Few forms of artistic expression are as perennially challenged, fanatically beloved, or eternally resilient as the musical. Maybe it's because it's one of the few forms considered, like jazz, to be inherently, uniquely American. The musical theatre, however, has had so many ebbs and flows as a style of popular entertainment over the decades that it really is a wonder how it has managed to survive.
Yet survive it does—because it's such an adaptable form of stagecraft. Consider the rise of musicals in concert—despite limited runs and the absence of expensive production values, they still manage to attract top-tier stars backed by glorious full-size orchestras and are typically underwritten, at least in part, by scores of fiercely loyal subscribers. In an era in which $10 million Broadway musicals are considered flinty ventures, presenting groups of actors, books in hand, singing songs and reading scripts is a cost-effective way to give musical theatre aficionados a taste of what they love.
There are more not-for-profit companies being formed to present musicals in this manner than you would think. In this feature, Back Stage looks at four of them—City Center's landmark "Encores!," the Los Angeles-based "Reprise!," the works of 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco, and the endeavors of a new group, the Boston-based Overture Productions—and explores how they put them together. This is, however, the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A casual Internet search reveals plenty of concert-musical activity nearly everywhere. In Vancouver, British Columbia, "Applause! Musicals in Concert" has presented everything from "Chess" and "Woman of the Year" to "On the Twentieth Century" and "Aspects of Love." Also on the left coast, Seattle's Showtunes! Theatre Company began its efforts with "Anyone Can Whistle" and followed up with "110 in the Shade" and "Do I Hear a Waltz?" In London, Ian Marshall Fisher's "Lost Musicals" has become synonymous with popular concert-style renderings of classic musical theatre.
What's more, companies with missions that go beyond the scope of producing concert musicals are taking note of this burgeoning genre and taking advantage of the idea. In 2002, Back Stage profiled Musical Theatre Works' 20th anniversary reunion concert of "Merrily We Roll Along," an event that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the nonprofit organization. Over the last several years, the Actors' Fund of America has mounted phenomenally successful one-night-only concert-musical evenings as fundraisers, including one of "Chess" and one of "Dreamgirls."
There are some loose parameters for what defines a concert musical. Choreography is typically minimal. Actors are typically on book. Rehearsal periods are typically short, and runs, as noted, are typically limited. Concert-musical organizations are primarily concerned with revisiting forgotten, neglected, and/or otherwise hard-to-produce works; audiences love the idea of reclaiming the past, however idealized it may be, and also respond to titles that ring a bell. It does not necessarily mean that some enterprising company will not find a way to produce concert musicals of new and emerging works.
Most concert musicals require significant leadtime to mount and, in many cases, extensive preproduction preparation, including the rewriting or editing of books (for better or for worse) and the creation of new or restored orchestrations. Some organizations, like "Encores!," take these actions as matters of faith, expending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to present musicals as they were once heard. It is the theatre's equivalent of preserving silent film.
Kathy Evans, executive director of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, a national service organization for musical-centric nonprofits, says, "It's always a good thing if organizations, for whatever reason—such as bringing back old musicals for new audiences—produce musicals in concert. It makes sense. It's a trend that's definitely growing."
"Encores!" Sets the Standard
Producing concert musicals, says Jack Viertel, in his fifth season as artistic director of "Encores!," which began in 1994, "gets harder as time goes by. We have set a standard we feel we have to meet, and even try to exceed, and it's not an easy task. It gets harder to find material we're proud of. And there's not a limitless repertoire to choose from, although there are many shows we would like to do."
And there are many shows that "Encores!" has done to acclaim. Like "Chicago," their most successful work to date, given that its stylized, scaled-down version was perfect for a still-running Broadway transfer, and given that the long-aborning film of the show dominated the 2003 Oscars. "Encores!" has been deft at varying the diet—offering obscurities ("Bloomer Girl," "Out of This World," "Sweet Adeline," "St. Louis Woman," "Tenderloin") as often as the neglected ("The Boys From Syracuse," "Promises, Promises," "Li'l Abner," "One Touch of Venus," "Do Re Mi"). This season's Broadway return of "Wonderful Town"—the first Main Stem revival since the 1953 original—is the direct result of an "Encores!" presentation in 2000.
