Amid accusations, a transfer to a commercial Broadway house fails
On trying to find out Robert’s needs
Into the recording studio for a new cast album
In London, some changes and updating
A look at how the lyrics changed before the original production
The New Comedy Thriller
Sondheim tells why he wrote this new mystery with George Furth
News & Notes
Sondheim gives more clues to his musical about the Mizner brothers
In cyberspace, discussion forums and a Web page take Sondheim to the universe
West Side Story takes its message about hatred and bigotry to new audiences around the world
Photos from regional productions
Judi Dench is magical in the London A Little Night Music
For Your Amusement
A new quiz and a contest for you to enter
Jim Walton remembers the turbulent previews of the original Merrily We Roll Along
Sunday in the Park is described as a story of creation, loss and restoration
New CDs: Company in Jazz; soloist Myrra Malmberg; the new Mandy Patinkin; a Spanish Sweeney Todd
Upcoming Sondheim shows in the U.S. and elsewhere
Triumph and turmoil as Company ends its run
By Paul Salsini
If it had been a show by any other composer, few would have paid attention when it closed. But the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company had been the most anticipated musical of the fall in New York and quickly became the Roundabout Theater’s biggest success ever. Even before it opened on Oct. 5, there was talk of moving it from the nonprofit, subscription-based Roundabout to a larger, commercial Broadway house.
So when Company ended its run at the Roundabout Dec. 3, it was with more public attention than anyone wanted. In fact, things got nasty.
Publicly, on the one side was a director who wanted to keep the production and cast, especially its lead, intact. On the other was a producer who said he wanted the best chances for a commercial success. Both were understandable goals, but neither side would blink.
Here’s the chronology:
The Nederlander Organization, which had underwritten the Roundabout production, planned to move it to the Brooks Atkinson Theater. But when the show received mixed reviews, Nederlander, which had already lost money on the production, changed its mind. That left John N. Hart’s Kardana Productions as the sole producer, and a Dec. 12 opening was announced for the Atkinson.
In an interview, Hart said he “loved the show” but questioned whether Boyd Gaines (Robert) could sustain eight performances a week. Suffering from a throat virus, Gaines had been missing performances.
“Scott (Ellis, the director) pleaded with me to keep him, and asked that we let him take a three-week vocal rest as the only fair thing to do. I said OK. But I understood that the decision would be mine to make, whether Boyd would stay.”
The opening was postponed until Dec. 19. In the meantime, auditions were held for a possible replacement. Hart said he favored Michael Rupert, who had starred in Pippin and Falsettos and had been in Sondheim’s Putting It Together in 1993.
Gaines returned to the cast on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Hart saw the show Wednesday evening.
“Boyd was in great shape,” Ellis said in an interview. “He had already been on for three performances and he could have performed for eight. But John didn’t want to wait until the end of the week. He had already made up his mind.”
Hart wanted Rupert, but he was also suggesting changes-he said they were not demands-in the production. He wanted another look at the choreography in the opening number, which he said was not as strong as the rest of the show. He would drop the “Bobby/Baby/Bubi” front projections. He thought the performance of “The Ladies Who Lunch” was sometimes “too angry.”
And, knowing that changes were being considered in the Peter/Robert scene in the London production (see page 7), Hart suggested a similar change, that Peter put his arm around Robert “to give it another texture.”
Ellis said these were more than suggestions. “These were sent to me as demands: ‘These must be done.'”
Ellis acknowledged that Hart, as a producer, could ask for changes. “John had every right not to move the show if he wasn’t happy with it. I understand that. But I felt I had the right and the choice to decide who would represent this show, and I stand by the actors in this production and by this production. This was the production that I helped to create with a collaborative team.”
On Thursday, Nov. 16, Ellis conferred with Sondheim. Sondheim backed Ellis’ decision to keep Gaines.
But the question was raised whether Hart had the money to produce the show. Hart says that the transfer would have cost $1.65 million, and that he raised $1.26 million.
There was also the question of whether a big enough audience existed for a longer run. Although the Roundabout’s run was virtually sold out, Company had advance sales of only $100,000 at the Atkinson and was facing the traditional box office doldrums of January and February.
With the situation at an impasse, Hart bowed out as producer.
Later that day, Sondheim issued a rare public statement to the press:
“We couldn’t find a producer. We found an enthusiast in John Hart, but unfortunately he has no experience as a producer, only as a money man.
“In the case of Company, every time we (the show’s creators, stagers, designers, agents, etc.) agreed to his terms, he would ask for more cast replacements, more restaging and rewriting, until it became apparent that he didn’t really want to move the show. My guess is that he couldn’t raise the necessary money.
“The real lesson of this is that there are no theater producers any more. There are dilettantes like John Hart, and there are theater owners. Thirty-five years ago Hal Prince said that the major problem with the Broadway theater is not a lack of writers, actors or directors, but of professional producers. He was right. John Hart illustrates the case perfectly.”
A week later, Hart shot back with a letter published in Variety:
“The issue at the core of Kardana Prods.’ decision not to transfer Company to a commercial Broadway run has been deliberately obfuscated by Stephen Sondheim. My decision had nothing to do with financial wherewithal, excessive creative demands or any other form of negligent producer behavior. The only issue of concern was the recasting of the lead role of Bobby.
“It is not unreasonable for a producer to request a cast change-particularly in this instance, when virtually every major critic commented on Boyd Gaines’ vocal problems. I was promised by the show’s director, Scott Ellis, that after Gaines’ three-week vocal rest, I would be the one to make the decision whether or not to transfer Company with him in the leading role. Based on that assurance, Kardana provided the necessary financing to activate the transfer.
“When Gaines returned, Ellis changed the rules and announced that if I wished to move the show, Gaines would have to play Bobby. Although Sondheim, to my knowledge, had not seen the show since it opened on Oct. 5, he concurred. I did not share their enthusiasm for Gaines’ vocal recovery and withdrew as the show’s producer. Commercial theater is risky enough without having to worry if the lead actor is able to play eight performances a week.
“The issue here is not a lack of real producers, but rather a lack of respect for what a real producer does. In the future, Sondheim should consider producing his own works, rather than damning a producer who may be foolish enough to disagree with him.”
During all this, there was a brief hope that Company could move off Broadway. Alan Schuster and Mitchell Maxwell, who own several off-Broadway theaters, were exploring the possibility after Hart bowed out, but they also decided against it.
On Sunday, Dec. 3, Company closed at the Roundabout after 112 performances, including 40 previews.
Two days before the closing, Ellis talked about the crisis and the production.
Pointing out that Gaines had not missed a performance since his return on Nov. 14, and that he had made both the recording for Broadway Angel and the videotape for the Lincoln Center archives, he said:
“How unfair it is to penalize an actor for having a virus. How unfair! You can’t penalize performers who get sick!
“I’m very happy with the production. I was scared coming in because of the expectations, but I felt that we gave a very clear new way of looking at Company in 1995. It wasn’t dated, it felt very fresh, and that’s very exciting. George’s book held up beautifully.
“I wanted the characters to have heart and this piece to have heart, and I think this production had heart. You cared about these people, particularly about Bobby at the end of the show.
“I watched the show the other night, and I was so happy that we made the right decision. Despite everything that happened, it was an absolute joy to work on this production because of the piece and the cast. Maybe in another 25 years there should be another production because I don’t think this will ever get dated.”
Paul Salsini is the editor of The Sondheim Review.