Broadway’s theater row might be shut down for months to come, but Corey Brunish, the multiple Tony-winning producer who splits his time between Portland and New York, has a big new project on his plate. Broadway World and Playbill published stories a few days ago about a new joint venture to “develop and produce music documentaries for the stage and screen.” The partners will also emphasize the surging market for streaming, which has taken off in the days of shuttered theaters and social isolation.
THE WORLD IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT
Brunish, who’s been waiting out the shutdown with his wife and producing partner, Jessica Rose Brunish, and their eight-month-old daughter, Olivia, in their Lake Oswego home – “we’re happily stuck,” he says – sees big possibilities for the new venture, which takes advantage of his deep theatrical experience and connections but also moves him into other entertainment territories.
Mentioned most prominently in the news stories is a music documentary about the legendary rock producer and album engineer Eddie Kramer, known, as Playbill puts it, for “having worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, and Jimi Hendrix.” It’s envisioned as a theatrical adaptation of the Kramer film documentary The Other Side of the Glass.
A jukebox musical, like Jersey Boys?
Not at all, says Russell Miller, the West End and Broadway producer and one of three principals in the new venture: “We are not looking to create more jukebox-style productions, we’re looking to sculpt a different vibe completely – something that really draws in the music fan with an alternative perspective of storytelling that is less sugar-coated and more visceral. Nothing formulaic.”
Brunish, Miller’s co-founder and partner in Freedom Theatricals LLC, which is partnering on the venture with the prominent music and media producer Spencer Proffer and his Meteor 17 production company, agrees: The projects will be music-centered but “new and unique to the market.”
“Music is one of those things we feel,” says Brunish, who’s helped produce a pair of Grammy-winning recordings and recorded his own vocal performances of standards and show tunes. “Music is very powerful, very visceral. They say the music you hear between 15 and 25 stays with you for the rest of your life. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. We have a connection with music. It’s like comfort food. We need music that makes us happy.”
The new partners have “about 10 projects in the pipeline,” says Brunish, including Voices of Hope and Change, which will look at Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. and the fellowship that developed between African Americans and South Africans during the struggle for civil rights; and Love Street, an original series planned for television, streaming, and regional theater productions, based on the legendary Laurel Canyon music scene in the 1960s. One possible project that has Brunish pumped is a documentary series on the history of the theater, as told by practitioners around the world.
With theaters and public life shut down, “streaming has taken off by 80 percent,” because that’s what people have access to, Brunish says. The partners want to make things that will stream but that also will be solid and lasting, not just quickie fill-in-the-gap projects. Streaming will be handled in partnership with Proffer’s podcast company, Inside the Music, according to Playbill: “When movie theaters reopen, the filmed Freedom-Meteor 17 stage plays intend to air at Regal Cinemas, AMC, and Cinemark’s Fathom Events.”
How to make new shows in a time of pandemic, and keep performers and crew safe? There are ways, Brunish says. Create a closed set for the duration of the shoot. With film, you can shoot things in isolation and then put them together. And “documentary is fantastic. No problem with social distancing. You’re talking with one person at a time.”
For Brunish, who’s won Tony Awards as a producer of Porgy and Bess, Pippin, and Once on This Island, and has also been a producer on such hits as Come from Away, Tootsie, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the new partnership allows him to plunge into interesting work when stage projects have been brought to a standstill. Jeremy O. Davis’s provocative Slave Play, which he’d helped produce, had ended its Broadway run. Brunish’s next show, the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company that was to coincide with Sondheim’s 90th birthday, was cut short by the pandemic: “We were in previews when that was shut down.”
In the meantime, life goes on in Lake Oswego. The Brunishes have had to cancel trips to New York, London, and Scotland, and are settled in for the duration. “We’re here, and we’re here happily,” Brunish says. “We go on a walk. We wear a mask if there are people around. And I’m probably listening to three Broadway musical soundtracks a day.”