But the concert-musical form, says Viertel, is not one-size-fits-all. "There are an awful lot of shows with wonderful material that just aren't wonderful all the way through—shows you wouldn't want to sit through an entire presentation of. So the first thing I do is meet with Rob Fisher ["Encores!"' crackerjack musical director] to make sure a show is playable, and that there's a script that matches the score. Sometimes when the answer is no, you put that show on the back burner. Our seasons get chosen by some not very quantifiable things, but it's a wonderful, if amorphous, process."
Two more fingers in the pot complete the "Encores!" creative team: Jay Binder, who has served as casting director since the project's 1994 inception, and Kathleen Marshall, artistic director for the first five seasons and now director-in-residence. Having consulted with Fisher, Viertel now engages in a series of "round-robin conversations" with his creative counterparts about a piece. "We talk to each other about what shape the score or the book is in, we talk about designers, and we talk about singers we might like or ask to sing the score."
Once a season is chosen—like a balancing act, it depends on the availability of rights, performers, the right creative team, and key elements like scripts and scores—Viertel gets down to realizing concert versions of the three shows "Encores!" produces each season. New York being New York, casting is often key to the selling of the work, and while Binder seems skilled at snagging Broadway vets (Robert Morse, Peter Gallagher, Donna McKechnie, Bebe Neuwirth, Faith Prince), fast-rising talents (Erin Dilly, David Campbell, Anne Hathaway, Heather Headley, Sean Martin Hingston) get showcased as well.
The casting process begins several months before the first rehearsal, but as much as Viertel sees the plus side of enticing a major star—say a Patti LuPone, a Nathan Lane—it cannot supercede the concert reading's primary goal: "If they're famous, that's nice, but we don't want to cast a show with inappropriate stars; if they're glamorous and sexy, that's fine, as long as they're exactly right for the show." Nor are the stars paid to act like stars: Under the most-favored-nation agreement with Actors' Equity, "Encores!" actors "get what every other actor gets, which means no star salaries."
A month before the first rehearsal, Viertel and Fisher arrange for full a orchestra read-through of the score, a chance "to pick through things and see if there are problems with the parts—or missing parts or notes that don't agree. Then we have a month to get that fixed—having our music department go through and change B flats to B naturals for the clarinet in measure 104. We also use that opportunity to make cuts, especially if there's more dance music than we have time to stage. The idea is to have the musical sung as it was sung on opening night, not necessarily danced. And really, we'd be pragmatically prevented from doing so anyway—you can't, with a week of rehearsal, choreograph a 20-minute ballet sequence."
Two weeks before opening night, the actors come on the scene.
"We start with a read-through on Monday morning and we finish on Friday with a put-together of the show. Sunday is our day off, and on that next Monday we're on the stage for the first time. Tuesday is tech day, Wednesday we do a dress rehearsal for ourselves and invited dress that night; Thursday, we open." Clearly there's little time for error, and even less time for in-depth conversations about character choices and song interpretation.
And because of that, Viertel makes a curious observation. "Some shows let you down in certain ways and some turn out to be wildly more entertaining than you suspect. Overall, they are never what you expect them to be. A performance can change the balance of who the most important character is, positively or negatively. A dance moment can be a huge highlight, or not. Acting choices are generally the first choice, and often, all that can really be achieved is to catch the consistent spirit of the book. Sometimes, if it's an antic, funny, insane musical of the 1920s, you can catch that spirit easily, or sometimes you can catch it because of your director."
Indeed, no matter how much research has been done on a script and score and no matter how inspired the casting, concert musicals are innately vulnerable affairs. But luck (if she ever was a lady to begin with) helps, too. "One of our problems is that once you've learned whatever you've learned from rehearsals, you cannot go in and fix it. If we were in previews in Detroit, we could, but we're not." On the other hand, Viertel readily admits that because "Encores!" creative teams know the material so well, "we're pickier than an audience encountering a show for the first time might be."
"Encores!" offers a good formula for a concert-musical organization because it has been allowed to evolve. Today, Viertel says, principal characters are typically off-book, or with the script nearby; certainly the choreography has grown more elaborate and complex. This tends to blur the line between concert musicals and fully produced productions, which is why Viertel says the biggest challenge of all is creating something "simple and straightforward and not production-like. Unless you send the audience a signal that what they are seeing is not a production, audiences may think that it is a production."
