Marc invests in his passion for theatre
Jewish Telegraph, March 2020
TONY and Olivier awards-winning theatre producer Marc David Levine is passionate about his career, despite being a latecomer to showbusiness. In fact, passion comes up a lot during our video chat — and I can see the passion radiate from his eyes. And it’s thanks to his parents, Robert and Karen, that the native New Yorker has such passion.
“My mother was involved with community theatre when I was a child, so I used to go with her to shows and usher,” the 53-year-old said. “The first show I remember seeing her in was Mousetrap. Twenty years later I went to London and saw it . . . and bought all the merchandise I could find with Mousetrap on it.
“I took it home to her and she said, ‘Why are you buying me all this merchandise’. And I said, ‘Because some of my earliest childhood memories of theatre are from watching you perform’.”
Long Island-born Marc also recalls seeing Pippin, his first Broadway show, with his parents. He said: “I was very excited a few years ago when they revived it on Broadway. But my schooling path took me into marketing, into business. As a young kid, I wouldn’t play Little League, but I’d sell the sodas and the concessions.”
Marc also learned about charity at a young age, raising money for the Working Organisation for Retarded Children (WORC), co-founded by his mother.
While he was in college, his parents invested in their first Broadway show, The Tap Dance Kid, which starred Alfonso Ribeiro.
“Going with them on opening night was my first Broadway opening night and I was addicted,” said Marc, founder of Gemini Theatrical Investors, which gives investors the opportunity to invest in Broadway and West End theatre at a level less than the typical investment amounts.
“I loved it. Back then, there wasn’t social media so I’d make a scrapbook of all the reviews that came out.”
It’s only in recent years that Marc has started investing in and producing shows . . . although he was keeping himself busy with a number of companies he already owned.
Modelbartenders.com, Premier Party Servers Inc and Premier Lifestyle Management all work within the hospitality industry, but, due to the current pandemic, are all closed. He is also founder of @artconsultantgent, which advises private and corporate clients around the world on art-buying and collecting.
Eight years ago, “I was approached to invest in my first Broadway show, Nice Work If You Can Get It, starring Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara,” he said. “It was a small investment by Broadway theatre levels, but definitely a lot of money for me.
“It offered me my first opportunity to invest and to start getting to know and meet people in the industry. I saw how it worked with my parents. It’s a very risky endeavour, but you invest in theatre for the passion.
“I took my mom as my plus-one for the opening night. It was fun being able to share that experience with her as she had given me the opportunity and exposed me to theatre at such a young age.
“I was suddenly on a list of people who could be approached. Once you are in they want to bring you in even further.”
He followed this with a co-producer credit on the revival of Side Show, six years ago.
“I loved the show, it was a beautiful revival,” Marc said. “It got great reviews, but it just wasn’t the right fit for Broadway. Timing plays a big role in determining the success of a show.
“In 2016, I received my first West End producing credit for working on Show Boat in London. It was also a beautiful revival and well received by audiences.”
Around the same time, Marc had invested in Gypsy in London, starring Imelda Staunton.
Last year, he was part of the revival of Company in London, which is now on Broadway, making him an Olivier Award-winning producer.
“Two nights before this whole thing (coronavirus) started, I put together a group of 100 friends and family so we all got to see it on stage before Broadway closed down. It was a great experience,” he said.
In the past year alone, he has also been on the production team of Hadestown, the revival of Carousel, On Your Feet, Be More Chill and The Sound Inside that starred Mary-Louise Parker.
Hadestown won eight Tony Awards in 2019, including Best Musical for which Marc received his first Tony award.
“When it won the Tony, my mom was with me and I ran up on stage,” he smiled. “It was the highlight of my theatrical career so far.
“I got an Olivier Award last year for Company. I’m co-habitating with two people, Tony and Olivier. I should change my Facebook status to say that.”
Marc was involved with the Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet from its beginning and saw the show well over 200 times
His latest musical, Be More Chill, was in the middle of its run at The Other Palace in London when theatres closed down because of Covid-19.
“Be More Chill started in The Two River Theatre, Red Bank, New Jersey,” said Marc, who has a brother Brett and sister Brooke. “I was approached to help bring it to Off-Broadway, but a great fanbase propelled it to Broadway.
“It’s a beautiful show that I strongly believe that when things get back to some sort of normality, audiences of all ages will get a chance to see it.
“It has a young adult fanbase and theatres need more shows that can relate to the younger audience. I look forward to bringing more shows to the theatre that have a message that is relatable to people from 14 to 85.”
Despite its small beginnings, the cast recording racked up millions of downloads.
“I’m not much of a science fiction-type person, but I fell in love with the music,” Marc said. “I noticed how passionate the students were about the show,
The lead producer contacted him to say it was going to be staged Off-Broadway and was looking to raise $1.5m in front money.
