And Now, From the Man Who Brought You Gilligan’s Island

A good new musical isn’t the easiest type of theater to produce, even for the pros. Which makes the odds that much tougher for first-time producer Sherwood Schwartz, who is taking the plunge with Gilligan’s Island: The Musical. At the very least, Schwartz’s new work should have strong name recognition among the general public. Schwartz says the television version of Gilligan’s Island, which he created, wrote, and produced on CBS in the 1960s, has been rerun more than any other series.

The theatrical production, capitalized at more than $300,000, opens next week at the Organic Theater, which in the recent past hasn’t fared so well as a home for new musicals. Both the critical bomb Just One World–and the well-received Sylvia’s Real Good Advice have played short runs there within the last year and a half.

Much of the money behind the Chicago production of Gilligan’s Island comes from the pocket of 75-year-old Schwartz, who has worked in the radio and television businesses for more than 50 years; the remaining capital came from friends who Schwartz says are “well enough off” to risk some money. At capacity, always a hard goal to achieve in a city that doesn’t go out midweek, it will take eight months for the production to pay back its investors.

The musical is coming off of last summer’s successful workshop production at Flat Rock Playhouse, North Carolina’s state theater. “We had an excellent opening there,” says Schwartz, noting the favorable reviews penned by North Carolina critics. But Schwartz knows Flat Rock isn’t Broadway, so he has come to Chicago to continue the production’s shakedown run. Ideally he would like to play Chicago for at least a year while he casts another company to do a road tour of larger venues before heading into New York in 1994, the 30th anniversary of Gilligan’s Island’s television premiere.

Schwartz says the itch to mount a theatrical production of Gilligan’s Island first struck him back in the 1970s when he went to New York to see Annie. The way Schwartz figured it, he too could tap into an audience that was nostalgic for something it had grown up with and loved.

The creative team Schwartz has assembled for the musical includes a suspiciously large number of relations and friends, though the producer insists they are on board because of talent rather than connections. Schwartz’s son Lloyd coauthored the script, and his daughter and son-in-law, Hope and Laurence Juber, wrote the music. Laurence Juber is the former lead guitarist for Paul McCartney & Wings. Schwartz notes, “If you surround yourself with the best possible people the business, you are ahead of the game.

Wade Takes Shortcuts Seeking Long-Run On the Way Home

Stephen Wade’s On the Way Home, a hodgepodge of banjo plucking, tall tales, and clog dancing, has undergone some trimming since it opened October 24 at the Halsted Theatre Centre. The critics were generally kind to the production, but their notices hinted that the two-hour-and-15-minute evening was longer than it needed to be. Sources say that behind the scenes, executives at Jam Productions, which is presenting the production, and other observers agreed with the reviews and suggested to Wade that the show was running too long.

Though reluctant to cut at first, Wade apparently had second thoughts. A source said about ten minutes were excised from the show last week. The cutting may have been delayed in part because the show’s producer and director, Milt Kramer, had been hospitalized on the east coast. Wade’s previous effort, Banjo Dancing, opened here in Chicago in 1979 and moved to Washington, D.C., where it ran eight years at the prestigious Arena Stage. Jam honcho Jerry Mickelson would not say whether he is aiming for a multiyear Chicago run of On the Way Home. He notes, “We’ll have to see what happens.”

Winning and Losing With Leavitt/Fox

The Michael Leavitt and Fox Theatricals production of Nell Simon’s Lost in Yonkers is racking up some of the biggest box-office numbers in the production company’s history. Last week’s gross totaled about $105,000 out of a potential $121,000. Leavitt says he expects the weekly numbers to hold up at least through the holidays and predicted the show would make money for its investors.

But the news was much less cheery for investors who anted up some $800,000 for the Leavitt/Fox productions of Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi and Six Degrees of Separation. Leavitt says they wound up losing “the majority” of their money, adding “it was not a successful package.” The investors’ package could have included a third show, a revue of music by Fred Ebb and John Kander titled And the World Goes ‘Round, but it was canceled at the last minute because of rapidly escalating cost estimates. A substantially rewritten Theda Bara, which died a miserable death here at the Wellington Theater, will be mounted by an off-Broadway repertory company in New York later this year. Lynne Taylor-Corbett, who choreographed the Chicago production, has replaced Vivian Matalon as director for the New York production.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.