Before the first preview of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” Tuesday night, producer Howard Kagan stood in front of his cast and crew and informed them that The Post was about to break a story about in-fighting among the producers.
“But don’t worry,” Kagan said. “It will all blow over.”
Not yet it hasn’t. The story’s since been picked up by other news outlets and has been shared on Twitter and Facebook.
The Broadway community is riveted — and appalled — by what one veteran producer calls Kagan’s “bullyboy tactics” toward Ars Nova, the nonprofit theater that developed “The Great Comet” five years ago, and is now one of the show’s many producers.
When Ars Nova complained that Kagan, a former Wall Street executive, refused to bill the show “The Ars Nova Production of . . .” as agreed in their contract, he threatened to upend their Dec. 5 benefit by scheduling the recording of the cast album that day. Cast members, including Josh Gorban, are the benefit’s featured attraction; if they’re in the recording studio that day, they’ll miss the benefit.
Kagan also decreed, through his company manager, that anyone from Ars Nova who shows up at “The Great Comet” will be “forcibly removed from the theater.”
As of Thursday, the recording session was still scheduled for Dec. 5 and the threat to remove Ars Nova staffers from the show in place, though it’s hard to believe the Shuberts, who own the Imperial, would allow Kagan to ban anyone from their theater.
Kagan declined to comment Thursday on the dispute, but sources say morale backstage is lower than the orchestra pit.
“We’re heartbroken that Howard has made this the narrative of the show,” one company member said. “This has obviously become a big distraction.”
Production sources say Groban may insist that Kagan reschedule the recording session.
“He’s the only one with all the power on the show to change anything,” a source says.
A producer not involved in the show says, “Howard has shot himself in the foot. He has a contract. And while billing may seem a silly thing to fight over, it means a lot to a nonprofit theater to be credited with creating a Broadway show. Ars Nova should sue.”
Ars Nova board members were in meetings Thursday trying to decide their next move.
Theater people who’ve worked with Kagan and his producer wife, Janet, say they sometimes come across as arrogant “know-it-alls from Wall Street,” as one person puts.
Backstage at “Pippin,” which they also co-produced, they were called “Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.”
An investor in “Comet,” who asked not to be named, told The Post that when he ran into difficulty raising his share of the money, Kagan “berated me and told me I was inept as a producer.”
Several investors passed on the $14 million show because built into that budget were $6.5 million worth of “enhancement/development costs” from previous productions.
As The Post reported at the time, it’s not unusual for producers to recover money they’ve already spent developing a show — but $6.5 million is unusually high.
As of last week, Kagan was still looking for money, several sources told The Post. Meanwhile, the cast and crew are trying to get on with the show.
“All we can do is focus on the work,” said a production source. “All we can do is make this the best production we can every night.”