At Home With Hairspray and Kinky Boots’ Jerry Mitchell in His Midtown Penthouse

Playbill.com's new column offers readers an exclusive inside look at the homes of Broadway's stars and behind-the-scenes movers and shakers.

Jerry Mitchell
Jerry Mitchell (Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

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If there's one thing two time Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell knows (besides how to create a hit show), it's how to throw great parties. And he has the perfect terrace to throw them on.

"I've had just so many amazing parties," he says. "Like the time 300 people came over and we broke the elevator in the building. Or the times everybody stayed till sunup when I made a batch of popcorn and ran Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies against the outer wall of the apartment. And, at New Year's Eve parties, we get a close-up view of the ball dropping. Then we turn our heads a bit to the east and watch the fireworks in Central Park. It's an amazing terrace."

That amazing terrace sits on top of an elegant 1912 co-op in the heart of the Theatre District. Mitchell rented the one-bedroom apartment, with 800 square feet inside and another 1,200 outside, in 1991. But the terrace needed a lot of work.

"It was tar beach," said the transplant from Paw Paw, MI. "But I believed the apartment was perfect for someone who loves Broadway and who has roots in the Midwest, because I had to have outdoor space."

Today the terrace, designed by architect James Bartholomew, is very beautiful, with room for plants (basil and rosemary because Mitchell loves to cook), an outdoor shower and a grill where he prepares chicken and steaks. ("But, he jokes, "nobody eats on Broadway. Gotta fit into their costumes tomorrow night.") And, until recently, the terrace also included a sandbox so everyone could kick off their shoes and play.

He rented the apartment in 1991, and when it was clear Hairspray was going to be a huge success, he bought it in 2002.

A view of the terrace
A view of the terrace (Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
In the kitchen
In the kitchen (Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

When Legally Blonde became another winner, he decided he could afford an all-out renovation. "I gutted it," he says. "The renovation and decoration took about a year, and I stayed at a neighbor's while all that was going on.

"The first thing I wanted to fix was the kitchen. I love to cook, so we set up an all-Viking kitchen. We took out a window — I had three — so I could have more room in there. Then we put in a decorative sliding door. It closes over any dishes that might be in the sink and slides open up to show a full bar. And next we moved the wall of the bathroom forward, so I'd have a little more bathroom space."

When it came to the bathroom which, Mitchell says, was "awful," three things were important to him. He needed a tub big enough so his 6'4 ½" frame could soak comfortably. He needed something that would relax all his senses. And, finally, it had to be something that could soothe sore dancing muscles.

He ended up with a lighting system inside the tub — a Chromatherapy Bain Ultra tube — that changes the water to any color he chooses. ("You pick the color depending on what mood you're in," Mitchell said.) The tub also has air jets that bubble up and are "incredibly" good for dancers' aches and pains. "And," he added, "it's heated — so if you lean against the wall of the tub you feel the warmth on your back."

After the renovations, Mitchell, with the help of famed designer David Rockwell (who did the sets for many of Mitchell's shows), started decorating. Mitchell did a lot himself. The style is contemporary and clean, he said. "I don't like a lot of clutter in my life." But he does like a lot of photographs. So his walls boast some beautiful portraits. Among them: Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra with Dean Martin, Ted Shawn (who he calls "the father of modern dance"), Mitchell himself with Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper and some naked bodies from Broadway Bares 14 (Mitchell started Broadway Bares to raise money to fight AIDS. Then, in a corner of the living room, there's a table with his many awards: an Olivier Award he received for Legally Blonde, three Australian Helpmann Awards also for Legally Blonde, a Drama Desk for La Cage aux Folles, the prestigious George Abbott Award and his two Tony Awards.

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Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

He also made room for some special treasures: a Hermes cashmere throw, leather and felt David Rockwell wallpaper in the bedroom and a pair of ghillies which, in 1980, were the very first shoes in wore in a Broadway show ( Brigadoon).

Now, after making his home so comfortable, Mitchell's making some major changes in his life. For one thing, when he finishes getting a road company ready for a touring Kinky Boots, he's going to start working on both On Your Feet, Gloria Estefan's life story, and Gotta Dance, which is based on a documentary about dancers from 65-85 years old.

And there's something more. Since Tony Award-winning Kinky Boots (which he directed and choreographed) is so hugely successful, Mitchell is upscaling again. He put a bid down on another apartment in the neighborhood which is bigger and will have room for a much longed-for piano.

Still, he admits he'll be sad to lose that terrace. "It's such a special place," he says. "I realize it more all the time."