pursue studies in the theatre arts. And we offer a comprehensive guide to careers
in the theatre to those seriously interested in entering the profession. As a long-established charity, dating back
from World War One, and World War Two, and our famous Stage Door Canteen, all of our
programs are designed to reward and promote excellence in the theatre. We just love to introduce young people and
their families to theatre and the magic it unfolds. We take great pride in the work we do and
remain grateful to our members and everyone else whose contributions help make possible
the dynamic programs of the American Theatre Wing. Our work is so important to the theatre and
the community, and we are proud to be a part of this exciting industry. And so now, let’s return to our panel on
Production, URBAN COWBOY, and our moderator, President of the American Theatre Wing, Roy
A. Somlyo. Roy? Thank you, Isabelle. (APPLAUSE) Thank you. I think we’ve been a little negligent here
in one aspect. As we continue now, let’s talk hard dollars
for me, if you can. I think the only dollar amount we heard mentioned
was maybe the fifty thousand dollars that Mike Nichols put up initially, and maybe the
five hundred dollars an hour, or a day. That’s what we did the show on. (LAUGHTER)
Let’s see if we can get it into perspective. You got fifty thousand dollars to get you
out of the workshop. No, that was just –
No, we raised a hundred and fifty thousand for the workshop, actually. Yeah. You raised a hundred and fifty? And did you spend that? Sure. Almost. With a few thousand [left over]. Do you want to explain the continued interest
that somebody has, if they put money up for a workshop? Well, it’s called front money, and somebody
who invests in a workshop has the right to, if the show moves, leave that in as an investment,
for which they get double what a normal investment would get. Or when the show is capitalized, they can
take their money out. The people who invested in our workshop chose
to leave it in as an investment. And so it’s a great advantage to putting
up money on that risk – I think maybe everybody should know that. Yes. In other words, if you put up front money
that’s being expended for a workshop, you have a lot more –
Double. You have double the opportunity of getting
your money back. Right. You’re going to get two points instead of
one, if that’s what you put up. Right. Well, that’s I think, a lot of people –
And don’t forget, Chase and I and Lonny, we have done some hits, and Jason, too. (CHASE LAUGHS) In which case, people who have
invested with us made a lot of money. That’s right. I mean, on GROSS INDECENCY –
And DAME EDNA. Sure. And THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, and DAME
EDNA. Well, I think the list goes on. But where – how do you find this hundred
and fifty thousand dollars, in that case? Well, you have to go to friends. You can’t go to strangers, because you have
nothing to show them. But are you looking for corporate money at
that time, or are you just going to individuals? Just people you know. And what’s the smallest amount of money
that people contribute toward that? Five thousand dollars, would you say? Well, it could be whatever you like. It could be whatever you want. But we were fortunate. We had three people to do fifty thousand each. Well, yeah, that’s very good. So now you have this hundred and fifty, and
you spent virtually all of it, you said, on the workshop. Right. And you knew you were going to go to Broadway. Somebody put some figures down on paper –
No, we didn’t know we were going to Broadway. We knew we were going to try to find somewhere
out of town to go, and we spoke with the people who run St. Paul. Mmm-hmm. We were speaking to some regional theatres
when Arnold Mittelman came into the picture with Coconut Grove. Ah-ha! So in Coconut Grove then, I think you said
you gave them enhancement money. Right. And do you want to tell us how much that was? Eight hundred thousand, wasn’t it? Yes. Eight hundred thousand dollars. So you paid eight hundred thousand dollars
to learn that they couldn’t accommodate your physical production. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Well, and they contributed about seven hundred fifty thousand. Sure, yeah. That’s about what they would normally pay
to do a show for those four weeks? Right, right. So now you have a million and a half, to put
a show on. To see if we’re going to go to Broadway. To put it on in Florida. To make the decision, then. Right. ROY A. SOMLYO
And obviously, you made that decision, ‘cause you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t! Well, you might be here, but URBAN COWBOY
