Podcast Episode 101 Transcript – Kenny Leon

Ken: Hello everybody! Ken Davenport here. This is the Producer’s Perspective podcast, the national touring edition because once again we’ve taken this podcast on the road. I’m speaking to you from the back a lot of Universal Studios in Los Angeles where I’m not allowed to take any photos because we’re on the set of Hairspray Live and I’m in the office of today’s guest. Please welcome to the podcast, the Tony Award-winning director Mister Kenny Leon. Welcome Kenny.


Kenny: Hey it’s good to be here.


Ken: So Kenny won his Tony for the revival of A Raisin in the Sun which also won the Tony that year for best revival starring Denzel Washington, on Broadway also directed Stick Fly, The Mountaintop, the 2 Pac musical  Hollar if You Hear Me, Fences, Radio Golf and many many others. He directed The Wiz Live on NBC and like I just said, he’s in the middle of rehearsals for Hairspray Live coming up and was the artistic director of Atlantis Alliance Theater. Kenny where did you get bit by the theater bug?


Kenny: Well, first of all I should say now I’m the artistic director of True Colors Theater Company, which is a theatre of diversity and I’m very proud of the work we do as a small theater. But I think that I got bit probably in church. You know listen to stories in church and I remember I was really young. We were in a program called Upward Bound in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Me and Angela Bassett and it was a program for low-income families who have college potential. So from that day on, I was taking classes in theater and Math, Science, every weekend and every summer I had to spend on a college campus from that day on. And so I remember Angela Bassett and I ended up doing plays. We did a play called Sun Gone Home. She played my mother. Even though I was older. So you know I’ve always you know had it in church, had it in you know in the Upward Bound program. When I got to college I met people like Samuel L. Jackson and his wife LaTanya and Spike Lee and I were in the same class. So during that time we sort of had a mini Harlem renaissance in Atlanta, in our University center, you know where the college performances were the professional black theater in Atlanta. So you know, there was an opportunity to learn theater to get involved. But at that time I was Political Science major. So I was a Political Science major and a Theater minor. And I actually went for a little bit of law school for like half a year. But you know I looked a certain way at a certain time so I was doing television commercials and started acting. I left law school and you know started on that acting journey. And then one day I directed a play called The Wishing Place. And I was like “Woah, that’s what I wanna do. I want to direct.” You know I was a pretty good actor and I probably act every two years or so, so I can you know be able to challenge people like Denzel or Sam Jackson or Audra McDonald in a room and say ” I know what you are feeling cause I been through that process.” But I just get so much more out of directing. You have a chance to help people to become bigger, just step into bigger shoes and I love being a part of that process with actors and with the designers.


Ken: So you were in this Upward Bound program and were the people around you going like “Oh he’s gonna be a doctor, he’s gonna be a lawyer, he’s gonna be a physicist….”


Kenny: Oh yeah yeah


Ken: No no no I’m going to the theater.


Kenny: No I didn’t know I am going the theater. When I was Upward Bound I was like “Oh I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be a Congressman. I actually was at…..”


Ken: We can use you about right now.


Kenny: I know I have a little bit. You can use me now but the answers are gonna come from an artistic world. Hairspray is the beginning of my revolution as a demonstration of what the world should look like and what our country should feel like so that’s the beginning of the revolution.


Ken: I love it. I love it. In a sentence, describe what a director’s job is to you. What’s your job? You have to write a job description in the classified.


Kenny: That’s crazy man and it’s different for every project. But for me, a director is a therapist, a psychologist, a teacher, explorer, a doctor and father figure. So it’s all of that into one for something as massive as Hairspray Live, you got to, you know you have to get all of those actors, over fifty actors, not counting the extras. You try to get them all to go in one direction. Trying to have them to have the all of the same tone. Then for this it’s not, you know, it’s not a play, it’s not a film, it’s not television. It’s a little bit of all of that. So you have to find the right speaking voice for this so I get everybody on the same page. I have to make sure I get rid of all the warts early on, that is the main job of the director, to disguise the warts, you know. So if you can’t change them or get the actor to get rid of the warts then you have to hide them by the way you move people, the way you change the rhythm of lines or something like that. Ultimately, I’m the chief collaborator.


