Podcast Episode 34 Transcript – John Rando

Ken: Hey, guys, it’s Ken. Before we get to this week’s podcast I wanted to remind you about this beautiful little show I’m producing this fall called Daddy Long Legs, by the director of a little show you might have heard of called Les Mis, John Caird, and Paul Gordon, who wrote the beautiful Jane Eyre, which was on Broadway a number of years ago. You’ve got to come check it out . . . and, hey, here’s a little secret. At the end of this podcast there’s a little Easter egg for you. I’m going to play one of the songs from the show, “The Secret of Happiness,” sung by one of the most talented ladies in the city, Megan McGinnis. So hang on to the end of the podcast and listen to the song from Daddy Long Legs. Okay, now on with the show!

Ken: Hello, Producer’s Perspective Podcast listeners. I am Ken Davenport. We are going to have some fun today!

John: Yes, yes!

Ken: Hal Prince once said to me, “Kid . . .” Okay, he didn’t say “kid,” but he did say, “Ken, if you want a show to happen, get me to direct it.” What he was telling me is that if you get an A-list Broadway director, the money will come, the theater will come, everything will come and these shows will happen. And today, guess what? We have one of those Broadway A-list directors on this podcast. I’m sitting here across the table from Tony Award winner and occasional golfer John Rando. Welcome, John!

John: Thank you for that introduction, yes.

Ken: John made his directorial debut back in 2000 with a terrific production of The Dinner Party, but he really burst onto the scene with the very uniquely titled Urinetown, which won him that aforementioned Tony. After that, he went on to direct shows like The Wedding Singer, A Christmas Story, On the Town, which got another Tony nomination for him, and just a few weeks ago he opened Penn & Teller on Broadway to rave reviews, and I just tweeted that it recouped its investment today.

John: That’s good news.

Ken: It’s very good news.

John: I did not know that. I have a lot of happy producers!

Ken: Yes, you do.

John: I hope you are happy over in the Frankel office.

Ken: I hope you got a nice recoupment bonus.

John: I don’t know! I’m hoping.

Ken: I think you do. I know your agent well. I have a feeling you do. I know his agent well because John is attached to a very exciting project called Getting the Band Back Together that some guy named Ken Davenport is bringing to Broadway.

John: Yes, yes, Ken Davenport is bringing that to Broadway. Thank you, Ken Davenport, wherever you are.

Ken: As soon as we get a theater. So, John, take us back. When did you get bit by the theater bug? How did this all happen?

John: Well, yes, that’s a good question. I started as a junior high school kid who heard that the speech class in seventh grade would be a lot of fun and might be pretty easy, so I took that speech class and we did a lot if improv and it was a lot of fun. And I became a sort of actor and acted a lot in junior high school and in high school. So that’s when the theater bug bit. However I didn’t show any signs of swelling or anything like that outwardly because I kept telling my parents that I was going to go to law school, and I didn’t do that. I just didn’t go to law school. I stayed in the theater. But I did study! So, anyway, that’s how it happened.

Ken: Why not law school?

John: I really wanted to be a director. In high school I had a great drama teacher. Robert Judd was his name, at Clear Creek High in Houston, Texas. League City, Texas, to be specific. Anyway, I did a lot of plays in his stead, working with him, and when I went to college I recognized that that was really what I wanted to do and at the University of Texas at Austin, where I went to school, I kind of devised my own degree plan under the humanities label. I wrote to the university and said, “I really want to get a humanities degree, but I want to become a director and I figure this is how I can do it. I can study languages and Shakespeare and history and philosophy and maybe take a few theater classes too.” I didn’t want to get a degree from the theater department. UT has a brilliant theater department, but I thought that I needed to have a few more thoughts in my head, so that’s how I did it. So after college I was faced with this dilemma. So I got a Fulbright fellowship to study theater in Europe, in Germany and Italy, so I did. I went there, and then I came back and I had to really face the music and decide, “Am I going to do this for a career?” At that point I applied for graduate work to UCLA in theater directing, and I also applied to the Columbia School of International Relations, thinking that if the theater thing didn’t go well maybe I could get into this school and do some international relating, because I spoke German and Italian. In the mail from Columbia I got a very thin envelope. I opened it up and, of course, it was a rejection letter, but from UCLA I got a roundtrip airplane ticket. “Come and see us, come and meet us. We’re really interested in talking to you. We really think you have something,” and so I went to UCLA and got my MFA in directing.

