Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres majority owner and president Jordan Roth talk about the state of the industry and other subjects, the only stipulation being no holds barred.
GERARD: It feels like there’s a lot of drama on Broadway this season and for once it’s onstage more than off. I’m encouraged by start, out of the gate, of Stephen Karam’s terrific play The Humans, which has made a smooth transition from the Roundabout’s off-Broadway Laura Pels to the Helen Hayes, Broadway’s smallest house and exactly the right venue for such an intimate show. My colleagues and I celebrated the move with a second round of excited reviews and it looks like the public is responding: The box office moved $270,000 worth of tickets the day the notices came out. For a 578-seat house and a show with no stars, that’s better than healthy.
Tickets are on sale through July 24; what happens after that, if the play continues to build an audience, is anyone’s guess: The Hayes was recently bought by the Second Stage Theater and is due to begin renovations this calendar year. Meanwhile, it’s the appropriately named home for a sensational ensemble of actors that includes Reed Birney, Jane Houdyshell and Sarah Steele.
Speaking of Sarah Steele: I can’t let the run-up to the series finale of The Good Wife pass without comment. As usual, I’m of two minds: As a sometimes-TV-critic, I was an early and ardent supporter of the CBS show about a woman putting her life on track in the wake of a humiliating public exposure, coming on the spike heels of the sex scandal that led to Eliot Spitzer’s resignation as Governor of New York (holy cow, it’s deja vu all over again…). Not only because The Good Wife was smart, affecting and unabashedly centered on the evolving story of a complicated woman taking control of her life. But also for the fact that Julianna Margulies insisted on shooting the Chicago-based series in New York rather than moving her family to L.A. That decision picked up the baton from Dick Wolf, helping to ensure New York’s growth as a production center, and, like Wolf, it kept untold numbers of New York actors working in and around their theater work — great actors including Christine Baranski, Zach Grenier, Alan Cumming and, of course, Sarah Steele — each installment is crammed with ’em.
But like so many series, this show ran out of ideas after four seasons and didn’t have the sense to close on a high note. So we’ve had to watch the work of writer/executive producers Robert King and Michelle King devolve into not just jumping the shark, but a whole school of them. A series that once challenged our intelligence with ripped-from-the-headline stories and richly drawn characters sank into farce and melodrama. (Seeing a great talent like Jay O. Sanders as a judge thwarted by ants in his bench last week was just too depressing.) I’ll miss Alicia Florrick and the gang, and I hope the extraordinarily gifted Cush Jumbo finds another excuse to stay in New York — one season was not enough of her, and who among us isn’t eager to see what she follows up with after The River, where she held her own opposite Hugh Jackman in The River, and Josephine & Me, where she held her own with herself. Next up: Kate in The Taming Of The Shrew this summer in Central Park. Keep this woman working in NYC.
But The Good Wife? Here’s your hat and what’s your hurry?
ROTH: This is what I find so fascinating about TV. As opposed to film and theatre where we know where our story ends before we start telling it, TV invests in a group of characters and then lets them find their way to an ending over many years. When you think about it, it’s actually quite an experimental creative form. But given that where a story ends is subjective and somewhat arbitrary, knowing when the characters have found it – or rather are about to find it, since the decision to end is often made before that season’s narrative is set – is a tough call. Sure, some shows have ended up telling more than they needed to, but so too have some shows cut out (or been cut out) with more to share.
And amen to the Made In NY productions that bring our best theatre actors to the screen without taking them away from the stage. I would also add all the playwrights — Warren Leight, Theresa Rebeck, Willie Reale, Paul Downs Colaizzo, Heidi Schreck and many more — who create and write on these shows. While it’s harder for them to do both at the same time, we do hope they’ll always remain writers for both stage and screen.
GERARD: Next topic: I recently was asked to contribute a remembrance of Ed Kayatt, the late publisher of Our Town, the Upper East Side weekly where I published my first reviews some 40 years ago, cheek by jowl with a little-known chatterbox named Cindy Adams. (True story: When Rupert Murdoch offered Cindy a column in the Post, she said she’d only do it if he agreed to let her keep contributing to the freebie that had given her first roost. Rupert agreed. When she told this to the curmudgeonly Kayatt, he responded by firing her.)
I had to do a lot more than writer reviews to earn my princely salary of $25 per week, but in return, I not only got my sea legs as an, um, deadline writer, but I also got to interview legends including E.G. Marshall, Marian Seldes, the British actor John Wood and the cast of Mummenschanz (they didn’t have much to say). Marshall liked his pint of Guinness. Seldes reminisced about her debut on Broadway as an attendant on Dame Judith Anderson’s Medea, discussed books (she wrote book reviews for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from her dressing room during her legendary runs in Equus and Deathtrap) and became a lifelong friend. These people and others enriched my perspective as a critic and I hope made me a more compassionate writer, sensitive to the complexities of what went in to creating a Broadway show.
ROTH: The great Cindy Adams was one of our guest star narrators when I produced The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway. Resplendent in her own Rocky red sequins, she held court at the center of the show and even added her own version of I’ve come for the rent! And I was a freshman in college when my mother produced Three Tall Women starring the radiant Marian Seldes. For all the years that followed, I counted myself among the lucky to always receive Marian’s special greeting whenever she saw me, gently cradling my face in her hands as if blessing me. And I believe she did.
Speaking of college, I was back on the Princeton campus a few days ago for the annual advisory council meeting of the Lewis Center for the Arts, along with fellow arts alums including producer Roger Berlind and filmmaker Andrew Jarecki. Established 10 years ago by then President Shirley Tilghman and an astounding $101 million gift from Peter B. Lewis of Progressive Insurance, the center brings together the university’s programs in theatre, dance, creative writing, visual arts and film. It’s run by theater professor and historian Michael Cadden, who taught me when I was there, and who in an amazing full circle, was in turn taught by Rocco Landesman at the Yale School of Drama. The center’s mission is to “put the creative and performing arts at the heart of the Princeton experience. This mission is based on the conviction that exposure to the arts, particularly to the experience of producing art, helps each of us to make sense of our lives and the lives of our neighbors.”
Contrast that with the recent front page Times story on various states and politicians promoting STEM education while cutting not just the creative arts in higher education but all the liberal arts. Their argument: degrees in technical fields will lead to higher paying jobs and are therefore worthy of government support while degrees in liberal arts won’t so aren’t. Basically, “More welders and less philosophers.” Thanks, Marco Rubio.
I majored in philosophy and I use that training every day in my business, just as much as I use my business degree. What the people who actually work in education not politics know is that studying philosophy makes better business people, that studying history makes a better electorate, that studying literature makes a more successful engineer. And they also know that educating the next generation of artists and scholars, who may on average make less money than others, makes our culture and our country stronger than others.