Ken: And you just jumped into directing when you directed that first play. Where did you learn to be all these things? Were you trained? Did you have a mentor?


Kenny: While I was in– it was that you know, when I was in, I was at the Academy of Music and Theater in Atlanta, I remember this company and where some actors, most of us acted but then some of us would get an opportunity to direct. And the artistic director Frank Wittow, at that time was a great friend — he passed away couple years ago. After my first foray to directing, he said “Ken well I just don’t think you have the skills for directing. I think we should just, we would love to have you back as an actor, we love what you do.” And I said its time to leave and I don’t know what I was gonna do next, but it was time to leave because I felt I did have the skills to direct. And so I ended up being right on that one.


Ken: Yeah for sure.


Kenny: But then I was also soon thereafter I applied for a program, because during the time at the Academy of Theater, I did things like, I learned how to teach workshop in prison. So I went to the prison system and worked with the prisoners and talking about acting skill. I worked with the homeless population and people of the brick, which taught homeless people how to act.  And then I applied for this program, this fellowship for directors through the NEA and Theater Communications Group and I got that. What made me stand out was the fact that I had worked with this different groups as a director, in addition to acting in Hamlet or directing Death of a Salesman, you know things like that. So when I spent that year, and as a director fellowship, that was one of the best things that happened for me because it allowed me to observe [inaudible] center stage and that’s the year I met August Wilson. That’s the year I talked with Lauren Richards and I really immersed in this whole idea of the regional of theater movement. Then once I was offered the associate artistic directors job at the Alliance Theater and then a year later being named artistic director. As a part of that gig, it was important for me to at least spend one slot a year, I would direct at some theater in the country. In addition to running the Alliance Theater. So I would go to the Milwaukee Reparatory Theater, Arena Stage, San Jose Rep, Hartford Stage, so all those years, I was still learning about directing and how to be an administrator as well. And then after about eleven years of running the theater, thirteen years total, I decided that I was spending too much time on administration side and I was raising a lot of money but I was losing myself as an artist and then I decided to leave and then that same year I was offered two Broadway shows which I never could have done if I was still running the theater. So you know that’s a short story of it.


Ken: A lot of Broadway’s best directors, a lot of you A-listers came from being artistic director of major non-profit. Jack O’Brien on a few weeks ago. Why do you think being an artistic director trains you so well to be a successful Broadway director?


Kenny: I think the regional theater and serving as artistic director trains you for Broadway because you see the entire picture. You understand the mind of producers. You understand where the money goes. You understand how to balance the budget. You understand how important the art is, so you get to see everything. You get to work with every department that you work with. You know you’re responsible for the costume department and the production department and the technical director and you work with the development director and you work with a board of directors so you’re sort of like a, it’s like running a regional theater, it’s like running a small Broadway show. So you come can compare to both, so it’s like I understand Broadway better because of my time you know running a, you know fifteen million dollar a year regional theater.


Ken: You worked with a lot of incredible people on your way up, any advice you got from people back then that you still think about today?


Kenny: Well absolutely, but you know the great thing also about regional theater, you get to, because you are hiring a lot of directors so you get to know the  other directors in the field and you get to see a lot of sensibilities and different ways to attack material because, you know, you just don’t have to look at what you do, well you look at a wide variety of what people do. So all the way up I met a lot of people, I’ve met you know people like Irene Lewis who was at Centerstage, worked a lot when I was there. And she was like “Kenny Leon, you gonna end up hiring all of us.” I was like what?


So, that was great. And. Lloyd Richards was always the, you know, always questioning make sure you know why you’re doing it, you know. Why you’re doing it. I remember giving advice to the board of directors who hired me and he said “It is great coz he’s hot and he’s young now, but are you gonna be there when the subscription goes down or when you see a challenging play that you don’t want to produce. ” So by hearing him saying that, you know at that point, when my subscription based did go down, my board of directors was prepared because they had had that talk with Lloyd. And then I’m, like August Wilson said, you know just he said, “Well I see you’re doing more television and more film and I know you are never leaving the theater because that’s the meat. But he said, just remember when you`re in the television world, remember that you know we’re the filler. And I said what?


