Rather than list my credentials in a traditional resume format, I would like to tell you the story of how one thing I did in my professional life led me to the next thing that happened in my professional life. We’ll talk in class about how “connections” and networking are probably more important than what is on your resume. So here’s my journey (and my apologies for the length!).
I grew up in a very loving middle income family in an extremely remote farm region of Pennsylvania. We were in the middle of nowhere, literally. My family was not in the entertainment industry, and we certainly didn’t travel in circles that were even remotely in that line of work. Somehow (through high school musicals?) I became hooked on musicals, and would drive an hour to the only record shop near us to purchase the newest Broadway show album when they were released. I played each one to death. I had (and still have) over 400 show albums… yes, I was one of those musical theater kids. When I could drive a car, while still in high school, I would drive 45 minutes to a neighboring city to work in community theater. I would work on the stage crew, or act, or musical direct for any and all community theater productions I could. 12 years of piano lessons had served me well in community theater. While not exactly fitting in with my farming community in Pennsylvania, I found that I did fit into the community theater… I found my peeps. Theater was not just a hobby, it became my world.
My parents refused to send me to college for theater (they didn’t think anyone could earn a living in theater), but somehow if I majored in television / radio production that would be OK. (It was the era before there were theater management majors.) So off I went to Syracuse University, this kid from a remote farm village in Pennsylvania, to study Television & Radio in upstate New York.
I loved Syracuse University (well, except for the weather!). But I was discouraged that the University had no theater club or activities for non-theater majors. As a TV/Radio major (which was part of the Newhouse College of Public Communications, which is a different college from the Theater Department), there was no theater outlet for me on campus.
So here’s where being totally naive / just plain stupid comes in. I went to see the Chancellor of Syracuse University (at his house!!!) and knocked on his door. (Learn from my mistake… don’t visit the head of any University at his house, especially uninvited!). I guess no students had ever dropped in to see him, but his wife and he were gracious, and when I said I wanted to talk to him about a theater program for non-theater majors, he invited me in and we talked. I had compiled a list of the top 50 Universities in the nation (at that time) and showed him that Syracuse was the only University that didn’t have a Theater Club or Organization for non-theater majors. He was kind, and we talked about what was playing on Broadway and what types of shows I liked. In hindsight he was immensely generous to me. He could see my passion for theater. He told me that if I could get three hundred students to sign a petition to start a campus theater group, he would find a way to fund a few shows. He then suggested that I make an appointment with his secretary and visit him in his office next time. (Duh!)
I quickly made up flyers and put one of every floor of every dorm and academic building for SUMS (Syracuse University Musical Stage), my new theater group. SUMS held its first meeting. Imagine my shock when over 3,500 students showed up and signed my petition. I want back to see the Chancellor (at his office!) and showed him my petition. He was stunned. He then said the University would underwrite $20,000 per show for two shows that year, and said I'd have to have receipts to get reimbursed. He asked “could I make that work?”. I said “of course”, thanked him, apologized again for stopping by his house, and my new student run theater company was born. SUMS did two musicals every year for each of the four years I was there. Sometimes I directed the shows, sometimes I designed and built the sets (my family was in the custom home building line of work, so I knew how to use a hammer). Sometimes I music directed / played keyboards.
By the end of my freshman year at S.U. a musical theater professor from the Theater Department and I met, and he invited me to stage manage one of the Theater Department musicals. When I said I couldn’t because I wasn’t in the Theater Department, he said “who’s going to know?”. So I was also the P.S.M. on all of the Theater Department musicals. (Aaron Sorkin was my A.S.M. on the Theater Department’s production of WORKING… if I would have known what he would turn out to be I would probably have been a lot nicer to him!) Everyone in the Theater Department just thought I was part of their college. It was a miracle I actually graduated with a TV / Radio degree, because 99% of my time was devoted to SUMS or the Theater Department shows. But I found that when you love something, you will always find a way to fit everything in.
The reason for this long winded story of my life to date is to talk about connections. I directed the first musical for SUMS, the Tom Jones / Harvey Schmidt musical CELEBARATION, and I cast in the lead an upper classman who had worked for a very prominent Summer Stock producing company, Music Fair Enterprises, in his summers off from college. (They ran Westbury Music Fair, Valley Forge Music Fair, and a few other summer stock theaters on the east coast). This student thought I should work for Valley Forge Music Fair that next summer (only a 90 minute drive from where I grew up). He set it up… I didn’t even have to interview. I just showed up to work.
