Page to Stage
The reason to go out of town is to learn from an audience.
—Barry Brown, producer
They say if Hitler ever came back and they wanted to punish him, they'd send him on the road with a musical.
A pivotal moment in the life of any Broadway show occurs when its creators and producers draw its road map to Broadway. In years past, a production would travel out of town to address its flaws and polish it in front of audiences before opening in New York. The prohibitive costs now of such an approach dictate that most producers hone their works in other arenas. Readings, in which actors—not necessarily the ones who will ultimately perform on Broadway—work with scripts in hand, often while seated in chairs in a rehearsal room with no production trappings, allow the creators and producers the chance to hear the words (and music ) and make initial decisions about the direction of the text. Often, readings will be held before a producer considers approaching investors, as this first phase is crucial in determining the viability of the material.
Workshops present another opportunity to ascertain both the show's potential and its flaws. Workshops today may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and these more lavish efforts have both detractors and supporters within the Broadway community. According to Stephen Sondheim, the practice of getting a show on its feet before the actual rehearsal process began more than forty years ago with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, produced by Harold Prince and Robert Griffith, and directed and choreographed by George Abbott and Jerome Robbins. Sondheim said that Robbins initially was reluctant to work on the show and suggested that the producers gather a group of actors in a hotel ballroom to read and sing the work in front of the producers and writers Sondheim, Larry Gelbart, and Burt Shevelove. There was no audience in attendance, just the producers and creative artists.