Leonard Soloway and Steven M. Levy, who scored a major success in producing Dame Edna: The Royal Tour in collaboration with Chase Mishkin and Jonathan Reinis, yesterday spoke with TheaterMania about their reaction to a New York Post report that Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna) will be producing his next Dame Edna show himself.
"We made him a star," said Soloway of Humphries, his tone only half-joking. Added Levy, "There was no market for him in America until we produced his show in San Francisco, then took it to Broadway and toured it. In fact, everyone initially felt we were crazy to do the show." As much of the world now knows, Dame Edna Everage is a character created by Humphries, an Australian performer who was less than famous in America until his triumph in The Royal Tour at the Booth Theatre on Broadway and throughout the U.S.
According to Soloway, "The Shuberts and everyone else thought the show was going to flop. The only reason we got the Booth was that we opened in September and I have a relationship with Gerry Schoenfeld [of the Shubert organization]. Gerry didn't even plan to come to the opening; he came to a preview. But, at intermission, he ran up the aisle and asked me, 'How long have you got this guy for? Did I invest in this?'" The show received a special Tony Award in 2000. It's interesting to note that, though Humphries has been playing Dame Edna for decades, he originally created the character for the actress Zoe Caldwell, a fellow Australian.
Soloway and Levy were quick to point out perceived problems in the planned itinerary for Humphries' new Dame Edna tour. "For instance," said Soloway, "they're playing Miami Beach between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur at the Jackie Gleason Center, which is one of the biggest theaters on the touring circuit. Even Jerome Robbins' Broadway looked like a postage stamp in there." Added Levy, "To choose the Jewish holidays to play in Miami is sort of amusing."
Will Humphries literally be producing the tour himself? "No," said Soloway, "he has a manager, and he's got somebody at ICM booking the tour." Levy noted that "William Morris booked the tour in our case but we produced it and managed the production. [Humphries] has decided to do all of that in-house."
Soloway feels that Humphries is "foolish" in not employing him and Levy to work on the tour "because, at this point, we know all of his idiosyncracies--where to play and where not to play. He's going to Tampa, but we already covered that market when we played Fairwater last year. And he's going back to Boston in a bigger theater than last time; we barely sold out in the smaller one." Still, said Soloway, "I don't wish him ill. We were just surprised not to be included."
Though Dame Edna is beloved of audiences, Humphries has gained something of a reputation for being difficult to deal with. Soloway said that, although he personally got along well with Humphries, "he was impossible with the theater managers [on tour] and with the hotel people." Humphries' representative at ICM in Los Angeles is out of town this week and was unavailable to comment on the remarks of Soloway and Levy or to offer details of the tour.
In closing, Levy stated: "The cost of having a producer and a general manager is more than offset by the savings they're going to effect, their knowledge of the market, the direction in which they're going to take the show, etc." He added that, in producing the tour himself, Humphries "may get to keep all of the profits but, on the other hand, I think those profits are going to be lower without the producers' experience."
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