Broadway and West End Theater owners agree to join forces

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Broadway and West End Theater owners agree to join forces
Theaters operated by Jujamcyn, from left: the Al Hirschfeld, the Eugene O’Neill, the August Wilson, the St. James and the Walter Kerr, in Manhattan. A major British theater company, Ambassador Theater Group, says it is “combining operations” with Jujamcyn, the smallest of Broadway’s three big landlords. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

by Michael Paulson

NEW YORK, NY.- Jujamcyn Theaters, the smallest of the three big Broadway landlords, is combining its operations with a large British company, the Ambassador Theater Group, or ATG.

The transaction, confirmed Tuesday by Jujamcyn and International Entertainment Holdings Limited, which is ATG’s parent company, would give ATG, which already operates two of the 41 Broadway houses, a more sizable foothold in the heart of America’s theater industry, and would give Jujamcyn President Jordan Roth more resources for showcasing his creative ambitions. Jujamcyn operates five Broadway houses; ATG has 58 venues in Britain, Germany and the United States.

The companies said that the transaction is subject to regulatory approval, but did not say by what entity and in which country. No financial terms were specified.

Roth, one of the most colorful characters on Broadway’s business side, will become the creative director of the combined company and its largest individual shareholder, with a seat on the board. There are also significant institutional shareholders: A large Rhode Island-based private equity firm, Providence Equity Partners, has for the past decade been ATG’s majority shareholder, and at the height of the pandemic, when theaters were being financially squeezed by a lengthy shutdown, an Australian company, TEG, acquired a minority share of the company.

Roth, the 47-year-old son of real estate titan Steven Roth and Broadway producer Daryl Roth, has been a singular force in a staid industry, with a disruptive emphasis on customer service in his theaters, a fondness for couture, an exuberant presence on social media and left-leaning politics sharply at odds with those of his Trump-supporting father.

The transaction portends a potential shift from the quirky to the corporate: ATG is a large company, run by a former wine industry executive, Mark Cornell, who will remain as CEO of the combined company. ATG is fundamentally British, which could be a cause for concern on Broadway, where there is occasional worry about too many London shows — often developed with British government support — swamping work by American theater artists. (After Second Stage Theater, a nonprofit that focuses on work by living American writers, finally acquired a Broadway house in 2015, its artistic director, Carole Rothman, proudly proclaimed that her organization’s Broadway programming would feature “No Brits.”)

The companies, which would not make anyone available for comment, did not describe the transaction as either an acquisition or a merger, and it is not immediately clear what “combining operations” will mean for the employees or operations at the five Jujamcyn houses or the two ATG Broadway houses.

The Jujamcyn theaters include the Eugene O’Neill, which is the long-term home of “The Book of Mormon,” as well as the Al Hirschfeld (“Moulin Rouge!”), the Walter Kerr (“Hadestown”), the August Wilson (“Funny Girl”) and the St. James (awaiting a new musical called “New York, New York”). Roth is expected to continue to decide what shows run in those five theaters, and he has previously shown a strong interest in work by American writers: Four of the five current Jujamcyn musicals have American origins; “Moulin Rouge!” has Australian roots, although the stage musical was developed in the United States.

ATG has an ambitious Broadway track record thus far. The company has for a decade operated one of the biggest Broadway houses, the Lyric, which, lavishly reconfigured for 1,622 seats, has for the past five years been home to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” ATG has since 2017 also operated one of Broadway's smaller houses, the Hudson, which with just under 1,000 seats often presents plays; the latest, a revival of “A Doll’s House” starring Jessica Chastain, began previews Monday night. Among the hallmarks of the company’s Broadway presence: fancier food and drink than at most of the American-operated houses.

Notably, both “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “A Doll’s House” are produced by companies financed by ATG. A lead producer of “Cursed Child” is Sonia Friedman, a prolific and powerful London-based producer whose production company is an ATG affiliate; the director of “A Doll’s House” is Jamie Lloyd, a Briton whose production company is also affiliated with the group. (Friedman is also a lead producer of “Funny Girl” and “New York, New York,” both running at Jujamcyn theaters.)

The combination of ATG and Jujamcyn — it is not clear what the amalgamated venture will be called — will still be the smallest of the three big Broadway landlords, but now with seven of the 41 theaters. The Shubert Organization has 17 theaters and the Nederlander Organization has nine. Six theaters are operated by nonprofits, one by Disney, and one (Circle in the Square) is independently owned.

Jujamcyn, founded in the late 1950s, was named for Judy, James and Cynthia Binger, the grandchildren of the company’s founder. The Binger family sold the company to Rocco Landesman in 2005; Jordan Roth bought a stake in the company in 2009.

Roth has been an activist theater owner. In the buildings, he has overseen everything from a redesign of the ice cubes (to reduce the clinking noise) to bringing in a new ticket seller, SeatGeek, to manage ticket sales.

He has presented multiple hit shows, among the biggest of which has been “The Book of Mormon,” which has been running since 2011. He also landed “Springsteen on Broadway,” an enormously successful Bruce Springsteen concert show that had runs both before and after the pandemic shutdown.

Roth has also been active as a producer, most recently transferring a concert-style production of “Into the Woods” from City Center to the St. James; he was also a producer of the Tony-winning 2018 revival of “Angels in America.”

ATG has been expanding its presence in the United States, where it now owns, operates or manages 16 theaters, including not only the two Broadway houses, but also the King’s Theater in Brooklyn, the Colonial Theater in Boston, and theaters in Detroit, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Francisco and Sugar Land, Texas.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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