Reprise!: Getting Into the Groove
"I don't want to make a too-grand comparison between 'Reprise!' and 'Encores!,'" warns Marcia Seligson, the producing artistic director of "Reprise!" since its 1997 beginnings. "There are a lot of similarities, but there are some vast differences, too."
In addition to the ubiquity of exclamation points in their names, one similarity is their track records. Every "Reprise!" production, like virtually every installment of "Encores!," has become an event—L.A. style. The inaugural show was "Promises, Promises," starring Jason Alexander and Jean Smart; two years later, "Sweeney Todd" celebrated its 20th anniversary in a concert version starring Kelsey Grammer and Christine Baranski. "Reprise!," Seligson adds with justifiable pride, has the highest resubscription rate of any nonprofit theatre in Tinseltown.
She agrees with Viertel's view that shows get both easier and harder as the seasons pass and expectations grow.
"Things get easier in the sense that when you learn how to do anything, you get into a groove. You have your team—we've been working with the same sound and lighting guy for seven years—so we're all on the same page and we all know each other's foibles, idiosyncrasies, high points, and low points. We are dependent on each other's expertise. But it becomes harder to find great shows. 'Encores!' chooses shows very often we would not or could not choose. I always do curtain speeches, and when we did 'On the Twentieth Century,' I asked who was familiar with it. Three hands went up. So while doing obscure, esoteric shows is terrific, there are lots of them I couldn't sell a ticket for. Yet we don't do 'Cats'—we're true to our mission."
Part of the difference is money, although having the highest resubscription rate in the movie-centric City of Angels would suggest at least a fairly sizeable budget. Yet even if "Reprise!" lacks the funds to embark on the arcane historical-research adventures that other groups, such as "Encores!" or the San Francisco-based 42nd Street Moon, might do, it makes up for it by concertizing musicals that never or rarely played Los Angeles. "Audiences always say to us, 'I saw that show in New York and I never thought I'd see it again.' " Add in union musicians and, until his death, musical director Peter Matz, and dozens of timeless songs and unsung scores have once more been sung in style.
Choosing shows, Seligson says, begins about eight months or more in advance, partly because getting the rights can pose unforeseen problems. "I've been trying to get the rights to 'Pal Joey' for the last seven years, but somebody has a first-class contract on it, which means an L.A. performance is prohibited. If I was operating out of Toledo, nobody would care." Seligson says she wanted to mount a concert version of Kander and Ebb's "Zorba" this season and kept in "close touch" with composer John Kander about it. "It turns out that somebody in New York wants to do a national tour or a New York run or both—another first-class contract."
But as Seligson put it, the "Reprise!" 2003-04 season isn't doing "Cats." Things began with a one-night-only benefit concert of "I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road" starring Sharon Lawrence, followed by a run of "Kismet" starring Tony Award winner Len Cariou, and will be topped off by a May concert of the landmark Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical "Company."
Think of getting rights as one end of a theatrical teeter-totter. At the other end is casting—and timing, as Seligson has learned, is the all.
"You have to be careful when to ask someone to participate in one of these projects. We don't do anything unless we know we have the rights, for example. We're going to be starting our next season a little early, in August, and the actor I'm most interested in"—here she tactfully declines to identify either the musical or the man—"just happened to be at our benefit performance of 'Kismet,' so I informally approached him. We certainly wouldn't do anything formal—we wouldn't even speak to anybody before we had rights, ever."
Compared to the "Encores!" model, which compresses rehearsals and performances into as tight a schedule as possible, the "Reprise!" time frame seems almost leisurely—two weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of performances. This is at the upper end of what actors generally consider to be the time commitment for such a project. And you wouldn't want to fool too much with the formula: Not only is a short time commitment an incentive for actors to sign on, it allows them to play roles they may have always wanted to play in shows that, due to the economics, are unlikely to enjoy full-scale revivals anytime soon.
Because "Reprise!," as Seligson puts it, "is on a contract where no one gets real money, if someone gets a movie or a pilot, they're gone. Patrick Cassidy—who is a great, great friend of 'Reprise!'—was dying to do 'She Loves Me' because his father, Jack Cassidy, did it. So we're in the middle of rehearsal and Patrick got a pilot and had to leave for Australia. True, he had to pay off his contract, but that was nothing compared to what he knew he'd be making."
Seligson offers the current process for "Company" as an example of how things might ideally work.
