The trials and tribulations of producing plays

Malibu resident Tony Fantozzi talks about his production of “Galileo’s Daughter,” which received mixed reviews in England, and whether he would want to compromise his vision of the play just to achieve success.

By Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

Having more than 40 years experience in the entertainment industry, much of those years with one of the top agencies in town, doesn’t guarantee immediate success when transitioning from movies to stage productions. But the experience certainly prepares one for the trials and tribulations that go along with mounting a premiere work-in England, no less.

Malibu resident Tony Fantozzi, former vice president of the William Morris Agency, recently returned from England where the play he produced, “Galileo’s Daughter” received mixed reviews in Bath and in Malvern.

Fantozzi said the majority of the 15 U.K. reviews state the production was “so-so,” causing Director Sir Peter Hall and author Timberlake Wertenbaker to question considerable rewrites or possibly canceling the show entirely.

“At the end of August, I’ll be sitting with the author and Sir Peter Hall to decide what rewrites and changes to make, and from that, essentially the future of the play,” Fantozzi said in a recent interview.

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Fantozzi said he has been working on “Galileo’s Daughter” for three and a half years, so another three to four months of rewrites wouldn’t make a significant difference. Fantozzi also said that his previous experience with the William Morris Agency helped to prepare him for the stresses that come with play production.

“If I had been in the real estate business and decided to produce a stage play, I’m sure I would have been hysterical by now,” he said.

“Galileo’s Daughter” played at Theatre Royal Bath from July 9 to Aug. 14. One of the primary reasons the theater was chosen as trial ground is that the Peter Hall Company, along with theater manager Danny Moar, puts on two to three plays per season there.

The production moved on to Malvern Theatre, closing at the end of August. After the final show in Malvern, Fantozzi said some serious decisions would have to be made.

However, the reason Fantozzi optioned the stage rights to the novel “Galileo’s Daughter,” by Dava Sobel, in the first place could be the very factor holding the play back from gaining success.

“The story I wanted to tell was the story of Galileo’s daughter,” said Fantozzi, who finds the relationship between the daughter and the astronomer/mathematician touching. “Some critics don’t feel that’s half as interesting as his problems with the Catholic Church.”

Fantozzi feels to change the emphasis to the conflict between Galileo and the church will considerably change the dynamics of the existing play. “I think the daughter was an incredible woman, but unfortunately, some people say there’s no drama in it.”

While a rewrite focusing on the ecclesiastic conflict could further the play’s success, Fantozzi remains unsure about compromising his vision of the play.

The production includes an all-star director, writer and cast. Among numerous credits, Hall is known for helping to create the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960. He was director of the Royal National Theatre in 1973, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and in 1988 created the Peter Hall Company. Some of Hall’s directing credits on Broadway include “Amadeus,” “An Ideal Husband,” “The Merchant of Venus” and “No Man’s Land.” He received two Tony Awards for the “The Homecoming” (1967) and the original production of “Amadeus.” Hall received the Olivier Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999.

“I was delighted that he was interested in doing this,” Fantozzi said. “Sir Peter Hall’s done a great many Shakespearian productions and is considered the guy for straight plays.”

Rebecca Hall (Hall’s daughter) joined the cast playing S. Mari Celeste, Galileo’s oldest, illegitimate daughter. Julian Glover and Anna Carteret played the roles of Galileo and the mother superior figure at the daughter’s convent. In addition to Sobel’s work, playwright Wertenbaker has adapted work from authors such as Marivaux, Sophocles, Edith Wharton and Henry James. She is best known for her play, “Our Country’s Good” (1988). This play was given the Laurence Olivier/BBC Award for Best New Play and was nominated for six Tony Awards.

As for other projects, Fantozzi said this is it. He had previously been involved with the film company, Canan Film Works, while interested in creating a television series. Fantozzi said, however, that after his experience in this arena, he no longer has an interest in TV.

As for his foray into putting up a play in England, Fantozzi stressed the importance of an out-of-town trial such as Bath and Malvern to “see what everything looks like.” He said it’s possible for the play to run next in the U.S., but it could also have another trial run in England as he waits for more feedback. “There are many regional theaters in the United States or England that will try out a new play, and therefore it will have to be another regional theater for our next run.”

Concerning the immediate future, Fantozzi said Tuesday that Hall is comparing notes with the author concerning a rewrite. Fantozzi said he didn’t know how long a rewrite would take, but pointed out that the rewrite for “Forrest Gump” took 11 years.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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