Where Theatre History Is Born

I have always loved to look at the pictures in those big, beautiful coffee table books about the history of Broadway and dream about the golden age of musicals. You know the pictures I mean - Rodgers and Hammerstein at a piano covered in sheet music, Sondheim and Stritch in a recording studio…

You can almost feel the energy and pulse of those rooms, where theatre magic was being born. And you may think that those are moments from a time long-gone…until you find yourself working in just such a room.

Last week, I closed “First Daughter Suite”[1] at The Public Theater and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my career. To sit in a rehearsal room with nine of Broadway’s greatest divas[2] while 5-time Tony nominee Michael John LaChiusa writes a song for them was exhilarating to say the least!

Broadway Up Close guides you all around the bright lights of Broadway, but just 35 blocks south, in the heart of the Village, lives The Public Theater – a most magical place! Often, before shows make it to the Great White Way, they are incubated downtown! When you’re talking about the developmental ground upon which the most cutting edge musicals are made these days, you may not be talking about 42nd Street. Ever heard of “Hamilton”? “Fun Home”? Both started at The Public.

In the fifties, Joe Papp founded The Shakespeare Workshop in order to give up-and-coming playwrights and performers a place in which to grow. In 1967, he turned the old Astor Library[3] into what is now The Public Theater and it opened with the original production of “Hair”! In 1975, the original production of “A Chorus Line” was born there! Clearly if you want to stay ahead of the curve of history, you need to keep up with The Public Theatre!

To get to work, simultaneously, in a library from the 1800s and a legendary theater, is truly sublime. To get to create a new musical with ladies whom I’ve listened to on original cast recordings over and over and over, is an embarrassment of riches. And to do it on a Michael John LaChiusa show?! I count my lucky stage manager stars! I love working on original productions because they keep me and my team incredibly busy. Just when we thought the script was complete, Michael John wrote a new song for Caissie Levy.[4] Just when we’d timed out a tricky cue sequence for lights and sound, three pages of material was cut. We had 15 preview performances and each one was different than the one before! As we rushed to type up the list of changes going in each night, I would think This is what it must have been like for Rodgers and Hammerstein...minus the laptops! The thrilling anticipation of hearing an audience react to brand-new lyrics. The nerves as you approach a complicated seque