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The Producer: A Conversation with Broadway’s David Stone

David Stone keeps busy. Between his work as a producer – among his Broadway credits are Wicked, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Next to Normal, and If/Then – and his career as a lecturer – he has lectured at Juilliard, Yale University, and Columbia University, among other places -, Mr. Stone has used his extensive experience in the industry to foster engaging theatrical experiences on an international level. I recently sat down with him to discuss how he came to producing, his opinions on bootleg recordings, and the phenomenon of cross-pollination between the worlds of opera and Broadway. Read our conversation below:

Stone Menzel

David Stone and Idina Menzel

So, how did you come to producing?
As a kid, I went to the French Woods camp where I had the chance to perform and direct. I later ended up going into communications, like TV, film, and advertisements. From there, I was pulled into theatre. I got an internship at Jujamcyn Theaters, where I was introduced to people like Barry and Fran Weissler. I started producing when I was 26, and it just worked out.

What makes for good theatre vs. what makes a hit? Where do the two intersect?
Good theatre is subjective. What makes good theatre for someone might not make good theatre for someone else. But you can’t be cynical about it. In Broadway, there’s always cynicism about what will make money when it comes to jukebox musicals, for example. Good theatre comes as a result of the passion of the people who put a show together. It has nothing to do with whether or not it is a hit. And good shows aren’t always successful and vice-versa, and even good shows might not work at some degree. For example, Next to Normal, which I produced, was a rock opera and it was very good. It was a success, yes, but it wasn’t a huge hit. The two aren’t necessarily connected, and you can’t set out to do both. When both happen – good theatre that becomes a hit – it’s not intentional.

What is your favorite part of putting a show onstage?
I love the process. What I don’t love are opening nights and being there with the audience. I love is the development of a show, the previews, during which we listen to the audience to help us fix a show, and tech. Once a show is done, it becomes a job, and that’s not the part I’m crazy about.

Stone Wicked Garden

David Stone at the Launch of Wicked’s “Friendship Garden” in 2007

What is your opinion on the bootleg recording debate?
I hate it, but I think it’s a good marketing tool because audience members know that if they’re only seeing something on YouTube, it makes them more excited about the material. A bootleg recording might whet your appetite for a show, and audiences are smart enough to realize that a bootleg recording is just an approximation of what is happening onstage.

What is your personal taste in theatre?
I love Sondheim. I tend to be interested in plays and musicals that reflect how I see the world. Shows with human beings with human problems. For that reason, musical comedy usually doesn’t do it for me. And so much of Broadway is just presentational. That’s not my style.

What is the best show you’ve ever seen?
Gosh, I don’t know. For musicals, definitely the original Broadway productions of Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd. I think West Side Story is the greatest musical ever written, though I wasn’t around for the original production of that! For plays, I think Angels in America. I know it’s cliché, but it was like nothing nobody had ever seen at the time.

In which direction, do you think, is Broadway headed?
Broadway is in the midst of another Golden Age. In the last 15 years, we’ve had at least 2-3 enduring shows every year, many of which work commercially. And there are so many people who want to do theatre. I credit RENT with opening people up to theatre. And Disney has trained new audiences. I think Broadway is healthy. Ticket prices are definitely too high, even though dynamic pricing works, but overall, now is a good time.

What would you say to somebody going into your field?
Don’t rush. Though it worked out for me, I was probably too young. Make sure to learn business, apprentice with somebody in the business, and watch how shows are put together. Remember that commercial off-Broadway exists, too. I was lucky enough to initially do small-scale shows. And to anybody going into the arts: Only do it if you think “If I don’t do this, I’ll die.”

Any final thoughts?
There’s actually quite a bit of cross-pollination between opera and theatre. Many theatre people actually write and direct opera. Jonathan Kent, whom opera fans should know, actually did Man of La Mancha with me. Joe Mantello, who directed Wicked, has done Dead Man Walking. Stephen Schwartz even had a good experience in opera. He did Seance on a Wet Afternoon at New York city Opera. Cross-pollination is more common than you’d think.

Photos: Bruce Glikas, Jason A. Specland

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