The Music Fair circuit was famous for putting TV and movie stars in musicals that would tour throughout the summers. I went to work there, and man, was I eager! I did anything and everything they asked, from cleaning toilets to handing out Playbills. I came in early and stayed late. The first show that came through was a production of THE MERRY WIDOW, starring opera star Roberta Peters and Werner Klemperer (“Colonel Klink” from TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes”). Each show stayed one week, and then moved on to the next theater. Closing night of THE MERRY WIDOW, the FBI showed up at the stage door looking for the show's stage manager. It turns out he was a convicted felon who had escaped from parole. (Background checks were not done in those days.) The show was frantic. The Music Fair executives were all there whispering about what to do and finally they all turned to me and said “Hey kid, do you want to be the Stage Manager for the rest of this tour? You’d have to leave early tomorrow morning.” I said “I don’t think I’m qualified” and quite frankly, I wasn’t. I had never worked in a union situation, and thought this job was over my head. They stunned me when they said “We think you are qualified… so yes or no?”. I said “yes”, and immediately after working at a summer stock theater for exactly one week I was now a member of Actors’ Equity Association, and was touring with this show as the Stage Manager. It was an amazing experience. I think the cast knew I had been thrown under the bus, and Werner Klemperer in particular was extremely kind to me. “If you ever want to know anything or I can help you, let me know” he said. He became my mentor that summer, walking me through various union rules, when the cast had to take breaks, travel day restrictions, etc. But talk about baptism by fire… it was a miracle I pulled it off. But I must have done OK, because Music Fair had me back to tour for each subsequent summer I was in college: WONDERFUL TOWN with Lauren Bacall, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC with Jean Simmons, and the first summer stock tour of THE WIZ, which had just closed on Broadway.
I graduated from S.U. and immediately moved to a small sublet in NYC. My parents were terrified for me, but I knew New York well enough to know what sections of town I would feel safe in. The first day I moved into my NYC apartment I called my boss from the Music Fair tours and said “I’m here… know of any jobs?”. He said “Stay by the phone… I’ll call you back in an hour.” He called back within the hour and said “OK, my friend is producing a new Broadway musical by Cy Coleman called BARNUM, and it’s going to open at the St. James Theater. They need an Assistant Company Manager and I told my friend you were the guy.” I said “I don’t know what a Company Manager is”, because I literally had no clue. In summer stock the Stage Manager did all of the travel, etc. Paychecks magically came each week via FedEx from the NY office. The Music Fair exec said “Kid, don’t be stupid. It's a Broadway show. It’s a chance to get your foot in the door. You'll do fine. Take the damn job.” So I did. I interviewed the next day, and the following day, my third day living in NYC I was working on BARNUM at the St. James Theater. I didn’t appreciate my luck until much later in life. I stupidly thought “well, this is what happens. You get a college degree, move to New York City, and instantly start working on Broadway”. Like I said… stupid. But all the while grateful. Walking through the St. James Theater stage door for the first time after having just graduated from college was overwhelming. Working with Jim Dale and a then rather unknown actress named Glenn Close on BARNUM was also overwhelming. To this day when I hear the score to BARNUM, I still get choked up.
The General Manager for BARNUM, James Walsh, was setting up a new office, and he hired me after BARNUM closed to be his office assistant and Assistant Company Manager on his shows. What a blessing that job was. It was a three person office… Jim, who was the General Manager, Company Manager Susan Bell, and me. Theater is always the last industry to catch up with technology, and it was 1981… meaning it was the pre-computer age in theater. There were no box office computers (all tickets were “hard tickets” which were all sitting there stacked up in the box offices). There were no computers in our show office. Jim had brought an old portable typewriter from his home. So EVERY document and spreadsheet for every show was typed by me on that old typewriter. The authors contracts, the designers contracts, the actors contracts, every box office scale proposal was done by me using a calculator and then me typing it on that typewriter. I know it sounds insane, but in hindsight it was the best training I could have ever gotten to be a manager and producer for the theater. In that office I was the Assistant Company Manager on the Broadway companies of IS THERE LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL? a musical by Craig Carnelia, THE WAKE OF JAMEY FOSTER a play by Beth Henley, LENA HORNE: THE LADY AND HER MUSIC a glorious concert show with Lena Horne, a musical version of DOONESBURY by its comic strip author Gary Trudeau, and SNOOPY! (which was a follow up to YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN). On all of these shows I was on an ATPAM contract as Assistant Company Manager. (ATPAM is the union for Company Managers, House Managers, and Press Agents working on Broadway, Off-Broadway, or on National Tours.) It was a five year apprenticeship back then to get into ATPAM… but the catch was you had to have a Broadway Assistant Company Manager job in order to get credit towards your five years apprenticeship to get into this Broadway Union as a Company Manager.
