February 15, 2007
“Wicked” producer Platt flies across another bridge
Producer Marc Platt has crossed a number of bridges in his life, and the inside of his bungalow offices on the Universal Studios back lot certainly reflects it.
On the Hollywood side, a pink-covered "Legally Blonde" script rests on a glass coffee table and a framed poster for the HBO miniseries, "Empire Falls," hangs on the wall; on the Broadway side, a large playbill in Japanese for the Tokyo production of "Wicked" is accompanied by a 2004 Drama Desk Award for outstanding new musical.
That musical, "Wicked," was born on the Universal lot in 1999, nurtured by the Hollywood-turned-Broadway producer who has a soft spot in his heart for stories of outsiders. And as the Tony-winning, megapopular tale of the Oz witches prepares to return to the Pantages this month, after performing to sold-out crowds there in 2005, Platt seems happy enough to defy gravity as he talks about the musical's Hollywood homecoming.
"When we were here briefly on the national tour, there was such an excitement, if not a frenzy over it," said Platt, 49. "The [MGM] movie that is based on L. Frank Baum's book obviously is so closely associated with Hollywood."
But had Platt followed through on his original plans for "Wicked," the renowned musical that tells the pre-Dorothy story of Glinda "the Good Witch" and Elphaba "the Wicked Witch of the West" would have had a similar Hollywood treatment as its Baum counterpart -- but sans musical numbers. As the former head of production for Universal Studios in the late 1990s, Platt had acquired the rights to Gregory Maguire's best-selling book, "Wicked," fully intending to adapt it for the big screen.
Composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz ("Godspell") and writer Winnie Holzman ("Thirtysomething") wanted to turn Maguire's tale into a musical and contacted Platt in 1999 with the hope of securing the rights from Universal. The three met to discuss the benefits of turning the witch's story into a musical, and what emerged became the 2003 blockbuster Broadway hit.
"When we did our first reading here on the lot of Act 1 and 2 [in 2001], we expected it to be fun and charming and witty," Platt said. "I don't think anything prepared any one of us -- Winnie, Stephen or me -- for the overwhelming, passionate, emotional response from the 50 to 60 people that were sitting in the room that day. And it sort of made us think, 'You know, I wonder if we get this right ... maybe we really have something.'"
That "something" includes a Platinum-certified album (which has maintained No. 1 on the Billboard Cast Album chart almost every week for more than a year), a makeup line with Stilla cosmetics (in pink and green, of course) and the online Ozdust Boutique, which sells everything from "Defy Gravity" T-shirts (named for the goosebump-inducing Act 1 closer) to "Wicked" golf balls.
Platt notes that the grandfather of a friend even has the lyrics "I have been changed for good" from the song "For Good" engraved on his headstone.
Another song from the show, "Thank Goodness," which exposes how Glinda deals with getting everything she thought she always wanted, touches a chord with Platt, who grew up in a Traditional-Conservative home in Maryland with a family that he says was always involved in some form of tikkun olam: "It has some of the most brilliant lyrics I think written in a long time. For example, 'There are bridges you crossed you didn't know you crossed until you crossed.' To me it is very meaty in terms of thematically what the show is about."
Platt has crossed more than a few bridges himself. After he graduated from Penn, where he produced a small off-Broadway musical titled, "Francis," about St. Francis of Assisi, Platt studied entertainment law at NYU, while interning with agent Sam Cohn at International Creative Management, Inc. in New York.
Platt moved with his wife, Julie, to Los Angeles around 1986. "[I was] nervous about being in a Hollywood community," he said. But by 1990, he was head of production at Orion. He held a similar position at Tristar, starting in 1992, and Universal in 1996. He now heads his own company, Marc Platt Productions.
Since the success of "Wicked," Platt's theater division has produced the drama, "Three Days of Rain," which starred Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd, and he is currently backing Matthew Bourne's ballet version of "Edward Scissorhands." Platt is expected to bring Rogers and Hart's "Pal Joey" back to Broadway with a new book from "Three Days of Rain" playwright Richard Greenberg sometime this year.
While he's now as inside as most people can hope to get in Hollywood, Platt maintains a large place in his heart for the stories of the outsiders, like "Wicked's" Elphaba, a sensitivity he attributes to his Jewish upbringing.
"The notion of someone who is fitting in or trying to become part of a larger family.... It's hard to separate that from my own Jewish roots," said Platt, a member of Sinai Temple. "Some of the metaphors you find in 'Wicked' -- how those in power can exploit fear in others to maintain their power -- I think, as Jews, we've seen that historically on more than one occasion."
In addition to having been a Wexner fellow, Platt recently joined the board of Birthright Israel and co-founded The Federation's L.A. Couples gift division with his wife.
"If we members of the Jewish community don't support the Jewish organizations, nobody else will," he said.
As for the idea that Hollywood Jews distance themselves from Israel, Platt told The Journal, "I think too many people in Hollywood perhaps fail to make a distinction between the political side of Israel and the notion of the country. And they can be separate things. In recent years, there have been members of the community who are supportive -- they give their time and money. It'll never be enough ... but I do feel it is there."
While there are no plans to bring "Wicked" to the silver screen, Platt said there is one more bridge he'd like to see the show cross: "I'd love to bring ['Wicked'] to Israel. But it's such a small market, unfortunately, and such a big show. I hope someday to do it, even if I have to do it on my own."
That's the big message of "Wicked": Sometimes you have to do something for the greater good, a concept Platt cherishes as a producer.