We’re the filler. We always thought of commercials as being the filler. But you have to be able to tell your story with them, their meat. It’s the commercials. So you make sure the story comes after the commercials. So I always remember that’s like “Okay, so even when I’m doing  Hairspray Live with that okay, you know that first, the first commercial, we have to have that as late as possible because we have to hook them. We have to engage them in the story so they want to come back and see what we want to give them” and little stuff like that..


Ken: If you could only direct one type of show for the rest of your life, what would it be? New play? Revival of a play? New musical? Revival of a musical? You can only do one. Your agent says, Kenny this is it for the rest of your career. Which one would you wanna do?


Kenny: A new musical.


Ken: Why?


Kenny: Because I would have a chance of creating something that was not experienced. It is always great going through that. And there is a wider audience for the new musical than they are for the new play, even though I love the new plays but if I had to pick one, a new musical, cutting-edge different musical so the Hollar if You Hear Me of the world or the Hamilton’s of the world the, you know but I mean, Hamilton is one that only comes around once in a lifetime. But you know I mean so we can explore it a story in a variety of ways. You know sometimes it’s best told through dance, sometimes the answer is through songs, sometimes it’s through spoken words and you get a chance to put all of ’em together. You decide how you get it out. It is not all dependent on the spoken word.


Ken: On a new project, on a new play or on a new musical, how early do you like to get involved? Do you like to get involved when there’s not much of a script and really get in there? Or do you like to wait until the thing is done great.


Kenny: I like to get in from the very beginning so I could collaborate with artist early on and then massage it and the put that foundation in before it gets too far down the road.


Ken: And obviously you’re doing Hairspray Live now. What do you think about this whole live movement? This is your second one right? You did The Wiz. That was just fantastic and everyone’s looking forward for Hairspray. What do you think about this whole live Broadway getting on television like this?


Kenny: I think this live musical event thing is a great revolution to be a part of. I think Bob Greenblatt had a great idea when you start doing these and Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to shepherd The Sound of Music then Peter Pan and then The Wiz and I like the idea that FOX got into the game with Grease and then now we’re doing Hairspray. I think it’s only gonna help. Number one it’s gonna help, gonna give job opportunities to theater artists, to television artists and young people who have never had a job, you know and Maddie Baillio, it’s her first full-time job so it’s weigh in for The Wiz, it’s the first job and our first entrance into the profession that you know that she wants to spend her life in and you know it also gives opportunity for people who don’t usually get a chance to work together, to work together you know so. You have Ariana Grande working with Kristin Chenoweth that’s beautiful you know so then their audience sees that Ariana Grande is more than just a pop culture singing icon you know. People know that Harvey is not just a theater person you know so I love all these artists coming together and have the opportunity to grow their talent. I like the idea that the audience they see this one-time event. I they’re like: wow ! They want to go see a play in their community and not just Broadway and they want to tune-in for the next one you know. I like the fact that it’s cross generational you know because it’s all about the numbers getting people to watch it so and our production of Hairspray, we have someone for every decade you know. We have a ten-year-old, a twenty-year-old, a thirty-year-old, forty-year-old, fifty or sixty or seventy and they all have followers on social media you know but they all are talented and all of them get the chance to merge their audiences  and to broaden the minds of their audiences you know oh we thought you like Ariana Grande but she’s working for Kenny Leon so wow what’s that guy doing next, he’s working on an opera next, well maybe I`ll go to see an opera you know, so I think it is good for everyone.


Ken: Was it scary? The night The Wiz? I mean you’re such a cool easy-going guy.


