"Well, here we are -- standing room only, said Audrey Resnik, as she surveyed the elegant crowd that had jammed into the elegant living room of her Chevy Chase home last night.
Resnik and her husband, David, were introducing Washington to a ritual of the New York theater world -- the backers' audition. Over 100 friends, friends of friends and interested strangers had come to see a capsule performance of "Onward Victoria," a new musical that stands a mere $500,000 -- or half its total budget -- away from Broadway, according to its would be producer, John Hart.
Hart was hoping that a few members of last night night's audience would like what they saw enough to put up a healthy chunk of the remaining capital.
"A lot of people said to me that they weren't sure Washington would be able to get into the backer's audition experience," said Resnik. "But it's just snowballed."
If Resnik's unbeat judgment is borne out in dollars and cents, the Washington social scene could have just the thing it has been crying out for -- a new form of fund-raising party. And Irene Rosenberg and Charlotte Anker, the two women who wrote the book and lyrics to "Onward Victoria." and who both happen to be residents of the Maryland suburbs wives of labor lawyers and friends of the Resniks, could realize the rare dream of seeing their first play produced on Broadway.
"Investing in a Broadway show is a risk," Hart began, when the guests had taken their folding seats. "But I'm going to dwell on the risk. You can read all about that in the offering circular."
Indeed they could. The "Onward Victoria" offering circular, which was passed around last night, begins with a list of 10 reasons why potential investors should eye any Broadway show, and this one in particular, with caution.Reason No. 1: ". . .Of the plays produced for the New York stage in the 1977-78 season, a vast majority resulted in loss to investors. Reason No. 10: "John Hart has never produced a Broadway show."
But the odds for musicals are better than for straight plays, Hart argued. And a new musical offers a better opportunity for investors than a revival, he said, because of the spinoff possibilities -- touring productions, original cast album, motion picture, etc.
"When we began," said Hart, "we had a good show. We're striving for a great show -- the show of the decade.
And I think that's the way we're headed." Hart, the associate producer of "Eubie," became involved with "Onward Victoria" only last year. Authors Anker and Rosenberg have been working on the project since 1974, when they decided to write a play about Victoria Woodhull, the 19th-century feminist, spiritualist and presidential candidate (her platform was "free speech, free thought and free love") who became entangled with the great moralizing preacher of the day, Henry Ward Beecher.
When director Julie Boyd advised Anker and Rosenberg to turn their story into a musical, composer Keith Herrmann was recruited -- and the show was given an off-Broadway workshop production last spring, to a generally enthusiastic response.
At the Resnik's home last night, "Onward Victoria" was performed without sets, costumes, orchestra, dancing or dialogue. Four singers, accompanied by Herrmann at the piano, sang nine of the songs from the show, and Boyd (she directed "Eubie") briefly narrated the plot.
After the first song, a big production number called "The Age of Brass," Boyd cautioned everybody to try to "imagine it with 22 performers . . . and a few pickpockets and unicyclists passing across the stage."
The audience of well-heeled, professional couples, which applauded loudly after every song, seemed willing to make the necessary allowances. Hart said afterward that he was hopeful of attracting as much as $200,000 from Washington investors, and that the show might go into rehearsal in February for a spring opening.
"I thought it was marvelous," said Carnelia Tyler, who said she was still weighing whether to invest. Once before in her life, said Tyler, she invested $1,000 in a play written by a friend of hers. "It didn't make it," she said. "I don't think it ever got on stage." But Tyler added that she might do it again, anyway.
"We're considering it," said attorney Andrew Krulwich. Had he ever invested in anything so speculative before? "No," he said.
Yes you did," interjected his wife, Sara, reminding him of their investment in a restaurant called The Chancery. 'It was near Georgetown Law School," she said. "It couldn't fail." But it did fail, she added.
For attorney David Moulton, the audition had an educational side. He learned from the authors that his great-great-grandmother had apparently had an affair with Henry Ward Beecher, and that his great-great grandfather acted as an intermediary between Beecher and one of his mistresses -- an affair that Victoria Woodhull exposed, precipitating a divorce trial called "the trial of the century" and figuring prominently in "Onward Victoria."