Producing heavyweights behind 'Kinky Boots,' 'Evita,' and 'Fun Home' dish on the state of Broadway.
A starry panel of Broadway producers took the stage at the first ever BroadwayCon on Friday to speak to an overflowing room of fans and theater professionals about the behind-the-scenes magic of today’s top shows and drop some industry secret along the way.
In a panel led by moderator Julie James, prominent industry bigwigs like Ken Davenport (Kinky Boots, Deaf West’s Spring Awakening), Hal Luftig (Evita, Thoroughly Modern Millie), Barbara Whitman (Fun Home), Daryl Roth (August: Osage County, Anna In The Tropics), and John Johnson (A View From The Bridge), as well as Oliver and Tony Award-winning producer Alia Jones-Harvey, dove deep into the intricacies of what makes a Broadway show tick and unveiled a few surprise announcements.
“I’m trying to do a one-night only revival of original cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Luftig told the crowd.
Roth also announced her next big project: a musical based on Jodi Picoult’s novel Between The Lines.
But in more in-depth conversation, James asked the producers to speak about their craft: “I think there’s a big mystique on what producing is,” Davenport told the crowd. “You have to find a place to sell it, and a theatre to sell it.”
“It’s different for all of us to birth something, to join in on something, but I think all of us can do both,” Roth said, speaking to the balancing act that comes with being so closely involved in a show from the business end and the creative end. As Luftig explained, like a child, there are responsibilities that come with taking on the job of producer that extend beyond office work and financials.
“The way I think about producing is, if the show is a company, everything sort of flows back to you,” he added. “You hire everyone…right after you birth it, you have to have your hands on everything.” Johnson spoke of a similar feeling of responsibility.
“It’s a business, but it’s also because it’s such a tight community of people, you end up creating these families. Your job becomes both the CEO and also the patriarch of that family…because people are going to disagree, or someone is going to break their arm. And your job is to be at the hospital, to make sure the moneys there, and make everything look good.”
Jones-Henry opened up about building the relationships that led to the casts involved in her own producing ventures: 2008’s first African-American revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and 2012’s multi-racial adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.
“Building those relationships weren’t too hard, after we had the idea. You convince the star that this is their time, their moment to come to Broadway,” she said, before joking that she’s stalked people. “If I saw they were speaking on a panel or hosting a show, I might go up there and buy a ticket to their show and introduce myself to them.”
The panel also doled out bits of advice for Broadway hopefuls. “You just have to jump in,” said Johnson. “Unlike a lot of businesses in the room where you can go from the mailroom to the top in months or years, it’s a marathon not a sprint for anyone in the theatre business. It takes a long time to get the experience.”
“Don’t try and mount the whole mountain at once,” Luftig advised a fan who wanted to know how to get into the business without connections or finances. “Start small, one step at a time.”