Kenny: It’s scary now. Yes it was scary. Yeah, you know like I tell the group now I said you know, I’ve been through this. So I’m gonna tell you what you get ready to experience now you know like it’s no flaps now it’s like days are not stopping. It’s like Monday to Friday feels like Monday. It feels like one day. And that’s just the way it goes, but I’m still nervous because there’s so many things that could go wrong especially with us doing forty percent more of this story outside, so we go out with one from location to location to location. We have to move the talent. Either running or on golf carts and then they have to change clothes so you know, change make-up. So to me it reminds me a little bit of television, a little bit of film, a little bit of theater, a little bit of song, there’s also a little bit of the Superbowl. So we have to keep everyone in shape you know. We have to like, okay, So we practice, we run our plays, you know we will have practice as much as we could up until the event. But we have no control over the wind. We have no control over the rain. We have no control on how cold it’s gonna be or how warm it’s gonna be. We can only prepare for that. And that’s the exciting part of it and hope you still, hope you win the game. You hope a lot of people come to the game. So, it’s exciting but that is a tremendous high and then on the day after, you said wow, hopefully we would have reached let’s say twenty-five million viewers you know. And they’ve got the chance to see how we want America to be, inclusive for everyone. Size, race, social identity and all of that. That`s a pretty good contribution to the discussion in America right now.


Ken: Let’s talk about a little bit about True Colors. Diversity, obviously, it’s a big thing a Broadway and Broadway if you read over the last season, everyone was championing how well we did in terms of diversity. How do you think we’re doing in terms of diversity on Broadway right now?


Kenny: Well I had a couple of interviews last year and they say, what do you think? And last year I said, well we just have to wait a year and see if it’s you know, if it’s true diversity or just happen stance. And I think it’s happen stance, you know it’s like, you know still what drives Broadway is like you still have to get good products that people, that producers think people would want to go see there is some interest in diversity but that’s not a top three driver. You know you could probably see the forty-one theaters. So it’s like okay, who’s gonna fill those forty-one theaters. I still have a home for The Wiz, we are trying to get home for that. You know so I would love the day when I feel that our Broadway community, all of us where we felt that diversity was the number one or two driving force for the shows that we did. And I think that if we did have a commitment to diversify the audience, you would see the story change and the audience build. There’s not just, there’s more than one way to make money you know.


Ken: So what is something that the individuals out there listening right now, all the people all over the world listening to this, they can do to help this. Is there anything that we could do just as individuals to help to try to diversify the theater even more?


Kenny: Well you know people could write to their local papers. Write to New York Times and write to where you can you been to say what you wanna see on the stage you know. I think that also going to support those things that are on Broadway that you think is interesting to you and the exciting, not just because it’s a fun musical or because that story might be interesting. I think it is good to take someone else to a Broadway show that normally wouldn’t go see the show you would go see. So there are few things that are of diverse interest, go see those support those. Write a letter at the theater, leave the letter there with the theater.


Ken: What does it take to get you to sign on to a project? What interests you? What makes you go, this is what I wanna do.


Kenny: When I first get a play I read it five times and if I like one, I’ll pick it up the sixth time then that’s good.


Ken: Really five times?


