STONE SIGNED ON with Barry and Fran Weissler, independent producers based in New York City. For six months he worked mostly with Fran, booking national tours of productions like David Copperfield's magic show, Cabaret, and South Pacific. Then he resigned to enroll at Columbia University Law School, but lasted only half a day before quitting to return to the theater.
For the next two years, Stone worked more closely with Barry, the partner who specialized in the management side of the business, legal issues, and accounting. Among the shows Stone cut his teeth on were Othello with James Earl Jones, Zorba with Anthony Quinn, Cabaret with Joel Grey, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Kathleen Turner, and My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlain.
"Four years in that office were like 10 years anywhere else," Stone says. "The office grew from five people to 25 during that time, and I had what was like an old-fashioned Broadway apprenticeship. I worked 12-hour days and then went out to dinner with the Weisslers and saw shows. We were so close I even went to their grandchildren's bar mitzvahs."
In 1992, at the tender age of 25, Stone decided he was ready to go out on his own, a heady decision for someone so young. But the Weisslers were "supportive and generous" of his new venture, sharing office space with him, and over the years they have worked on several productions together.
Stone spent the first year pursuing numerous potential projects and running out of money. "I was the youngest person doing this kind of thing," he says. "I'd say 'I'm a producer,' and people would respond skeptically, 'Sure you are.' I had to convince people that I knew what I was doing even when I didn't fully believe it myself."
It was during a vacation to visit his father and stepmother in Florida that Stone stumbled upon his first hit. He saw Sherry Glazer appearing at Miami's Coconut Grove Playhouse in Family Secrets, a funny and moving one-woman show in which she played all five members of a Jewish family. Stone loved the performance and invited Amy Nederlander-Case, a member of the Nederlander family, the most prominent theater-owners on Broadway, to join him as a partner in producing the project. Nederlander-Case and Stone had been introduced to each other by a mutual friend while Nederlander-Case was an MBA candidate at Columbia University's business school. She flew down to see the play and became equally enthusiastic. Each partner raised $300,000 to mount the production, Stone approaching friends from Penn, friends of his family, and business associates. As producers, they also were in charge of securing a theater and overseeing marketing, advertising, and press relations.
Family Secrets opened off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre in Fall 1993 and dazzled the critics. It ran until New Year's Day 1995, earning back all the money plus $600,000 more and making history as the longest-running one-person Off-Broadway show. "Now that I'm more experienced, I could tell you all the reasons that a show like that wouldn't work -- for instance, it was a one-person show, the actress was unknown, and taking such a big risk on your first show could backfire," Stone confides. "But I didn't know any of them then, and it all worked out very well."
His next time out -- Stone's first Broadway venture -- didn't go nearly so smoothly. What's Wrong With This Picture? was about a Jewish family reovering from the death of its matriarch -- who returns from the afterlife to help them move on. Directed by a hot new director, Joe Mantello, it opened in December 1994 with Tony Award-winner Faith Price, but never gained a following.
"On paper it all looked good. I believed in and still love the play," says Stone. "And I actually learned more from a flop than a hit." The director and cast tinkered with the production during previews, but, largely because of the high union wages paid to Broadway performers, any additional time working on the play was prohibitively expensive. Stone decided to pull the plug after only five weeks, including previews.
With each show he has worked on, picks and pans, Stone has developed relationships that he continues to draw on. Cabaret star Joel Grey "remained a friend," says Stone. Director Joe Mantello admires Stone for "not making me feel bad and not running and pointing fingers in blame" during their joint Broadway debacle, and they have worked together on several more projects. "David is smart, very sensitive, and incredibly decent," adds Mantello, who has acted in the play Angels in America and directed Love, Valor, Compassion. "We also have similar sensibilities. Ninety-nine percent of the time we see eye to eye on casting. And if we disagreed, we'd try to find someone else."
Stone and Nederlander-Case work as partners on most projects now, including Anne Frank. Says Nederlander-Case: "David has a tremendous amount of passion for this business that is reflected in his energy level and dedication to his work. He's remarkably thorough, so the decisions he makes are based on taking lots of things into consideration."
The partners were impressed with the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Full Gallop, a one-woman show about fashion legend Diana Vreeland, starring and written by Mary Louise Wilson. The play begins four months after Vreeland was fired from Vogue magazine, a turning point in her life. The producers waited a year for the Westside Theatre, where they'd had such success with Family Secrets, to become available and reopened the show there -- to rave notices. "Vreeland and her life become an absorbing -- nay, enthralling -- theatrical episode," wrote The New York Post. The New York Daily News called it "divine, divine, divine!" Elizabeth Ashley appeared in a three-month national tour and Mary Louise Wilson will return to the part in London in September.
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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 6/1/98