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Broadway’s Touring Facelift

How Broadway shows get altered for the road

If you’re producing on Broadway, then you have to be prepared to make some changes, even after the show opens. “It’s a cliché,” admits Legally Blonde and 9 to 5 producer Mike Isaacson, “but you run out of time, and money, and then you open the show.”

And the changes don’t stop once a Broadway run is over. As several big musicals prepare to launch national tours this fall, they’re going through a brand new round of edits.

According to Isaacson, who also produced last seasons hit Broadway play Red, creating the touring version of a production requires some tough-love questions: Does the libretto need to be tweaked? Does the set need to be redesigned? Is the production something that non-New Yorkers are going to like? Which ones

“If you’ve got clear eyes, you keep learning about the show from the way the audience is responding, to a degree from the reviews, and from who you’re selling to,” Isaacson says.

All this work can be worthwhile, because on the road, there’s much less guesswork about whether a show will succeed.

For one thing, it’s easier to find people who are going to like what you have to offer. “Those presenters who are interested in the show raise their hands early on,” Isaacson says. “Clearly, with 9 to 5, early on, we knew we wanted to start in the South. Launching the tour in Nashville [on Sept. 21] was kind of a no-brainer. From there we go from Atlanta to Charlotte.”

Right away, then, Isaacson had three dates in places where 9 to 5 composer/lyricist Dolly Parton has an established—you could even say rabid—fan base. From there, it’s possible to work out within a much smaller margin of error how much money a tour can make. With careful planning—plotting a route with as little travel time as possible between shows, for example—a producer can increase that amount.

But again, those plans rely on the artistic tweaks. The set for 9 to 5, for instance, is being significantly retooled, and it’s not the only Broadway show to undergo major changes in preparation for a tour. Shows as large as Shrek are changing costumes and sets and even getting new script pages for the road (the dragon puppet for Shrek has been completely revised).

Look for this type of tinkering to continue for years to come. Isaacson says, “I think what’s happened is that there is more of a recognition now that touring musicals are their own craft and art.”

Sam Thielman is a freelance writer based in New York City. He contributes arts and news reportage to Variety, Publishers Weekly, World Magazine, and Newsday. He reviews fiction, movies and live performance and writes a bimonthly column on graphic novels and cartoons for Newsday.

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