By Carol-Ann Rudy

From dire predictions in 1995 of the imminent demise of Broadway, and even with the current stagehands strike, the Great White Way has rebounded to be a dazzling draw to New Yorkers and tourists from around the world. So much so, in fact, that even though theaters are smaller than arenas and stadiums, attendance numbers for Broadway shows exceed those of the ten professional sports teams in the New York area.

With that in mind, the past year’s crop of Broadway productions has seen bold gambles by producers and backers. The sheer cost of launching a production is skyrocketing, and it is estimated by the League of American Theaters and Producers that only one out of four recoups its losses. Billy Elliot, due on the stage of the Imperial Theatre in 2008, is an example of the high cost of production: it is estimated to cost $18.5 million. One way to increase the likelihood of success is to go with a “sure thing:” movies and books.

Broadway has seen Hairspray, Legally Blonde, and The Little Mermaid on stage this year, films re-formatted as stage productions. As reported earlier, Spider-Man, based on the movie, is in the works for the Broadway stage. Now another production, Rocky, based on the Academy Award-winning block-buster movie about Rocky Balboa played by Sylvester Stallone in 1976, will hit the boards. It is in the early stages of development with producers and other creatives to be announced at a later time. Joe Mantello, director of Wicked, Assassins and The Receptionist, is slated to direct. The book is in development by librettist Thomas Meehan with music by lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, according to Playbill.

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Meehan is well-known as the Tony Award winner of the books for Annie, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein. Ahrens and Flaherty are the Tony Award-winnning team known for Ragtime as well as The Glorious Ones, now playing at Lincoln Center. Included in the score will be the theme from Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti, Carol Connors, and Ayn Robbins.

Another musical coming to the stage is based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. It will premiere next summer at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and a Broadway run is possible. The books are familiar to readers and television viewers, telling the story of the author’s family in the 1870s and 1880s in the Midwest. Little House on the Prairie will be directed by Francesca Zambello. Rachel Sheinkin, Tony Award-winner in 2005 for best book of a musical for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is writing the book for the “Little House.” Rachel Portman will compose the music with lyrics by Donna DiNovelli.

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