Thursday, March 17, 2005

Araca Group (Feature Story)

Broadway's ARACA GROUP makes their homewtown proud

Twenty years ago years ago while was I directing ‘THE MUSIC MAN’ at Huntington Playhouse three young men, Matt Rego, Michael Rego and Hank Unger were involved in the production. Little did I realize that they would someday be the “wunderkinds” of Broadway producers.

Today, the three make up the Araca Group, an independent production company that has been responsible for on-Broadway productions of ‘WICKED,’ ‘URINETOWN THE MUSICAL,’ ‘’FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE,’ ‘MATCH,’ ‘NIGHT MOTHER,’ and ‘THE GOOD BODY.’ Their off-Broadway shows include ‘DEBBIE DOES DALLAS,’ ‘THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES,’ ‘THE LARAMIE PROJECT,’ and ‘SKYSCRAPER.’ That would be a career total for most producers, but Araca achieved this in 8 years. Not bad for three guys who range in age from 34 to 36.

Matt and Michael, who are from Rocky River, are members of the family who founded the Rego supermarket chain. Matt graduated from the Western Reserve Academy in 1988. Mike is an ‘86 St. Ignatius grad. Unger went through the Bay Village schools and graduated in 1986.

They all got their theatre shoes wet at the Beck Center’s Children’s School. They also appeared on stage at Lakewood Little Theatre, Berea Summer Theatre, Huntington Playhouse, and Bay, Magnificat and St. Ignatius High Schools.

The Araca Group’s name is not a series of secret letters. It was the surname of the Rego’ s grandfather, Charlie, a Sicilian immigrant. Like the trio he was a gambler who parlayed $300, which he won in a game of craps, into a supermarket chain. The young men are not only gamblers, but have lots of guts. With limited initial success for their theatrical ventures, they continue to plot and plan and have succeeded beyond normal expectations.

I recently did a telephone interview with Unger from his New York office. We covered the trios past hits, present activities and future aspirations.

‘WICKED,’ their most recent smash hit is still running on Broadway. It is the untold story of the witches of Oz, made famous in ‘THE WIZARD OF OZ.’ It features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (‘GODSPELL,’ ‘PIPPIN,’ Academy Award winner for ‘POCAHONTAS’ and ‘THE PRINCE OF EGYPT’) and book by Winnie Holzman (TV’s ‘MY SO CALLED LIFE,’ ‘ONCE AND AGAIN’ and ‘THIRTYSOMETHING’). ‘WICKED’ is directed by 2003 and 2004 Tony Award winner Joe Mantello.

According to Unger, ‘WICKED’ is “the first musical in many years that was born on Broadway.” He also indicated that, “The longer it runs the longer people want to see it.” It has a 30-million dollar advance sale so it appears that this is going to be a long running show in the Big Apple. The touring production is in a sold-out run in Toronto. It will then go to Chicago, where “tickets sales are also excellent,” and then to LA.

Is Cleveland on the ‘WICKED’ tour? Contracts haven’t been signed, but “hopefully it will appear on the North Coast sometime in 2006.”

Since ‘WICKED’ opened, ARACA has produced Eve Ensler’s ‘THE GOOD BODY,’ which had a short run. Ensler, who is the author of ‘VAGINA MONOLOGUES,’ is discussing a national tour. ‘NIGHT MOTHER,’ which starred Edie Falco, had a successful limited season run. Their show ‘MATCH’ ran last spring and “received good reviews.”

The ARACA team is working on a movie of ‘DEBBIE DOES DALLAS’ as well as a film version of ‘WICKED.’ They have several other projects under development.

As for their personal lives, Mike is getting married in the Fall, Matt is married, and Hank is “having a good time.” Most importantly, being well brought up midwestern guys, “We are trying to keep our lives in balance.”

Yes, in balance and yet streaking toward the head of the pack as successful Broadway producers, and making Clevelanders proud.