You may not know it, but Scott Rudin is an old-fashioned kind of guy. He believes in the sanctity of marriage, the centrality of hands-on producing and, as anyone with functioning eyes knows, the efficacy of print advertising. All at a time where marriages fail nearly as often as Broadway shows, producing is an exercise in group-think and ad dollars soar into the digital ether. Red is the color of his ubiquitous display ads for Hello, Dolly!; antiqued monochrome for Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, both contenders for multiple Tony Awards this Sunday.
Those are two of the five new shows Rudin produced and managed this season, along with a starry revival of The Front Page, a ballsily unconventional take on The Glass Menagerie, and the off-Broadway co-production of The Wolves, a sensational newcomer. He also is a co-producer of Pulitzer Prize winner and Tony contender Sweat. In his down time he produces films and deposits large checks from the Broadway and various ancillary productions of The Book of Mormon.
That see-saw of commercial blockbusters (Bette Midler in Dolly! may be a no-brainer, but who knew The Book of Mormon would have grandmas guffawing at curse-words?) and risky new work makes Rudin a producer plenty of folks want to play with, on both the financial and creative sides: When I spoke recently with Laurie Metcalf, the star of Doll’s House, she said that just receiving the inquiry from the producer made her want to do the show sight unseen: “I got an email from Scott Rudin,” she told me, “saying, ‘Would you like to do a show on Broadway?’ and I started salivating.”
I spoke with Rudin yesterday about his extraordinary season.
Deadline: A Doll’s House, Part 2 was commissioned by the South Coast Rep, where presumably it would have had a tryout run, but that didn’t happen. Instead it came directly to Times Square.
Scott Rudin: I’d heard it existed, read the script, loved it even though it was still a nascent version, and I thought, If there is such a thing as a Broadway play, it’s this. South Coast was extremely co-operative, and they have a small piece of the production.
‘I wanted to do something that would matter, and that would show that a brand new play could still make a big noise on Broadway and, done right, could punch way above its weight.’
Deadline: Why not finance – “enhance” is the favored euphemism – the nonprofit production first? You became involved with last season’s Tony winner, The Humans, even before it was reviewed in its initial production at the Roundabout Theatre Company before having a great success with it on Broadway.
Rudin: I wanted to do something that would matter, and that would show that a brand new play could still make a big noise on Broadway and, done right, could punch way above its weight. It was an attempt to do a brand new play on Broadway solely based on belief in it, the way Broadway used to do plays when Kermit Bloomgarden, Herman Shumlin, Sam Harris and the Theatre Guild were producing the great works.
Deadline: You took another risk by signing Sam Gold to direct, because he was already working for you on Glass Menagerie.
Rudin: I went to Sam and offered it to him. I knew he was the right director for this play because we had done The Flick together. We mapped out a schedule that was ambitious but doable. We were the management for both, and were designing Doll’s House while we were in previews for Glass Menagerie.
Deadline: The play, as funny as it is insightful, sees Ibsen’s Nora returning home and confronting her husband, daughter and nanny 15 years after walking out on them. With no tryout, how did you get the “nascent” script ready for prime time?
Rudin: We did two workshops, and the cast had a major role in the development of the show. They challenged Lucas to make sure all the arguments were right and balanced. People leave the theater with their minds blown.
Deadline: Laurie Metcalf described an unusual amount of engagement by the cast in promoting the show.
Rudin: They truly love the play and have fought for it every day from the beginning of rehearsals. They did the midnight performance, have done massive publicity and show up at every single event.
Deadline: Let’s turn to the tempest over Bette Midler’s appearance at the Tonys. You declined the offer to have her perform the title number at Radio City Music Hall, and offered to show it via remote from the Shubert, which they in turn declined. Has there been any change in plans?
Rudin: We’re doing David Hyde Pierce and “Penny In My Pocket,” and I couldn’t be happier. There was no way to do “Hello, Dolly!” at Radio City without massive restaging, and it wouldn’t be as good as what is at the Shubert. My job is to protect the company and my obligation is to my show, not to the Tony show.
Deadline: But Bette will take part in the Tonys?
Rudin: Yes, she’s presenting one of the acting awards late in the show.
Deadline: Next season, you’re producing a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel with Renée Fleming and Jessie Mueller. You’re also heavily involved with the new park and arts space in the Hudson River that Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg are backing, with George C. Wolfe and Stephen Daldry
leading the creative side. I’m told that the Hudson River Park Trust, along with Pier55 Inc., has just won approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the revised project and that construction will begin this summer.
Rudin: It’s a gigantic and thrilling undertaking, not just for the scale and breadth of the thing itself (which is nearly overwhelming in its possibilities) but for the collaboration with Barry, Stephen and George. The process has been long and complex, but that’s relatively meaningless next to the potential for the park to be something remarkable. It’s not an opportunity anybody could pass up.
Deadline: One last thing about the Tony Awards. My Tony ballot requires three columns of print to accommodate all the people listed as producers on the nominees for best play and best musical. The Tonys have decreed that no more than six may come on onstage when the winners are announced, so in theory we won’t be seeing the usual gaggle around the microphone.
Rudin: And that is so wrong! They should all get to be up there.
Deadline: Why? The Oscars also have taken strides to limit the number of people who get the statue and the air time.
Rudin: It’s completely different. The same people who backed Hello, Dolly! are in Glass Menagerie and A Doll’s House. In Hollywood, only in very rare cases have the people listed as producers actually written a check. This is how Broadway shows get financed. People are with you when it’s easy and when it’s hard, and they deserve to be up there!
The Tony Awards will be telecast live by CBS June 11, beginning at 8 PM New York time.