wouldn’t have been here. Now, having made that decision – and you
spent the full million and a half? Yes, we did. Some of it on pizza. Who paid for the guys to come in from New
York? We did. So that added up. Well, as it turned out, we did. That’s another sad story. (LAUGHTER)
Artie Siccardi and his troupe? That’s it. His troupe arrived en masse. I should explain that. Artie Siccardi is the leading technical supervisor
and can get anybody out of any technical problem they have. It’s true. And he’s probably represented on Broadway
– GYPSY at the moment. Well, everything, practically. (CHASE LAUGHS)
He’s got most every show. And Artie has a saying, when you tell him
what it is, his answer is usually, “No problem.” And then he sorts out the problem himself,
and he solves it for you! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) But somewhere then, you
put numbers on paper then to decide after that that you were going to go further. Well, we always knew that the New York show
would cost about four million. And because of the overages in Florida, we
raised it to four and a half million. Which is still, as you well know, very inexpensive
for Broadway. For a Broadway musical, that’s rather modest. But four and half million dollars then, you
decided to capitalize that. What kind of an entity did you use? LLC. Limited Liability Corporation. And are you a managing member? General partner, yes. You’re a managing member, right. Leonard and myself. You two are? That means that you have the liability. Well, nobody has any liability, but you are
in charge. Yes. Well, we have the emotional liability of you’re
not going to let people that you work with all the time on other shows not get paid if
something should happen. Of course. And I think the loyalty that Lonny mentioned
earlier is very apparent here. Yes, but that touches on another subject,
which is that one of the reasons the show is still running is thanks to these people,
who have waived their royalties. That’s right. Why don’t you explain how that works? In other words, everybody’s entitled to
a certain amount of money each week, the creative staff. And so, what is the situation now? Well, we asked everybody to waive their royalties. The argument is that the longer we run, the
greater possibility there is for a road tour, and the more we can charge for a road tour. We’ve also had inquiries from Las Vegas. And we do have a deal with London, for a London
production. The longer we can stay alive in New York,
the more – (CLEARS HIS THROAT) pardon me – the more likely it is that all of that
will happen. And then everybody, all of these – (CLEARS
HIS THROAT) the minute I start talking about waiving royalties — (LAUGHTER) So it’s
the most embarrassing thing in the world, next to raising money, is to have to ask people
to waive their royalties, when they’ve been killing themselves to get a show on, and the
only way you can make money, if you’re a creative person, is on your weekly royalties. And these guys have all waived theirs, as
have all of the vendors who supply us with lighting equipment and sound equipment and
so forth. And if you had any stars who were on percentage
in this show, they would likewise be asked? Well, yes, they would. But every show that I do, everybody’s on
minimum through till opening night. Even on THE GOODBYE GIRL, Bernadette [Peters]
and Martin Short were on minimum till opening night in New York, which is, you know, twelve,
thirteen hundred dollars a week. Chase, along with URBAN COWBOY, you were also
involved with Off-Broadway, with THE COMEDIANS? I did an enhancement with THE COMEDIANS. Unfortunately, it got poor reviews, so we
weren’t able to move it anyplace. It was a wonderful show, very serious piece. What’s the difference in contracts, with
Off-Broadway, with THE COMEDIANS and URBAN COWBOY? Off-Broadway is less than half in salaries
for Equity. Sure. And there are no stagehand unions in most
of the Off-Broadway theatres. Even the Little Shubert only has two union
stagehands, and their salaries are commensurate with other Off-Broadway workers. You mentioned going to the League before. Do you have to register for Off-Broadway with
the League as well? There is an Off-Broadway League with whom
you register, but it’s apart from the Broadway League. Now back to our financing, you decided you
needed four and a half million dollars? Well, part of that had already been spent
in Florida. That included what we had expended on the
workshop and the Florida enhancement. Before you even tell us how you raised that
