'The Elephant Man' at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2012. The production opens on Broadway this fall. The WTF has seen a number of its productions move to Broadway.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williamstown Theatre Festival's Stephen M. Kaus was making the point that shepherding productions to Broadway is not the main mission of the summer festival.
"When we put on plays here, the goal is to put on plays here," Kaus said during a preseason press event at the Williams Inn last month. "If it's wildly successful and commercially viable, it's a bonus."
That's when one of the leads on WTF's Main Stage this summer decided to upstage Kaus.
"Let me translate the subtext," Justin Long interjected. "2019, we're going to Broadway."
The line drew a laugh from Kaus, the other artists and the modest complement of media. But Long probably was not too far off the mark. WTF has a track record as a launching pad for productions with Big Apple aspirations
Last summer's "Bridges of Madison County" made its premiere in Williams College's '62 Center before moving to Broadway for a run that lasted just 137 performances from February to May of this year. 2012 WTF hit "The Elephant Man" with Bradley Cooper is scheduled to hit Broadway in the fall.
This summer there are at least two Main Stage shows that could be heading down the New York State Thruway.
One is "Living on Love," which stars Long, internationally known opera soprano Renee Fleming, Anna Chlumsky and Doug Sills. Another is "The Visit," one of the final collaborations of legendary Broadway songwriting team John Kander and Fred Ebb and librettist Terrence McNally.
"Living on Love" debuts on July 16; "The Visit" arrives on July 31.
"The Visit" features Chita Rivera, who is linked to McNally and Kander and Ebb through Broadway hits like "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
At a more recent press event, Rivera was clear she would like to see "The Visit" on Broadway, where so many Kander and Ebb musicals ("Cabaret," "Chicago") have succeeded before.
"I would very much like for that to happen," Rivera said. "But I'm so happy to be here at this time, to be in that room with these wonderfully gifted people. And I think you have to take it, take your life, day by day. And make sure those moments you're in, you appreciate."
Rivera said that "The Visit" missed its chance for a Broadway debut when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks disrupted the show's progress.
In a 2008 article in the Broadway magazine Playbill with then "Visit" director Frank Galati made the same point:
'It was generally a success, but we couldn't get anyone from New York or California to see it. People weren't flying.' In that climate, he says, 'the whole idea of moving a very dark parable about human greed, the dark side of human nature,' was difficult."
Rivera said this week that the time is right to bring "The Visit" to Broadway.
"We would like to be able to tell this story to the people," she said. "I would love for maybe my last musical to be a Kander and Ebb musical. That's sort of in the back of my head, since I've been blessed to have so many. Yes, it would be nice to go out with a musical.
"I think Broadway needs [Kander and Ebb]. I think Broadway needs a play like this story that is rich and makes the audience think and care and feel. Kander and Ebb ... you sit in Yankee Stadium and hear 55,000 people sing 'New York, New York.' People sing and live by Kander and Ebb music. We need it, I think."
But this month, Rivera, Roger Rees and Director John Doyle need not concern themselves with "The Visit's" afterlife, Kaus said.
"What's important about any regional theater, any not-for-profit theater, is we alleviate the artists from that concern," he said. "And we take care of that. If that becomes a reality, that's great. But the concern in the room has nothing to do with how the play moves forward, as far as future productions."
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