An Interview with Amy Anzel | Theatre producer of Happy Days the Musical

Amy-AnzelStarting out as a child voice over artist and jingle singer in New York City followed by majoring in Music at Columbia University, Amy Anzel has been involved on- and off stage in the entertainment industry for over twenty-five years. You may have seen Amy on Channel 4’s The Sound of Musicals, where the programme documented her debut as a theatrical producer bringing the UK premiere and tour of Happy Days – A New Musical to the stage.

Based on the cult American TV series, the production was nominated for nine Broadway World Awards. Additionally, Amy has been involved in producing the UK tour of Legally Blonde, Ezra Axelrod’s ‘Songs From The American Motel’ at London’s Leicester Square Theatre, and the 50th Anniversary production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. For Sony Music Entertainment/Automatic Productions, Amy worked on the Emmy award-winning Live By Request, The Score, Much Music In Concert, and The NBA All-Star Weekend.

As an actress, Amy’s stage and screen performances have spanned the globe. Her credits include the European tour of Grease, the US National Tour of Annie, A Chorus Line at the Tel Aviv Opera House, Happy Days – A New Musical in Los Angeles directed by Garry Marshall and numerous regional US productions. Her UK theatre credits include Steel Pier, Legacy Falls, Company, Cinderella opposite Jimmy Osmond, Crazy For You at the London Palladium, and An Evening of Johnny Mercer at the legendary Pizza On The Park. Amongst her film and television credits are Kick Ass 2, BBC3’s Celebrity Bitchslap News, MTV’s Short Circuitz written and directed by Nick Cannon, Witchwise, The Bachelor as well as hundreds of voiceovers, jingles, and commercials.

Joining me for a green tea at the St. James Theatre, Amy spills the beans about wooing the bachelor on the first ever season of this now global TV franchise, her views on the US versus UK theatre scene, and practical tips for new producers…

I believe that if the parents are very present and involved in a child’s career in the entertainment world then this can be of huge benefit to a young person

You started off as a child voice-over actor and singer in New York City – how do you think this influenced you growing up and what would your advice be to parents with children interested in pursuing performing professionally?

I absolutely loved it! I believe that if the parents are very present and involved in a child’s career in the entertainment world then this can be of huge benefit to a young person as you are gently introduced at an early age to so many vital life skills. Like multi-tasking, how to carry yourself…the list goes on. It is however vital that the child is not left to his or her own devices and has strong guidance and support.

What prompted you to become part of a Television documentary series The Sound of Musicals with Happy Days? How did this Television exposure affect the show and you on a personal level?

Happy Days MuscialI first came into contact with Happy Days in Los Angeles about ten years ago when director Garry Marshall was looking to turn the TV show into a musical and I was cast in the developmental workshops. When I moved to London in 2009 it seemed a lot of similar type shows like Grease, Hairspray and Jersey Boys, were successfully hitting the West End –and so I decided to option the rights and see what I could develop. In financial terms, Happy Days was always going to be a large-scale vehicle, rather than smaller scale so I jumped into the deep end. I also got in touch with a TV production company who had been looking to document the backstory of West End productions for Channel 4 – but not had much success with producers willing to participate. I happily offered my involvement as I wanted to share my journey with the public and demystify the producing process.

Throughout my Happy Days journey I felt that sometimes I was being taken advantage of and pushed around a bit by those with more experience in the industry. I had TV producing experience from New York but not theatre production and went into this project hoping to collaborate and learn. Unfortunately some people were not as helpful as I would have hoped. However, I was lucky enough to find a select few who did provide valuable advice.

What do you believe are the biggest mistakes that (new) theatre producers make?

People don’t read contracts. They often get the ball rolling before any of the formalities are actually in place, which can later cause huge problems. People are afraid to ask questions and often, it seems, just trust. So my advice would be – always read your contracts and make sure you have them set and signed before really getting into a producing project.

I generally believe letting your investors participate in any financial success is better than just incentive based funding.

Do you think the standard big investment schemes reserved for the very wealthy few still work for theatrical producing? Or does the industry need to change its financial model to more of a crowd funding one like you did with Happy Days?

