On the Shelf: A How-to Guide to Broadway Musicals

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How do you produce a Broadway musical? More specifically, what does a producer do? Or even more specifically, how does a producer set about putting a Broadway musical in motion?

This is the question addressed in John Breglio's "I Wanna Be a Producer" [Applause]. The subtitle, lest you want a more complete description: "How to Make a Killing on Broadway...or Get Killed."

Breglio is not a producer, exactly; he spent thirty-six years as a theatrical lawyer, including a long spell as one of the pre-eminent practitioners of the craft. In the course of which he had numerous celebrated clients on the level of Sondheim, Lloyd Webber and August Wilson. Most powerful, though--for a time, at least--was Michael Bennett. The two latched onto each other early on, and when Bennett formed his own production company, Breglio was by his side. The relationship has continued since the director's death in 1987; Breglio remains executor of Bennett's estate. In 2006, Breglio officially turned producer, with the revival of Bennett's A Chorus Line.

As Breglio describes it, the producer doesn't create the show. He or she (and Breglio's book noticeably stresses the pronoun "she" instead of "he") is more like the ringmaster of a circus. She doesn't fly on the trapeze, train the animals, or spritz seltzer at the clowns; rather, the producer surrounds herself with the best talent she can line up, sets them all to doing their job, and collates everything into a whole. The author goes step-by-step through the process, with most of the twenty-nine chapters focusing on a separate element: finding source material, clearing the rights, selecting authors, hiring a director, raising money, etc. He also discusses the key personnel required, including non-creative members of the team like the general manager.

Some of Breglio's early chapters are more general than compelling, at least for readers with knowledge of the field. But this is a book about the business of Broadway, not the act of creating art. As soon as he gets to contracts--specifically, discussions of the authors agreements, royalty pools, the APC ("Approved Production Contract"), raising money--we get a primer that is invaluable for those involved in, or merely interested in, the field.

I can't stress how good a job does explaining these matters, especially the profit pool; this is the finest and clearest explanation I've ever read. It helps, I suppose, that Breglio was personally involved (as an attorney) when it was developed and refined.
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John Breglio
Photo: Nan Knighton
"I Wanna Be a Producer" is peppered with examples from real life, as Breglio illustrates the discussion with tales drawn from his involvement on such shows as A Chorus Line, Fences, Dreamgirls, Ballroom and more. Bennett is frequently cited, as are a panoply of Broadway bigshots of the era. All in all, "I Wanna Be a Producer" is a fascinating and entertaining look at just what it takes to produce a Broadway musical.
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I Wanna Be a Producer: How to Make a Killing on Broadway...or Get Killed by John Breglio is available from Applause Books