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One On 1 Profile: Tony Award-Winning Producer Daryl Roth Balances Challenging Themes And Commercial Success

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Top Broadway producer Daryl Roth is keeping busy, with rehearsals continuing for her new show "A Time to Kill" and a national tour beginning next month for the Tony Award-winning "Kinky Boots." Roth has won six other Tony Awards for her part in producing shows like "Clybourne Park" and "August Osage County," part of quite a journey for someone who for decades, only loved the theater from afar. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile in June of this year.

An hour before the curtain of Broadway's "Kinky Boots," producer Daryl Roth's almost nightly routine has begun — schmoozing with the cast and crew and making sure everyone is alright.

"I'm more like the mother," Roth says.

Roth's official title for Kinky Boots is "lead producer," along with her partner Hal Luftig, but unofficially, yes, she is the mother.

"People do feel more comfortable when they feel valued and respected and in a comfortable environment, which is what I try to create with each production," Roth says.

It's seemingly been that way for a long time. In 1999, the cast of the hip-hop Shakespeare show "The Bomb-itty Of Errors" rhapsodized about her in rap.

Performers GQ and Jordan Allen-Dutton sang to NY1 at the time, "From first encounter with us she had faith, and that's why we be tippin' hats and giving the thanks. People can't believe how fast we going up. Peace to D. Roth for our chance at blowin' up."

In 25 years in the business, Daryl Roth has won plenty of awards, produced shows on Broadway and off and had critical and commercial successes. In "Kinky Boots," she has both.

"Kinky Boots" is the story of an unlikely duo coming together to save a failing British shoe factory through the power of acceptance.

"Some people say I really am a nonprofit producer because my taste is often more challenging than commercial producers who are working. But sometimes I have that intersection and I can feel good on both counts," Roth says.

Roth's rise to prominence was fueled by shows with difficult themes — shows like "Proof" about mental illness, "How I Learned To Drive" about incest and "Wit," the story of a woman battling ovarian cancer.

"I don't shy away from risks. If you're in theater, that's one of the first things you have to accept as a tenet of this business. Take a risk, don't be afraid to fail, do what you believe in," says Roth. "Somehow when you're in what I call 'the hug of a theater,' you can accept things differently. You feel safe, you can digest information, you can think about it."

When Roth first started producing in the late 1980s, she occasionally felt anything but the "hug of the theater." She was in her early 40s, an interior decorator living in the suburbs with no experience in production.

"People would say, 'Who does she think she is? Here is this woman from New Jersey who loves theater, OK, we'll give her that,'" Roth says. "I didn't feel welcome, actually, but I guess I was in such my own world that I was hurt by it, but didn't let it stop me."

Roth says some thought she would only stick around for a year or two. People resented her for her affluence. She is married to real estate magnate Steven Roth.

"I can't help it if I'm married to a successful guy. Don't hold that against me, I'm a hard-working theater person," Roth says. "It's their problem, not mine."

In 1988, as a board member of the theater New York City Center, Roth was invited to a night of music by Richard Maltby and David Shire at a club in the Village.

"I don't know if it was timing in my life, or just so happy to be there, every song made a difference to me," says Roth. "I said at end of the night, 'Richard and David, would you let me try to do something with this?' It was like somebody in my body talking because I don't know I had the confidence to say that to them, having never produced anything before."

The result was a show at the Cherry Lane Theater called "Closer Than Ever." Suddenly her dream of getting involved in theater was a reality.

There were some early nightmares, like the short-lived "Nick And Nora."

"I was very new to the game and I think that the big lesson is you need to go into a project with the creators on the same path with the same vision. That was an example of... not that," Roth says.

She made her name in the 1990s primarily off-Broadway, eventually buying the old Union Square Savings Bank and turning it into the Daryl Roth theater. Roth says it was the off-Broadway icon Lucille Lortel who suggested that Roth name the theater after herself.

"I said, 'I don't want to feel less than humble about this. People are already chat, chat, chat.' She said, 'Darling, let them chat. You do good work and let them chat.' I said, 'That's what I want to do,' and I did. Screw them," Roth says.

For Roth, the idea of acceptance isn't simply the theme of her latest hit show. In 2011, she introduced a younger generation of theater goers to the pain of the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, producing a revival of the seminal play first staged in 1985, "The Normal Heart."

Roth and her son Jordan, the president of the Jujamcyn Theaters, have been part of the fight for marriage equality. Jordan Roth married his partner, and eloquently introduced his mother on the night when she was honored by an organization that helps LGBT youth, Live Out Loud.

Jordan Roth said at the time, "My mother now blazes a trail that affects so many with the plays she presents to the world. But she first blazed a trail in the hardest place, a place where we can all do the same. She first blazed a trail in her own home."

About the only thing rivaling Daryl Roth's passion for theater and her family is her passion for dogs. Yes, many people love their dogs, but she has a bench in Central Park named after her dogs Leo and Lucy. She has also made a documentary, "My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story."

Roth has worked with some of the stage's leading lights, like Edward Albee and Nora Ephron. Her caricature enjoys a spot on the wall at Sardi's. But she knows that the people who show up each night to see "Kinky Boots" are not showing up to see her.

"It's about what people see on stage. It's about who created it," Roth says. "You have to keep your ego in check as producer because it's not about you. Though it wouldn't happen without you, it's not about you."

Though not as lead producer, Roth is also involved in other Tony-nominated shows this year, including "Annie" and "Lucky Guy."

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