money, how do you break that out? How much of that is scenery? How much of that is for press? How much of that is cast? How do you do it? Give some rough ideas of how that money is
spent. Well, the bulk of it is scenery. Almost a million bucks in scenery. And we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars
on advertising. Our commercial – what did it – do you
know remember what that cost, the commercial? By the time we bought the time and produced
it, it was, you know, a couple hundred thousand dollars. Well, you still have two or three more million
to explain. Well, we went shopping. (LAUGHTER)
The cast, in particular. Well, you have fees for all the creative people. The lighting designer –
And advances. Royalty advances are enormous. And advances, yes, that’s right, for different
things. And transportation. Well, also, the take-in was six hundred thousand
dollars. The take-in, meaning? Well, from the time you walk into the theatre,
bringing in your lights and your scenery. And especially when you have a complicated
set, it took us four weeks to get everything in. And this is not a big show. This is not GYPSY. Technically, it’s not GYPSY. (LAUGHS) It’s not GYPSY in any other way,
either, I guess. But it’s just enormously expensive. It’s about thirty-five to forty thousand
a day for a take-in on a show. Those are labor costs, mostly. And you know, talk about the old days, we
used to close in New Haven on a Saturday night, and open on Boston on Tuesday, with turntables
and everything else that we had. Now, if you’re coming in from out-of-town,
it takes two to four weeks to get everything into the theatre and programmed properly,
before the cast can come on stage. Yes. You used to refer to it as the number of trucks. Yeah. That’s right. The number of trucks you had. If it’s a three truck show –
It’s a big show! (LAUGHS)
Now there are fourteen! But it’s not about trucks any more, because
it’s all about the computers and making everything work technically. But I think it’s time, is what you’re
saying. Cost there, a great deal of it is time. You have to get in the theatre. It’s labor costs, yeah. Right. So how much of that four and a half million
was earmarked for reserve? Four hundred thousand. Four hundred thousand. All right, so now then, you’ve opened the
show, and you didn’t get the notices that you wanted or deserved or expected, and immediately
put up your notice, which meant that you had one week, and that you were going to close. Then what happened, Chase? Actually, excuse me, we were going to close
the next night. Two days, yeah. The notice went up – we opened on a Thursday. The rotten reviews happened on Friday. We put up the notice Friday night, and we
were going to close Saturday. Chase was, in an unusual move, actually, not
going to, you know, was willing to pay the cast off for that extra week, ‘cause the
cast needs a week’s notice, I guess, whatever that is. Yes. And so we were going to close actually in
a day and a half. And this was kind of a very exciting story,
which was we were going to do these cut songs from the show at the curtain call. Because I had cut a bunch of songs that the
cast loved, and so, it was going to be their chance to do them on Broadway after the show
had opened. And I was running up on the closing night
of the show – we had packed up the show, everybody’s flowers – I mean, the cast
had packed up their – Costumes. Costumes had been washed, and the dye had
been taken out of the costumes! They were packed in the basement. And I ran up the aisle, because I had to go
introduce these songs, and I ran into Chase, and she said, “Don’t do the songs,”
and I said, “Oh, come on. The kids, they really want to do them.” She said, “We’re running.” And this was ten minutes before the final
curtain of Saturday night, which was to be our last show. I went back to my seat, and I was sitting
next to my boyfriend, Jeff Blumenkrantz, who had some songs, and he said, “What’s happened?” I said, “We’re not closing. What do I do?” (LAUGHTER) “I have these songs!” And we’re watching the cast bow, and they’re
weeping. They’re crying and they’re weeping. What we haven’t said, just parenthetically,
please, is the cast at the Broadhurst Theatre are the most extraordinary bunch of people
I have ever worked with. Through all of the craziness that you’ve
heard, all of the disappointments, all of the set breaking, all of it, they come to
the theatre, even today, every night, with such joy and cheerfulness and positivity about
what they love about the show. They are – for no other reason, go see the
show and see this bunch of people. They are extraordinary to watch. They’re amazing. So anyway, they’re weeping and crying because