"Today, our casting director comes in for a meeting—all of us, including our director, David Lee, have been making lists of names. We'll go through them, and if we don't know them, we'll go through the casting director; if we do know them, one of us might call personally." With casting underway, "Reprise!" holds four or five days of auditions; one day is the Equity open call. As the production gets into gear, set, lighting, and costume designers come on board.
"Then we go into a very intense two weeks of rehearsal—intense, I should add, because in performance, we are not on book. For the first two years of 'Reprise!' we were, and you know what? The actors hated it. So, in a sense, these aren't concert readings, yet they're not fully staged productions."
Which brings Seligson to an interesting point. "Concert musicals have an odd definition; nobody has really been able to figure out quite what they are. If it means using books and not having staging, then no, we're definitely not that—but then, neither is 'Encores!' If it means a hybrid—floor mikes, not body mikes, no costumes, music stands, using books, and minimal staging but for moving from mike stand to mike stand or standing up and sitting down—we're not that either. We are a fully staged version of a classic musical with the exception of a simple set and usually—although not always—one basic costume per character, with pieces sort of thrown over it to change it. And if there are long dance breaks, we'll cut it down, but there's definitely choreography. And a two-week run, which is no small achievement."
42nd Street Moon: Keeping a Genre Alive
The co-founder of 42nd Street Moon, Greg MacKellan, says the concert-musical genre is considerably older than many people think it is.
The group that inspired 42nd Street Moon, which did its first concert musical in 1993, one year before "Encores!," was the New Amsterdam Theatre Company, a 1980s venture headed by Evans Haile and the late Bill Tynes. "They didn't do anything from after World War II," MacKellan recalls. "And they did these concerts at Town Hall and they staged them—everyone in tuxes and evening gowns, everyone holding books—and I think of that as the first time that some of these old shows actually existed in a form that could finally be presented." There was even a mini-vogue for the form: Producers John Bowab and Richard Grayson presented concerts of "She Loves Me," starring the late Madeline Kahn and Barry Bostwick, and "Knickerbocker Holiday," starring the late Richard Kiley, both also at Town Hall, and there was a John McGlinn-produced series at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall.
"What's interesting is that everyone has a different take on how you do these shows," MacKellan adds. "At 42nd Street Moon, we decided from the get-go not to go for tuxes and evening gowns; we wanted the effect of costuming without necessarily the full costume you would have in a full production. But this really is a new genre." And it really is driven by the frustrating, maddening, eight-figure economics of doing professional musical theatre in 2004 America. "The basic reason why to do a concert musical, so far as we're concerned, is in not having to finance some enormous production. We can do a 1918 Jerome Kern musical for which we cannot guarantee crowds. We can have the freedom to be dangerous in our choices."
That sense of "danger," even MacKellan admits, is a relative term. After all, the plots of "Fifty Million Frenchmen," "Peggy-Ann," "Hollywood Pinafore," "Once in a Blue Moon," and "I Married an Angel" are not exactly Pinteresque. But 42nd Street Moon—the company's name comes from an early nickname for the bright lights of Manhattan's legendary thoroughfare—does take real chances when presenting concert musicals well removed from the ticket buyer's memory.
Or, for that matter, musicals that never played in the United States in the first place. Several years ago, the company premiered "Three Sisters," a Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II work, unrelated to the tragicomic Chekhov play, that ran in London. The only script was found, MacKellan says, in the Lord Chamberlain's office, the former British censor.
What binds MacKellan to his peers at "Encores!" and "Reprise!" is that similar problems in programming, casting, and producing can arise. "Once we've decided what we're interested in doing, like everyone else, we have to get the rights, or we have to learn what's available in terms of the script and the score. Obviously, with a show like 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' things are all together; the show is licensed. But with some of the shows we've done, maybe there's only a rehearsal script or a draft. Sometimes there are songs missing.
"We do only one show a year with a big orchestra," MacKellan continues, "so our other concerts tend to be smaller scale, which allows us to do shows where the orchestrations are incomplete or missing. In May, we are doing 'The Cabaret Girl,' a 1922 musical by P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome Kern that has never been done in the U.S. and for which there are no orchestrations, just a published vocal score. Creating new orchestrations—which 'Encores!' did, I believe, with 'St. Louis Woman'—gets very expensive and unless that gets underwritten, you can't do that more than every few years."