Ken: So, just back to undergrad for a second, you designed your own major there.

John: Yes.

Ken: This is a real theme developing in a lot of the artists that I talk to, like yourself, who have gone on to very successful careers. Theresa Rebeck, in last week’s podcast, spoke about how she did the same thing, basically. She convinced them to have a playwriting class, which I find fascinating. So you’ve got this undergraduate degree that you designed yourself, and then you got your MFA in directing. But the seed for directing was planted in high school, you said.

John: Yeah, high school. The first play I directed was in my senior year. It was called The Butler Did It, and it was a kind of lousy version of a mystery comedy play.

Ken: I smell a revival!

John: I don’t think so. I don’t think it ever lived. But it was very funny for a high school play. Of course there was no butler in the play. There was a maid and the maid did the murder.

Ken: What was it about directing? As high school students, most people want to be on the stage so that they can show off to all of their friends. What was it about directing that was very attractive to you and that still is attractive to you?

John: I love the craft of acting and I find that, as a director . . . I love actors. I love watching and working and trying to help solve the mystery of the scene, of the language, of the moment. That’s what I’m really into. That’s what I was into, so at that time, as I went through college and into grad school, I realized that what I really liked was the whole picture. Because I had a choice not to be an actor and not to try to be an actor. I acted all through college and into grad school, but then I stopped after that. I never acted professionally. I just wasn’t that interested in my body. I wasn’t that interested in my voice and all of that stuff that actors have to be into, my own weird psychology. I was more interested in literature and storytelling and what these stories can do to an audience and how an actor, in working with texts, can transform himself or herself. Those are the kind of things that I was attracted to.

Ken: Tell us about the path of Urinetown and how Urinetown happened.

John: I got a phone call from these very young guys who were becoming producers, Matthew Rego at the great Araca group. At that time, they were just starting out, and Matthew I met at the Berkshire Theatre Festival because he and I were working together there as young directors. And he called me and said, “Hey, I’ve got a really cool play that I think you’d like. It’s a musical. I think you’d like to do it,” and he wanted me to come and see it. It was happening at the Fringe Festival, the first production of it, and I couldn’t go, so he sent me the script and I read the script without listening to the music and I called him up and said, “This is brilliant, I want to do it.” And then he said, “Did you hear the music?” and I said, “Not yet.” But I found that to be a good help in picking musicals. You really do have to read them and understand the story and the through line, and make sure you like it and want to tell that story first, because music is so seductive. It’s amazingly seductive. So anyway, that’s how that happened and it was just this very deliberate, focused journey on how to get that show to the ultimate goal of being on Broadway. And we did it through a couple of readings, some development readings and a fantastic Off-Broadway production on this very street, just half a block from here, at a police station.

Ken: One of my favorite crappy off-Off-Broadway theaters above the courthouse.

John: Yes, above a courthouse. It’s a police station, and part of that inspired us to do the design. We basically saw that they had this white tile in the hall and we said, “That would be great for our set. We’ll put that in our set,” and we just created that space to make it feel like it was really there, that you were in it. So anyway, that’s how Urinetown happened and we were really fortunate. And it came at a really compelling time in the theater, where I think Broadway was changing dramatically, and then 9/11 happened four days before we were supposed to open. It was an amazing moment. And so we had to delay. In fact, Broadway went dark for a few nights and when we came back to perform . . . this is before we opened . . . we still had the opening night cake that we were supposed to eat. I made a speech before we started, just thanking the audience for actually coming to the theater because that was a pretty scary time, and invited them all to have cake after the show. We had the cake right in the lobby there. It was a good chocolate cake.

