Bring Your Questions for Broadway Producer Rocco Landesman

Rocco Landesman

Rocco Landesman is a Broadway original, a producer with the heart of an artist, and a rogue businessman if ever there was one. (He is also, I am happy to say, an old friend of mine.) He is president of Jujamcyn Theatres, one of the big three Broadway theater companies, and is also one of the most prolific and award-winning producers in history, with a resume including Sweeney Todd, Angels in America, Urinetown, and The Producers.

In 1994, Landesman was immortalized in a New Yorker profile by David Owen, which is not available online, though its abstract sums up Landesman nicely:

… president of Jujamcyn Theatres; has helped write two novels by Jerzy Kosinski; has owned a string of racehorses; has been (and is) a co-owner of two minor-league baseball teams; has managed a very successful mutual fund; has been a professional gambler; has been an assistant professor of dramatic literature and criticism at the Yale School of Drama; and has written book reviews for the Wall Street Journal.

Despite working feverishly the past few weeks during the Broadway stagehand strike, Landesman has agreed to field your questions. I’ve included a few of my own below, just to get things rolling. Check back here in a few days for his answers.

What’s the trend in Broadway attendance? Why do people still go to the theater at all when it’s so much more expensive than other forms of entertainment?

What’s the state of Broadway ticket scalping, and what’s your position on it?

What will Broadway theater look like in 20 years?

If I’m not mistaken, you were the first producer to charge $100 for a ticket, for the Producers. What was the impact and response?

How true to life is The Producers?

If Jujamcyn scores a big advance sale, how do you invest the money?

Tell us about the economics of hiring a star for a Broadway show versus a non-star. As much as stars draw box office, they also spike the budget and, I assume, limit a potentially long run. Is it worth it?

Where do Broadway audiences come from (geographically)? What’s a surprising place that a lot of customers come from?

Assuming that the vast majority of Broadway customers come from out of town, why is there so much Broadway advertising in New York City — on buses, e.g.?


Cheryl Tanner

I co-wrote a play that was a huge success in Houston, TX and I would like a producer to consider performing off-broadway. Who are the most likely interested contacts?

Bill

I have done a fair bit of amatuer producing and directing, and find that the best-received musicals are the ones that are the best STORIES. This is where R&H had the whole package - great music AND great stories. Sadly, their stories now seem quite dated and do not resonate with younger folks.
Who is out there that is coming up with great stories? I'm sorry, RENT didn't do it for me, and the juke box musicals, while entertaining, will never have the staying power of a South Pacific.

Jim

What advice would you have for writers/composers who have no connections. What are some successful ways of getting your word read if you don't know anyone.

Virginia

How do you "break in"? Even into regional theatre. Balancing family, children, auditions, rehearsals...how??? As a director or performer...? Tips? Advice? Thank you!

Alexi de Sadesky

When were you a professional gambler? and what kind of gambling did you do?

Frank Badami

What is Kosinski doing.........

JH

What benchmarks do you use to judge the success of a show?

Do you lose more sleep when you first started producing than you do now?

Adam

So much of Broadway seems to be derived from movies today (partly thanks to The Producers, which has done it better than anyone before or since). Is this a healthy trend? More broadly, will people still produce original plays and musicals in 5 or 10 years, or will originality be left to off- and off-off-Broadway? What message should playwrights take from this trend?

Wayne Steinhardt

It seems to me that in the last few years, there have been a number of shows that exist primarily to showcase the music of one particular artist or band. Billy Joel, ABBA, Elvis and others have had shows made out of their music. Is this a trend for the future as well? Should we expect to see Madonna: The Musical in the next five to ten years?

And how well do these shows do when measured against traditional musicals?

Momindant

If you weren't a succesful producer, indeed, were not in the entertainment industry at all, and you had a beautiful high school daughter with straight A's, would you encourage her to pursue Broadway or chemistry?

discordian

Do you feel that Broadway better off for the Disneyfication?

Jane

How is your relationship with your backstage crew post strike, and how much do you rely on them?

Lou

Did Rocco Landesman reply to the questions posted?

Rick Shur

Do you accept submissions?

CC

What factors contribute to the high price of Broadway tickets - theatre rents? union salaries? audience expectation of onstage spectacle? all of the above? Are these costs increasing? Do rising costs increasingly lead to less risk-taking and more middle-of-the-road, lowest-common-denominator fare on Broadway? Or was it always thus?

Erin

What was the purpose behind the 20 million dollar strike fund the producers had been accumulating over the course of the last 4 years?

If all of the producers' requests had been granted in the IATSE negotiations, resulting in lowering expenses for the producers, would ticket prices have been reduced?

Benjamin Hemric

1) Statistics about who goes to see Broadway shows (e.g., Manhattanites, outer borough residents, suburbanites, out of towners, which age and income groups, etc.) are fascinating, but I suspect it is only relatively recently (maybe since the 1980s?) that Broadway producers and ad agencies have compiled such statistics. What are the oldest studies that you know about and are they publicly available?

I think it would be very interesting to see how the Broadway theater audience has changed over the 20th Century, going back to the 1920s. Also it would be interesting to see how these changes might relate to the increasing lengths of Broadway's longest running shows.

One tidbit: In the late 1970s I worked in the group tour industry and was surprised to learn how many theater tours of New York there were -- at least at the time. (A high school, social club, or travel agency would organize a theater going expedition to New York City for 60 to 180 people and book flights, bus transfers, hotel rooms, restaurants -- and two or three shows! Due to group rates for many parts of the package, these New York City vacations were surprisingly affordable.)

2) In the "New York Times" there was at least one article -- maybe a few -- about shows that benefit from what I would call "super repeat" customers (people who go to see the same show many, many times). Do theatre professionals have a name for this phenomenon? When did it start up and what do you suppose accounts for it? (I doubt, for instance, that similar numbers of people ever saw the same production of "Oklahoma," "South Pacific," "My Fair Lady," etc. more than once.)

(My theory: a) increased affluence in U.S. and around the world; b) today's successful shows are less dependent on narrative (i.e., less like plays) and are more like "events" (e.g., concerts, opera, ballet).

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Hunter Huiet

How much money does a broadway producer make in a total of 1 year?

Coming to America fan

Greetings.

I am writing to suggest the creation of a Broadway play for the film 'Coming to America". If you ask anyone what their favorite movie is, they are likely to say that it is Coming to America. It is a wonderful fairy tale story that is timeless and hilarious. PLEASE PLEASE consider making this show. This is the dream of my life!!

If a play for 'Legally Blonde' can be done, then SURELY one for Coming to America can be done also.

Grant Sutor Vuille

Hello, Mr. Landesman. I have a musical play that I've written for young people called "Dr. George's Magnificent Zeppelin". May I send you a copy of the script? Thanks. Grant