Variety is reporting on the inordinately large number of first-time lead producers on Broadway in recent and upcoming seasons.
Open any Broadway Playbill and you'll notice that the space above the title is getting pretty crowded. This is a space typically reserved for the producer, a title which conjures images of Florenz Ziegfeld and David Merrick, old-time impresarios pulling all the strings backstage and schmoozing investors at Sardi's (think Mel Brooks' The Producers). Of course, that's not what producers look like anymore, nor is that what the "above the title" credit particularly signifies.
The recent revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof had twelve above-the-title producers. No, this wasn't an army of Merricks, but rather a group of what used to be called "investors," with several administrative folk mixed in, including a "lead producer" who makes sure that everyone gets paid and that the show has a theater and rehearsal space.
It is increasingly common for lead producers to offer an above-the-title producer credit, right next to his, to woo a particularly big investor. According to an article in the New York Times, Hal Luftig, one of the lead producers on 2010's Catch Me If You Can was offering an above-the-title credit for as little as $250,000. The result: 16 "producers" and 12 "produced in association with"s.
Variety isn't just writing about glorified investors, though: There is a new breed of Broadway producer emerging. These are people from the lands of film, TV, and finance who knows how to work the entertainment industry and who can also bring in money from nontraditional investors.
The showbiz publication highlights former MTV Networks line producer Jenna Segal as the poster child for this new group of lead producers. The head of her own production company, Segal NYC, since 2009, Segal is preparing to make her big Broadway debut with the Lerner & Lower classic Gigi in 2014. Segal is the daughter-in-law of Mike Segal, the founder and chairman of LS Power, a multibillion dollar power-generation, transmission, and investment group.
The article also mentions Paula Wagner, a lead producer on Grace and The Heiress, a seemingly new face from Hollywood who is actually making a round trip to Broadway: Her first marriage to set designer Robin Wagner placed her firmly in the inner circle of Broadway in the 1970s. In a recent article in the New York Times she recalled hearing Michael Bennett share his ideas for A Chorus Line before the show became an international success. For the past three decades, Wagner has been a power player in Hollywood, at first working as a talent agent before partnering with her most famous client, Tom Cruise, to produce Mission: Impossible, among others, through their production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions. Collectively, Cruise/Wagner films have grossed over $3 billion worldwide.
There is also Howard and Janet Kagan, Broadway's newest power couple who have taken lead producing roles in The Anarchist, Hands on a Hardbody, and the upcoming revival of Pippin. As their bio page on the production company's website states: "Mr. and Mrs. Kagan both had successful careers on Wall Street for many years."
So what is drawing all of these people to the stage? "It's a notable trend, but it's seemingly impossible to peg on a single cause that makes now the right time for new names," notes Variety.
Considering that only 25-30% of Broadway shows ever turn a profit, it may be getting difficult to convince wizened Broadway investors from the traditional circles to invest in a risky show. That's why Rebecca the Musical producer Ben Sprecher hired Long Island stockbroker Mark C. Hotton to help find new money, a move that proved disastrous for him when it was revealed last year that Hotton was fabricating investors.
This new class of producers likely has access to investors beyond the usual suspects, something that Sprecher was seeking. On top of that, they also have the entertainment industry know-how to put that new money to good use, employing hundreds of theater professionals on Broadway. So, welcome new producers. We look forward to seeing what you can do on the stage.