Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You: The Untold Story of How a San Diego VC Backed Broadway’s Jersey Boys

12/31/08Follow @bvbigelow

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to some of his biggest home runs at Avalon Ventures. Yet he says it’s also true that the overall track record for bankrolling theatrical productions has been abysmal. The statistics for such investments have been so bad, in fact, that Kinsella says a lot of people who invest in Broadway shows are more like benefactors who just want to be part of the scene.

That’s certainly true for Kinsella, whose father, the late actor Walter Kinsella, appeared on stage in the 1930s and on episodes of such TV series as “Martin Kane, Private Eye,” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

The venture capitalist says he grew up around the theater, and he has been watching musicals since he was 8 years old. Kinsella and his wife, Tamara, also are longtime supporters of the La Jolla Playhouse, where ambitious theater productions are often put together and refined for openings on Broadway.

Kinsella began his Jersey Boys odyssey on an October evening in 2004 at Barbarella’s, an informal restaurant in La Jolla. The Kinsellas had tickets for a full-costume, “technical rehearsal,” but he says all they knew about the show at the time was that it was a musical about the Four Seasons. With a 9 p.m. curtain following a late dinner, Kinsella recalled, “My wife said to me, you’re going to fall asleep. And I said, ‘If I fall asleep in the first act, we’ll go home at the intermission.”

Instead, Kinsella says, “I was mesmerized from the first downbeat,” which by the way, introduces a French version of the Four Seasons’ hit, December 1963 (the song with the memorable refrain “Oh what a night.”) Kinsella says he was so smitten by the show that he sought out director Des McAnuff afterward to offer his enthusiastic financial support. McAnuff arranged for the Kinsellas to meet with the producer, Michael David.

Kinsella says his “VC instincts came into play” at the meeting, because David was “refreshingly honest”—in contrast to some promises he’s heard about many business propositions. David “told us he’d won a boatload of Tonys, but he’d never had a mega hit. He said, if you’re looking to make a lot of money, this probably isn’t your best bet.”

Kinsella won’t say exactly how much he invested in Jersey Boys. Initially, it was “a six-figure amount” needed to help move the production to Broadway. He says he later made an additional “seven-figure commitment” in 2005, after another investor unexpectedly backed out. Kinsella was so enthusiastic, in fact, that other prominent San Diegans, including San Diego Xconomists Ivor Royston of Forward Ventures and Drew Senyei of Enterprise Partners Venture Capital, were among those who made their own separate investments in the show.

Meanwhile, Kinsella says, “The show opens in La Jolla, right, and it kills them. That’s a good term on Broadway. It was the most successful musical in the history of the La Jolla Playhouse. Many people saw it multiple times. The run there was extended three times.”

One reviewer wrote at the time: “The performance of Sherry on American Bandstand is Jersey Boys’ first show-stopper—literally. When the song ends, La Jolla audiences have been erupting into prolonged ovations. The crowd is transported in time back to 1962, and the original Four Seasons are faithfully reproduced. It’s an amazing piece of theater.”

Kinsella says the experience prompted a number of San Diego’s other Jersey Boys investors to bankroll other shows, notably the Broadway musical “Cry Baby,” which opened in New York earlier this year after a run at the La Jolla Playhouse. “The critics were unmerciful and it closed two months later, and they lost all their money,” Kinsella says.

Meanwhile, Jersey Boys is the only Broadway show that Kevin Kinsella and his wife have invested in. He says demand remains huge in U.S. cities, and the show could continue its run for a decade. “We’ve seen the show 85 times,” Kinsella says, “and our spirits soar every time.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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