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`ON THE WATERFRONT' A BROADWAY CONTENDER

One recent weekend, Marcus Ticotin was talking to his former brother-in-law, and thence came the possibility that Budd Schulberg's dramatization of his own famous screenplay, "On the Waterfront," would come to Broadway.

Ticotin's sister, it turns out, is actress Rachel Ticotin, who was once married to David Caruso, the one-foot-out-the-door star of television's "N.Y.P.D. Blue." And after a visit, it occurred to Ticotin, a producer of ballet and opera, that Caruso could be a contender for the role of Terry Malloy, the boxer-turned-dock worker who stands up to the mob, whom Marlon Brando made legend in Elia Kazan's 1954 film.Ticotin then broached the idea to a friend, Mitchell Maxwell, a producer of films and Broadway shows (including the current revival of "Damn Yankees"). A result: Two weeks ago, the two men bought from Schulberg the rights to produce his play on Broadway between now and the spring of 1996.

The play lends itself to an extravagant production.

It has a cast of 19, with action taking place simultaneously in more than one place onstage, and deserves to be produced "like a musical without the music." The money is in place for a production that could get on a Broadway stage as early as next spring, and if not, he said, then definitely in the fall.

Maxwell said the budget for the show was $1.5 million to $1.8 million, and it is already accounted for, guaranteed by his own company, Workin' Man Films. The show will go on, he said, with or without Caruso, who is, Maxwell confirmed, the first choice for the role, and has been asked for a commitment of six months of performances.

Caruso, who hasn't been on stage in years (his manager, Chris Wright, said he didn't remember the last time), has just signed to star in "Jade," a movie thriller, for $2 million. Conventional career-management wisdom would have it that he ought to do a few more movies to establish his drawing power and crank his price up before trying anything as risky as a Broadway play, where critics will be gunning for him and the money isn't anywhere near as good. So is Caruso actually considering this?

Yes, said Wright.