I was about to finish up my five year ATPAM apprenticeship, and I had always been told “every great manager should do at least one National Tour”. So I made the hard decision to leave Jim Walsh’s office and go to another office, Marvin Krauss Associates, and travel on the first national tour of the original LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, and followed that up by being the A.C.M. on the national tour of ZORBA! with Anthony Quinn.
Now in ATPAM as a full Company Manager, jobs were starting to be offered to me. Broadway Theater is a very small industry, and once you get established you get sort of known by everyone. I was the Company Manager on the Broadway productions of ALL MY SONS (revival) starring Richard Kiley, ROZA a musical starring Georgia Brown, MACBETH starring Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson, the last two years of the Broadway company of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at the Palace Theater as the Company Manager, and was Company Manager for the Broadway revival of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN with Bernadette Peters. I also was Company Manager on a national tour of STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF starring Anthony Newley.
Then came a call that would change my life, forever. My boss from LA CAGE called and offered me the Company Manager position on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Michael Crawford. The show was already a hit in London, so everyone knew it would be a hit on Broadway. Again, I didn’t have to interview… they just gave me the job. Of course I took the offer, and quickly moved from being the Company Manager to being both the Company Manager and Assistant General Manager, and was tasked to negotiate all AEA contracts for our actors and stage managers. I simultaneously held that job on Broadway as well as the same Assistant General Manager job on the three different U.S. tours of PHANTOM, as well as the original Broadway company of MISS SAIGON. A lot of people on Broadway know me as “the PHANTOM guy” because I had worked on so many productions of it for so long... I was in that position for eight years.
Working on a Broadway hit like PHANTOM (which I think happens once in a lifetime) was amazing. It was such a hit that we literally did little to no advertising for the first five years. The position gave me enough credibility and connections to start producing Off-Broadway. While still at PHANTOM, I produced my first NY show, a Richard Maltby / David Shire Off-Broadway musical revue called CLOSER THAN EVER. It was immensely popular. We won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical that year (1989). I didn’t fully have producing down to a science yet, so once again I just jumped in and did it.
From there I produced other Off-Broadway Shows, WHITE LIES by Douglas Carter Beane, MIGHTY FINE MUSIC! by Burton Lane and LITTLE BY LITTLE by Brad Ross and Hal Hackedy. I also workshopped a few shows at various regional theaters, including a new musical called THE TIMES at Long Wharf Theater.
Around the eighth year of doing PHANTOM I was having lunch with my former boss from ZORBA! and said “I know I should be grateful working on such a hit as PHANTOM, but honestly I’m bored”. The super hit PHANTOM sort of ran itself… no one ever left the show, so there were very few contracts to generate and little to no marketing or advertising to do. My former boss said “We’re taking the revival of CHICAGO from the Encores Concert Series and moving it to Broadway. It’s with Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton & Joel Grey. Would you ever consider leaving PHANTOM to do CHICAGO?”. I said “yes” on the spot. My Broadway colleagues thought I was insane, leaving the biggest hit to ever play Broadway (this was the pre-HAMILTON era). But for me the great thing about theater is that shows close, and you get to move on and work with different artists and learn new things. PHANTOM had become "assembly line" to me, and I felt like I needed a change. Once again I had landed into a mega-hit… the revival of CHICAGO was (and still is) hugely successful. It was a great experience to work on it. After the first year of CHICAGO the producers were planning the first National Tour of CHICAGO, which was touring the U.S. and then going to Japan for three months and Russia for three weeks. I asked if I could leave the Broadway company of CHICAGO to do that tour. They thought I was insane. By then I was in my early forties, and while I didn’t want to tour that much, going to Japan and Russia with someone else paying the bill was too much of a life experience to pass up. So I went out as the Company Manager of the first tour of CHICAGO.
