Alicia Keys' Stick Fly & Rise of Blacks on Broadway - Black Enterprise
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The Business of Broadway

Leon called on award-winning film, television, and Broadway producer Nelle Nugent, who is white, and in turn Nugent brought on her friend and colleague Reuben Cannon. The pair had worked together on the film adaptation of Master Harold … and the Boys. Thanks to Leon’s urging, Keys also agreed to compose the score for Stick Fly. “I am definitely looking to be part of Broadway,” says Keys. “I want to do musicals, I want to write, I want to compose. If I find the right piece, I might even act.”

Cashing in on Celebrities
The role of Broadway producers varies, industry insiders say, but typically the lead producer spearheads the charge, raising the initial capital, selecting the director, and bringing on interested partners. Co-producers may have a hand in the marketing, advertising, and publicity of a production. “In the end, it’s really about producing  a successful, entertaining  show that will have a lasting emotional  effect and a long run on Broadway and beyond,” says Cannon.

Raising funds is a huge challenge in mounting any Broadway show, and it’s said that only one show in five ever earns its money back. This makes investing in black shows even riskier. On average it costs between $1.5 million and $3 million to produce a play, and anywhere from $5 million to $13 million to mount a musical. A lead producer may bring on investors (often other producers) who invest from $10,000 to $300,000 or more.

So when they need to raise the profile and viability of a show, producers approach celebrities. It took nearly 10 years to bring The Color Purple to Broadway. But after producer Scott Sanders, who is white, managed to raise $10 million upfront, national media icon Oprah Winfrey called and offered to help. Besides contributing $1 million, the billionaire entrepreneur agreed to have her name displayed on the marquee. The show ran from 2005 to 2008, and recouped its $11 million initial investment in its first year before going on tour, grossing more than $100 million and reaching nearly 1.5 million theatergoers.

At the time of his death in 2005, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson was one of the country’s most esteemed dramatists, though his plays have had mixed commercial success. The 2010 revival of Fences starring Denzel Washington grossed more than $12.9 million. To date, Fences is Wilson’s only play to make a profit.

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