After the Heights, Going for Broke

Special Features   After the Heights, Going for Broke
Tony Award nominee Thomas Kail directs Broke-ology, a family drama, for Lincoln Center Theater.

Thomas Kail
Thomas Kail Photo by Aubrey Reuben


Director Thomas Kail spent 6½ years helping to mold, nurture and stage the Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes–penned musical In the Heights. Kail was rewarded with a Tony Award nomination for Best Director and the show took home the Tony for Best Musical.

His newest credit — Broke-ology, at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater — was accomplished with a trifle more speed.

In March 2008, Kail's agent, John Buzzetti, called to remind him of a play he was sent a while back, something by a young writer named Nathan Louis Jackson. There was now a chance for a production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Kail had liked the script at the time, and wanted to pursue the project. But In the Heights had opened only three days earlier and he wanted to catch his breath. He told Buzzetti, "Great. I'm going away this weekend and I'll read the script again." Buzzetti replied, "No, actually, you're going to meet with Nathan tomorrow at 1 PM. I need you to make this decision by the evening." The rest is history.

Broke-ology's run in Williamstown garnered rave reviews, setting the stage for the show to make its way to New York this month, courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater. Broke-ology is about the King family, who hail from Kansas City and have some big decisions to make. The father has MS and is ailing. One brother is trying to convince his more ambitious sibling to put his education on hold in order to care for their father.

To Kail, the themes are eternal, both in terms of modern American life and the classic American theatre. "What Nathan has done is create a play that fits in the fabric of the larger American canon. I wrote my thesis on O'Neill. When the brothers in Broke-ology are playing dominoes in the first act, it's very reminiscent to me of the last act of Long Day's Journey when they're playing hearts, these two men and their father. Obviously, it's completely different circumstances, but it's through the actions of their routine that you get to know them in both of those plays and you see them coming together and coming undone."

One thing that's anything but broke these days is Kail's career. At 32 years old he's gone from directing in a windowless space in the basement of the Drama Book Shop to working on Broadway and Lincoln Center. How is he adjusting to the suddenly higher altitudes? "I just sort of keep my head down and keep marching up the hill."

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