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Omaha native Phil Kenny a player among Broadway co-producers and investors 


Omaha native Phil Kenny a player among Broadway co-producers and investors

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the June 2019 edition of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Phil Kenny resembles the starstruck dentist with songwriting ambitions in the stage classic The Bells are Ringing. Growing up in Omaha, Kenny played the lead in a high school production of Oklahoma! and appeared in a Ralston Community Theater production of Fiddler on the Roof. Listening to the Les Miserables cast album became a ritual. He wrote plays through college with the ambition of penning a Broadway musical, The technology law attorney still pursues that dream today.

He and collaborator Reston Williams, formerly of The Blue Man group, hope one day to get their own four-years-in-the-making musical on its legs in New York.

Far from a frustrated wannabe, Kenny’s made himself a theater insider co-producing major musicals through his 42nd Club investors group. As unlikely as it sounds, this married, devout Mormon father of seven living in Utah has co-produced some of Broadway’s most successful musicals the past few years, including Anastasia and Sunset Boulevard.

In 2018 he even copped a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical with Once on This Island. On a side note, one of its stars, Merle Dandridge, shares a hometown connection: Both she and Kenny are Papillion LaVista High School graduates, though not classmates.

Odds are Kenny will take home another statuette at the June 7 Tonys since three of the five Best Musical nominees are 42nd Club co-produced shows: Hadestown, Tootsie and Beetlejuice. Kenny and Co. also co-produced King Kong – nominated for three Tonys and receiving a special Tony for puppetry.

 

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Phil Kenny and wife Clare

 

Meanwhile, the 42nd Club co-production Be More Chill enjoyed breakout off-Broadway success that’s transitioned into a Broadway run still going strong. The show led all nominees for the 2019 Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards nominations.

For Kenny, crashing the Broadway world as a producer never occurred to him as a thing until two people suggested he try it.

“A number of friends and I have been able to participate in Broadway musicals by investing in and co-producing, which we didn’t even know was an available option,” Kenny said.

The investing opportunity was first broached by Greg Franklin, a veteran investor and co-producer. Then again by Jay Kuo, himself an attorney who ended up co-writing the Broadway musical Allegiance.

“I told them both no initially,” Kenny said. “They didn’t pressure me at all. But after I called Greg (Franklin) to grab lunch and get answers to my questions, I decided to get into it. I found out Broadway investing is less like throwing money away and a donation, and more like a high risk investment where there actually is the potential to make money – and possibly a lot of money if you pick the right shows. That excited and interested me because I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of what people like in a Broadway show.

“My first investment was a play called Living on Love starring opera star Renee Fleming. It ended up closing early and didn’t return any of our investment.  We didn’t have nearly the same type of access to the best shows then as we do now.  We were just excited lead producers were talking to us.”

Then Kenny got more connected.

“When you invest in a Broadway show you frequently get opening night tickets and after-show party passes,” he said. “Those parties are filled with other people who invest $25,000 or more in shows. I made it my business to meet everybody I could.”

With Greg Franklin, he said, “I came up with the idea that if we all grouped together we could then co-produce a musical rather than just be an investor. By co-producing we get a bigger say and might be invited as the table when lead producers are talking about various marketing initiatives or having creative discussions.”

This let’s-put-on-a-show economic model has paid off well enough that the club’s grown to 100 members.

“Most of our investors tend to be outside of New York. The interesting thing about we do is that we have the opportunity to invest in the very best and highest level of commercial theater – shows like Waitress, Matilda and An American in Paris – where the buy-in to invest in big Hollywood projects is cost prohibitive.

“Our members are all accredited investors who’ve invested in Broadway shows in the past. We are very selective about the shows we invest in.”

Scripts are read. Staged readings and workshops viewed. At a minimum, Kenny said, there must be “a great story and memorable music.” “And this isn’t a hard and fast rule,” he added, “but I do like to have some sort of commercial hook in the plot or title.”