Ken: When you read it, when you were doing it Off-Broadway, did you think, “Oh, we could get this to Broadway? This is a Broadway show.”

John: We kept saying, “We need to be a thorn in Broadway’s side.” That’s what I kept telling people. “We need to be a thorn in Broadway’s side. We need to be such a problem child that they don’t know what to do so they have to put us there.” There was no place for that show to be financially or commercially successful because of the size of Off-Broadway. Off-Broadway couldn’t sustain it, we knew that. But we created a production that, if we had to stay Off-Broadway, we could try to sustain it. The good news is that we did well and so we could move it to Broadway. Of course, at that time we picked the Henry Miller Theatre, which was a 500-plus seat house, a really small house, a really dilapidated theater, because it would be perfect for the show. So that’s how that happened. The goal was always to be a thorn in Broadway’s side. Kind of make fun of it but, at the same time, to worship it.

Ken: Let’s go back to this idea . . . which I find fascinating . . . about picking a musical, or picking a script that you want to do, just by reading it and not listening to the music. Because you’re right, music can get you to do a lot of shows. I’ve seen a lot of shows where the music is great but the shows are not so great. Is that what you do with other musicals? Do you just read the script first? What are you looking for when you do that?

John: Always, always read first. Unless, of course, it’s the Carole King musical. Then of course you listen first, you know her stuff, or whatever. But most of the time, yes, really, really listen to the book. Hear what the story is just by reading it to yourself, reading it out loud sometimes. Does it turn me on? Am I excited about it? Does it make me laugh? Does it have a point? What’s the point? How can I help? Maybe it’s not fully fleshed out yet. I might be able to help it. And then go to the music and see how the music sounds, how it feels, because music is really seductive. It can totally influence you and your thinking and your emotion and, as a director, just be sure you know what the story is and what the tone of the story might be that you want to tell. Get that first in your head, in my mind, then listen to the score, and hopefully you’re delighted and surprised and amazed. Case after case, on a good reading and a good reading of the musical, if the musical seems to read really well, oftentimes the music does too, just because.

Ken: You’re now in your second decade of directing Broadway shows, since the premiere of Dinner Party.

John: Yes.

Ken: Have the demands on a director changed over the last 20 years? Do you find yourself like, “I’ve never had to do this before?” Or, “This is a new skill that I’ve had to acquire.” Anything different?

John: I think there’s a lot different in terms of stretching the imagination, because that’s what we try to do, everybody. I love what’s happening. There are so many exciting, interesting revivals, so much exciting, interesting new work happening, that the challenges are that. Just, artistically, there are some really impressive challenges out there that make you want to do better work, greater work than what you’re seeing, constantly pushing you. So you feel that. Broadway is really different than it was before 2001. It’s dramatically different now. It’s dramatically different from the past six years. The way ticket buyers are behaving is so interesting and amazing and the kind of prices that people are paying for what they really have to see, as opposed to what they might like to see . . . it’s really compelling. One of the things that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by but also intimidated by is there’s now a huge family market out there. If you look around and see the musicals playing, many of them are there and they’re healthy because of families going to see them, young people with their parents. So that’s a big, interesting part of our journey now, creating not only stuff that might be compelling and inventive for adults, but also the children audience. Having worked on A Christmas Story, for example, and seeing the enthusiasm, the family enthusiasm, in the theater is really special. That also makes me realize that there’s, across America, coming to New York City, there’s a lot of really great young people who are passionate about the theater, especially about musical theater. It seems like musicals in high school and junior high have come such a huge way, especially in the past 15 years, really. It was always part of our breeding ground, a place for us to create great artists, but now it’s even more than ever, so that part is really fascinating. I don’t know if I answered your question, but I wanted to talk about that.