they love the show. And I came out to introduce the closing songs,
and in fact, said, “This was to be our closing night, but I’ve just run into the greatest
producers in the world, Chase Mishkin and Leonard Soloway, and they’ve informed me
that we are running.” Well, pandemonium! (LAUGHTER) Screaming, cheering, crying! It was one of those great sort of movie nights. From the audience, too, though. The audience is stomping and cheering, and
it was just one of those great nights. And so, anyway, that was – well, we were
supposed to close the next day! Well, we have it on film! (CHASE LAUGHS)
We were supposed to close the next day! Well, now, so what was this miracle? What brought about the miracle? Well, the situation, as I mentioned earlier,
was that we no longer had any contingency money because we had dissipated it, because
of the strike primarily. We spent a hundred grand recording the music,
we spent fifty thousand dollars a week to catch up on rehearsals. It just was gone by the time we opened. And I really started asking people for priority
loans, so we could have four to six weeks to see if we could build an audience, have
some more advertising money and so on and so forth. And everyone pitched in, and we raised some
priority money. And how long – and you are one of the investors
in this priority money, personally, yourself, as well. Of course. Sure, of course. Yeah. Which goes to show your continued ongoing
faith in this production. You can’t not have faith in this production. The kids are great. Everyone’s done a fabulous job. Well, you know, Lonny said that he had this
extraordinary group of people there, in their devotion to the show. Well, I can sit here and tell you, very clearly,
it starts at the top, because you’ve got devoted producers. Oh, no question. No, they’d kill for shows. Who are exposed at this point, and they’re
still doing – Well, the thing too is that – Chase mentioned
it briefly, but it’s really true – you go to the theatre, and whether there’s four
hundred people in the audience or eight hundred, or eleven hundred, they love it. And it’s hard to argue with that. They stamp and cheer and laugh and have a
great time, and it’s hard to look at that show and say, “It’s not a success.” It is a success to the people who come. It’s just getting enough of them there so
that we can make the dollars work. Pete, is there anything that you can do – excuse
me for a minute. Well, I was just going to say, in terms of
what Chase has done, in all that trouble down in Florida, and the cast was getting very
nervous and depressed, she wrote a check for a thousand dollars to everybody in the cast
and sent a letter saying, “You know, it’s never easy and – ”
Hang in there with us. “Hang in there.” And now, she’s at the theatre almost every
night, just so they’ll know she’s there and not lose the spirit. It’s very unusual – I mean, as you know
– this is a show with two people above the title. This is not a musical with fourteen names. Go look at MILLIE or any of those shows. And corporations. This is a Mom-and-Pop organization. This is Chase Mishkin, this love that’s
on this stage. And that’s why the cast is so supportive,
and that’s why we’re all here, because she leads it. It’s amazing, also, that there are so many
Broadway debuts – Fourteen! Which is really amazing to see, that there
are fourteen people making their Broadway debuts in this show, including the two stars. It was a challenge to cast this show. There are no twenty-one-year-old stars on
Broadway, you’ve got to create them. Well, Pete, are you able to get the press
in any way supporting this? Here you have this valiant effort being made
to save the show. You see the audiences love it when they’re
there. You’ve got some wonderful talent up there. I know, initially we saw some wonderful things,
from Matt [Cavenaugh], that suddenly a new star was discovered. But how about –
I have to say – I mean, this to me, as I was telling someone at the break – the creative
aspect of this now and the challenge of it is the most appealing to me. I’ve worked on shows that are huge hits
and I’ve worked on shows that were not. And even though, like we work on CHICAGO right
now, I mean, that’s wonderful and it’s been an amazing seven years – the challenge
of doing URBAN COWBOY or a show that really needs help is what I went into this business
to do. I mean, it’s more exciting for me to really
try to change something around or to create something, than just sitting back and taking
the calls. So it is a big challenge now, and it’s harder,
