Walk past any Broadway theater and you'll see a larger-than-life poster advertising the production playing inside. Prominently displayed are the names of every cast member, the creative team, an eye-catching logo and colorful production photos.
Above the show's title is a list of individuals and companies that made the production possible. Except to Broadway insiders, those names are largely unfamiliar. But without their financial contributions, which collectively can range from $5 million to $15 million, new plays and musicals would never be produced.
Two Tulsa residents recently joined that club of Broadway's elite. Through their production company, Square 1 Theatrics, Jay Krottinger and Ryan Tanner signed on as co-producers of the Broadway revival of “Pippin.” On June 9, they and their fellow producers walked away with the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.
“The Tony Awards were everything you would expect them to be,” Tanner said. “It's easy to get caught up in the whole star aspect of the production. You wait for every category (in which your show is nominated).
“Everyone was thinking ‘Pippin' would do well, but nothing was a guarantee. We knew people who had produced 30 shows and were nominated 10 times but never won. Here's our first show, we're nominated and then we won. It was just wonderful.”
In addition to the Tony for Best Musical Revival, “Pippin” took awards for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Andrea Martin), Best Actress in a Musical (Patina Miller) and Best Direction (Diane Paulus).
Krottinger and Tanner made their first professional foray into producing with “Flipside: The Patti Page Story.” Written by Greg White, director of musical theater at the University of Central Oklahoma, “Flipside” traced Page's rise to fame as a small-town country girl to one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Interwoven throughout the narrative were two dozen hits Page recorded. Premiered at UCO in April 2011, “Flipside” has had several subsequent Oklahoma performances, and in December 2012, the musical revue played a two-week run at 59 E 59, an off-Broadway theater.
“Through that process, I hired an attorney just to protect myself,” Krottinger said. “When we first met, he asked if we might be interested in ‘Pippin.' I almost said no because we were trying to raise $100,000 for ‘Flipside.'
“He invited us to a rehearsal of ‘Pippin' and the cast was working on the ‘Magic to Do' number. Seeing all the layers of that number come together was really outstanding. An hour and a half later, we were hooked. That rehearsal sealed the deal for us.”
Becoming co-producers of “Pippin” proved to be a “trial-by-fire” initiation. Krottinger and Tanner had three months to raise $250,000. Fortunately the two business partners had previous fundraising experience as co-founders of IQ Surgical, a Tulsa-based company that designs and distributes orthopedic and plastic reconstructive surgery devices.
“When it came time to ask people for money for something we believed in, we had some credibility,” said Tanner, who earned a degree in political science from Illinois College. “Our plan was to find 10 investors. We thought that being a part of something like ‘Pippin' would enhance their lives. And ‘Pippin' has done that. People have never seemed so excited about giving us $25,000.”
In addition to studies in marketing and business management, Krottinger brought to the partnership a decade's worth of experience as a performer. A UCO music theater graduate, Krottinger performed on cruise ships and in regional theater.
“I remember being in a stock production of ‘Hairspray' in Rhode Island and there were 25 of us living together in a non-air-conditioned house,” Krottinger said. “I loved performing and it was fulfilling.
“But I didn't like the idea of sitting around letting other people make decisions about my future. I thought I might derive greater joy from being a bigger part of the collaborative process. I could see myself standing in the back of the theater, watching audiences enjoy themselves.”
Although IQ Surgical was becoming a successful venture, Krottinger was still torn about his future. He decided to pursue a master's degree in music at UCO, which required a four-hour commute between Tulsa and Edmond three days a week.
“It was while I was doing my master's that all this producing ball started to roll,” Krottinger said. “I ended up helping Greg (White) produce a little bit while I was at UCO and that led to ‘Flipside.' I finally came to terms with it when I stopped pursuing the business as a performer.
“I couldn't have done this five years ago, though. IQ Surgical was a startup business where I learned about taxes, law, dealing with people and establishing relationships. Producing is all about relationships — who you know, how you know them and how you treat them.”
With a capitalization of $8.5 million, “Pippin” will need to have a lengthy run playing to near-capacity houses before it recoups its investment. Only then will Krottinger and Tanner see any profits from their venture.
But with four Tony Awards, a hefty ticket advance and three months of playing to full houses, Stephen Schwartz's revival musical seems to have a promising future. Producers have already announced that a national tour will be launched in the fall of 2014.
Like actors who can't predict how long the show they're appearing in will last, the Square 1 Theatrics producers worried about the possibility of having a dry spell before another project came along. Fortunately, that wasn't the case.
They just signed on with Daryl Roth, a 2013 Tony Award winner for “Kinky Boots,” to produce a stage version of John Grisham's “A Time to Kill.” The production is scheduled to open on Broadway this fall.
“Daryl sent us the script, we read it and I scheduled a call with her,” Krottinger said. “You could sense her energy and passion for using theater as a vehicle for transforming people. The play is thought-provoking and it's something that should move people. With its concerns about race and second amendment rights, we think it's really great timing.”
Given the unpredictability of the theatrical business, any new venture is a risk. And despite the fact that 70 percent of new shows fail, Krottinger and Tanner remain fully committed to their producing partnership.
“We didn't take ‘Pippin' because we thought we were going to win a Tony Award or get rich off it,” Tanner said. “We try to be bold and audacious but also have some humility in what we do. We don't calculate whether we might fail. If we change someone's mind through these experiences, we've dealt with our responsibility as producers.”