Ken: You did. You mentioned revivals there, at the beginning of that answer, and this year you directed On the Town, your first Broadway musical revival, which I loved and didn’t expect to, because I think that that revival is a dusty, old revival. And I was not so excited about it, and then I hear you’re doing it . . . of course, we’re working together . . . and I’ve experienced you working on our show together, which is a new musical, which can go in any direction you want, and you were so good at poking the creatives, dramaturgically . . . “Make sure that you’re always doing this,” and “What about your lead character here?” You can’t do that so much on a revival, right? The text is the text, especially something like On the Town. It’s biblical, almost. How do you approach adding . . . because the On the Town production has such a Rando stamp to it. It so feels like you and it’s so unique and different. How do you find that when you can’t change the text or the score?

John: I’ve had this great history of learning about the musical theater because I didn’t start there. I started in the classical theater. That’s really where I trained, that’s really what I did. Urinetown was essentially my first musical, which was a nice musical to start with. But I had this great thing called City Center Encores!, and the people there, Jack Viertel, Kathleen Marshall who was running it, Walter Bobbie, all of these wonderful musical theater artists back in 1995 or whenever I first started there . . . 1996, 1997, whenever it was. And over the years I developed this great passion for really trying to understand these wonderful old musicals and how to breathe life into them, how to give them a robust new energy, while at the same time being totally respectful of them, loving their stories and wanting the story to be told again, trusting that. So there was always that debate and, with this particular production, On the Town, there were many things that I thought were really important. One of them was the joy and the sex appeal of New York, of sailors visiting New York and the journey that they make through the town. The original, the book and the music, it captured this time, this energy, this youthful energy, so clearly. Because in 1944 . . . “We’re going off to war, we’re 20-something. We arrive in New York, it’s New York City, it’s one of the great cities. It’s amazing. It’s our country’s entertainment capital. There are so many beautiful women here. Let’s find one tonight!” And they do and each of these three guys find the girl of their dreams in one night. It’s such a great story to tell. I was so passionate about telling that, and telling it with humor and joy. It’s such a great piece because they have to say goodbye at the end of it and so, when the 24 hours is over, they’re saying goodbye and they may never see these women again because they’re going off to fight a war that’s much bigger than their little journey. So it’s a great story. I knew that when I was working on it. And I had a really good cast, and the great Josh Bergasse to do the choreography.

Ken: What kind of writers do you like to work with? So let’s flip now to the new musical . . . how do you approach working with them? You read something, you like it, you want to talk to the writers . . . how is that relationship? Describe your perfect writer/director relationship.

John: I love working with writers and I love listening to them and really hearing them out and trying to help them tell the story they’re eager to get on the page, and therefore on the stage. That’s the key, I think, in terms of how I work with writers. I love the process but I also love helping, as opposed to dictating. I really try to shy away from that kind of language. “They have to say this here,” or, “They have to do this there,” and, “This has to happen.” That kind of language would put me off as a director. I have such real respect for writers, because you’re sitting there hoping that they’re going to come up with this very funny idea or this great line that’s going to make your job a lot easier, so you’re trying to encourage and nurture and reassure. A lot of times, working with writers is just, “That’s really good. That’s really good. It’s profound. It’s really good. It does something, keep going.” Those kind of words are really important. In a musical, especially, the collaboration is so complicated because you’re not only dealing, of course, with the book writer but often you’re dealing with the lyricist separately from the book writer, or as a team, and then you’re also dealing with the composer, so helping the team create the same idea, the same thought, is really a fun job for a director. I love that job. I think the other thing, too, is, as the years go by, the more familiar I get with musicals and the more I study them and know the past musicals as well as what’s happening right now, it makes my job easier because I do know that there’s some structural things that can really help and can help tell the story, or maybe there are some structural pieces missing that need to be there so I’m able to help the writers see that. Then I think what is the most fascinating thing for a director of a musical and working with writers is, okay, here’s a scene you’ve written and it is on a train, and it’s a really good scene. It’s really good, I get it, the characters are great. Right before that, you have a scene that’s on a carousel and that’s a really good scene, but there’s nothing to get me from this carousel to this train, and that’s a big journey. I have some issues. How am I going to make the scenery do what it needs to do? So maybe what we need to do is write a song that takes us through the carousel and into the train or something like that. I think, sometimes, it’s really helpful to take writers through the questions that I ask about the script as a director, in terms of how the story is unfolding in three dimensions on the stage and that helps them write. “Oh, I have a great idea. When she gets off the carousel she’s going to sing and the world is going to change behind her and we will arrive on the train.” Yes! And that writer writes the best song of the show suddenly. It doesn’t always work like that, but you know what I’m getting at. It’s that constructivist thinking that a director can bring that helps a writer continue to develop the script.