About eight months into the tour I got a very sheepish call from the NY CHICAGO office telling me that Japan and Russia had been dropped from the tour. What???? I asked “well where is the tour going?”. They replied “It's going to Las Vegas for a year”. I was silent for a very long time. I had visited Las Vegas during the mid 1980’s and didn’t have a good memory of it. Las Vegas back then was “old Vegas” before Steve Wynn and others re-invented the town. I said “OK, I’ll go to Las Vegas for three months to get the show opened. But then I want to come back to Broadway. I didn’t take this tour to go to “***” Las Vegas.” (***Insert your favorite curse words here.)
CHICAGO with Chita Rivera and Ben Vereen opened the brand new Mandalay Bay Hotel. It was difficult for me. I learned the hard way that entertainment in Las Vegas is just one small component of a much larger picture. That’s so much different from Broadway, where everything is about the show. Working with the casinos was not easy for me, because they didn’t take entertainment people seriously. I thought “I’m going to have to learn to play in their (the casinos) sandbox if I want to make this work.” I learned over time to ask for everything as a favor and humbly, no matter what the theater contract had as the casino’s mandatory obligation.
After about two months of being in Las Vegas, I started to see the other side of Vegas… the fantastic quality of life that came from living here. It also didn’t hurt that I was still being paid Broadway wages which goes much further in Las Vegas than living in NYC. So I decided to stay here, and sold my NYC apartment and moved to Vegas permanently. Once again, my colleagues though I was nuts.
I set up my own General Management firm after the one year run of CHICAGO, and started getting clients almost immediately. CHICAGO’s success in Vegas caught the eye of a lot of other NYC producers. I became the General Manager of: BLUE MAN GROUP for its first year at the Luxor Hotel, ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE starring Sally Struthers at the Silverton Hotel, STORM at Mandalay Bay Hotel, MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS – The Musical at the Flamingo Hotel, MAMMA MIA! at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, HANS KLOK: THE BEAUTY OF MAGIC with Pamela Anderson at the Planet Hollywood Hotel, WE WILL ROCK YOU the Queen musical at the Paris Hotel, HUGH JACKMAN: IN TIME which opened the Wynn Hotel, then I Produced and General Managed HAIRSPRAY at the Luxor Hotel. Next I General Managed PEEP SHOW starring Mel B and Holly Madison at the Planet Hollywood Hotel, and as if my life came full circle, I General Managed PHANTOM: THE LAS VEGAS SPECTACULAR at the Venetian Hotel. I have to say that doing all of the budgeting for the $35 million dollar Las Vegas PHANTOM and coming in on budget is still in my mind one of my greatest achievements.
While still working in Las Vegas in 2006 I was a producer of THE WEDDING SINGER on Broadway and I got a Tony Award Nomination and Drama Desk Award Nomination for Best Musical. I knew we wouldn’t win (we were up against JERSEY BOYS that year) but just being nominated was a thrill for this kid from the farm country.
I ended up brokering the deal for the Las Vegas company of JERSEY BOYS to move from the Palazzo Hotel to the Paris Hotel, and raised $2.5 million dollars to facilitate that move. The royalties from JERSEY BOYS allowed me to concentrate on writing (I co-wrote a new musical with country singer Clint Black), work with some local non-profits, and work on new show concepts for Las Vegas casinos.
One of my new projects, a $400 million dollar Vegas spectacle called NASCAR: FAST AND LOUD which will utilize a custom built theater to house it, will be studied in our class. Other projects that we will study in class are the Clark County Theater Center (“CCTC”), a new non-profit performing arts complex with multiple smaller theaters (499 seats or less) to house many of the smaller Las Vegas non-profits, as well as Nevada Rep, a new non-profit L.O.R.T. Theater Company which will be the anchor tenant of CCTC. I am the Managing Director of Nevada Rep and the Chairman of the Capital Campaign for CCTC.
I’m going to share with you budgets, contracts, operating agreements, and extremely confidential documents of my new projects in class. I think it will give you an insider’s peek into what goes into putting on professional productions, both for profit and non-profit.
While at the outset producing and managing may seem like just a lot of number crunching and memorizing union rules. Whiles those are important, what really matters for these positions in theater is the ability to communicate, enough compassion to deal with artists of all types, and a sensitivity towards what every discipline in theater has to go through to perform their craft to the fullest. It's about people and the ability to lead a team effort. My hope is that everyone taking this course can take away something that will help you no matter what profession you pursue.