Marc explained: “Front money goes towards the development of a show. You very rarely get it back because it’s going to the theatre so they can mount the show.
“But if you are involved from the beginning or the early stages, if it’s fortunate enough to move to Broadway or have a life afterwards, you are in on the ground level and have the opportunity to reinvest the same percentage of capital needed to mount the production on Broadway as you raised for the Off-Broadway production.”
He added: “Broadway is a very risky investment, they say only one in four shows recoup, so you need to find theatre-lovers, AKA angels, who are passionate about coming in on the ground level of a project with an unsure future.
“What made Be More Chill exciting to investors was the music. It had a fanbase that was growing and growing, people knew the music and I was able to share it with investors.
“I asked my mum to listen to the main song, Michael in the Bathroom, and she loved it. I played it to my 12-year-old nephew and he loved it. So knowing that the music related to my mum and my nephew made it even more exciting to become part of this show. It could have universal appeal.
“Parents were dropping their kids off at the theatre to see Be More Chill and picking them up after. The kids were going crazy for the cast at the stage door.
“The theatre had never seen such enthusiastic reactions from an audience before.
“Soon after the sold-out limited run ended, our lead producer got a call offering us the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. The small group of producers agreed to take this next step and, before you knew it, I was raising money to transfer the show to Broadway.”
But moving to Broadway meant Marc had to find even more investment, well over $1m.
“The fanbase paired with my passion for the show helped me sell it to investors,” he said. “It had had 300m downloads by that time.”
Its transition to London saw it receive wonderful reviews.
“The British press was enamoured with the show,” Marc said. “The changes made from Broadway to London were spectacular. The staging worked really well and The Other Palace was a perfect location for the show.”
The current situation is obviously hurting Marc, but he is trying to make the best of it.
He told me: “Theatre is such a major part of many people’s lives that it will come back. More than 30 million people attended shows on Broadway and in the West End last year. What the new world will look like for theatre, only time will tell.
“Broadway and the West End will come back stronger because there are tons of people on both sides of the Pond working on what needs to be done to make theatregoers and performers comfortable, as well as stage crews and ushers and the tens of thousands of people who work in this industry, not even counting the auxiliary businesses — restaurants, hotels, tourism — that all rely on entertainment to come back.”
Marc is using the downtime to develop new musical Fly More Than You Fall, which he saw last year in Utah.
“I loved it so much with its beautiful message that is relatable to people of all ages with a book and music so special that the show went on to win nine Broadway World Awards, including Best Musical. During this time, people still need to be creating. Actors, writers, directors need to keep busy.
“I’m still attending readings of musicals and plays, but now they all take place via Zoom. We have to rethink our industry.
“I can talk to more people now and discuss theatre and figure out ways to keep theatre alive.
“I want to see Be More Chill back on stage in London. I want to go to Company’s opening night and toast the cast, crew, creatives and my fellow co-producers.”
Marc says investing in a show can be “a scary process”.
He said: “You are asking people to trust your faith in a project with their money so you need to be passionate and you need them to feel as passionate about the production as you are. I always invest in the shows if I’m asking people to invest in them.
“You give investors access and keep them updated, especially now with Covid. You can’t just ask them to invest and say ‘talk to you later’.
“I treat every opening night like it’s a barmitzvah. I make a pre-party. I have a photographer because because it’s fun to be able to give investors pictures of the night’s celebrations. The more fun you make it, the more connected they feel to the show.”
Marc has also been working with the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, where The Secret of My Success, “based on the movie of a million years ago”, had just opened when the virus hit.
“Regional theatres are a major part of the theatre landscape and help develop shows,” he said.
“Once you close on Broadway, it’s unlikely you are coming back, unless there is a revival, while in London, you can do the West End, tour and then back to the West End. London has a model I love. I’m learning more and more about it and participating more in London theatre.”
Marc’s next theatrical hit could be from a source closer to home . . . his father. He explained: “My father spends his days writing. He self-published a book for family members about his life growing up. Then he told me had just finished writing a play, The Last Jews of Belfast. I read it and loved it.
“I made a joke, but with some seriousness to my tone, to a theatre owner that I might need a Broadway theatre next year for my father’s play.”
The Last Jews of Belfast, set on the first night of Pesach, is about a Jewish family in Belfast and the kids wanting the parents to leave the city because they fear for their safety.
“I joked to my father, ‘I want you to leave me the rights in your will. I don’t want to be fighting with mum about it. My sister can have the jewellery, I want the rights to The Last Jews’.
Marc describes his religious upbringing as “Conservative, more Reform”. He said: “I still go to services and I fast.”
While mainly working behind the scenes, Marc has made it on to the stage a couple of times.
Through his support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, he has appeared on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera and Guys and Dolls.