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Jimmy Nederlander's Endless Run

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"I like her," Jimmy says. "The name of the game is booking. For example, I don't like doing plays about cancer. My niece Amy did Anne Frank, which I didn't like the idea of. I think we've had enough of that Holocaust business. I mean, how many . . . You can beat a horse to death, you know?" He smiles and changes course. "Next, we're going to do Eight Days With Scandalios."

Jimmy heads to the bathroom.

"God, isn't he amazing?" Scandalios says.

When Jimmy goes through his mail, there is an invitation to a reading of Finian's Rainbow at the Kaufman Theater. "Now, that's one," he says. He tells a story of first seeing the play and putting up money to move it from Seattle to Detroit 50 years ago. "God, there are a lot of great numbers in that." He begins to sing: "How are things in Glocca Mora? Dee dee dee dee, dee dee dee dee."

Although the theater has enjoyed a financial boomlet over the past five years, the case grows stronger that if you closed down every musical, revival, English play, and production with a big Hollywood star in it, you'd have nothing left. Certainly, all the Nederlander houses would be dark.

With the most avowedly down-the-middle taste, not to mention a collection of enormous, extravaganza-ready barns -- the Brooks Atkinson is currently the Nederlanders' only true playhouse in town -- they tend to book only the most accessible musicals, often musicals that Shubert rejected. Jimmy has signed an adaptation of Saturday Night Fever for the Minskoff and wants to do a revival of Same Time Next Year -- the original production ran for five years -- but is looking for the right director. He's also considering a remake of The Rainmaker that the producer Anita Waxman is shopping around,

Jimmy's colleagues will tell you that everyone shares the blame for the glut of lower-brow productions. "Now that times are good, all the theater owners can keep doing Brigadoon again and again," says the producer Fred Zollo, who is typically involved in highbrow plays, a few of which have played in Nederlander houses.

One producer calls the Nederlanders "the Avis of Broadway, if not the Budget Rent-a-Car." Shubert owns more of the city's grande dame musical theaters -- the Shubert, the Imperial, and the Majestic, for instance -- and keeps them in better shape. Joey Nederlander says the Nederlanders lost Les Misérables to Shubert's Imperial Theatre when they tried to convince the producer, Cameron Mackintosh, that the faulty air-conditioning in the Mark Hellinger Theater worked. The only time the Nederlanders' frugal propensity to let their houses go to seed -- the famously worn-out seats and carpeting, unkempt ushers, crumbling drywall in the lobbies, and visible electrical tape -- was useful was when they opened the dormant Nederlander Theater to take in Rent: The house was an inspired fit for a downtown play about starving bohemians.

At the helm of both of the Nederlanders' competitors are men for whom the theater is a calling rather than an inheritance. Before he was made president of Jujamcyn, Rocco Landesman produced musicals, had his theater criticism published in the Wall Street Journal, taught dramatic literature at Yale, and helped write two of Jerzy Kosinski's novels. When Gerald Schoenfeld began representing the Shubert family in the fifties, he was a real-estate lawyer, though he quickly became enamored of Broadway and is known for his susceptibility to basking in the company of "talent" -- actors, writers, and directors. "We think about shows and actors and the spirit of Broadway," his late partner, Bernard Jacobs, once told the New York Times. By contrast, Jacobs said of Jimmy Nederlander: "He worries about theaters -- whether he can fill them up or not." (Schoenfeld declined to be interviewed for this article, saying through a spokesman that he does not like to talk about the Nederlanders, though it's generally agreed by both sides that the enmity that existed for decades between them is over.)

Jimmy is the first to agree with this. "We run a moving company," he says, "We move people in and we move them out."


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