Ken: One of the favorite exchanges that I’ve had with you in developing Getting the Band Back Together was talking about . . .  here it comes!

John: Good, say it!

Ken: We were talking about one of the lead characters’ love interest, the character of Danny, and you were saying, “She just doesn’t feel strong enough. We’ve got to get her to . . .  well, we just have to have a song good enough that Idina Menzel will want to play her.” And I look at you, going, “What?” And you were like, “Well, isn’t that what we want here?” And of course you were talking about the strength of the character through Idina, but you were also saying, “Look, we want to attract actresses like Idina Menzel to do our show.” Again, what I love about what you do is you balance so much of the art and some of the commerce. How important is that to a modern day director?

John: Thank you. That gets right back to that earlier question, in a way. Yes, the smell of the commercial is really also critical to wrestle with and grapple with, as a director. It’s very tricky, because if you listen to your producers and they’re begging you for a star but actually you may have already found the right people for it and the producer agrees, then we’re both scratching our heads, “What are we going to do?” because we don’t have a name but we have this good company. Then you look at the project and you say, “Well, maybe the good news here is, instead of 36 people and a star, we’ll make it 24 people. So maybe we’ll make the cast a little smaller. Maybe we’ll conceive it in a different way, visually, that helps us lower the initial cost.” You and I have had conversations about that. I actually think that that three-way conversation between the writer, director and producer, or the writers, per se, if it’s a musical and there are three or four writers on it . . . but that triumph of trying to solve the whole puzzle, trying to be creative, trying to be inventive, trying to tell an exciting story but, at the same time, not being obviously commercial so that you end up with something that feels soft or spongy and not electric. And then, also, will the numbers work? Economically, will this work? How can we keep the show open? Those kind of questions, I just think that they really influence everything. They influence how you do things, how you design things, how you talk about them. So it’s a great relationship, it’s really fun. It’s why we do our job, I think.

Ken: You’ve had a lot of success but you’ve had some shows that haven’t worked out as well.

John: Yes, I believe I’ve had some duds.

Ken: Name one. Biggest dud?

John: Biggest dud? Well, Dance of the Vampires, of course.

Ken: Of course. Dance of the Vampires, of course. How do you deal with something like Dance of the Vampires when it doesn’t work out? Obviously you get into it thinking, “This is good!”

John: Well, I don’t know about that either.

Ken: Now we’re getting to it!

