Simon Says: Leavitt-Fox Get Lost in Yonkers

Michael Leavitt and Fox Theatricals’ $450,000 production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, premiering September 30 at the 450-seat Royal George Theatre, marks the first time Simon and his Broadway producer, Emanuel Azenberg, have licensed a separate commercial off-Loop production of a new Simon work; generally a national touring company gets first crack at Chicago, playing a large Loop venue such as the Shubert Theatre for a short time. The national tour of Lost in Yonkers is currently playing Los Angeles through September and is not scheduled to stop in Chicago.

Leavitt says Simon and Azenberg agreed to a separate Chicago production based on Leavitt and Fox Theatricals’ strong track record with commercial productions of other recent Broadway and off-Broadway hits, including Lend Me a Tenor, Prelude to a Kiss, and Six Degrees of Separation. Azenberg, who is on location filming Lost in Yonkers, could not be reached for comment.

Now in its 18th month at the Apollo Theater, Lend Me a Tenor has grossed more than $3.5 million, turning a handsome profit for its investors. Prelude to a Kiss ran for 11 months at the Wellington Theater and pulled in approximately $2.4 million, while the Leavitt-Fox production of John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, which opened last May at the Briar Street Theatre, has thus far grossed more than $900,000. By comparison, a national road company of a straight play typically stops for only two or three weeks in a Loop theater and rarely does any capacity business. Grosses for three-week runs at the Shubert last season ranged from a disappointing $496,000 for Lettice & Lovage earlier this summer to $923,000 for last fall’s Tru, with just 65 percent of the seats sold.

Leavitt argues that presenting an open-ended production of a popular play in Chicago makes good business sense for his own organization and for New York producers looking to maximize their profit potential on the road. “The shows we produce are seen by more people,” he says, “and there is greater visibility for the play and the production for a longer period of time.”

A production can also benefit from having a local producer, who can watch over it, Leavitt argues. “Every city has its own way of doing business, and to plop a touring production down in a city the producer is not familiar with is a danger. A show needs someone in the market who cares about the product.”

The licensing arrangement for Lost in Yonkers promises a steady royalty payout for both Simon and Azenberg if the show manages a long run here. A source estimated that Azenberg alone will receive at least 2 percent of the play’s weekly box-office gross at the Royal George, where toppriced tickets will sell for $35.50. (That’s about $10 less than the most expensive orchestra seat for a similar production in a Loop venue.) At capacity, Lost in Yonkers could gross approximately $120,000 a week.

Leavitt, who will also direct the Chicago production, does not plan to use an above-the-title star to lure ticket buyers, a tactic he has used for other shows. “I think Simon and the script are the stars here,” he says. if the arrangement works out well for everyone involved, Leavitt hopes to cut similar deals with Azenberg further down the road.

Miss Saigon Means Love, Not War

When a barrage of television advertising begins after Labor Day for the upcoming Cameron Mackintosh production of Miss Saigon at the Auditorium Theatre, viewers may see a different commercial than the one used to promote the Broadway production. The television spots were reshaped after New York focus groups said that early television commercials for the Broadway production promised more of a war story than a love story about an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl. The new commercials emphasize the love story and include less footage of helicopters, even though the show’s signature special effect is a helicopter landing during the evacuation of the American embassy in Saigon. Producer Mackintosh has yet to see or approve the new spots. Despite last-minute advertising changes, advance ticket sales for the show are approaching $11 million with about two months to go until it premieres on October 17.

Selling Springsteen: Two Dates, Too Many Tickets

In case you hadn’t noticed, Bruce Springsteen is back on tour, but the legendary rock ‘n’ roller is no longer an instant sellout in the Chicago market. Blame it on the economy or blame it on Springsteen’s two new underwhelming albums, but as recently as last week newspaper ads noted that tickets were still available for Springsteen’s September 2 and 3 dates at the World Music Theatre in Tinley Park. No such ads were needed for country crooner Garth Brooks, whose August 28 date at the World sold out in 90 minutes. Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions insists the Boss hasn’t lost his allure despite the need to advertise. “Springsteen will sell out,” predicts Mickelson, who added that more than 55,000 lawn and pavilion seats had been put on sale on August 1 for the two dates.

Wild Tuna: Rocking the Sushi Bar

The Far East’s exotic culinary traditions will mix with loud Western music when Jimmy Ma’s Wild Tuna opens August 26 at 658 N. Orleans in River North. Owner Ma calls the new establishment Chicago’s first “rock ‘n’ roll sushi bar,” a concept he says originated in Los Angeles and moved on to New York before winding up in Chicago. Ma, who operated Lan’s Chinese restaurant for many years on the same site, says he plans to offer inexpensive sushi (99 cents a piece) and other Japanese dishes in a setting that’s a cross between a nightclub and a sushi bar. “We’re opening a spot that is very casual,” notes Mal who is Chinese by birth but lived in Japan for seven years. The target customer for the restaurant is 25 to 45 years old, and the decor will aim for a California feeling with marble tables, green-and-blue carpeting, and bright sofas in shades of black, green, and pink. Customers can eat their sushi on the sofas, at tables, or even standing on the dance floor. Wild Tuna will keep nightclublike hours, with the kitchen staying open till 3 AM six nights a week.

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