“BROADWAY PRODUCER WENDY RADUS FEDERMAN OF ALPINE KNOWS HOW TO PICK 'EM"
WRITTEN BY AMELIA DUGGAN
With eight Tony Awards and counting, Wendy Radus Federman clearly knows how to spot a quality show. With hits like Dear Evan Hansen, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Angels in America and The Band’s Visit, just to scratch the surface, Federman has a keen sense of what will appeal to contemporary Broadway audiences. Equally experienced with revivals as she is with new shows, the producer has invested in a wide array of plays and musicals including Three Tall Women, The Ice Man Cometh, Hello Dolly and Carousel, which all were smashes on Broadway this season.
The Bergen County Bible had the opportunity to chat with Wendy about her wildly successful career as a producer:
Eight Tony’s and more than 20 nominations. That’s a pretty impressive tally for a producer. How do you decide in which shows you will invest and what level of risk?
The BCB: What is your role at producer?
WRF: With every show, my role is a bit different, depending when I enter the project. It can be an idea from a newcomer or from a major star with a famous director.
Funding is always a piece of this, but not always the most important thing. The creative and the art of the project have to be in place. The level to which I am involved depends on when I enter the project. Beyond the monetary involvement, comes putting the creative and business teams together. You’re a hand holder and you are overseeing every aspect from inception to rehearsal to being in the theater to opening night. You can work on the marketing and branding, the social media and so on. If you’re on a team that’s producing a classic, you’re not touching it. When it’s a brand new work, you might be more involved in crafting it creatively, always being mindful of the costs. You are the eye on the show.
My experience has varied. We get a lot of material to
read or listen to. We get invited to review a great deal
of material from Williamstown, Mass. to London. It’s
important to know who’s working on what and to keep
investors involved and aware of what is happening.
The BCB: What made you fall in love with theater and
why did you choose to invest in such a volatile business?
WRF: Theater chose me. It was around me growing up.
My mother was a performer and the music of her
generation came from Broadway shows. I trained in all
of it but I wound up in the family business. Of course
it’s a volatile business, but I came out of other
businesses and my hobby became my business. The
more that I’m involved, the more I’ve been privy to have
access to the best material. Whenever my daughter asks
if I’m going to slow down, I say yes, but I think I’ve got
so many shows planned. I see or read something and
then I’m off.
The BCB: Do you have a favorite show, or are they like children where you cannot pick?
WRF: They are certainly like children, but the revival of Hair, my first Tony Award, was at a time when we were getting a new young president and there was a feeling of hope. It is a musical about love and peace. The cast was incredible. We all stay close. It was one of those perfect storms – a feel good experience. The tribe. That’s what we call the cast in the show but everyone who was involved is part of that experience. It doesn’t mean there aren’t shows I have loved equally, but Hair holds a special place in my heart.
The BCB: Just like a favorite play, schnauzer Sparky, is a favorite “child.” Please tell us why.
WRF: There are days when I can be at my desk, working in the home office, and Sparky has been my sounding board. He sits on my lap when the Tony nominations are announced. He’s been with me for some pivotal moments. He even listens to the music.
The BCB: What do you think younger audiences are looking for today?
WRF: I always keep an ear open to new material. My daughter, who lives in the city, is a former performer and I like to get her perspective. Dear Evan Hansen went viral through a younger generation. I have no problem doing a show that skews younger and making it available. The contemporary Broadway audience is starting to skew a bit younger and often to the topic and the cast. I want to find those shows where my son or daughter would say “I’ve got to have a ticket!”
We are certainly looking to bring in a larger demo in age, ethnicity with productions that are welcoming to everyone. Broadway got it right in casting; it’s color blind and gender bending and theater is ahead of the curve.
The BCB: What role do revivals play in the Broadway palette of productions?
WRF: Revivals are important. There is no reason that something brilliant shouldn’t be done again. Look at Angels in America. Some of the issues have changed but the thoughts and emotions haven’t.