 

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Once On This Island

 

He often bets on proven track records, such as an adaptation of a popular movie or a project featuring music that already has a built-in following.

His metrics also include analyzing the slated budget and calculating how many seats must be filled weekly to turn a profit. He prefers shows play in smaller houses of about 1,000 seats where demand exceeds supply, thereby creating extra urgency and buzz.

“Because we’re now at the co-producer level,” he said, “a lot of opportunities now come to us rather than us having to seek them out. Hadestown is one one them, Tootsie is another. A co-producer credit means the lead producer shares producing billing with you if you help with a variety of things, chief among them fundraising by bringing in an investment amount of a certain level – perhaps a half-million or a million dollars.”

Among the perks that go with getting your name above the title is being eligible to win a Tony Award

“Our first nomination was when we co-produced a new musical called The Visit by (John) Kander and (Fred)Ebb – the same composers of Chicago and Cabaret – with a book by Terrence McNally. Our second nominated show was Waitress – a huge commercial success. It’s been the most profitable investment we’ve been a part of. That show was nominated in the same year as Hamilton, so we knew we had zero chance of winning.”

Then came Once on This Island’s upset win. The odds-on favorite was My Fair Lady, which swept all the pre-Tony awards shows.

“Our winning was really a surprise to a lot of people, including us producing partners. I was in the back of the house pacing back and forth with my wife when they read Once on This Island as the winner. That single moment was probably the most exciting of my life – and vie had some pretty exciting moments.I looked at my wife and took her by the hand and we ran down the aisle with our other partners and we got to be up on stage for something we have such great passion for.

“It was just a thrill beyond explanation.”

Another perk: “Each of us was able to bring home our own Tony statuette.”

Kenny’s already joined a select list of Tony winners from Nebraska in Henry Fonda, Sandy Dennis, Swoosie Kurtz and John Lloyd Young. A second win would put Kenny and Kurtz in select company as multiple winners.

Kenny shares the ride with wife Claire.

“We’re both huge musical theater fans,” he said. “Our whole family’s really into it.”

The couple met when he saw her in the chorus of a Utah community theater production of, you guessed it, a musical, and he complimented her backstage. Two weeks later he got her pone number and asked her out. Ten months later, they were married.

Even though Kenny’s met stars like Matthew Broderick and Lin-Manuel Miranda, he said, “A lot of the people I look up to in the Broadway world are people most folks haven’t heard of. They’re lead producers like Hunter Arnold and Tom Kirdahy, They’re bringing incredible art to the stage and taking huge risks. To me, they’re just as much heroes as the people dedicating their lives to the performance aspect of it.”

Kenny concedes he’s “not the normal, every day co-producer” but added, “I’ve found the Broadway community very accepting of me and my faith and our big family.”

He said he doesn’t currently aspire to be a lead producer. “Part of the reason I don’t have that on my bucket list is the fact that I live in Utah. It would be really difficult to launch a whole production from beginning to end not living in New York.”

Among the shows 42nd Club is backing next season is Jagged Little Pill. The musical opens on Broadway in December. It features music from Alanis Morissette’s best-selling album of the same name.

To date, only one show he’s co-produced has made it to Omaha on tour – Waitress – but Anastasia arrives in June 2020.

Visit 42nd.club.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

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Life Itself VII: 25-plus years of Omaha theater stories


 

Life Itself VII:
25-plus years of Omaha theater stories

New plays are discovered at Omaha’s own Great Plains Theatre Conference

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/06/new-plays-are-di…eatre-conference/

 
North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama
Niche theater for classics still going strong in 25th year
Finding home: David Catalan finds community service niche in adopted hometown of Omaha
Roni Shelley Perez staking her claim as Nebraska’s next “Broadway baby” 
Noah Diaz: 
Metro theater’s man for all seasons and stages
Art in the heart of South Omaha
Things coming full circle for Doug Marr, Phil’s Diner Series and Circle Theatre