Kenny: Yeah I read it five times where I’m thinking about it sometimes I don’t think about it. I’m just trying to read it, read it, read it, read it, read it, read it, if I wanna read it a sixth time then I could go back and look for the characters you know.  But usually, after that second or third time you really know if you want to do it. So it’s the content for the potential for changing lines, inspiring people. The timeliness of it. Even when I look at a revival I’m saying okay, what does that say to an audience today? It’s like when I did A Raisin in the Sun, the second time on Broadway. It was nothing at all like the first time and I never thought about the first time when I was working on it the second time. But I felt like the country needed that particular play and I wanted it to, I wanted a big play to feel intimate. So I moved it closer to the audience and I had them feel included in that. So I wanted to put black and white together, so in subtle ways I did that. So I’m always thinking about. okay, what’s a timely play ? Do I feel like I have to do this? Do I feel urgently possessed to present this? And would it you know, would it be exciting for me to be involved in it for the next six years, a year, two years of your life, that’s what you don’t want to do, You don’t want to say yes to something and then something better comes along. You say “Ah I got to leave that project to go to this project.” You don’t want to do that. So when I say yes to something, it’s really like, I really wanna do this. Because I love what it`s saying, I love the potential. It’ll affect people’s lives. I see a few great roles, for some actors that may want to be involved in this.  So you know like I’ve been working for a couple of years, I’ve been attached to Children of a Lesser God.  And we’re gonna have a workshop finally in December; then after this and I still think there’s a timely thing with that you have to, there’s a play about a hearing impaired woman and her ASL teacher. People always think there’s a play about you know the hearing impaired when there’s not. There’s a love story about two people who try to communicate and that’s a universal thing. And I grew in the knowledge of that play last year when I felt we’re gonna be on Broadway this year with it, so I took some lessons. And I took lesson from this beautiful woman who is deaf from birth. Her two kids are deaf and her husband is deaf. She taught me every Tuesday in Brooklyn, sign language. And I was like, everything I need to know about the play with her help because we took lessons. I take my lesson in public places so I met her in a bar, even went to a restaurant. Then we went and sat on the side of a bridge, the we, you know so we learned everything you know by needing to communicate with each other. She wouldn’t let me have shortcuts, but one thing about her she was one of the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. So I was like, “Wow, that’s the story.” Because she has everything. We always want to make people over, and there’s no reason to make her over. Hence the title Children of a Lesser God. And I kept saying is time and time again we’d go to say front desk of a museum and they would look at her and wow, a guy will look at her and then found out that she was deaf, then he would slowly turn to me. Oh! Or just like in the play. There’s a scene in the play where he’s trying to convince her, the hearing guy is trying to convince the hearing impaired person to have sex the way he sees sex. “You have to make a sound.” You have to, I was like you may not need to make a sound. Maybe her way is better. Maybe her way is more intimate, you know. And so I learned a lot because I was very excited and I was able to convince the producer Hal Luftig who did Kinky Boots. The woman who thought me the ASL, I got her doing the reading, the role and the reading. So it’s an African-American woman, multi-racial. And then I got Joshua Jackson, who’s gonna come in and read, and so I got a TV star that I’ve never worked with before. So we’re gonna do a workshop. I don’t know what happens after this but you know you got a sexy white actor and a sexy hearing impaired African- American woman, so you know it kind of opens it up in a different way. So you know that was a lot of stuff you know looking like that and the revival of Proof we’re supposed to bring back. Denzel and I was talking about you know we try to go back every three to four years so it looks like we gonna try to do something in `18 or `19, probably `19. But you know so we just try to keep eight balls in there and hope you can grab two and I`m gonna do the reboot of Car Wash the musical.  So they ordered a thirty minute pilot for ABC. And another big TV project that we haven’t announced yet. So you know I just try working as an artist, keep trying to grow. I want to do like, all of it because it makes me better. So I want to do opera. I want to do musicals. I want to do dramas, I want to do Broadway. And then in Atlanta at True Colors, we’re gonna do, we’re gonna revisit Hollar if You Hear Me, the 2 Pac musical, and I’m gonna go and do it with the colleges in Atlanta. So I’m gonna get small group of students and do a master class with all year and then I’m gonna put them in a play. And then we’ll open up one of 2 Pac’s numbers where he talked about the future of young people and I want to hear their voices, so I’m gonna let the Black Lives Matter and those voices get built in to the show in a way that merits it to 2 Pac’s music so I get to open that next summer which could be very very exciting.


Ken: You work with students and then you work with Denzel?


Kenny: Yeah.


Ken: So do you find that you have to adjust your style when you work with big stars or unknown actors, is there kind of difference?