The BCB: What are your thoughts on the “Me Too” movement as it applies to theater?
WRF: Broadway almost has a mandate, or a shame that there were no female directors or playwrights nominated. The old Ginger Rogers idea, that women do it figuratively and sometimes literally in “three inch heels and backwards.”
I had to prove myself more. We’re in a moment now where generationally the notion that women have to work twice as hard will dissipate. There certainly should and need to be more of us. Any of us that have the power to do the hiring must make it a point to bring along women and all who have the talent. Again I think that Broadway is ahead of the curve.
Hamilton helped push the conversation even more. Nobody thinks about the color or ethnicity of the cast.
Then, look at The Band’s Visit. I had wondered why there hadn’t been a show with Middle Eastern themes. It’s so fresh and such a different sound. If you do it well, it will make human connections. Who would think that some of these shows like Come From Away or other shows would make that connection? The art has to make sense.
The BCB: Is there a silver bullet for producing a Broadway hit?
WRF: I wish there were. I don’t know if there is anymore. There have been large stars in shows that have made money, and stars in shows that haven’t. I’m an independent producer. There might be certain actors that resonate with ticket buyers – like Bette Midler in Hello Dolly. We’re also looking for the unique.
The BCB: Where do you keep all of your Tony’s? Do you ever have to pinch yourself to believe you have actually won so many?
WRF: Originally, I kept my awards in my living room on a side table, but now they’re on the mantel over the fireplace. They are displayed along with my Drama Desk Awards. They’re not that tall – they’re lovely. I’m honored to have them and they stay in the main home because I work out of the house. I try to get a signed cast poster from everyone in the show as well. The Tony’s are wonderful mementos of what I’ve done.
The BCB: As you look to the future, is there something special you’d like to see return to Broadway?
WRF: It’s probably too soon, but a favorite musical for personal reasons is A Chorus Line. It’s more than about being a dancer, but about being loved. There was a revival maybe ten years ago that wasn’t quite as well received. Maybe down the road somewhere. It’s a great story with fabulous music and wonderful dance numbers. It’s got universal stories about people dealing with real-world emotions. That’s human.
I love A Chorus Line. I loved Evita. Pippin. But personally, A Chorus Line resonates with me. As a former dancer, such physical punishment to create that beauty – “What I did for Love.” I think it speaks to why anybody does anything that they love – writers, teachers and scientists – all do it for love. There was a reason that the show ran for ten years.
“Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen resonates with everyone; that feeling of making human connections and wanting to be wanted. When you go to a show – even if every word or dance step is the same – you’re sharing a unique experience because every performance is different. You’re present with that group of people in that moment. It’s a very unique experience.
The BCB: Where are we going with theater?
WRF: I’m involved with a play, Lifespan of a Fact, which is about what constitutes fake news. There’s no lack of material out there.
Audiences want to see what’s new and there’s a variety of everything to sample and venues to experience. The Park Avenue Armory and the Public Theater offer something for everyone. Experiential theater will get even bigger. Audiences will be part of it in non-theater settings. Millennials want to be a bigger part of the experience and it doesn’t have to be Broadway.
Look at theater venues and see how projection systems can add to storytelling. A whole new world of storytelling is coming to Broadway and off-Broadway theater; it can make it more cinematic and storytelling easier.
From show to show and from year to year, it’s exciting to see. Broadway is not old-fashioned. We’re giving it our best and it’s working well.
The BCB: Why has live theater stayed around?
WRF: It’s a unique experience. When you speak with people, they have memories from their childhood. Think about how often you hear about a first live experience at theater. It’s more of a high vibrational level of energy – to applaud or not applaud – but to react to the performance of the actors.
Broadway is booming larger than ever and I tingle at what can be new and different for the next season. Am I going to read something, hear songs and think “Whoa!” Is that what’s going to be next?
It’s all about loving what we do and being excited about it. The biggest charge is standing at the back of the theater and feeling that energy. It’s wonderful.