Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor, Philadelphia mayor, and Democratic National Committee chair, has joined his past campaign fund-raiser and fellow Ballard Spahr lawyer Kenneth M. Jarin on the list of coproducers investing cash for In Transit, the subway musical that opened Dec. 11 on Broadway.
The show depicts 11 subway riders - played by Broadway veterans as well as reality-TV stars including Bucks County's Justin Guarini (ex of American Idol), Moya Angela (America's Got Talent), and Steven Cantor (American Beatbox Championship) - through song, a capella, mostly in ensemble.
"You forget there's no instruments," Rendell told me. He was so charmed at a rehearsal that he agreed to fork over $25,000 - merely an access fee, by Broadway standards - to encourage other investors. Jarin wouldn't say how much he added.
"This is appealing to younger people," an audience Broadway needs, Jarin told me. "My daughter was a theater major at Duke. I just watched her face and her friend's during the show. Fabulous."
Rendell, who's served on a slew of investment-banking and real estate boards since leaving public office, said it's his first theater investment, and he made it "with my eyes open." He was encouraged that veterans of Pitch Perfect, "which I loved," and Frozen were in the production.
He was also drawn by the subject: "As a native New Yorker, I had a sense this is going to be extremely popular. Everyone rides the subway. Both times I've seen the show, people walked away exuberant." It took Rendell back to his days riding the old IRT from 79th Street to 34th for summer jobs in high school. He enjoyed the "gallows humor" of fellow riders on the screeching, graffiti-painted trains of the pre-Giuliani years. "It's better now."
Jarin, with his big-money backers' list, was a target for Broadway investor Marvin S. Rosen (a former Democratic National Committee finance chair) when he went seeking funders for the play. The men have been friends and fellow national Democratic fund-raisers for 25 years. "We really got to know each other" during the administration of Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Jarin said.
Rosen "asked Ed Rendell and me if we would help him raise some money. We were excited. I've never been involved with a Broadway production. It's fun. We got to meet the performers."
Jarin once invested in a movie, The Quality of Life, with Blythe Danner, in the late 1990s. "It did well at festivals, but was not a raging success."
In Transit has had a promising first month, with several sellout performances. The cast performed at the opening of New York's Second Avenue subway on New Year's Eve. Like Rendell, Jarin lived in New York and rode lines "all over Manhattan and Brooklyn," as did his wife, Robin Wiessmann (corrected), now Pennsylvania's secretary of banking and securities.
The musical "was an opportunity to apply our fund-raising skills to another type" of enterprise, added Jarin, head of Ballard's lobbying group. He served on Bill Clinton's National Council of the Arts, which oversees the National Endowment of the Arts, in the 1990s, and chairs the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia board.
"There isn't always a net gain" from arts investment, he told me. "But there's still a lot of value in what is produced. It's an important art form that should be presented."