"My job is mostly being very charming," says Adam Blanshay, a 32-year-old Canadian who makes a living hunting angels. When he was 24, Blanshay moved to New York from Montreal. Ever since, apart from one disastrous outing as an assistant director on a show that closed after a week, he has spent his time raising money for the theatre.
Big-hitting shows such as "Kinky Boots", the new Cyndi Lauper/Harvey Fierstein musical that has earnt 13 Tony nominations, a stage version of the film "Catch Me if You Can", and the New York transfer of "Jerusalem" have all made it to Broadway with Blanshay’s help. Recently he has teamed up with Just For Laughs, the Canadian live-comedy festival that’s become one of the world’s biggest comedy producers, to found a theatrical subsidiary. Blanshay says it has three aims: to take French-language versions of hit shows to Canada, Paris and beyond; to develop new work for Broadway and the West End; and "to find the next 'Book of Mormon'."
Blanshay fell in love with musicals at four years old, when his aunt and uncle returned from a trip to London with the original cast recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "The Phantom of the Opera". "I listened to it transfixed for a whole weekend," he says. "I loved it so much they bought me my own copy." He became hooked on epic, sung-through musical theatre, wearing out his double cassette of "Phantom", and asking for tapes of "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" as back-to-back Hanukkah gifts. At five, he had "an out-of-body-experience" watching "Les Misérables"; when he was 12, his parents finally gave into his pestering and allowed him to experience the prostitution, drugs and tragedy of "Miss Saigon". He would go on to co-produce two Lloyd Webbers, as he calls them, on Broadway. Which? "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar", of course. All his Hanukkahs had come at once.
"These musicals all came out of Britain," he says. "For me, Britain is where it’s at—it’s where the best work comes from." That’s partly why for the past two years he has spent more and more time co-producing in London—his most recent show was Harold Pinter’s "Old Times" with Kristin Scott Thomas—although it seems the profit motive plays its part too. The absence of backstage unions means "it’s a lot cheaper to produce in the West End".
So what does a producer actually do, apart from go to the theatre? Blanshay has 75 regular investors, mostly men or women in the financial world or medicine, whom he takes to shows most nights. He built this network by chatting to other guests at Passover dinners or weekends in the country (he says he’s not sure "how much longer my liver can stand being a producer"), telling them what he did, and how they might benefit from it. "I’d say if they invested in a project they get to attend press night, have house seats, come backstage and have ownership in a show. But now that, for the most part, I’m making them money, my investors are happy and they bring me their friends." How much money? "Traditionally one in four shows will recoup, one in nine will do well. And one in 40 will be the next 'Wicked'."
Blanshay’s working wardrobe is a blazer, jeans by 7 for All Mankind (he buys three pairs every Christmas—"they never wear out, so I’m up to 21 pairs now"), and preternaturally clean Converse All Stars. The idea is to look younger and more approachable than the other producers in what he describes, tactfully, as a "gentleman’s profession". But he also loves to dress up, and while he says he wouldn’t have picked this eccentric Vivienne Westwood suit off the rail, once he got it on "it was so wonderfully colourful and outrageous, I just wanted to run around the streets of London being noticed. If I had a 'Wicked' or a 'Jersey Boys' under my belt I’d buy it right now." If you happen to see a young Canadian wandering down Shaftesbury Avenue in orange tartan anytime soon, you’ll know there’s a new hit in town.
Orange two-button jacket, £790, matching trousers, £396, both by Vivienne Westwood Man; white placket-front shirt, £25, by Limited Collection at Marks & Spencer; houndstooth-check silk pocket square, £55, by Marwood at Mr Porter; black Carrera Calibre 6 Heritage 39mm automatic watch, £2,095, by Tag Heuer