A Life in the Theatre: Roundabout Artistic Director Todd Haimes

A Life in the Theatre: Roundabout Artistic Director Todd Haimes Stage professionals look back at decades of devotion to their craft.
Todd Haimes
Todd Haimes

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When 26-year-old Todd Haimes became managing director of the Roundabout Theatre Company in 1983, it was a small and financially troubled Off-Broadway troupe on W. 23rd St. Now, 22 years later, with Haimes as artistic director, Roundabout is a major Broadway and Off-Broadway presence.

"It's been an incredible ride," Haimes says. "I never expected to be an artistic director. And I never expected to be on Broadway, and that the theatre would have the kind of success it has had, and that it would present the breadth of work it has presented. It has grown beyond my wildest dreams."

The Haimes era has seen multiple groundbreaking productions, prime among them Cabaret, which ran for nearly six years on Broadway and ended its run at Studio 54, which Roundabout bought for $22.5 million. There's also last season's Tony-winning best musical revival, Stephen Sondheim's Assassins; O'Neill's Anna Christie; Nine, starring Antonio Banderas; and many more. The Roundabout has three venues: the American Airlines Theatre on W. 42nd St., Studio 54 and the two-stage Laura Pels Theatre on W. 46th St.

"We've been able to take advantage of the opportunities — and risks — that presented themselves," says Haimes. "We moved to the Criterion Center on Broadway in 1991, after people told me Times Square was dead and we'd never succeed. Then we took the opportunity to move from the Criterion to the Selwyn Theatre [now the American Airlines] on 42nd Street when no one knew what would happen with the redevelopment of Times Square." Not bad for a kid from Manhattan who first became interested in theatre in tenth grade at Horace Mann High School in Riverdale. "My best friend asked me to work on the stage crew of a school production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. And I was smitten."

Despite his love of theatre, when it came time for graduate school, he opted for an M.B.A. at Yale. "I felt that if I wanted to be a managing director, an M.B.A. would help."

When he moved to Broadway, "we didn't move because we wanted to be on Broadway. We had a year-to-year lease in our theatre on 17th Street, and we wanted a permanent home. But it was Broadway, and I remember standing in front of the theatre the first week and feeling the energy you feel at 7:45 PM in the theatre district. It was unlike anything I had ever felt."

More than two years ago, Haimes had a life-threatening bout with a rare type of cancer, a sarcoma of the jaw. After 15 hours of surgery to replace his right jawbone with a bone from his calf, and after six months of chemotherapy, he was given an excellent chance of total recovery.

"I'm feeling good," he says. "I go for regular checkups every four months. And I don't think about it much between checkups."

He is also feeling good about the future of his theatre, which has 40,000 subscribers and this season has featured a smash revival of Twelve Angry Men.

One goal is developing a new musical — "one with an artistic vision consistent with the mission of a nonprofit theatre." It's a difficult challenge, and a risk. But Haimes has taken risks for more than 20 years, so there's no reason to stop now.