In late August, a 32-year-old theater producer named Eva Price found herself in a lower-Manhattan Crate & Barrel talking on her mobile phone to Jerry Seinfeld.
Taking a break from sofa shopping for her Union Square apartment, Price called the comedian to explain why she believed a one-man show that he directed and she managed off-Broadway belongs on Broadway. She said off-Broadway houses best suited to move Colin Quinn’s “Long Story Short” weren’t available and the Helen Hayes Theatre was.
“‘This may sound corny, but it seems like the theater gods are telling us to take this show to Broadway,’” Price recalled telling Seinfeld. (She said she does business from wherever she is on her mobile phone.)
Best known for his featured roles as a cast member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live from 1995 to 2000, Quinn had a show at the Helen Hayes in 1998. His jokes in this one, about 2,000 years of world history, elicited steady laughs and even serious thought at a preview. For the week through Sunday, the show grossed $88,000, about a fifth of its capacity, according to the Broadway League.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Martin Markinson, a co-owner of the Helen Hayes, said from his home in Santa Fe. “It’s not a show with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. You have to hang in there long enough for word of mouth to click.”
Price, who started working in off-Broadway in 2005, has been down this road. In the past year, in addition to being part of the producing teams of “‘The Addams Family,” “Wishful Drinking,” “A Life in the Theatre,” and “The Merchant of Venice” on Broadway, she shepherded a one-man show off-Broadway called “Circumcise Me.”
It featured an American Catholic man who became an Orthodox Jew and underwent several unpleasant, elective surgical procedures as an adult. Thanks in part to Price’s low-cost model -- weekly costs were a paltry $22,000 -- it ran for eight months. She said it earned back some but not all of its $240,000 initial investment. (“Circumcise Me,” like “Long Story Short,” played the 45 Bleecker, a theater that closed last month because of a dispute with its landlord.)
“Long Story Short” cost about $900,000 to produce at the Helen Hayes, one of the lowest capitalizations on Broadway today and its smallest house, at 590 seats. Stagehands there charge about 15 percent below the going Broadway rate, Markinson said. The set features a world map and a video screen.
“Part of smart producing is figuring out what you have and how to protect it,” Price said. “We did what we think is the right mix of physical production values and effective budgeting.”
Seinfeld appeared at a packed press event with Quinn Oct. 12.
“I didn’t particularly want to direct,” Seinfeld said. “We realized if I don’t direct we’re going to have to meet a third person.”
Seinfeld said at the press event that “there may be an HBO special at some point.” Price declined to elaborate or disclose weekly running costs. Producers who aren’t involved estimated that they’re about $150,000 a week, depending on advertising. The Helen Hayes can sell $428,000 of tickets a week.
Markinson said “Long Story Short” reminds him of 1995’s “Defending the Caveman,” Rob Becker’s piece about the battling sexes that ran for almost two years on Broadway.
“He came in with zippo advance sale, but the audience took to it,” Markinson said.
“Long Story Short” opens on Tuesday and closes Jan. 8. Information: http://colinquinnlongstoryshort.com, or +1-212-239-6200, or +1-800-432-7250.
-- Editors: Manuela Hoelterhoff, Jeffrey Burke.