"It's a rush through the veins," Michael P. Price said. "There's nothing like being in the theatre as the house lights go down and the audience is chattering and the orchestra begins and you know you're going to anticipate something great." There's "an excitement that is incredible."
Price, 75, has turned that passion for the stage into a 45-year career as executive director of Goodspeed Musicals, the Connecticut theatre company that, over its 50 years of existence, has become almost synonymous with American musical theatre. It has presented more than 250 musicals, 19 of which, including Man of La Mancha, Annie and Shenandoah, have gone on to Broadway, taking home more than a dozen Tonys.
From the start, "our philosophy was something old, something new — rediscovering the old and discovering the new. I think that's what guides us the most, in terms of choice of what we produce. And also building a loyalty amongst our patrons and our audiences so that they come for our hits, runs and errors — of which we have all three."
Price was born in Chicago. "I was a stutterer. My mother took me to what was called an elocution school, but it really was a dramatic school. I was an actor. We were doing children's theatre. And I overcame my stuttering."
He did "a lot of early television in Chicago." In college at Michigan State, "I migrated from acting into technical theatre. I became a lighting designer." His yen for musicals began, he said, as an undergraduate. He earned graduate degrees at Minnesota and Yale. While at Yale, he got a summer job at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, MO, a nearly 8,000-seat outdoor musical showplace. He wound up at Goodspeed in 1963 for its inaugural season, where he was on the team running the theatre — "and after six months I was fired.
"I was a smart-ass kid out of Yale. I knew all the answers."
He journeyed to New York and became Richard Rodgers' stage manager at the Music Theater of Lincoln Center, which presented a series of revivals in the 1960s. He went on the road with the Music Theater and spent time working around the country. Then he returned to Goodspeed, becoming executive director in 1968.
In its early years, he says, Goodspeed "was almost like a stock company." We "built from an eight-week season to a 35-week season and then we opened a second stage. We went from one building to 33 structures on a campus of 28 acres. We have a 30,000-square-foot production shop building scenery for all kinds of shows. We do painting. We have a huge costume rental business."
Goodspeed is also home to the Scherer Library of Musical Theatre and the Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theatre, which caters to youngsters. And then there's the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony. "The most important thing we did in the last couple of years... was [that] we built 17 new artists' houses — an artists' colony for emerging composers, lyricists, and book writers," Price said.
"Our emphasis," he said, "is on developing new writers and producing their works — we do a lot of that in the Chester theatre and we'll do some of it on our main stage" in East Haddam.
Price has received many honors. He's on the board of trustees of the American Theatre Wing and is a member of the Tony Awards Management Committee.