PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jeffrey Seller

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jeffrey Seller
 
The elder statesmen of Broadway must have looked on with bemusement twelve years ago when 31-year-old pup with blonde, corkscrew curls named Jeffrey Seller announced his intention to bring a rock musical named Rent to Broadway.
Jeffrey Seller
Jeffrey Seller Photo by Aubrey Reuben

But, despite the vocal naysayers at the time, he and his equally young producing partner Kevin McCollum, did just that (partnering with Allan S. Gordon), and only now are they getting around to closing the Jonathan Larson musical which created its own population of groupies and ushered in an era of more daring Broadway musicals. Some of those edgier shows, like the still-running Avenue Q and the upcoming In the Heights, are also the work of Seller and McCollum, who have remained a team. With the June 1 Rent closure date in sight, Seller spoke to Playbill.com about his memories and thoughts of the show that established his career as a Broadway producer.

Playbill.com: When Rent first came to Broadway, how long did you think it would last?
Jeffrey Seller: The real truth of it is, I had no idea. I knew we had to go to Broadway. After we opened Off-Broadway, many advisors, friends and colleagues recommended we not go to Broadway. The opinion of many was that that downtown crowd wouldn't come uptown to see the show and the uptown crowd wouldn't be interested in a downtown show. But Kevin [McCollum] and I felt it was our mission to go to Broadway. We felt that, if Rent can't be on Broadway, then the Broadway we grew up loving so much cannot accommodate us, that we can't work on Broadway. And we wanted to work on Broadway. Had it played two years on Broadway, I would have been happy. When it won the Tony Award, people said, "Well, you're going to do five years for sure." I was like, "Terrific." Then a year later, I went to the tenth anniversary of Les Miz, and the sweet Vinnie Liff [the late casting director] was there, and he said to me, "Well, you'll be going to your tenth anniversary before you know it." I thought of Vinnie when I went to Rent's tenth anniversary, very fondly.

Playbill.com: Do you think Rent has changed Broadway? Do you think it's partly responsible for such Broadway musicals as Spring Awakening, Grey Gardens and Passing Strange?
JS: I think Rent enriched Broadway. And I think Rent absolutely helped open the door to less conventional shows like Urinetown, Avenue Q and Spring Awakening. In that way, I think Rent helped expand what Broadway could do. I've always thought Broadway is vital because it's many things to many people, and Broadway is big enough to accommodate Crazy for You and 42nd Street and Rent and Spring Awakening. Broadway can do all of those things.

Playbill.com: How many times did you see Rent over the course of the run?
JS: That's a very difficult question. If I said that I saw the show not less 60 or 70 times — I'm sure there are fans who saw it more than I did. (Laughs.) If there's only one thing I can regret about Rent, it's that when one is on the inside of the show, it's like knowing all the magic tricks. So my experience of Rent could never be like the experience of Rent that 18-year-olds had when it opened. They could take it in and fall in love with those characters and that score. That's what I did when I was a teenager with A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd and Evita. I couldn't do it with Rent because it was my show.

Playbill.com: You and Kevin McCollum were very young when you first produced Rent. In the intervening years, how have your intentions and motivations as producers changed, or, if the case be, remained the same?
JS: I was 31. He was 33. The greatest gift that Rent gave Kevin and I was the gift of being able to be full-time producers. The gift of being able to take risks, to continue to choose unpredictable material that many other people had no interest in. In those intervening years of growing up, getting married — I have my partner, [Kevin] has his wife; I have two children, [Kevin] has two children — we've seen a lot of babies! Artistically speaking, it's been a fertile time for us to focus on developing new works, whether that was bringing De La Guarda to New York, or getting behind Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, Baz Luhrmann's take on La Boheme, Avenue Q and, now, In the Heights. Playbill.com: With In the Heights, it seems like you two are basically in the same business you were 12 years ago, of bringing unconventional musicals born Off-Broadway to Broadway.
JS: I hope In the Heights is perhaps the third in our trilogy of successful Broadway shows that are all about New York City today.

Playbill.com: Do you ever consider producing without Kevin? Or are you an inseparable team?
JS: You know what, Kevin produced The Drowsy Chaperone without me, and that was my decision. I supported him. But that was the only time we went off our track and Kevin and I are partners through thick and through thin.

Playbill.com: What do you think Rent's future is?
JS: I think it's extraordinary. The end of a Broadway run is the beginning of giving Rent to the world. Most people are familiar with Broadway musicals not from their Broadway runs but from their experience of them in their communities, when they're being presented at the high school, the community theatre, the college.

Playbill.com: Are there any special plans for the final performance?
JS: There was so much planning and strategizing and secrecy around the decision of naming an end date and then announcing it that I never took the time to think how we were going to do the late performance on June 1. I don't know what we're doing, but I'll take suggestions!

Today’s Most Popular News: