'The Little Prince' takes a flier on Wall Street -- as well as Broadway
Boston — You, too, can be an angel. For a mere $2, you can buy a share in a Broadway production. It's a musical version of Antoine de St. Exupery's fairy tale, "The Little Prince."
Producer A. Joseph Tandet, the New York lawyer who is president of Little Prince Productions Ltd., says this is the first time as Broadway show has been financed through public offering of shares of stock, rather than the usual limited partnership arrangement.
"We're setting a precedent -- we're opening the theater up, to make it more than just a private club," Mr. Tandet says.
For the individual investor, buying shares has two advantages over becoming a limited partner: One can start smaller with shares, perhaps with only a couple of hundred dollars, and the shares can be sold. If reviews aren't good, you can get out.
For Tandet, selling shares has had the advantage of enabling him to raise $1. 25 million he needs if he's going to mount a "first-class Broadway production" of "The Little Prince" before his option runs out on Aug. 23, 1981.
There are a few wrinkles to be ironed out yet. For one thing, in the show's offering circular the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) points out, "Book , Music, and Lyrics Not Yet Written"m (The book referred to here is the libretto, not the original story on which the musical is to be based.)
This would seem rather basic. Not to worry, however.
Three-time Oscar winner John Barry, who has written scores for 60 films, including "Born Free," The Lion in Winter," and several James Bond movies, has been engaged as compose. And Mel Shapiro, whose 1971 Broadway musical production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" won Tony, Obie, and Drama Desk awards, is to be director.
But there may be other risk factors that give the timid investor pause. The SEC spells them out carefully, 1 through 19. Look at No. 9, for example: "Possible Abandonment of Production.m The Company may abandon the mounting of the production at any time."
Tandet owns subsidiary rights to St Exupery's work, a popular story about a pilot who is forced down in the Sahara and then befriended by a magical little prince from a distant asteroid. He has signed these rights over to Little Prince Productions, and he says that should the Broadway production fail -- or never even open -- the exploitation of the subsidiary rights should generate income. "That's why "The Little Prince's lends itself to this kind of thing."
The SEC, however, is skeptical about that: "In order for the Company to continue operations, the exploitation and licensing of such rights would have to generate substantially more income to the Company than it has to Mr. Tandet to date. No assurance can be made that the Company will be able to generate such increased income."
The Commission warns that Little Prince Productions is a suitable investment only for those who can afford a complete wipeout.
Even a casual observer on the Broadway scene notes how full the theaters have been lately of revivals, revues, and one- person shows. Even a runaway hit may run away and not come back to leave the investors any profit. That's what happened to the musical "Sweeney Todd," which failed to make a hit for investors.
But those who want to invest in "The Little Prince" will have more than the customary backers' party to see the show. Instead of the usual out-of-town tryouts, it will have a month of previews on Broadway. "This way, you can be your own critic. If you see the show and decide you don't like it, you can sell your stock. Or if you do like it, you can go out and buy more," says Mr. Tandet.
And he expects that the value of the shares with fluctuate in response to critics' notices and word-of-mouth advertising. At present all the shares have been sold and the stock is trading, at about the original $2 offering price.
Until Jan. 1, the whole venture is in an SEC-imposed "quiet time," during which Tandet and his associates are not to discuss the production beyond what is stated in the offering circular. The idea is to give the stock time to find its own level, independent to the sort of rumors that could make the value of the shares fluctuate wildly.
But Mr. Tandet says, "everything is coming along very nicely."