Fall is generally considered the beginning of the cultural season, but in April and May there’s a special tingle in the air in New York City. It could be the warmer temperatures and sunnier, longer days. But for me, the creative energy emanates from new plays and musicals opening on Broadway—the actors, musicians, designers, directors, and producers involved with them—just in time to be considered for various theater honors that culminate with the Tony Awards in June.
Much of what visitors and New Yorkers experience today in the theaters and streets around Times Square is owing to the vision, passion, know-how, and work of Gerald Schoenfeld, the legendary chairman of the Shubert Organization for more than 35 years. His recently published memoir, Mr. Broadway: The Inside Story of the Shuberts, the Shows, and the Stars (Applause Books; $27.99), finished shortly before his death in 2008, is an absorbing page-turner. For those interested in Broadway history, it provides an insider’s view to the world of the fractious Shubert dynasty and the key role it played in theater in the 20th century in New York and beyond.
Schoenfeld’s story begins as a young attorney working for the Shuberts but his narrative becomes riveting as he takes the reins, along with Bernie Jacobs, his long-time partner, of the Shubert Organization. The sensational success in 1975 of the breakthrough A Chorus Line saved the faltering company and provided an impetus for it to develop as a major producer. Schoenfeld was instrumental in bringing a wave of shows described as the British invasion: Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Amadeus, and Evita (the latter currently back on Broadway; see below), among many others. The migration of stage works and talent continues to this day and mutual influences extend across the pond in both directions.
Schoenfeld, a brilliant storyteller, gives vivid descriptions of the Broadway-size egos and demands of the actors, directors, and fellow producers. He names names and settles scores, yet probably in far more gentlemanly fashion than the behavior and antics of some deserve.
Pat Schoenfeld, his adored and adoring wife of 58 years, was instrumental in seeing her husband’s memoir get into print and also for what may remain his enduring legacy: spearheading the clean up of a crumbling and derelict theater district. In response to his ongoing complaints of its squalid circumstances in the 1970’s, she said, “You have three choices: shut up, move out, or do something about it.” Schoenfeld chose the latter. No undertaking of such magnitude is ever accomplished alone—over the years, mayors and their administrations come and go just as plays open and close, interested parties, new and established join in—but Gerald Schoenfeld’s abiding and herculean work over decades was primary in the revitalization and transformation of today’s Times Square, ensuring that the show goes on for a long, long time.
And this spring, there are many great shows to choose from. T+L’s theater writer Bill Rosenfield picks the top five shows to see this season:
Evita - Michael Grandage directs the sizzling revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical with Argentinian Elena Roger in the title role, Michael Cerveris as Perón, and Ricky Martin as Che Guevara.
Once: The indie Oscar-winning film, set in Dublin, is reimagined and adapted brilliantly for the stage, directed by John Tiffany, designed by Bob Crowley, featuring Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti, in a transporting work of vitality and warmth.
One Man, Two Guvnors: The London smash hit arrives on Broadway starring young British comic genius James Corden leading a pitch perfect ensemble in Richard Bean’s adaption of Goldoni’s 18th-century farce staged by Nicholas Hytner.
The Big Meal: Up-and-coming Sam Gold directs a superb cast in this sharp and funny play by Dan LeFranc about the stresses and strains of family gatherings over five generations.
Tribes: Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village, David Cromer stages Nina Raine’s profoundly moving play about challenges of genuine communication.
Mario R. Mercado is the Arts Editor at Travel + Leisure.
Images courtesy of Applause Books; © Joan Marcus 2011, 2012