John: Actually, if we have a drink, then we can talk about Dance of the Vampires. But I wear that badge with great honor and love. That was a very difficult time in my life because my mother was dying during previews. It was a real nightmare. It was horrible in terms of all of the personal stuff that was going on as well as trying to make the show work. But your question is really about how to deal with the bumps along the way. It’s hard, it’s actually really tough. I work a lot not on Broadway. I do a lot of Off-Broadway, I do a lot of regional theater. I really believe in the American regional theater. I think it’s so important to the health of what we do and, frankly, a lot of times it’s way better than what’s happening on Broadway or New York. Not always, but a lot of times. There’s some great stuff out there and it’s really fun to work out there . . . “out there” meaning New Jersey, even. George Street where we did Getting the Band Back Together, or Chicago Shakes . . . I’m about to do The Heir Apparent, David Ives’s play, there. You just go back to work. You just keep working. When I was an assistant director I was really, really close to Jack O’Brien and he was running the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego at the time. And they were doing . . . they still do . . . 16 shows a year and, at one point, I remember overhearing a conversation with this brilliant managing director, Tom Hall, and it was a real honest conversation about the work. We were working on a show . . . it was my first show with Jack that I was assisting and it was a Terrence McNally play that bombed, that did terribly. It was called Up in Saratoga and it was a fantastic rewrite . . . a funny, funny rewrite . . . of a nineteenth century American comedy called Saratoga that, back then, was a big hit but nobody knows it now. Anyway, I remember Jack turning to Tom Hall, and they’re talking about having to deal with the fact that this wasn’t going to be a success and what have you. He said, “It’s really hard to do 14 hits a year. We’re really lucky to get three hits a year. We’re really pushing our luck there. So we do a lot of work and we learn a lot from the plays that don’t do so well,” and that’s definitely the case. That was great lesson number one as an assistant director. It’s like, okay, you want to be in professional theater? Here’s what you need to know: three out of 14. That’s pretty good. That’s like baseball averages. As long as you know that, presumably the people who are going to hire you know that as well. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it takes producers a little bit of time to come back to you and say, “You know, maybe he’s got it in this one that he’s about to do,” so that’s how you do it. You just keep going on, just keep doing shows.

Ken: We’ve talked about your relationship with authors, the type of relationship you like to have. What about producers? Do you like when they’re actively involved? Do you like them to write a check, sit back? How do you like them to be involved with the shows?

John: I’ve worked with really very, very good producers. I like a producer who has an opinion and has focus. But what I really love is a producer who actually understands the process, and recognizes that sometimes it takes a week and a half to get to where the producer wants the show to be, or a scene to be, or a song to be, that recognizes the whole, entire process, understands it and gives the director the playground and all of the equipment in the playground needed to make the joyous event happen, the charm of theatrical event happen. So I love producers that understand that, and I want, however, also producers that have opinions and can say, “I don’t really like that part of it and here’s why.” And I listen. There are some things that I’m willing to go to the mat on and I want a producer to be able to take it when I want to go to the mat on something, to recognize that and say, “Rando really likes this, there must be a reason for it.” “He explained it and I think I get it, maybe it will work.” But I will also say the same thing about the producer. “The producer really wants this so let’s try it. Let’s see what happens.” I love a trusting relationship, an honest relationship. Like when we work together I really love it because you come at me strong at times and I come right back at you as strong. It’s like, “Ken’s got an idea there, I’ve got to help him. He’s right, dammit!” Or, “He’s not right at all, he’s crazy!” But I love being able to be passionate about it and, at the same time, respectful and honest. I love producers that know how hard it is to do this stuff, to know how hard musical theater is.

Ken: Okay, I’m going to ask a really shocking question now, a question that I haven’t asked anyone else in the 30-something odd podcasts. Ready?

John: Go.

Ken: Serena Williams, the tennis star, was recently quoted saying this: “Tennis is a game, but family is forever.” Now, I have met your wife, I hear you talking about your son all the time . . . a big soccer player, right?

John: Yes, yes.

Ken: I’ve seen him. He had an injury last year, you were heartbroken about it because he’s a big goalie, right? A keeper, I should say.

John: A keeper, yes.

Ken: The question, really, is this . . . I don’t think we talk about this enough in this business that can really occupy seven days of your life, every hour and waking minute of the day . . . how do you balance this obviously very important family life that you have and the demands of being an in-demand director and having multiple shows going on at the same time and always having to look for the next show? Before we started this podcast you were like, “I’m thinking about what’s next . . . what’s next? This may not happen, this might.” How do you balance your important family life with all of this?

