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A tap-dancing Tony Curtis? Yet another My Fair Lady? The shows may be aging and tired, but TUTS remains Young at heart.

It is in that area, creating new shows from scratch, that Young has made -- without overstating it -- an enduring mark on American theater. He was one of the co-founders of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and he has spearheaded the move for regional theaters to pool resources to finance touring shows and produce new work.

"When Frank started the organization in 1985, there were very few theaters involved in producing new musicals," says Biggs, NAMT's executive director. "Now the majority of them are…He's kind of the father of the whole industry; he's really changed how we do business…"

Joe Forkan
Young has been TUTS's heart and soul for 35 years.
Deron Neblett
Young has been TUTS's heart and soul for 35 years.

"Frank is a very hard worker and very visionary," says Michael Jenkins, head of Dallas Summer Musicals. "He's had a tremendous impact."

Young made a huge impact when Disney decided to partner with TUTS on the musical version of Beauty and the Beast in 1993. "That was the biggest coup in our industry ever," says Pittsburgh's Kaplan.

"I think we are better known outside of Houston, at least in the professional world, than we are here," Young says.

Economics have forced regional theaters to work together, he says. "In the old days, when I could afford to do shows by myself, as with most musical theaters, selection of shows was not a problem. But back then our scenery was a few painted drops; it was not the level of production Broadway has forced us to match," he says. "When audiences go see The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, these huge $10 million shows, that's what they want to see from us, so we've had to dramatically upgrade the physical productions. And so that means we've had to partner with other theaters that do what we do."

Young says his passion is in producing completely new musicals. Those shows, though, tend to be as far from the cutting edge as one more booking of South Pacific.

TUTS's biggest newly created hits have been a revised version of Jekyll & Hyde, which was produced in partnership with the Alley Theatre, and Phantom, a musical that probably should be called No, The Other Phantom of the Opera.

Both have made stacks of money. (Phantom has tallied $250 million in productions around the world, bringing more than $2 million to TUTS.) But Phantom never made it to Broadway, and J&H has become shorthand for a flashy, empty show that critics hate but audiences love.

Other original TUTS productions include Annie Warbucks, one of the attempted sequels to the megahit; Chaplin, written by and starring Anthony Newley; Zorro: The Musical; and, well, something called Ninfa!, a show about the Houston restaurateur. TUTS projects that died a-borning included a musical version of the film Peggy Sue Got Married and a piece that was renamed Phantom of the Country Palace after the Grand Ole Opry wouldn't let its name be used.

Readers probably haven't heard of them, even if they've made money. That's the way it goes in the theater, says Kaplan: "Frank is bigger than life, and he thinks big. You aim high, sometimes you get there…You do ten shows, maybe one will go. It's an art form, there are no definite things. If you do a new show, there's no telling if there's an audience for it."

Young admits a few of the shows were never going to make it to Broadway -- "they were entertaining but perhaps not God's gift to the musical theater." But they can tour, making money for TUTS and providing regional theaters with more options.

Young directed some of these shows himself, but even if he's only producing, he's extremely hands-on.

Kevin McCollum produced the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rent and has co-produced several shows with Young. "Frank is very creative, he knows what he wants, he's very direct," he says. "He's a musician, he's truly a theater guy through and through, so he knows when there's something wrong with a characterization, or he'll say [a scene] needs a button there."

Currently Young's attention focuses on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The project's troubled history has some people expecting disaster. "People in the business are a little leery of this one -- it will require very special casting, just as the movie did, to attract audience interest," critic Kenrick says.

Young is -- as he is about most things -- enthusiastic. "It's so unique, and we want something that's totally different from what anyone's seen on Broadway," he says.

The musical is about two aging child stars, one of them confined to a wheelchair because of a car accident caused by the other. A preview CD of the show is uneven, but does showcase some good songs for older actresses. Young says names such as Debbie Reynolds and Shirley MacLaine have been mentioned. Auditions in Los Angeles brought out stars, at least as they're defined by Young.

"Jesus Christ, it was an endless array of people: Anna Maria Alberghetti came in to audition, Connie Stevens, it was amazing the people who came in…it was like 'Oh, I've been a fan of yours forever.' People like Ann Blyth, Jane Powell," he says.

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