This season's Tony-nommed musicals took various routes to Broadway. Here's how a few producers recall that often arduous trek to the bigtime.
"Kinky Boots," the musical, began with producer Daryl Roth seeing the movie when it screened at Sundance in 2006. The British pic went on to have a very small release. "A little cult film," as she describes it.
Shrek" or "The Little Mermaid." But who had seen the movie "Kinky Boots"? "Which was good news for us," says Roth. "There were no comparisons."
Seven years after the pic's screening at Sundance, the legit version opened on Broadway. In addition to Roth, its original gang included fellow producer Hal Luftig, director Jerry Mitchell and book writer Harvey Fierstein. "Cyndi Lauper was the later addition," Luftig says of the show's lyricist-composer. "Cyndi was Harvey's idea."
In the beginning, Fierstein suggested a few scenes and Lauper wrote a couple of songs. "And we all thought, 'Wow!' " Roth says.
The producers' decision to preview the show out of town proved crucial. "We used Chicago to gauge what was being told," Luftig recalls. "Was it clear? How do you give the audience the information it needs? Did we need to be clearer? Chicago audiences are smart. They let you know when they appreciate something and when they're not engaged. You can sense it."
The tuner sports not one but two protagonists: Charlie, who needs to save his outdated shoe factory, and Lola, the drag performer who designs the extravagant shoes that will revolutionize the factory.
"In Chicago, we learned there needed to be a better balance between Charlie and Lola," Roth notes. Lola, being all glitter and glam, tended to not only dominate but get all the sympathy. "Charlie had to hold his own more, and we thought the audience did turn away from him. With his anger, we had to pull that back a little. He had to realize how hurtful he'd been to Lola."
Fierstein addressed those issues in his book, Lauper wrote a new song for Charlie. But finding the right balance wasn't limited to just the text.
"We learned that some of the music was too loud for the audience," says Roth. "They couldn't hear the lyrics."
Plus, in the wake of "Wicked," songwriters often try to turn every number into another "Defying Gravity."
Says Luftig: "Every number doesn't need to end with a big crescendo. Cyndi didn't want that."
While "Kinky Boots" went to Chi first, "Matilda" had its out-of-town tryout in another country. In fact, the show has continued to evolve ever since its first incarnation in Stratford, U.K., and its subsequent West End production.
"For Broadway, the intention was to create a brand-new show," says producer Michael David of the Dodgers, which partners in Gotham with the show's original producers, the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The RSC contacted the Dodgers about a Broadway production shortly after "Matilda" opened in London in 2011. "We were invited. We hadn't seen it yet," David recalls. When they did, "We were knocked out by it."
Regarding any changes to the show, David says, "This production reflects what happens when artists get the rare opportunity to do something all over again, not to mention it reflects the blend of the English originators and all the Americans who were brought on board."
Despite those many British accents, 35 of the 37 Broadway cast members are Americans.
"The core elements of story, book and songs are the same with small changes, fine-tuned to this audience," David adds. It's an audience that's a bit savvier than it was a decade or two ago. "We felt optimistically that 'Harry Potter' had prepared us all. It's made it go down so easily here," David says of the tuner's very British story about an abused young girl in a boarding school.
In its transfer to Broadway, one of the show's biggest changes has been Rob Howell's set, which comprises 5,000 tiles. In the West End, there are only 1,500 tiles that magically transform into a variety of locales. "They put them everywhere they could," David says of the tiles. "They come quite far out into the house."