Advice from an Expert: Vol. XIV. The original Producer of Finian’s Rainbow speaks from beyond the rainbow.
My assistant, Melissa, who has been super busy processing all the Social RSVPs, stumbled upon a Finian’s Rainbow souvenir program from the original production at a flea market last week. She snatched it up for $10 and brought it in for show-and-tell.
She found a pot ‘o gold on the last page, left to her by that lucky leprechaun, Lee Sabinson, the original producer.
Lee wrote an article on the last page which he titled, “So You Want To Be A Producer.”
Lee passed away in 1991, but his legacy lives on, with the production of Finian’s currently on Broadway, and with this witty and still relevant article on Producing, which we’ve transcribed for you below.
SO YOU WANT TO BE A PRODUCER
By Lee Sabinson
It looks so easy to be a Broadway producer that almost
everyone who ever heard the word Theatre wants to be one. I don’t blame
them. They don’t know that producing is a certain path to ulcers,
baldness, gout – if you’re lucky, for that’s a rich man’s disease – and other
innumerable disasters that will not be listed.
After all what does a producer have to do? Very little!
Find a play, raise the money, cast the play, raise the money, check the
production, raise the money, find a theatre and raise more money!
Now you’re on your way. Finding a play is a simple
thing. One little note in a newspaper that you’ve opened producing
offices and you’re swamped with such items as “Bertha” a sequel to “The Sewing
Machine Girl,” “Icecast,” a melodrama with four people and one set that takes
place in the Antarctic during winter – you can save on your electrical
equipment this way.
I started as a producer because I couldn’t get a
thirty-five dollar a week job reading scripts for an established
producer. I tried to find a play only to find that the well known authors
were submitting plays to well known producers. I had to turn to novels –
“Counterattack” and “Trio” were the results of reading galley proofs.
“Home of the Brave” reached my partner Bill Katzell and myself only after a
great many, more established producers turned it down. So finding a play
presents no problem.
Getting “Finian’s Rainbow” was no problem. The
authors were almost unknown. E.Y. Harburg did the lyrics for such shows
as “Bloomer Girl,” “Life Begins at 8:40,” “Walk A Little Faster” and for such
movies as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Song of Russia,” “Cabin in the Sky.” Fred
Saidy, who collaborated with him on the book, co-authored “Bloomer Girl” and
has screen credit for innumerable pictures. But these boys are novices,
there would be no competition. The man who wrote the delightful music for
the show, Burton Lane, wrote the score for “Hold on to Your Hats,” and one of
the Olsen and Johnson musicals. So he wouldn’t be difficult since he was
The day after I read the book I landed in California
where the three – author, lyricist and composer were whiling their time away in
the sunshine and earning a measly couple of thousand a week. I offered
them the opportunity of a Broadway production and they immediately left their
spot on the beach, their beautiful homes and hopped a train for Broadway.
You see all the producer need do is mention that glamorous word Broadway and
the world is his.
Came the problem of finding a director. I knew
Bretaigne Windust, who had staged “Trio” for me. Windy presented no
problem. No one wanted the services of the director responsible for such
hits as “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Life With Father” and “State of the
Union.” That is no one but Warner Brothers to whom he is under contract,
and seventeen other producers. But Windy wanted to come back to New York
so that he and his wife and youngsters could move from hotel to hotel every
five days. There’s nothing like the excitement of finding a hotel to live
in in New York. These prospects so enchanted Mr. Windust that he decided
to direct “Finian’s Rainbow.”
We next proceeded to raise the money. Investing in
musicals is a certain way to double your money. So all you do is call up
people with money who rush to your office immediately, their pockets bulging
with United States currency and kill each other trying to put it on your
desk. The backers are now cast.
By now your job is jelling. The show is in
rehearsal. All you have to do is find a theatre. Do you know how
hard it is to find an apartment? Well there are nine hundred thousand
apartments to every legitimate theatre available in New York. But suppose
you find a theatre are you through with the wonderful, easy job of being a
producer? You’re not! You’re just starting out! There are the
critics out of town and in New York to get by. If your reviews are good
out of town you wonder if the New York critics are going to come waiting to see
the arrival of a new Messiah. If they’re bad you’re afraid the critics
will come in bored or something.
But “Finian’s Rainbow” got rave reviews on its tryout and
rave reviews when it opened. So you think the job is done? Now you
sit and worry about how you can cast your road company as perfectly as that on
Broadway. And when you’re through worrying about that you have one or two
other worries. The show is a hit. But you’ve got to do another
show. Where are you going to get the next play? And so it starts in
all over again.
If there are any prospective producers among the readers
of this piece who let my words discourage them…they were not prospective
producers at all. For truth to tell, with all the headaches and heart
aches, you feel you want to be a producer. Well, I’ll tell you a secret,
so do I.
Only 3 days until The 2nd Annual Producers Perspective Social!
Free drink! Door prizes include tickets, merch, and a Kindle!
Click here for details.(please note, due to overwhelming demand the Social will now at be Hurley’s Saloon)
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.