Jeremy Gerard has covered the shifting fortunes of Jujamcyn Theatres since it became a formidable competitor to the larger Shubert and Nederlander organizations in the late 1980s. In 2013 producer Jordan Roth became Jujamcyn’s majority owner and the Street’s youngest power broker. In this weekly email conversation they talk about the state of the industry, the only stipulation being no holds barred.
GERARD: Your predecessor at the Jujamcyn helm, Rocco Landesman, was instrumental in getting Broadway involved in politics off stage as well as on, spearheading local support for Barack Obama — and of course he was appointed Obama’s first head of the National Endowment for the Arts. Such partisanship usually takes place behind closed doors; Rocco made it front-and-center. I don’t know that Obama has been a great friend of the arts — we still have no national arts policy and public support of the arts continues to be an ideological battleground — but he has been a faithful patron of Broadway. I think it’s been healthy for the industry to be out front on timely issues, so I wonder whether you plan to continue in that spirited activism. I see that Donald Trump cites you as a friend and as an example of his worldliness on the subject of gay marriage.
ROTH: Our industry has a great tradition of publicly and proudly supporting political candidates and issues, and of course Rocco’s great leadership at the NEA is one of the pinnacles. In addition to Rocco, Margo Lion and Tom Schumacher’s early support for Barack Obama during the campaign, my mother was one of the producers of the Broadway for Bill Clinton concert during his 1992 campaign. And beyond candidates, Broadway was been out front on many political issues, most recently marriage equality. We will continue to passionately advocate for both.
Politicians’ support of the arts through policy is crucial, but so too is their support of the arts through attendance. President and Mrs. Obama have led by example on Broadway, remarkably making theater-going a frequent part of their and their family’s lives while in the White House. So too has Hillary Clinton — as First Lady, Senator, Secretary and now candidate — and President Clinton throughout their years of service, shining their light on theater and theater-going. And so too have Donald and Melania Trump, often supporting on opening nights and championing Broadway as an indispensable New York institution. All recognize the power of theater and the power of their attendance.
It’s all the more surprising and disappointing then that Mayor de Blasio has come to just one Broadway show since he took office and very few other arts performances. Given that Broadway is such a vital driver of New York City’s tourism economy and such a visible symbol of our city’s arts community, the Mayor’s absence is deeply felt. And not just symbolically, as he left the post of Commissioner of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting vacant for the first several months of his mayoralty. Now that that position is vacant once again with Cynthia Lopez’s recent resignation, let’s hope the Mayor gives timely focus to our city’s essential arts industries.
GERARD: Or at least pull his focus away from the street theater in Times Square to things that really matter, like restoring arts education in city classrooms – a true no-brainer that benefits everyone. Next subject: Your five theaters seem solidly occupied with hit shows: The Book Of Mormon, Kinky Boots, Jersey Boys, Something Rotten! and A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder. Looking over the landscape of the coming season, I see not only the usual selection of new shows that were launched at nonprofit theaters, but also more co-productions among you and your two bigger competitors, the Shuberts with their 17 houses and the Nederlanders with nine. Will you be in the co-production game this season as well? What are you betting on?
ROTH: We don’t have a co-production planned for this coming season, but I will be cheering theirs on with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s return to the Winter Garden with School Of Rock. And this season is bringing us several reinventions of classic work by unique artists (Ivo van Hove with A View From The Bridge and The Crucible, John Doyle with The Color Purple, George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover with Shuffle Along, Michael Arden with Spring Awakening) as well as unique new voices (Sara Bareilles with Waitress), all of whom I’m excited to see make their mark. As for what I’m betting on, stay tuned.