‘Matilda’ a hot property before it opens on Broadway

Bloomberg NewsMarch 28, 2013 

— As the title character of Broadway’s “Matilda” prepares hair dye to exact revenge on her nasty dad and his pompadour, she sings in a tribute to naughtiness: “Just because you find that life’s not fair it / Doesn’t mean you just have to grin and bear it.”

The precocious schoolgirl has the telekinetic ability to manipulate chalk on a distant blackboard. Perhaps more important, she sold more than $12 million worth of tickets ahead of her show’s April 11 opening night.

A horde of investors grinned through unusually tough terms dictated by the lead producer, the Royal Shakespeare Co., for a stake in the musical, which is in previews at the Shubert Theatre. It’s based on the popular Roald Dahl story of the same name.

“There were people hanging from tree limbs trying to get into it,” said Jerry Frankel, who invested after being wowed by “Matilda” in London, where it’s been playing to full houses since November 2011. “We’re all grown-ups. If you don’t want to get in you don’t have to get in.”

Backers are forgoing customary perks and profit-sharing terms for a piece of what resembles as close to a sure thing as Broadway offers.

The RSC and its American co-producer, Dodger Theatricals, raised $16 million without dispensing producer credits to its top investors. So instead of trading above-the-title credit for cash – standard practice these days, making dozens of people eligible for a Tony Award if the show wins for best musical – “Matilda” lists only two producers. The key investors are cited in the playbill in small print below the cast and production team.

The investors stand to earn just 34 percent of the show’s profits after getting their money-back-plus-50-percent, according to a partnership agreement. The papers were obtained from the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman through the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Backers of less-heralded productions usually share profits of 45 percent or more.

“If you have a hot show, you have a lot more freedom to structure it in a way that will benefit the producing team,” said Jason Baruch, a partner with the entertainment law firm Sendroff & Baruch.

RSC Executive Director Catherine Mallyon said in an e-mail that “profits generated by our activities are returned to support our charitable purposes to connect people with Shakespeare and live theatre.”

Mallyon declined to comment further. A spokesman for the show said the production team had no comment.

The show has been in the works since December 2008, when director Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage”) approached Tim Minchin, an Australian performer and composer, about writing music and lyrics for an adaptation of the 1988 bestseller, according to Minchin’s website. Minchin finished a draft in mid-2009 and it had its premiere at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 with Dennis Kelly’s libretto.

The RSC self-produced it on the West End, where it won a record seven Olivier Awards and recouped its roughly $4 million production costs in six months.

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