because if you’re hit, you know, you run into a wall when you get those reviews at
times. And you have to really change people’s perceptions
and ideas. And we’re trying to do that, but as Leonard
said, the longer you run, the longer you run, and I think that’s the point. The longer you run, the easier it is, the
more receptive they’re going to be to sort of help the show out and to try to come in
and see it. And we’re starting to break through that
now. We’re starting to get the support that we
are looking for because people know that the show’s really trying. They know that there’s hopefully a life
there. But it’s –
And Pete has done a fabulous job with the show. We’ve had an enormous amount of press with
this show, in spite of the bad notices that we got. Everything from the Today show to coverage
all over the country. I mean, the fax machine just pours out articles
coming from – I mean, nobody can get through to me that wants to. (LAUGHTER) But he really has done a wonderful
job. I think that’s what makes my job a little
more exciting and a little more interesting. It’s very nice to be working on the hits
and it’s a prestige thing to be there and just answering phones and just funneling out
requests and stuff. But to sort of take the creative reins, just
like Lonny’s creative and Jason’s creative and Chase and Leonard are creative as producers,
this is my time to try to — (LAUGHTER) Aaron’s creative as a writer! What about Roy? And Isabelle? And Roy is creative, and Isabelle! We’re all creative. But I think that’s why this time for me
is even a more exciting time. One more piece of business on the business. You have to post a bond, don’t you, in the
theatre? Yes. What is that, and why? Oh, it’s two weeks’ salary for the actors,
and one week for the press agents and company managers. And then we have a wardrobe bond, hair stylists’
bond. The musicians are posted by the theatre, ‘cause
they’re paid by the theatre. Well, the bond is because the managers used
to leave people in Peoria, with no train fare back home. (LAUGHTER)
Not that you would ever do that! I wouldn’t leave them in Peoria, you know
better than that! (LAUGHTER) It would be Chicago! (LAUGHTER)
Leonard would go to Peoria. Miami! It would be Miami. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars, the
bonds, which you’re asking about. But you get them back. Yeah. How do you get it back? When the show closes. Right. When they’re sure the pension and welfare
and all that has been paid, you get the bond back. Yeah. So it’s held in escrow, in a sense? Yes. Right. It’s just a protective. I mean, with us, with shows, you know, when
a show closes, they’ll come to us and they’ll say, “Have your bills been paid? Have your expenses been paid?” before they
release the bond back to the producer. Have you paid the actors out of the bond? Never. Never. Oh, never! Oh, it’s an accommodation that the unions
– Well, in the first place, we didn’t post the bond.
Somebody else posted the bond for us. There are some people who don’t have to
put up money, they just sign the letter. Why? Well, for instance, the Shubert Organization. They know they’re good for it if anything
happens. The same with the Nederlanders and Jujamcyn. Historically, there was an arrangement with
a few producers and the theatre owners that they did not have to put up the cash. The unions accepted their word as their bond. I think we’ve lost the individual producers
– Who had that right. Who had that right, and now we’re just down
to the theatre owners who can. It’s just a question of not tying up cash
today. That’s right, that’s right. It’s a lot of cash. Right. For instance, in London, if you bonded the
equivalent of the League of American Theatres, if you are a member of the League in London,
you don’t have to put up a bond. I see. That’s interesting. We’ve never gotten that far. I don’t know what – (LAUGHTER FROM THE
PANEL) Why not here, though? Because it’s the League, in that case, the
equivalent of that, that is the backer (PH). What does membership in the League entail? Two thousand dollars a year. Plus. And your name – is it more now? No, no. Two thousand dollars. Yeah, well, the show has to pay a weekly sum,
contribution. And you have to be a major producer of a play
to become a member of the League. What does the show pay out? I’m interested. What is it? Four hundred a week for a straight show and
six [for a musical]? Well, it’s a percentage of the number of
tickets, based on the ticket sales. I see. One point seven, I think it is. Wow! It’s a percent of the number of tickets