Kevin Lawler, ©photo by Debra S. Kaplan

 
PlayFest broadens theater possibilities: Great Plains Theatre Conference events feature community-based, site-specific works
Camille Metoyer Moten: With a song in her heart
Stephanie Kurtzuba: From bowling alley to Broadway and back
Creative to the core: 
John Hargiss and his handmade world
BRAVO! Sing for the Cure
“The Bystanders” by Kim Louise takes searing, moving look at domestic violence as a public health issue
South Omaha stories on tap for free PlayFest show; Great Plains Theatre Conference’s Neighborhood Tapestries returns to south side
Play considers Northside black history through eyes of Omaha Star publisher Mildred Bown
Celebrating 90 years, the Omaha Community Playhouse takes seriously its community theater mission
Omaha theater gypsy Gordon Cantiello back with new show
Tapestries to celebrate Omaha neighborhoods; Theater by any other name
Kevin Lawler guides ever evolving theater conference to put more focus on fewer plays and playwrights and to connect deeper with community
Matched set: Susan Baer Collins and Carl Beck share life and career based in theater at Omaha Community Playhouse
Beasely #1 by Eric Antoniou (LEO)
John Beasley has it all going on with new TV series, feature film in development, plans for new theater and possible New York stage debut; Co-stars with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash in TVLand’s “The Soul Man”
Journeyman actor John Beasley discusses life in film-television-theater and striving for in-the-moment believability
Theater-Fashion Maven Elaine Jabenis
John Beasley: Living his dream
Family of creatives: Rudy Smith,  Llana Smith,  Q (Quiana) Smith
Omaha’s black sirens of song and spoken word
Hardy’s one-man “A Christmas Carol” highlights Dickens-themed literary festival
Joslyn Castle Literary Festival makes it all about Dickens
Artist facing life-altering disease makes “Dracula” subject of literary festival: Jill Anderson and friends explore Bram Stoker’s dark vision
Tiffany White-Welchen delivers memorable performance in “Lady Day”
Blue Barn Theatre
NEW BLUE:
Blue Barn Theatre putting down new roots
FINDING HOME: With its own home, the Blue Barn completes a long road to creating edgy theater
Paul Williams: Alive and well, sober and serene, making memorable music again
Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala with “A Flowering Tree”
Playwright turned history detective Max Sparber turns identity search inward 
Breaking the mold: 
Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala
Alone or together, Omaha power couple Vic Gutman and Roberta Wilhelm give back to the community
Omahans put spin on Stephen King’s “The Shining’ – Jason Levering leads stage adaptation of horror classic to benefit Benson Theatre Project
Sisters of song: Kathy Tyree connects with Ella Fitzgerald; Omaha singer feels kinship to her stage alter ego
Art imitates life for “Having Our Say” stars, sisters Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore, and their brother Ray Metoyer
Shirley Jones Interview: Classic Hollywood star to appear at Omaha screening of “Carousel”
Omaha playwright Beaufield Berry comes into her own with original comedy “Psycho Ex Girlfriend”
Beaty’s one-man dramatization of the diaspora considers what freedom looks like for African Americans
Opera Omaha enlists Jun Kaneko for new Ttke on “The Magic Flute” –  co-production of Mozart masterpiece features stunning designs setting the opera world abuzz
Playwright Carlos Murillo’s work explores personal mythmaking
A Theater Twinning
photo
Doing time on death row: Creighton University theater gives life to “Dead Man Walking”
Tyler Perry’s brand of gospel play coming soon to theater near you
Tired of being tired leads to new start at John Beasley Theater
Native American survival strategies shared through theater and testimony
“Walking Behind to Freedom” – A musical theater examination of race
What happens to a dream deferred? John Beasley Theater revisits Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”
Anthony Chisholm is in the house at the John Beasley Theater in Omaha
Polishing Gem: Behind the scenes of John Beasley Theater & Workshop’s staging of August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean “
Homage to the bootstrappers by the Grande Olde Players
Omaha theater as insurrection, social commentary and corporate training tool Playwright
Actor Kelcey Watson fills role of a lifetime on short notice in Blue Barn production of “Six Degrees of Separation”
Lara Marsh’s breath of life
The wonderful world of entertainment talent broker Manya Nogg
Nancy Duncan’s journey to storytelling took circuitous route 
Art trumps hate: “Brundinar” children’s opera survives as defiant testament from the Holocaust
A queen gets his day in the sun: Music director Jim Boggess let’s it all out in “Jurassic Queen” cabaret
Dick Boyd as Scrooge in 2005, ©photo by Mikki K. Harris, USA TODAY

