Philip J. Smith was appointed new president of The Shubert Organization Inc., the powerful company that owns and books half the theatres on Broadway, and co-produces many of the shows seen in them.
Smith had been executive vice president of the company. He was appointed to his new post Sept. 17 by Shubert Chairman Gerald Schoenfeld. Smith succeeds Bernard B. Jacobs, who died Aug. 27.
Schoenfeld announced two other key promotions as well: senior vice president and chief financial officer Robert E. Wankel was also promoted to fill Smith's position as executive vice president. Michael I. Sovern, a member of the board of directors (and a former president of Columbia University 1980-93), was named president of the Shubert Foundation.
Smith will also be on the Foundation and Organization Board of Directors.
James B. Freydberg, producer of the Big, the current tenant at the Shubert's flagship theatre, the Sam S. Shubert Theatre in New York, called Wankel "extraordinarily competent" and traced his friendship back with Smith over 29. "Smith was Bernie's right-hand man. I'm not saying anyone can replace Bernie, but the only person who could possibly know HOW to fill Bernie's shoes would be Phil Smith." When told by Playbill of the selections, Livent producer Garth Drabinsky (Show Boat, Kiss of the Spider Woman) affirmed that he's known Smith and Wankel for many years, and that all three appointees are very capable men. "They're part of the Shubert family," he added, "it was a natural order of succession."
Schoenfeld and Jacobs, who took over the company from the original Shubert brothers, have been known in the Broadway community as the "Shuberts" since the 1960s.
Theatres across the U.S., including the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles, are part of the Shubert Organziation's reach.
As Jacobs did, Smith will have a strong say in which shows are booked into the Shubert Theatres.
In announcing his selections, Schoenfeld noted, "While my partner and friend, Bernie Jacobs, is not replaceable, I am confident that these new appointments will ensure the critical role of the Shubert Foundation in supporting non-profit performing arts in America and the continued successes of the Shubert Organization in the professional theatre."
As President of the Shubert Organization, Smith will work with Schoenfeld and take part in play selection, theatre bookings, human resources and play selections. Smith was a key player in establishing the TKTS discount tickets booth in New York's Times Square.
Reached by phone, Schoenfeld praised Smith's 39 years with the company, adding "He was the obvious choice; he sees everything."
As for Smith's input on play selection, Schoenfeld made clear that he'll continue the Shuberts' commitment to commercial Broadway theatre.
A legal scholar, Michael Ira Sovern is President Emeritus of Columbia University. A former chairman of the New York State-New York City Commission on Integrity in Government, Sovern served as President of Columbia from 1980-1993. Schoenfeld praised Sovern as "a proven leader with an unmatched reputation in the City of New York for understanding the social and economic forces -- as well as the individual creative talents -- that make New York a cultural capital of the world."
Reached by phone, Sovern noted proudly to his commitment to the arts during his tenure at Columbia, including bringing director Andre' Serban to the School of the Arts. He also recruited Bernard Jacobs and Gerald Schoenfeld to teach at the school.
Sovern also whimsically noted that one of his first assignments at the Shubert organization back in 1980 was to write an article for Playbill magazine.
On a more serious note, both Schoenfeld and Sovern pointed to "a state of crisis in the arts," seeing the Shubert Foundation as (said Sovern) "playing a leading role in the arts community during this period of reduced funding."
Robert Wankel has been with the Shubert Organization for over 21 years, during which time he's overseen all financial operations, including Tele Charge. His new duties will involve working with Schoenfeld and Smith on "strategic planning for the company."
The Shubert Organization owns and/or operates 21 theatres, 17 in New York City, and one each in Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Current Broadway productions include A Delicate Balance, Big, The Phantom Of The Opera and Miss Saigon. The Shubert Foundation awards grants to nonprofit theatre, dance, education and arts organizations.