I think a mix of financing is the way forward. Having a few angel investors to support your production is always going to remain a viable option however, this concept isn’t suitable for all productions and producers. With crowd funding you spread your risk and therefore the buy-in from individuals can be greater. I had 345 investors as part of Happy Days, kept them all up to date with a regular newsletter and always had a very open dialogue. Investors are very much ambassadors of your production and your work and can be vital in marketing and promoting your brand. I generally believe letting your investors participate in any financial success is better than just incentive based funding.

Tell us about your stint on the Bachelor – what did this involve?

Well, I basically saw an ad in a magazine while I was working in production at Sony Music Entertainment in New York City for a (at that time) new TV show and applied simply out of curiosity. A few months later I was flown to Los Angeles for interviews – and chosen to be one of the women to be presented to the first ever bachelor on Television. It’s amazing how strongly you can bond in a reality TV environment – I am still in close contact with many of the contestants from that series. I also shared a room with the woman who became runner up on the programme and subsequently the first ever bachelorette. I made it through the first selection (from 25 to 15) but was cut after that. To be honest, I was happy as I didn’t fancy the bachelor guy anyway! In those days The Bachelor was very much a fly on the wall programme – they literally filmed events as they took place and we were not scripted or prompted in any way. The crew simply waited around until anything “worthwhile” to film took place.

How do you relax and switch off from the entertainment world?

I like hanging out in my pyjamas on the weekend and indulging in TV on my sofa with a hot chocolate. Maybe throw in a face mask…watch a movie with my other half…I guess I am kind of a homebody!

What do you think is the difference between producing theatre in the UK versus the US?

In the UK the entertainment scene is a bit like the Wild West. Anything goes, there is no real system of checks and balances. You don’t actually officially need to abide by the rules of SOLT (Society of London Theatre) or Equity for tours or Off-West End productions, only when you’re producing on the West End – so you can just literally do things however you’d like. This has its pros and cons of course and as a new producer you have a lot of freedom but you are also a lot less educated. I think this is might be why so many productions here suddenly close or run into difficulty. It’s a case of more opportunity…but also more opportunity to fail. In the US there are many more regulations in place and more unionization.

I find the producing process extremely fulfilling and rewarding.

Do you ever miss performing? Is there an opportunity that could tempt you back on the stage?

Never say never…but I do prefer producing to performing now. I find the producing process extremely fulfilling and rewarding. I am also doing a bit of presenting at the moment, so I do get to perform in a way when I present.

What are your future ambitions – career/personal?

I am currently securing some titles and rights to produce in the future….I can’t go into detail as yet but watch this space!

Who is your inspiration and what do you believe makes an inspiring woman?

Nica Burns (Owner and Executive Director of NIMAX Theatre Group) who I met with on The Sound Of Musicals and producer Sonia Friedman. Simply – them being able to do and accomplish in a producing world where there are so many fires to put out constantly and hornet’s nests to avoid.

BONUS question from our Twitter audience: Who is your biggest musical inspiration?

Impossible to say really, I have been inspired from many classical composers back from my college days studying music theory and composition to Gershwin and Sondheim….I can’t pick a favourite!

Find out more

To find out more about Amy and her next projects, please see www.amyanzel.com and/or follow her on Twitter @amyanzel.

Jennifer Reischel
About the author

Jennifer Reischel is the Business Development and Communications Manager for Entertainment Media Group, which includes the St. James Theatre in Victoria. Completing a theatre degree at Mountview Academy Jennifer first pursued a career as an actor performing on stage and screen. Migrating into writing and penning the award-nominated guide book “So you want to tread the boards”, Jennifer became a theatre critic and feature contributor for The Stage, as well as launching the global video audition website The Stage Castings. Additionally, Jennifer has acted as a judge for the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian Competition of the Year, cast plays for Soho Theatre and hosted industry events workshops in the West End and at the Edinburgh Festival. Twitter: @jenreischel. Website: www.performingarts-auditionguide.com

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