you sell. It’s a lot. It’s a lot! Wow. Yeah, it is. Are they waiving? Yes, they do. They are? Yes, they are. Yes, I think they –
Everybody has to waive, when you waive. Now, what is on your books for the future? Suicide. (LAUGHTER)
I think staying with URBAN COWBOY, for the moment. I found URBAN COWBOY a delightful evening
in the theatre. We’re not going to disclose our future yet,
because we’re concentrating on URBAN COWBOY. It’s a great company. We really want to make this work. I think the future of URBAN COWBOY is really
what we’re talking about. Are you still working on the show? In other words, if something isn’t [working],
are you making any changes? We actually put in cuts a couple weeks after
we opened. I looked at it and thought, “Well, there’s
stuff Aaron and I had talked about that we’d never done, and gee, that scene could use
a couple of seconds off it, and that joke’s not landing.” And we did a little work, which people were
so astonished [about]. We worked really hard in previews, which people
apparently, I’m learning, don’t do that much. No. But we, you know, ripped it apart, cut songs,
added songs, changed scenes. So we actually worked –
Did everything we should have done in Florida, didn’t have time to do! (LAUGHS)
And you’ve done this since the opening? Yeah, we’ve made – well –
No, no, no. During previews. Since the opening, we’ve cut –
Little cosmetic stuff. I’d say, since opening night, we’ve taken
out maybe three and a half, four minutes of the show. Yeah. I think you took a number out, did you not? That was in previews. (GENERAL AGREEMENT)
During previews we took out five numbers. ‘Cause there’s an insert in the Playbill,
though, which shows a different running order. Because the Playbill was published – we
couldn’t change it. The opening night Playbill got published in
the last week of previews. But you know, Jack O’Brien says shows are
never finished, they’re just open. (LAUGHTER) Well, I mean, I’m sure that you
could spend another several weeks directing it and fixing things. Oh, my God. Oh, yeah. Well, interestingly, I would be sending in
my assistant. (LAUGHTER)
You know, you only stop when they lock the doors. You know, when they finally say, “You can’t
do it any more!” You know, it seems to me that you talk about
the problem you had with the bucking bull. I wonder if everybody knows what that is. I have a little clip of the bull itself. Oh, great! And maybe before we leave this panel, maybe
it would be a good idea to just have a look at what that is. Sure. Maybe we could look at that clip now. (MUSIC)
(SINGS) Run on (PH), run, boys, run! Jump in the house with the rising sun! (UNINTEL PHRASE), (UNINTEL) how it goes! (UNINTEL PHRASE), go (UNINTEL) go! (MUSIC, CHEERING)
That’s so clever! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
We give rides! Yeah! (LAUGHTER)
Well, did you say it was not the one that’s being used now? Well, also, that was during previews. Early in previews. No, it’s different. So the bull is much faster now. Much more exciting! The bull is faster, the lighting cues are
different, you can see it, yeah. And it’s actually a different bull. Well, we were in a workshop – Aaron used
to take the kids out to this bar in New Jersey that had a bull, and they would practice there. Yeah. That was a lot of fun! Did anybody ever get thrown off? Everybody got thrown off. (LAUGHTER)
It’s harder than it looks, guys! Yeah, that’s the thing about our show that
I always say, people have to get thrown, because you go to these bars, guys can’t stay on
it. An actual bull, guys get thrown off it. They can’t make it for eight seconds. They just fly off of it, all night long, just
people going. ‘Cause a bull’s not like a horse, that
bucks like a rocking chair. A bull spins, and you just can’t stay on
it very long. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
Have you tried it, Chase? Have I tried it? No. Speaking of not staying on too long, I think
we’ve just come to the end, and we’re not going to be able to stay on any longer
on this panel, although we could probably go on for two more hours. I want to thank you so much. This has been an American Theatre Wing “Working
in the Theatre” seminar, coming to you from the broadcast center of City University of
New York, their Graduate Center. Thank you all for participating. (APPLAUSE)

1 thought on “Production: “Urban Cowboy” (Working In The Theatre #311)

  1. I have the original copy of the production of the movie urban cowboy.before it was released into a movie, 3183729569, interested in a collector with knowledge of what it's worth and buyer if interested

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