Kenny: Well you know what’s funny because you know with the Hollar if You Hear Me,  that’ll be a professional play for my company so I have most of the cast would be professional actors and then there’s a little pocket of ten people will be students, so that’s gonna be great. There’s no difference than working with– I mean what’s different sometimes there’s more teaching involved than not. But like I said earlier you know, you’re a psychologist too. So in the first seven days of anything I’m working on, I’m trying to figure out how the actors process information, individually. So there are fifty people involved in that first week. I’m trying my way, I’m figuring out Oh, that person I got to scream at oh that person is gonna be trouble. That person I gotta take to dinner. That person I got to teach. That person needs a line reading. Oh that person is an asshole. Oh, and okay three days with this person I’ll have to fire this person or replace it with that person. You know what I mean? So it’s always, I’m trying to figure out who you have on the team and how they process information and sometimes there’s more teaching involved. Sometimes there’s more sometimes the best gift that I can give to actors to get out the way, so I know when I have to get out of the way. So when working someone like Denzel Washington and Viola Davis you know when you get out the way. And you try to figure out if they get stuck. Can you help get them unstuck? And the big job is to draw the big picture so everybody knows what parameter we playing in. This is the ballfield we’re playing in. That doesn’t belong here. This is what, you know, so you got to shake them up to do like that and then be a part of them and then guarantee them that you’re not gonna let them be exposed.


Ken: You read reviews?


Kenny: Once in a while, but I never read but in use until after like, long after the work is done. I used not to read them all but now I’m able to read them because you know there only like a few people that I kind of respect. So it’s like it’s all in the way they put it in. You know what I mean? You know and…


Ken: Who do you respect?


Kenny: John Lahr, Frank Rich. Coz what I always say is “Can a person, can they ascertain what you’re trying to do as a director?” And if you were a successful at accomplishing it.. That’s all I want to worry about. But if you’re writing about like “Oh I saw this in 1959 and it’s not like that” and that’s not helping, helping the theater field, you know. It’s supposed to be encourage people to go to theater, and make up their own mind. It’s not supposed to be, “Oh there’s a man standing in the chair clapping so I got ten claps in the chair so I’m good, or a man sleeping down, you know.” So you know. Sometimes I look forward not to see how the play is doing but I might want to, I wanna read what someone intellectually academically feels about the work you know what I mean? But the task for this, I look — I really don’t care too much what the press says December 8th, but I want to be able to look at other artist and say: Do you have any regrets? Did you do what you had to do? If you didn’t give me a hundred percent then you got some regrets. So that’s what I worry about. But I am sensitive to my greatest nightmares especially for Broadway or doing a live production is. If people leave the theater, I’m not one of those. I don’t like you know, if droves of people left the theater. I’m not that guy. I’m always doing it for the audience. I want them to find their place in this story. So I’m sensitive like that, which is why the one thing I could never give up is theater coz I can stand in the back on opening night or the day after opening. I don’t usually stay for the opening. But on the day after opening, or during previews, it’s just, you just feel the collective audience and see where they lean in. See when they are laughing. You can’t take that anywhere else.


Ken: Favorite production you’ve done?


Kenny: Mmm-hm favorite production. You know it’s like I would say, you know the last one that you did is probably the favorite one, but you know for a lot of reasons I liked working on Fences. And when when I saw the film last week, I was very proud of the work that that group people did on Broadway and what they’re doing that so I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of both the productions of A Raisin in the Sun, but for different reasons you know. To see Sean Combs who had never acted and to be a part of that. Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad to win the Tony inthat category which could never be done and then work with Denzel on this Raisin in the Sun. So I think I take away something from almost everything. You know you get [inaudible] and doing the opera Margaret Connor in Hollar if You Hear Me, I loved it because you know 2 Pac`s mother was there and she says, you did my son right. I will never forget that. And she passed away this year– I have a lot to be thankful for. When I wake up, looking forward to– like this Hairspray I do feel like people think that this is just the feel good musical, but I feel like it’s a, it’s a moment in time . And that’s important and I feel like, God gave us the right group of people to work with at this specific time to deliver this. I mean Jerry Mitchell doing the choreography and he and I working together. That’s unheard of to get. Those two people on a project and Harvey Fierstein we worked together on The Wiz and now he’s writing this and now he’s staring in this and I couldn’t think of anybody I want to play the meatiness. I just can`t you know, when they said Hairspray, I said I gotta Harvey. You know what I mean? And a Kristin Chenoweth, we’ve known each other but never worked together and she’s like “I feel like I’ve known you for thirty years” and you know so it’s like it feels really special with all the young people they really wanted to, they are hungry for it and they are listening to advice so I feel a different role. I feel like I am more of a teacher for this. And that’s how you can serve, winning a Tony Award. Because then you can say, okay I won that but this is what comes with it. So I can tell them what it means to me. I can go about the world what to expect in ten years. So it’s a really special, it’s a real special. Alex Rudzinski is a great, great talent director. So we have every possible area covered at the highest level and you don’t get that always. So it’s wow. Only thing that can mess this up as me.