John: It’s the best question, because it’s the most important question. When I was very young, in high school and acting . . . actually I was in the first year of college and I was sitting on my bed, playing my guitar. My mom walks into the room and she goes, “You’re not really thinking about doing that theater stuff for your career, are you?” And I said to her, “You know, I just want to do what I love.” And that’s what happened. I did what I love. Then I recognized that I needed family. It was a really important part of my life, really actually more important, so I learned to balance. And I’m still learning how to balance. In fact, right now, I’m thinking, “I really want to go and see On the Town tonight,” because I don’t get to see it for a couple of the weeks, and I want to see Megan Fairchild, who’s leaving the show, and just thank her for her service and what have you. At the same time, I’m really eager to go home and just have dinner with my son and my wife because he’s been at practice all week and we haven’t had a dinner together, so inside I’m really wrestling right now, and I’m going to go home and have dinner. And then, maybe after dinner, once the dishes are done and once everything is cool, then I may slip out and come back to see the show. You make it your priority because it keeps you sane, it keeps you focused. And you really care. In bringing up Alex, my son, who’s 14 now, he has no interest in the theater whatsoever, which is so remarkable. It’s very much like me. My dad was an aerospace engineer. He helped build the lunar module. That’s why we were in Texas, that’s what we did down there. He was a pretty good aerospace engineer. He went on to help build the Skylab and the space shuttle and ultimately the space station before he retired, and I loved astronauts and space and all of that as a boy but I really had no desire to do it. And that’s my son. He has no desire to be in the theater. I had to beg him to come and see Penn & Teller, even. Of course, he totally loves Penn & Teller. He thinks they’re the coolest thing on Earth now. But it’s that way. Of course he has no trouble getting me to one of his soccer matches. I can stand on the sideline and just totally lose myself and forget about everything that I have to do in the business world and just be a part of my family. So that, really, is why you do it, I guess. The one thing that I do tell young directors who ask this question . . . and they do ask it . . . “How do you have a family and do this career?” And I basically say, “I waited too long. Don’t you wait so long. Start now. Do it now.” And I do believe that. I actually, in hindsight, realized, “You know what? Kids are great. They’re going to grow up. You’re going to make it, it’s going to be okay. You just need to do it.”

Ken: Okay, last question now . . . my genie question, we call it. I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes to one of your son’s soccer matches and says, “John, it’s halftime.” I was going to say intermission there! “It’s halftime, I want to talk to you. You’ve done such great things and you pay attention to your son’s soccer games even though you’ve got 17 shows running. I want to grant you one wish. One wish only. What is the one thing that drives you so nuts about Broadway, that makes you angry, that could keep you up at night, that could distract you from watching your son’s soccer game?” The one thing that really irritates you that you would ask this genie to wish away or to change with the snap of a finger. What would that one wish be?

John: Wow, wild question. You know what I think? I think I would wish for some more theaters. If we’re talking about Broadway, I wish New York City would build a few more theaters. It’s strange, but in the success, the kind of unbelievable success of Broadway, even though some shows open and close and what have you, there are still so many waiting for theaters, and you have these shows that have been running for 20-plus years, or 10 years or whatever it is. They’re so wonderful, but they prevent these other wonderful shows from finding their spaces and so I wish, when we build these big buildings, these big glass towers all around us here in the theater district, that they were required to build a theater, too, in the basement, another cool space to do a new musical or a new play. So that’s probably what I’d wish for. It just feels a little tight. The real estate is just a little too tight. There used to be, as you know, 80-plus more theaters back before1965. It seems to me like maybe times have changed now and the theatergoers could do that. We could afford ten more shows a season. The economy seems to be strong, and certainly New York City is such a wonderful tourist destination now. The tourists want to come and what do they want to do when they come to New York? They want to see the Statue of Liberty, they want to see the Empire State Building and they want to go to Broadway, and Broadway is on every single list of every tourist, at least one show, if not several. So, build us some more theaters, Genie!

Ken: I want to thank John from taking time out of his day and wish him well as he goes to have dinner with his family and to thank him for being here. He’s a terrific director, he’s a terrific guy and I appreciate you spending your time with us. Thanks to all of you for listening. I’m not sure who’s going to be on next week’s podcast but it will be someone exciting, don’t you worry. Tune in, don’t forget to subscribe. We’ll see you then!

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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.