Baltimore dynamo put her faith in `Scoundrels'

Amanda Lipitz saw script's potential, and helped bring it to life on Broadway

Theater

February 27, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Not many little girls dream of being Broadway producers.

Amanda Lipitz certainly didn't.

But the signs were there from an early age. And now, at 25, Lipitz has her name - along with such heavy hitters as Miramax's Harvey Weinstein and Clear Channel Entertainment - above the title of one of the most anticipated musicals of the Broadway season, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

When the show, based on the 1988 movie of the same name, opens Thursday at New York's Imperial Theatre , its $11 million budget will include $1.3 million raised by Lipitz, one of the youngest co-producers on Broadway.

That's not all the Baltimore-born Lipitz has been up to lately. A classically trained actress - her stage name is Amanda Brown - with a sideline doing voiceovers, she can be heard as the voice of a pink-haired teenaged superhero named Zoey on Mew Mew Power, part of Fox's Saturday morning cartoon lineup.

In July, she married another Broadway producer, Greg Smith, who proposed by covering the marquee at the Helen Hayes Theatre with a giant sign that read: "Greg Smith Presents: `Amanda, Will You Marry Me?'"

And in August, she produced a one-woman show about autism called GORK!, at the New York Fringe Festival, where it became a surprise hit.

"An incredible year - it's been a whirlwind. It's unbelievable," Lipitz says from her home in New York.

"Incredible" is the kind of adjective that shows up repeatedly in the email updates she sends to her 36 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels investors (22 from the Baltimore area).

"She has real producing instincts," says veteran Broadway producer Kenneth Waissman (Grease). "She restores my faith in the next generation of producers."

Lipitz's interest in the stage surfaced early, recalls Waiss-man, a childhood friend of Brenda Brown Rever, Lipitz's mother. At age five, she sent him a letter (with her mother's help) asking how to become an actress. "She was precocious from the git-go."

He never imagined, however, that 20 years later, he and Lipitz would be co-producing a show: GORK!, Autumn Terrill's account of growing up with a developmentally disabled brother. They hope to move the Fringe Festival hit to off-Broadway later this year.

Not that Lipitz has given up on her original dream of acting. In between producer duties, she auditions four or five times a week.

She saw the potential

Lipitz's unexpected journey to producing on Broadway began in 2002, a week after she graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She went to see a two-person off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown called The Last Five Years. "I was mesmerized," she recalls.

She then sought the advice of her father, Roger Lipitz, a Baltimore businessman and a former president of the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts, who said "If you really think [The Last Five Years has Broadway potential], why don't you call the producer on the phone and say you'd like to talk to him about it?'"

That's exactly what she did. Producer Marty Bell, whose other credits include Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime and Fosse, told her The Last Five Years was headed, not for Broadway, but for its final curtain. But he invited her to come in and talk. That led to a summer internship. At the end of the summer, Lipitz became Bell's assistant.

Occasionally, Bell gave her scripts to read. One of those was Jeffrey Lane's script for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, along with a recording of three songs by composer/lyricist David Yazbek.

The plot focuses on a pair of rival con artists (John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz in the roles created on film by Michael Caine and Steve Martin) who make a bet about which one can bilk an attractive female patsy out of $50,000.

Lipitz told Bell she found the material "amazing," and he suggested she try raising $300,000 to finance the musical's initial staged readings.

Although she had never raised that kind of money, Lipitz did do some nonprofit fundraising while in college. "I didn't expect her to come in with all of it, but little by little it kept pouring in, so I developed trust in her," Bell says. So much so that after the readings, he asked if she thought she could increase the amount she raised to $1 million.

`Like a domino effect'

Her parents gave her their Rolodexes, and Lipitz began working the phones. Investment units started at $25,000, and aware of the precarious nature of Broadway, she cautioned each potential investor: "If it's your last $25,000, don't invest in the show." But she also invested some of her own money. "You put your money where your mouth is," she explains.

And though the Rolodexes didn't bring her that many investors, she says, "People led me to other people. It's like a domino effect." One of her hardest sells was Nicholas A. Samios, a businessman from Westminster who had never invested in a Broadway show. She spoke with him repeatedly over several months.

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