There's a bit of psychology also in play, for what true musical-theatre lovers want most of all, MacKellan believes, is to focus on the elements that mean the most to them—the score and, to a lesser degree, the book. "When I was a kid, there were musicals like 'Hello, Dolly!' where the production numbers were exciting; it wasn't about how exciting the set is. For some reason the thrill has disappeared from what the actors are doing and singing and saying and has become more about what the set is doing. I think it's unfortunate that that has become the standard for the musical theatre, and I think concert musicals are in reaction to that—certainly it's the reaction our audiences have had."
And that's in San Francisco, a town that, for all its sophistication, continues to have a relatively modest theatre community. By inserting ballots into show programs asking for audience feedback, MacKellan can get "a sense of who likes our 'wild card' slots. These are shows that sometimes do well and sometimes don't. When we did 'Babes in Arms,' we ran for six weeks; when we did 'Fifty Million Frenchmen' for five weeks, we almost sold out every show. But when we did 'It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman,' I think we filled maybe 65% of the house."
In fundraising circles, a new tactic gaining currency is for groups to announce events months, often years in advance. Beyond the New York-based Signature Theatre Company, which has announced its production slate through midyear 2006, it's hard to find another company like 42nd Street Moon so solidly booked. By changing over to a July-June season, the company's concerts through May 2005 include "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" (March 24-April 18), "The Cabaret Girl" (April 28-May 16), "Can-Can" (Oct. 6-31), "Hooray for What!" (Nov. 10-28), "Once Upon a Mattress" (starring Lea DeLaria, Dec. 8-Jan. 2, 2005), "Tenderloin" (March 30-April 17, 2005), and "The Boys From Syracuse" (April 27-May 22, 2005).
Such extraordinary leadtime serves a variety of purposes. With the California Arts Council gutted to just $1 million in funding this year, 42nd Street Moon needs as much time as it can get to make up for government funding it never had to begin with. It also allows the San Francisco acting community time to scout out roles (all performances run on the Actors' Equity-approved Bay Area Theatre contract).
"And we absolutely do hold scripts, much as 'Encores!' does," MacKellan concludes. "To us, it's part of our contract with the audience—we want to remind them this is a concert, yet as we remind them, to make them forget it. You know, in New York there's absolutely an audience to fill five to six performances at City Center—people who are so excited at the thought of rediscovering lost musicals. We have that in San Francisco, but it's not nearly what it is in New York. But because a lot of our audience had been priced out of seeing the big musicals, we fill a certain niche."
Overture Productions: The Music Swells
Deb Poppel has the kind of chutzpah that puts the meek and mild to shame. As an actuary and vice president of marketing and product development at John Hancock Financial—for which she has worked for over 25 years—Poppel, a passionate lover of musicals, had limited herself to community theatre pursuits for years, essaying roles in everything from "The Baker's Wife" to "Baby" to "The Pirates of Penzance."
"I love community theatre and the more I know about it, the more I love it," she says. "I don't know how many times I've done 'The Sound Music'—I'm like a Jewish Sister Margaretta, or, as I call her, Sister Margarita, the salty nun."
Kidding aside, like most musical theatre aficionados, she has been aware of projects like "Encores!" and, while she has never seen one of its productions, back in 2001, she began wondering why Boston, no slouch as a theatre town, did not boast a concert-musicals organization of its own. Defying the actuary stereotype, Poppel is a fearless go-get-'em sort, and she approached her friend and teacher Michael Kreitz, a performer and musical director, on the subject.
"You know, the best of the musical theatre is the best because of its music and lyrics. It's the score that excites me," and while she had no prior producing experience and was far from your typical entertainment-industry professional, Poppel and Kreitz created Overture Productions, a concert-musical nonprofit.
"I suppose creating a company to do concert musicals took unbelievable hubris, but Michael and I were very systematic about it. We looked at all the possible shows we could do, and our criteria included the quality of the music, the size of orchestra, and how marketing-worthy the title would be. Finally, we asked ourselves what show we would like to do, and we agreed that the music from 'The Baker's Wife,' by Stephen Schwartz, thrilled us. And no one ever does it, it seems, and Michael wanted to play the baker."
In a typical tale, the story ends here. But Poppel emailed Schwartz and discovered, coincidentally, that he was reworking the show with book writer Joseph Stein for Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Conn. Sensing a way to incubate the work on its feet, Schwartz's interest, she says, "led to things being bigger than I ever imagined."