Ken: Advice to people out there that want to be directors?


Kenny: The most powerful thing in the pursuit of directing, I think is observing. Some people don’t see the power in that and just wants to direct so quick and I think that go around around someone who was directing, sitting in the space and be quiet.


Ken: Any different advice for people of color out there who want to be directors?


Kenny: That most times it`s gonna seem that like it’s impossible. So you really have to have a strong spiritual center and if you wake up knowing that you gotta do it then trust that.


Ken: I love that story of someone telling you, you’re not gonna be a director and you leaving what a pivotal moment of your life. Okay last question, my Jame’s Lipten question okay? I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes to visit you and knocks at your door and says “Kenny I want to thank you for all the amazing work you’ve done on Broadway to advance diversity working with young people. Everything I want to thank you for all by granting you one wish.” What’s the one thing that drives you so crazy about Broadway that gets you steaming mad, swearing, throwing things that you would ask this genie to take away with that one wish?


Kenny: Well I guess is, I’m not gonna get that award that Jerry got a couple of years the Mr. Abbott award so I was like I’ve been thinking about that but to answer your question more specifically, it would be what pisses me off, I’ve been doing this TDF program every year. It’s like the group of intercity kids, eight to ten intercity kids New York, to Broadway shows. Then I took them to a restaurant, changed restaurants because I don’t [inaudible] the restaurant. In the restaurant we talk about that they used in the play and that’s my group all year. And then you know, I found out that many of them, you know at the beginning you’re like Yeah you gotta go to college and then I’m realizing that college is not even possible for most of these kids. And it’s not their fault. And I didn’t know there was a recently. You know I kind of, I didn’t know it. So I’m like yeah you just work hard and now I know it’s not just that. It’s not the neighborhood you were born in, the school was that I’m not there for you. And you can’t even compete so when I see these kids I’ve been working and I see them the following years, and what you’re doing, oh I’m working at a nail shop. Yeah but you’re so smart. Or I meet some of the same kids who are, they’re challenged and you know maybe some version of autism or different ways and we have a word with them enough to give them an educational life that would be meaningful enough to them you know. And then even when you try to take these kids on that program to see Broadway shows sometimes you can’t get, I can’t get them the experience of sitting in the orchestra. It’s like oh, well we got four seats left and they’re on the last row, it’s like that’s not even the right experience. I mean for us, as producers and artists and directors. I ought to be able to say, “Hey! I’m Kenny Leon I just directed on Broadway. We’re gonna sit these kids right here and that’s how future audience, and they`ll get it and you know, but so if I could do that, that’s what I would make in a small way. You know, I know it’s a money making endeavor but I would say for every show, these kids and especially in New York and inner cities that we could get every performance with this. You know make it possible for them to sit in the center orchestra.


Ken: Well when I produce my next show you let me know, we’ll put them down center for sure. Thank you so much for doing this and taking the time out of your busy schedule. Everyone out there, watch Hairspray Live, December seventh. It’s coming up. Just a couple of weeks away. I’m very excited. Thanks again for listening. I will see you all next time. Don’t forget the number one ranked Broadway gift on amazon.com is be a Broadway star, the only Broadway board game out there. Go get one for the Broadway lover in your life today.


[Extro music playing: I’m gonna be a producer. Look at Broadway, here I come.]




Related Posts


Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.