Friday, January 17, 2014

Pioneer of the Arts Honorees Know the Economics of Entertainment

By Fern Gillespie
Whether it’s casting African American superstars in Broadway classics or inspiring the rock and roll movement or web casting the sensational Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Riant Theatre’s “Pioneer of the Arts Awards” honorees are not only cultural innovators; they are experts in the economics of entertainment.

Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey left Wall Street to become Broadway’s leading African-American producers and create acclaimed star-studded productions like Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad; The Trip To Bountiful with Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr.; A Street Car Named Desire with Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with Phylicia Rashad, James Earl Jones, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose.  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer Lloyd Price launched the teen craze of Rock and Roll with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and transitioned into successful enterprises from records to boxing to construction to food. B. Jeffrey Madoff's creative career evolved from being a top fashion designer to a documentary filmmaker and commercial producer-director, who devised the splashy web cast and network broadcast of the amazing Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
“Alia and I think outside the box,” explained Stephen C. Byrd, a former Goldman Sachs executive, whose Front Row Productions with Alia Jones-Harvey is the only African-American theatre production firm on Broadway.
Their formula for developing hit Broadway shows for African-American audiences has resulted in top grossers like the  revivial of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Later on the London stage, it earned the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play.

“If we cast a production interracially and get panned by the critics, it doesn’t matter to us because African-Americans want to see their talent,” said Byrd.  “They want to see Terrence Howard. They want to see James Earl Jones.  They don’t care what the New York Times says.”
“We’re approaching these productions as if they are start-up businesses. They take all of the research and planning of any start-up business,” said Jones-Harvey, a former NASA executive who holds a MBA and masters degrees in engineering and math. “Each time you put on a production, you need to know what market you are targeting. The profit margins are all in reaching your market efficiently.”
Right now, they are developing a Broadway production of the 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus. Byrd has seen the film over 30 times.  “I see something new every time.”
Singing sensation Lloyd Price, known as “Mr. Personality,” has used that personality to create a cache
of careers. “Everything I do, I’ve never done before,” he said.
When he recorded the rock and roll, R&B classic “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” in 1952, the 19 year old from Louisiana thrilled black and white teens. “It caused a youth movement and a rock and roll revolution,” explained Price.
After serving in Korea, his label replaced him with Little Richard.  Then, Price’s classic “Stagger Lee" topped the pop and R&B charts and sold over one million copies. By 1962, he owned Double L Records recording The Coasters and Wilson Pickett. In 1969, after his business partner and friend Harold Logan was murdered in their club, he moved to Nigeria.
            In Zaire, he tapped his friend Don King, who Price had introduced years earlier to Muhmmad Ali. Together with King, he produced the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between Ali and Joe Frazier. “The whole deal was my production. They got the biggest purse ever, which was $5 million,” said Price. “We changed the entire concept of how sports and entertainers get paid for their work.”
            By the 1980s, Price took a $6 million bank loan and constructed over 40 low-income homes in the Bronx and Staten Island. Today, at age 80, he is not only singing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” onstage, he manages Icon Food Brands, which includes Lawdy Miss Clawdy products.
            “Lloyd Price has such a layered story,” said B. Jeffrey Madoff, founder of Madoff Productions, who directed a film on Price and is now developing a Broadway bio drama with music.  “Lloyd is the messenger. The play is about how music and rock and roll brings about integration in the United States. Before Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, the young people started to listen to the same music, dance together and socialize. As they got older it impacted on popular culture on the Civil Rights Movement and, arguably, you could take that up to getting President Obama elected.”
Madoff earned degrees in philosophy and psychology at the University of Wisconsin and, by
accident, became a fashion designer in the 1970s.  In his first year of business he landed on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily and was named one of the top 10 designers in the U.S. Today, he directs award winning commercials, documentaries and web content viewed worldwide. High profile fashion and education clients include: Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, Godiva Chocolates, Weill Cornell Medical College and Harvard University. Madoff used his film and fashion sense to pioneer the flamboyant Victoria's Secret Fashion shows on the web. He’s penned a Huffington Post column and is at work developing a movie “The Hard Kill” about the desire for redemption.

“Creativity: Making a Living with Your Ideas” is Madoff’s expertise and the title of a course he teaches at Parsons School for Design. “I bring in people who make a living with their ideas and the students get an idea of how to bring their ideas to market,” he pointed out. “Creativity is a job and a discipline. If you think your ideas are good, you have to get them out there.”

For tickets to the Riant Theatre's Launch Party - Pioneer of the Arts Awards & Tribute Show go to www.therianttheatre.comTickets.

The event is Sunday, February 9, 2014.  

5:30pm is the VIP Reception - $50 for Reception & Awards Show

6:45pm is the Pioneer Awards Show - $25 for the Awards Show

At the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, NY.

For further info call 646-623-3488. 

Fern Gillespie, Publicist for the Riant Theatre & The Strawberry One-Act Festival.