SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S: A Drink With Daryl Roth

Special Features   SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S: A Drink With Daryl Roth
 
We roost at the upstairs bar of the famous theatre restaurant to talk to producer and theatre owner Daryl Roth, whose projects include Broadway's Driving Miss Daisy and Off-Broadway's The Divine Sister, Through the Night and Love, Loss and What I Wore.

Daryl Roth
Daryl Roth Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

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With producer Daryl Roth, it all comes back to dogs.

Not dog plays, mind you. Dog dogs.

She grew up with dogs — Collies — in Wayne, NJ. She lives with dogs today — two Lowchens, aged 12 and 18. She made a documentary called "My Dog, An Unconditional Love Story," the proceeds from which go to animal shelters and charities. (Cast: Edward Albee, Glenn Close, Edie Falco, et al.) Of Melissa Etheridge, whom she was going to see in American Idiot the evening of our meeting at Sardi's, she said, "I'm a big fan of her music. And I love that she's a big dog lover."

Roth almost didn't marry her longtime husband, real estate titan Steven Roth, because of a dog. "With all my dates," she told, over a glass of ginger ale, "when they would walk me home, I asked them if they would like to walk the dog with me. I was old-fashioned that way." This was the 1960s, in Manhattan. Her dog then was a Sheltie "Everyone always said yes, except Steven. He said, 'No, I have no interest in walking your dog.' So I thought, this guy's off my list! If he doesn't love dogs, I'm oughta here." She didn't see him again for a year. She gave him another chance. "I guess my priorities changed. Whatever it was, we were married four months later."

Daryl and Jordan Roth
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Steven Roth wasn't a theatre man back then, but he's become one. It was unavoidable. Since her first venture into the producing game — the 1989 revue Closer Than Ever — Daryl Roth has been one of the most productive producers in the business, backing dozens of productions both on and Off-Broadway, including Proof, Curtains, Wit, How I Learned to Drive, August: Osage County, Our Lady of 121st Street, Snakebit, Talking Heads, Thom Pain (based on nothing) and, her longest-running hit, De La Guarda.

"He's grown to love theatre," she said of her hubby. "He wasn't a big theatregoer at first, but since we married I've introduced him to theatre. When he met Edward Albee, it was very exciting for him, because his favorite play for many years was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? When I produced Three Tall Women, Steven got to meet him and know him. He said that really changed his life. He never thought he'd have that exposure to people in the arts."

Steven Roth doesn't advise his wife on which plays to produce, but he does offer an opinion after the fact. "He'll come to see everything, and he will comment on everything," she said. "And sometimes he'll say, 'I know exactly why you chose this play — but why did you choose this play?' Steven is a very bottom-line businessman and sometimes I choose things that are not apparently commercial."

The Roths have two children. Their daughter, Amanda, is a social worker, and doesn't have much interest in the stage. The son, Jordan Roth, does, and is on the road to becoming a more powerful figure in the New York theatre than his mother. He started as an actor, performing at Horace Mann and Princeton, became a producer and is now the youthful president and co-owner of Jujamcyn Theaters. This makes Daryl the matriarch of a minor theatre dynasty. "Steven feels that Jordan has taken the best of both his parents," she said with a smile — she rarely, if ever, looks glum, at least in public — "because Jujamcyn is in fact real estate, and yet it is artistic and theatrical."

Aside from the pooches, and her family, theatre takes up most of Daryl Roth's life. There are no hobbies or side interests. She does like to read, but, even then, it's plays more than novels. "That's all I know how to talk about. I find myself being very focused in life. Sometimes when I'm out with people and they don't want to talk about theatre, I'm at a loss."

Daryl Roth
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Her interest in the stage was cultivated early by two theatre-loving parents. "It was a family outing," she recalled. "The four of us would go to a Saturday or Sunday matinee. Those are fond memories. I grew up with musical theatre. I wasn't exposed to dramatic plays until I was in college."

Wayne was pretty bucolic then, an RFD with farms and lakes alongside the houses. Roth's upbringing was fairly all-American. She was a flag twirler in high school. Captain, actually. "I don't think I was very good at it," she admitted. "I was just peppy and enthusiastic." (She still is.) "In those towns in those days, the focus was on your high school football team and marching band and cheerleaders and flag twirlers, and that was our life. That and Ricky Nelson."

She studied art history at NYU and became an interior decorator for a while, rendering doctor's offices into homey and welcoming spaces. But she always had a career in the theatre in the back of her mind. She first began attracting attention in the 1990s, as the producer of a run of Pulitzer Prize-winning plays Three Tall Women, How I Learned to Drive and Wit. At the same time, she added to her growing profile by, in 1996, buying a former bank building on Union Square, christening it the Daryl Roth Theatre. She thus became that rare modern producer to exercise the very early-20th-century habit of producing plays in a building that bore her name.

"When the deal was done," she recalled, "Steven went down and put a big ribbon around the column of the building. The card said, 'DIFT.' I said, 'What is this?' He said 'Daryl is Fifty-Two.'" She was. DIFT is now the name of her company.

Though she increasingly produces on Broadway, Roth remains devoted to the Off-Broadway theatrewhere she cut her teeth, even though the field has become more challenging that it was when she made her mark 15 years ago. "The problem is it costs much more to produce Off-Broadway than it did," she said. "And you only have so many seats to sell and you have to keep the price reasonable. You keep the weekly nut as low as you can. You try to do good work that will find visibility in the press, and then the word of mouth starts kicking in. And sometimes you find an actor who has name recognition who's willing to work Off-Broadway." She's currently proud of having populated the Westside Theatre on West 43rd Street with her productions of the long-running Love, Loss and What I Wore in the Downstairs Theatre, as well as the Downstairs transfer of the solo show Through the Night. Her revival of Cactus Flower will soon open in the Westside's Upstairs Theatre.

"I've conquered the Westside," she said, flashing a smile worthy of the sidelines. Go team.

Walter Charles and Kathleen Chalfant in Roth's 1998 production of <i>Wit</i>.
Walter Charles and Kathleen Chalfant in Roth's 1998 production of Wit. Photo by Joan Marcus
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