Dick Boyd found role of his life, as Scrooge, in Omaha Community Playhouse production of Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol”
Preston Love Jr. channels Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in one-man chautauqua
Get your jitney on: August Wilson play “Jitney” at the John Beasley Theater resonates with cast and crew
The enchanted life of Florence Taminosian Young, daughter of a whirling dervish
Being Jack Moskovitz: Grizzled former civil servant and DJ, now actor and fiction author, still waiting to be discovered
John Beasley and sons make acting a family thing
Crowns: Black women and their hats
Camille Metoyer Moten: A singer for all seasons
Shakespeare on the Green: 
A summertime staple in Omaha
Learning from a Broadway actor

Kevyn Morrow

 
Kevyn Morrow’s homecoming 
Vincent Alston’s indie film debut, “For Love of Amy,” is black and white and love all over
Change is gonna come: GBT Academy in Omaha undergoes revival in wake of fire
Great Plains Theater Conference ushers in new era of Omaha theater  
Jo Ann McDowell’s theater passion leads to adventure of her life as friend, confidante, champion of leading stage artists and organizer of festivals-conferences
Playwright-director Glyn O’Malley, measuring the heartbeat of the American theater
Q&A with theater director Marshall Mason, who discusses the process of creating life on stage

John Guare

Playwright-screenwriter John Guare talks shop on Omaha visit celebrating his acclaimed “Six Degrees of Separation”
Q&A with playwright Caridad Svich, featured artist at Great Plains Theatre Conference
Featured Great Plains Theatre Conference playwright Caridad Svich explores bicultural themes
Attention must be paid: Arthur Kopit invokes Arthur Miller to describe Great Plains Theatre Conference focus on the work of playwrights
Q&A with Edward Albee: His thoughts on the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Jo Ann McDowell, Omaha and preparing a new generation of playwrights   
Great Plains Theatre Conference grows in new directions
Unforgettable Patricia Neal
More than Buddy: Billy McGuigan expands on Buddy Holly shtick to collaborate with his brothers and band in Beatles tribute
 
 
Hey, you, get off of my cloud! Doug Paterson – acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of art as social action
Radio DJ-actor-singer Dave Wingert, in the spotlight
Quiana Smith’s dream time takes her to regional, off-Broadway and Great White Way theater success
Show goes on at Omaha Community Playhouse, where Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire got their start
Charles Jones: Looking Homeward
In her 101 years, ex-vaudeville dancer Maude Wangberg has lived a whirl of splendor
Nancy Duncan: Storyteller
A Woman Under the Influence
Anyone for classics? 
Brigit Saint Brigit Theater stages the canon
Gospel playwright Llana Smith enjoys her Big Mama’s time
John Beasley: Making his stand

Brian O’Bryne and Swoosie Kurtz in Frozen

Kooky Swoosie: Actress Swoosie Kurtz conquers Broadway, film, television
Lauro play “A Piece of My Heart” dramatizes role of women in war zones
Magical mystery tour of Omaha’s Magic Theatre, a Megan Terry and Jo Ann Schmidman production
Bobby Bridger’s Rendezvous
Doug Marr, Diner Theater and keeping the faith
War and peace: Bosnian refugees purge war’s horrors in song and dance that make plea for harmony
Golden Boy Dick Mueller of Omaha leads Firehouse Theatre revival
Opera comes alive behind the scenes at Opera Omaha staging of Donizetti’s “Maria Padilla” starring Renee Fleming
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