NEW YORK -- The year was 1983 and Marc Platt was associate producer of a Broadway play called Total Abandon, starring Richard Dreyfuss. Platt had just turned 26, and Total Abandon, a play about child abuse, was his first Broadway production.
It closed in one night.
"I remember standing in Shubert Alley with my wife, Julie, and looking up at the marquee, and we both vowed to each other: 'Someday I will come back, and I will come back as a success,' " he says.
That day has come.
Platt is the lead producer of the hit Broadway musical Wicked. Based on Gregory Maguire's Wizard of Oz-prequel novel, the show routinely takes in more than $1 million a week. It also leads the pack in Tony Award nominations -- 10 -- and, in a close race, is narrowly favored to win the best musical award at tonight's ceremony.
It's been a long journey back to Broadway for Platt, whose love of theater began even before he attended Baltimore's Wellwood Elementary School. Along the way, he's been an entertainment lawyer, worked for one of the most high-profile agents in New York and served as president of production at three motion picture studios -- Orion, TriStar and Universal -- before striking out on his own as an independent film producer.
Dressed in khakis, a blue-and-white striped shirt and running shoes, Platt looks much more Baltimore than Hollywood. Dashing into an office cater-cornered to the Gershwin Theatre (where Wicked is playing), he apologizes for being a few minutes late.
He has a good excuse. He's just come from the Drama League Awards luncheon, where Wicked was named best musical (a designation the show has also earned from the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle).
In his left hand, Platt clutches a box containing the Drama League medallion. From the time he enters the room to the moment he heads across the street to a waiting limousine, he never lets the medallion out of his hand.
Power and self-truth
Platt didn't have Broadway in mind when he began working on Wicked. Maguire's novel -- which focuses on the pre-Dorothy relationship between the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, the good witch -- had been optioned by Universal.
When he became president of production at Universal, Platt also became the producer of Wicked. He read the book and "fell in love."
What attracted him were the novel's themes. "It's a story that tells us how politics and culture often conspire to label people who are different, or are outsiders, as good or evil," he says. "And it was a story about individuals and society taking responsibility for the power they are given, whether it's a green witch who has the power of magic, or whether it's a wizard who has no power, but uses people's ignorance and fear to create power. ... And it's about self-truth and justice and, ultimately, friendship."
When the screenplay was written, however, something was missing. "The story that I was interested in telling wasn't successfully appearing on the page," he says.
That story concerns two diametrically opposed, iconic characters -- with a twist. "The good one isn't so good, and the evil one really is quite wonderful and really is trying to make good in the world," he explains. "To tell that story, one needed to get inside the hearts and minds of these two women, and that requires inner dialogue."
Enter another former Baltimorean -- New York entertainment lawyer Nancy Rose, with whom Platt had attended Pikesville Junior and Senior high schools. Rose represents songwriter Stephen Schwartz, best known for Godspell and Pippin. Schwartz wanted to turn Maguire's novel into a Broadway musical. The lawyer asked Platt if he'd be interested in producing Wicked as a stage show.
"He was excited," Rose recalls. "He's always loved musical theater. He was a big fan of Stephen Schwartz. ... It was a real dream for him."
"The moment she said 'musical,' before she even got to the last syllable, I thought, 'What's missing here is music, because it can bring to life this inner dialogue,' " Platt says.
He assembled a creative team that included, in addition to Schwartz, librettist Winnie Holzman (whom he felt, as creator of the ABC series My So-Called Life, understood young women characters) and director Joe Mantello, for whom this would be a first Broadway musical.
The producer also persuaded Universal to invest almost $10 million in its first Broadway musical. "They trust Marc," Rose says. "I don't think they would have done this for anybody else."
Liked being in charge
Platt has been persuading people to collaborate on projects -- beginning with theater -- all his life. "Marc has done this since he was 4 years old in the back yard of our house. He would take every kid in the neighborhood and rehearse them and then he would come in crying at quarter to 12 and say, 'Everyone has to take a nap,' and I would say, 'You do, too, Buster,' " says his mother, Sue, a former teacher.