Friday, September 19, 2014

Producer Judith Abrams Talks KINKY BOOTS, Richard Rodgers, Pixie Judy Troupe, and More!

BWW Interviews: Judith Ann Abrams: A Dreamer With a Magic Touch
Judith Ann Abrams
Photo credit: BWW Interviews...
This week, I got to interview an awesome woman who has done everything. Broadway/West End producer Judith Ann Abrams has not only been involved in hits like Spring Awakening and Kinky Boots, but she also founded the first Broadway family theatre troupe- at age 23! Oh, and she called in a favor from Mr. Broadway Musicals, aka, Richard Rodgers. Excuse me, WHAT?!

Our conversation was beyond amazing, but way too long for the BroadwayWorld.com article, so guess what? Here on Singular Sensation, you can see the rest* of it!

"Looking at your resume and your bio, you have such an extensive list of credits! It seems like you've been involved in so many hits in recent years.

"You just have to live long enough and work with enough people to know which ones are going to make it. But even then, it's dodgy.

"And, you ended up working with some big names like Richard Rodgers. How did those relationships develop?

"Well, I created a company called the Broadway Pixie Judy Troupe, which was the first real professional family theatre, musical theatre, for children. One of the performances Richard Rodgers came to see, and he came backstage after and said that he loved what we were trying to do for children, and if he could be of any help, to please give him a call. Well, when you're 23 years-old, you pick up the phone and call anybody, but when it's Richard Rodgers, I did hesitate a little bit. But, I did call him, and went to his office, and he said, "I know it must not be easy," because at that time, there were no...or very few...professional family theatres. I mean, Broadway people were doing our shows.

"So, [Richard Rodgers] decided to underwrite three of our original cast albums, and he sent me to London to record them with the London Symphony Orchestra, and that was really a turning point for us. After that, I had a special program to introduce inner city children to live theatre. When we were performing, we would do certain performances and rehearsals for them and bus in children from some of the inner city areas."

(Exclusively on Singular Sensation!)
And you were involved in Kinky Boots, and Spring Awakening, but there was quite a gap between those two. Why didn't you produce anything in that time?

I actually turned down doing five shows during that time. Three of them never made it, two of them lasted- I think one was about a week, and one was one night. Nothing touched my heart. Nothing- if you see KINKY BOOTS or SPRING AWAKENING, the messages are so beautiful, and I think that it’s so hard to get a show done, that if you don’t have passion for a message, or really believe in something. And I must say that it’s very important who the management is. I say that to anyone who’s thinking of going investing in theatre or whatever. You’ve got financial reports, you gotta know what’s going on. I have been so blessed in these last years with working with really great management, great producers, so it’s very important. I’ll tell you for the first time, I have just incorporated, and we’re having investors join with us, because we have a really good track record now, but it took years and years to be able to pick shows that at least have a chance, because the management is terrific. And because your fellow producers really know what they’re doing. I am absolutely passionate about the word “producer” meaning “marketer,” and if you don’t market your shows right, you can kiss your money goodbye.

So what exactly drew you to SPRING AWAKENING, KINKY BOOTS, and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN?

First of all, what drew me to ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was the music and Bernadette Peters. I thought, “This is a combination that’s made in Heaven.” I thought as a revival, there were so many people that had never really seen it, and it’s a timeless story with a wonderful message. And that’s really what drew me to it. What drew me to SPRING AWAKENING was my niece, Crystal Rose, who, at that time, was just entering college, and we would try to have informative or discussions about that, kinda, when I was with her and her friends, and it just didn't happen. And I got them all to see SPRING AWAKENING, she helped me put together a focus group, and it opened the doors to speaking to young people about things that really bothered them out in the world that they had to face. And SPRING AWAKENING and KINKY BOOTS are two of the shows that I’m most proud of, because they deal with issues that everybody has to deal with, but they do it in such a way that it opens doors for conversation, and it does it in entertaining ways, without preaching, which I think is a basic part of theatre: if you can entertain and have a wonderful message that people can relate to, you've won half the battle.

So you’re looking for not just great music and a great story, but also great heart, and a great message, and great ways to open doors and educate people.

Absolutely, but without being preachy. Without talking down. That was the success of the Pixie Judy Troupe: we never talked down to kids. And I think that’s the success of any show that tries to get a message across to the audience. I think you’re destined for failure if you do it any other way. We have a show, for example, opening in London called MADE IN DAGENHAM that I’m doing with my partner, Adam Blanshay, and the show created equal rights for women in England, and it’s a musical! It’s got  a great message, but it doesn't hit you over the head.

Yeah, exactly, because no audience wants to be preached at. That would make them run out of the theatre.

It would make me run out of the theatre! But I think you've got it, Sally. The shows we’re doing now, like, IT’S ONLY A PLAY, which we’re some of the investors in, really shows what it’s like and how hard it is to do a Broadway show, but it does it in such an amusing way that you walk out saying, “Wow, that’s amazing that anything gets on!” But it does it through having a good time, and I think that’s so important, especially with what ticket prices are today, which is a little bit hefty, I must say.
Yeah, and IT’S ONLY A PLAY is another one of those that has every star you can think of, basically.

I think it’s a necessary situation to try to get a name because of the ticket prices, and I think ticket prices are high, I mean I wish- but if people really search on the internet, they can find a lot of discounts. You can find affordable ticket prices. It’s the premium tickets that Mel Brooks started at $450 for THE PRODUCERS. We’re selling premium tickets at KINKY BOOTS, and we just don’t bring- for example, the national tour of KINKY BOOTS just started in Las Vegas, and 30 or 40 performances are already sold out. We had to add performances! So I think if people really want to see something, and it’s worthwhile, they’ll find the money somewhere.

...

"I made [my mother] my partner. Thank goodness that she did live to see me get the Tony [for Best Revival of a Musical for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN] which was really special. If you have any family behind you, it's a good plus.

"So did your mom get to go to the Tonys ceremony that year with you?

"No. Unfortunately by then she was quite ill, and she had to watch it from home. But I had my cell phone with me, so I was in contact, and at that point, she had something like Parkinson's, and she really couldn't speak, and I said to the [healthcare girls with my mother], "Does she realize what- you know?" And they said, "Yes! Her eyes are all lit up!" So it was a pretty moving moment for me.

"That is so sweet!

"Yeah, you know, you have these dreams that you're gonna make everything happen so your parents are proud of you, and I guess that I fulfilled that one dream."

Doesn't that just make you want to cry? That bit about her mom is too sweet! Make sure to read the rest of it on BroadwayWorld.com!

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: www.twitter.com/bwayginger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

*Note: Portions in quotation marks were published on BroadwayWorld.com.

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