Why I’m Producing Frankie and Johnny on Broadway.

I don’t do much co-producing on Broadway anymore.

Of course, there are a lot of pros for Co-Producing on Broadway (diversification for me and my investors, a new network, etc.), as I talk about here.  But because my office spends so much time on the development of our slate of new musicals, it takes a very special project — and more importantly, very special people — to get me to sign on as a Co-Pro on another Lead Producer’s project.

Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune is one of those projects.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, then you know about my talent-crush on Terrence McNally, which is what led me to produce It’s Only A Play on Broadway (read about that here), as well as Mothers and Sons and The Visit.  

So yeah, when I heard that a McNally play (and one of my faves!) was gonna be on the boards, I was like, “Where do I sign up?”

But my experience with McNally work didn’t start with It’s Only A Play. Oh no.  It started all the way back to one of my first jobs, as the Associate Company Manager on the original company of Ragtime.  As a Producer, as a book writer, and just as a freakin’ theater fan, I will go on record as saying that I believe the libretto of Ragtime is one of the finest ever written for the theater . . . with one of the highest degrees of difficulty.

Guess who else was in that original company of Ragtime?

Two words . . .

Audra Effin’ McDonald.

When I needed a break from work on that gig, I wouldn’t leave the building.  I’d tell my boss I was going to get some “air” and just go up and watch Audra sing “Daddy’s Son.”  It was breathtaking watching her work.  She had already won two Tonys by that point in her career (and her performance in Ragtime would get her a third), but with every interaction I had with her back then, you could tell that she was still at the beginning.  I remember a between-shows poker game that Audra played in every so often . . . and she even did that with such dramatic flair we could have sold tickets!  I’ve never met Meryl Streep (despite what I said here, haha) but I have a feeling that what I felt about Audra in 1998 is what people felt when they met Meryl in the early years.

Audra’s sparring partner in F & J is Michael Shannon, who I shared two words with backstage at a Tony nominee event once and I still can’t forget it.  There’s an intensity there that made me think, “Oh, right, that’s why I’m not an actor.”

Put all these people together in a classic McNally play about two people who need and find each other . . .  and then add Lead Producer Tom Kirdahy, who brought me on board to It’s Only A Play as a Lead Producer (when honestly, he didn’t have to), who this season helped shepherd the roof-shaking and awards-buzzin’ Hadestown to the success it already is, not to mention my often partner, Hunter Arnold, and well, how could I not climb on board?

So, I did.

And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, because, well, we just started previews on Saturday and word is already starting to leak out about the magic that’s going on at The Broadhurst.

There are some $25 tickets for previews (take that, anyone who says great theater is inaccessible!) and the show only runs through August 25th.

But that’s not the real reason you should get tickets now.

When asked why he wrote Frankie and Johnny, Terrence McNally said, “I believe in love at first sight and that inspired the play.”

Isn’t that something we all need to believe in right now?

Get your tickets here.

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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.