The United States used to depend on New York City for live theater. Now New York City depends on the rest of the country for its stage productions. Road companies, like missionary bands, used to depart from Broadway headed for destinations all across the country. Now theaters all across the country send their most successful work to New York.
"We're completely dependent on the nonprofit regional theaters for straight plays (nonmusicals) to present on Broadway," said New York's most innovative producer, Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn Theaters."Broadway just showcases the interesting work that comes from other cities - `The Grapes of Wrath' from Steppenwolf in Chicago, for example, or `The Kentucky Cycle' from Intiman in Seattle.
"The commercial theater still has a role in developing musicals. But even there, like with `Tommy,' you have commercial interests working with the nonprofit La Jolla Playhouse in the development of a new work."
During a recent interview, Landesman said he was feeling buoyant about New York theater.
"Yesterday," said Landesman, "we wrapped $161,000 in ticket sales for `Angels in America"' - now playing at Jujamcyn's Walter Kerr Theatre. "If you can sell that many tickets to any play, let alone a tough, scratchy play like `Angels,' it's encouraging."
"Angels in America," subtitled by playwright Tony Kushner "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," is a sometimes hallucinatory 31/2-hour spectacle in which AIDS and political chicanery act in tandem.
The play's genesis illustrates Landesman's point about the commercial New York producers' dependency on nonprofit theaters:
"Angels" was commissioned by the Eureka Theater of San Francisco. It was further developed by the Royal National Company of London and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. It won this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama.
"The Sisters Rosensweig" by Wendy Wasserstein, another of the current Broadway season's successful straight plays, further illustrates Landesman's point: Wasserstein's comedy was workshopped at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, under the direction of the Rep's artistic director Daniel Sullivan, who went on to direct the New York production.
Though Landesman is feeling buoyant, he is also feeling cramped. "We can't buy theaters in New York," he said. "There are none for sale. So we're looking outside the city." Jujamcyn recently bought the Royal George Theater in Chicago.
"We're also interested in Minneapolis, Portland, Sacramento, and, yes, Seattle. We are partners with Ordway in St. Paul (a not-for-profit producer). The idea is ultimately to present musicals in those cities."
Though Landesman admits there are "better ways to make a living," he says he's "in love with theater."
"I don't know - theater just gets me going."