More remarkable is how Poppel's idea continued to grow: When Liz Callaway, suggested by Schwartz for the concert reading, proved unavailable, Callaway persuaded Judy Kuhn to replace her. A noted Boston-based musical director, Michael Joseph, came on board, and soon the entirety of the Boston professional theatre community, a close-knit group, flocked to audition. Snagging a venue, too, became a breeze: Poppel persuaded John Hancock to give her its company's auditorium at cost, especially after she announced she would donate tickets to Boston English High School and other youth-oriented organizations.
To be sure, Poppel was paying for it all and learning how produce on the fly. "I thought if a musical in concert was done as a benefit that you didn't need to pay [actors] or deal with Equity—it turns out I was misinformed. I didn't pay anyone Equity but Judy Kuhn." Overture Productions did become a tax-exempt nonprofit and the event, performed on a Thursday and Friday, received a "phenomenal review" that Saturday in the influential Boston Globe.
"The funny thing is, I kept thinking this is community theatre with a really good band. But this had become quite the event for Boston. Suddenly I was a player in town—a theatre queen, to be sure, but a theatre queen with some money and some business sense to throw behind it."
Post-concert, compliments flowed in and pressure mounted. "The cost was something like $25,000, partly because Stephen Schwartz got us a good deal on royalties, since he had been making changes to the score anyway. And Rick Lombardo [the well-respected producing artistic director of the New Repertory Theatre] called me up and said, 'Deb, you're a producer!' "
Which led to the inevitable follow-up question: What's next? Poppel "ruminated, because the second time the stakes get higher." And she was in no rush. But then, in the middle of 2002, actor Len Cariou came to Boston to star in the play "Copenhagen," and the husband of Poppel's cousin, it turns out, is Cariou's lifelong friend. Asked if she wished to meet the man who won the Tony for playing Sweeney Todd, she didn't think twice.
She also asked him if he had ever thought about playing Ben in "Follies," another Stephen Sondheim musical. "I figured, what's the worst that can happen? Len Cariou never has drinks with me again? There's not a broad range of outcomes, so why not ask?"
Given a tentative yes, Poppel sent Cariou press clippings and information about "The Baker's Wife" concert, so he could see it was a professional gig. And this time, she found, the stakes really were higher and things didn't come together quite as easily. "It took us a year to get the director [Spiro Veloudos, producing artistic director of the Lyric Stage Company] and the auditorium was more expensive because John Hancock sold the building." The concert would now run two weeks to help get press, and after Poppel met with Equity—discovering "there was too much rehearsal to run under a benefit contract and the venue was too big for a NEAT or LORT contract"—she agreed to pay the actors a Guest Artist rate ($275 a week) and to pay Cariou more, as befitting his star status.
Her budget, now almost three times that of "The Baker's Wife," included the use of a paymaster to calculate deductions like worker's compensation, and for Michael Joseph, who would act as the musical director, to pay the freelance workers' nonunion orchestra an appropriate wage.
"Follies," to no one's surprise, enjoyed terrific reviews as well. And the company went the distance with even the most challenging numbers, including staging "Who's That Woman?" with all the professional divas of the Boston theatre—Leigh Barrett, Mary Callanan, Kathy St. George, Bobbie Steinbach, and Maryann Zschau—on stage together for the first time.
And there were clearly challenging moments in the process—the concert, Poppel says, was "overcostumed, to the tune of several thousand dollars I don't think we needed to spend," and she doesn't understand why, even after paying the paymaster the full amounts of everyone's salaries in advance, "Equity wouldn't release the $11,000 bond." But the experience has led Poppel to believe that a grass-roots concert-musical organization is possible to build.
"After the 'Follies' concert, Joe Spaulding"—president and CEO of the Wang Center—"contacted me about perhaps doing more concerts. I think their thought is that if this is all about music, maybe it's a good place to put their money.
"But you know," Poppel concludes, "I don't know if I know how to make people go to the theatre. If I knew that all the Boston theatregoers would always be there, if I knew that the friends that I saw and the kids that I comped would always be there, maybe I'd jump in. Would I trade my career to be a professional producer? I'm not sure. Audiences are smart here, but this is also a town where someone won't blink at driving to Fenway Park to see a Red Sox game and then say the theatre is too expensive. But then"—and here she pauses—"maybe it's not."