So…he won a Tony… Ken Davenport, perhaps one of the most accessible writers/producers to work on Broadway. I saw “Once On This Island” in previews back in the Fall of 2017. Like Ken himself, the show has a warmth you don’t always get in a theater.
I initially had the pleasure of interviewing Ken back in 2012 when he produced the revival of “Godspell,” the first Broadway show for which he got “lead” producer credits. What struck me back then, and what is still true today, is that everything he does is really for the love of Broadway. For every step he takes forward, he gives back something to another writer, composer, producer or actor.
“I originally started out, as most of us do, wanting to be an actor,” Ken says. “Most of us get into this business because of that. It’s the only way we know how. So, we start off performing. I was lucky in college (New York University) to secure a production assistant position on a Broadway show, and I learned that there are a whole lot of different jobs available within a Broadway show. I got introduced to the business side of Broadway. I company managed and general managed for about 10 years before producing on my own.”
Broadway is booming more so than it has in years. As, Ken said, “Broadway is cool again.” And, he is a big part of that. His first off-Broadway production was “The Awesome 80s Prom,” and the list goes on from there. He has been nominated for several Tonys, most recently, “Spring Awakening” (Revival) and “Groundhog Day”. He won a Tony for “Kinky Boots” and now “Once On This Island” which won the Tony for Best Musical Revival. What made him want to revive “Island”? “It was one of the first shows I saw when I moved to New York City. So, when director Michael Arden suggested it…I said yes!”
Although “Island” is a revival, it is an original show with a book by Lynn Ahrens and music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty. We seem to be seeing a trend towards jukebox musicals, taking an artists’ catalog and, in many cases, forcing a show. Ken expects that trend to pass. “ ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ ‘Hamilton,’ ‘Come from Away’…these are the musicals that are really exploding at the box office.”
The jukebox musical is not what Broadway was intended to be, Ken continued. “What I fear is that because there have been some successes, other people will think, ‘I will do one of those because it is easier and less risky’. However, that’s not true. A musical with an Elvis soundtrack (‘All Shook Up’) and another with a Beach Boys soundtrack ‘Good Vibrations’) flopped. And, if those musicals can flop, it shows you that it is not about the catalog of music. It’s about the story. People cared about ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘Jersey Boys’ because there is a story there.”
What about “SpongeBob SquarePants” which has songs from several different rock and pop artists? “’SpongeBob’ is an aberration, and an interesting way to create a musical because there are so many different songwriters. I don’t think it will be a model we will use very often. It’s an example of finding songwriters who already have an audience to try and pull in. I think at the end of the day, the most successful shows will be those written the way ‘Hamilton’ was written. A couple of people come up with an idea, they sit in a room and they grind it out together.”
Let’s just say Ken’s opinion ranks on top for me because he keeps on the pulse of Broadway. He blogs and has been doing so since 2007. I have a lot to learn from him! Follow “The Producers’ Perspective” (https://www.theproducersperspective.com/the-blog).
Blogging helps Ken’s craft in a number of ways. “When I write something, it challenges my own thought process. Blogging has made me a better writer; much better than I was 10 years ago,” he jokes. “If you don’t believe me, go back and read those early blogs.”
“Also, through blogging, I hear feedback from people about what they like and what they don’t like. It’s also part of my mission to inform people about the business of Broadway and what it’s like. I want to get people to talk about Broadway more because when they are talking about it, they may want to see it.”
By writing the blog, Ken says, “I have found that there are people all over the world that want to learn how the business works, so they can pursue their dream, passion, their career…whatever it may be.” That has led to The Producer’s Perspective Super Conference to be held in NYC November 10 and 11, 2018. (https://www.theproducersperspective.com/conference ). Speaking at the conference will be producers, agents, playwrights, and more. Check it out.
Another way Ken gives back is The Davenport Theater. It is an off-Broadway theater with two small spaces. One seats 127 and its’ loft seats 99. “I started my career off-Broadway. I wanted a theater where I could help other producers start their shows. I loved the space and it fell in my lap,” Ken explains.
And now, back to the business of putting on shows!!! Next up for Ken is “Gettin’ The Band Back Together” which will begin previews this month. This show will allow him to show off his writing chops. Ken wrote the book and it has music and lyrics by Mark Allen.
You can hear the show’s music for free if you submit your email at: http://gettinthebandbacktogether.com/musicvideo?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIm7iatNf02wIVSFmGCh3VGw-QEAAYASAAEgIEVvD_BwE
“Gettin’ the Band Back Together” is about a 40-year-old out-of-work banker who decides to reunite his old high school band. It’s official opening is August 13 at the Belasco Theatre.
Ken says he is not only excited about this new show opening, he is excited about Broadway for the next five years. “It is going to be great!”
Some people might ask me how I can write about Steven Van Zandt one day and be just as excited to write about Broadway the next. Take a look at the performers on Broadway these days (eg. Bruce Springsteen, Renee Fleming and Neon Tree’s Tyler Glenn ). It’s time to Un-Block The Music! There is so much to be excited about across the world of music. You just have to take the time to listen!