Magazine article Variety

Stars Align for Grandage's Vision

Magazine article Variety

Stars Align for Grandage's Vision

Article excerpt

BRIT LEGIT

While the hotly anticipated first preview of comedy "Privates on Parade," starring the estimable Simon Russell Beale, makes its debut Dec. 1 in the West End, there's even bigger buzz among those in the London stage world about the impact of the man behind the show, Michael Grandage.

After an agenda-setting 10 years at the helm of the Donmar Warehouse that saw productions including "Frost/Nixon," Jude Law's "Hamlet" and "Red" travel to Gotham and beyond, the director has formed the Michael Grandage Company, with "Privates" the first of a slate of star-driven stagings financed via a moderately risky financial model that includes a commitment to affordable ticket prices.

When Grandage announced he was leaving the 250-seat Donmar, industry speculation was rife. Was he about to embark on a potentially lucrative freelance career, or was he readying himself to succeed Nicholas Hytner as the head of the National Theater - or would he plunge into movies like his Donmar predecessor Sam Mendes?

Instead he stepped up as a commercial producer, launching his own shingle with former Donmar exec James Bierman. "Privates" launches the company's inaugural 15-month slate of shows, which includes Daniel Radcliffe in a revival of Martin McDonagh's "The Cripple of Inishmaan," Judi Dench starring opposite Ben Whishaw in the world preem of John Logan's "Peter and Alice" and Law playing the title role in Shakespeare's "Henry V."

Commercial producers armed with stars of that wattage typically hike ticket prices and watch the money roll in. But a crucial determining factor for both Grandage and Bierman is their desire to widen access to theater. That's reflected in their ticketing policy at Cameron Mackintosh's Noel Coward Theater.

The company's S57.50 ($92) top ticket price is comparable to the current West End standard. But not only is the 942-seat house offering only 15 premium seats per night at S85 ($136), there also is a range of seats that are significantly cheaper, with just two other pricing levels: £27.50 ($44) and £10 ($16), with the latter accounting for more than a quarter of the house at every performance.

The opportunity for the season's investors to make a killing is further diminished by the fact that for one performance of each production, the entire house will be free to first-time theatergoers.

It's the type of loss-leader Grandage has tried out previously on the West End - an education initiative expanded here into something even more ambitious. Called MGC Futures, the program includes training posts for young people, who will shadow all the key créatives; a youth company of actors; a cross-generational project at the end of the year in collaboration with seniors charity Age U. …

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