How Second Stage Become a Hotbed for Tony-Winning Work
The Off-Broadway house behind New York premieres of Jitney and Dear Evan Hansen will soon be represented on Broadway, itself.
Second Stage productions won’t technically be eligible for Tony consideration until March 2018, when the nonprofit Off-Broadway company moves into its new Broadway home at the Helen Hayes Theatre, but artistic director and (with Robyn Goodman) co-founder Carole Rothman can already bask in reflected Tony glory.
This year’s Best Play Revival, Jitney, pulled into Second Stage 17 years ago when the New York Drama Critics called it 2000’s Best Play. And 2017’s Best Musical winner, Dear Evan Hansen, arrived Off-Broadway at Second Stage in 2016 in such good shape it boomeranged to Broadway’s Music Box. Its young songwriters, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, cut their teeth at Second Stage with their debut show Dogfight, so understandably Second Stage got first call. (Watch them explain their creative process in the video above.)
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“That’s the good thing: You do their first musical, and they come back, and they’ve got another musical that’s a big success,” Rothman says. “The same with plays. We did Lynn Nottage’s first play, Crumbs From the Table of Joy, and we stayed friendly with her. That’s why she’s going to write a new play for us. We did [Jon Robin] Baitz’s first play in New York, The Film Society, and now he’s doing another for us. I’ve been doing it for 38 years, and it’s just a continuous process of developing relationships.”
The Nottage and Baitz plays bowed at Second Stage’s mini-space at Broadway and 76th Street, the McGinn/Cazale, named for two wonderful actors who died much too young: Walter McGinn (Goodman’s husband) and John Cazale (a stage actor who only did five films—but all five were Best Picture Oscar nominees, and three won). Second Stage’s mainstage, the Tony Kiser Theatre, is named for its first board chairman.
From Split in 1980 to the recent A Parallelogram, Second Stage has produced 176 plays and musicals. Ten went to Broadway, and Rothman went with the first, Coastal Disturbances, copping a Tony nomination for Best Direction. That play was followed by Spoils of War, Metamorphoses, Reckless, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Little Dog Laughed, Next to Normal, and Everyday Rapture.
Art at Second Stage comes from good relationships rubbing together. “Oh, I love to work with friends,” Rothman admits. “You can trust them, and you want people who will trust you back, people who know you’re trying to do the best for them. And, of course, if you’re moving into a new theatre, you want to have friends by your side.”
Among the playwriting pals she has on tap: Lonergan, Nottage, Baitz, Will Eno, Young Jean Lee, Lisa Kron, Tracy Letts, Bess Wohl, and Paula Vogel.