'If/Then' producer on Denver's rise among elite touring cities



David Stone on Idina Menzel of ‘If/Then’: “If Idina didn’t launch it … then it wouldn’t be touring. It’s as simple as that.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Broadway producer David Stone has a special relationship with the city of Denver that began with Denver Center President Randy Weeks and has continued unabated even after Weeks’ sudden death in 2014.

Denver is not among the nation’s largest Broadway touring markets – not by a long shot. It’s only the 21st most-populated metro area in the country. But to borrow from sports lingo, when you put Stone and Denver together on the same field, you have to throw the numbers out the window.

That’s because Weeks turned Denver into one of the top-tier touring markets in North America even without the population base to back it up, Stone said.

In the touring business, the “major-league” markets are considered to be Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Toronto, said Stone, whose properties have included Wicked, The Vagina Monologues, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Next to Normal and, now, If/Then, which features superstar Idina Menzel along with the original principal cast members Anthony Rapp, LaChanze and James Snyder. (Pictured above: LaChanze, left, and Anthony Rapp of ‘If/Then.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.)

But when it was time for Wicked to leave New York, the No. 21 city moved up to No. 8 in the pecking order.

“Denver was the first city to get Wicked outside of those top markets,” Stone said. The same was true of Spelling Bee.”

Why?

“I go back to Randy,” said Stone, who credits Weeks for there even being a national touring production of Next to Normal in 2010. That’s the unflinching and gut-wrenching story of a mother whose struggles with bipolar disease devastate her entire family. It was written by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, the same team that created If/Then.

Next to Normal was immediately recognized as important theatre. It was not immediately recognized as commercially viable theatre.

“It never even occurred to me to do a tour of Next to Normal until Randy called me very early on and said, ‘Have you thought about a tour?’ ” said Stone, whose response was, “ … Really?”

Weeks assured Stone he would present the show in Denver, and that other independent producers would want it, too. “He told me, ‘You should really consider this.’ ”

Next to Normal won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. It has been touring internationally ever since.

“It’s all because of Randy that Next to Normal toured,” Stone said. “And the tour was hugely helpful, not only for the run in New York (which continued for another 18 months), but it also helped for all of the licensing that’s been done all around North America since. I credit all of that to Randy.”

And that is partly why Stone chose to launch If/Then in Denver. It’s a contemporary new musical that explores how vastly changed one woman’s life might have turned out if fate and her own choices had been different.

“The idea of paying it back this way and starting the If/Then tour in Denver, even though Randy is not there with us, it feels very right,” Stone said.

Here are more excerpts from Stone’s conversation with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore:

John Moore: You just finished Wicked’s record-breaking fifth tour stop here in Denver. Can you give us an assessment of Denver’s national reputation?

David Stone: First of all, the subscriptions are amazing. The subscribers love being there, and so we like playing for them. The facilities have always been maintained beautifully. The metro population itself is exploding, so before long Denver will be matching some of those bigger markets in that regard, anyway.

John Moore: But you have a lot of choices when you launch a tour. With so much at stake, why do you think Denver has gotten so many recent launches, including The Lion King, The Book of Mormon and Pippin?

David Stone: The reason tours love launching in Denver is that the team at the Denver Center is so savvy. The Denver Center is able to give us the materials we need to launch; it is able to give us the right video packages and the right photography packages. What we do in Denver (creates the assets) we will need for the rest of the country. The people at the Denver Center know what they are doing, and they know how to help us launch the best possible tour. I don’t think there are any other markets that know how to launch a tour the way Denver does.

John Moore: How important was Idina Menzel’s decision to tour with If/Then for these first seven cities for there to have even been a national touring production?

David Stone: If Idina didn’t launch it … then it wouldn’t be touring. It’s as simple as that. Obviously all of the markets after the first seven would like to have her. But they understand, and they will get good people, too.

John Moore: How did you meet Idina?

David Stone: A really funny thing is that when we were kids, she lived in the same town in the suburbs that I lived in for three years. She’s five years younger than me, so we weren’t at the same elementary school, but we did live in the same town. When she was doing Rent, I shared office space with (producers Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum), so I met her a little bit then. Then we cast her in Wicked, but it was going to be a development period of two years. I needed to keep her busy and working during that time, so I asked her to do a couple of months of The Vagina Monologues. She did that, and then we got very close on Wicked. And then, while we were doing Wicked in London, we started talking about what the next thing is.

John Moore: And you were already developing a separate relationship at that time with composers Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt.

David Stone: Yes, and when Next to Normal opened at Arena Stage (in Washington D.C.), my opening-night gift from Tom and Brian was a treatment for a new musical that turned out to be If/Then. Talk about a great opening-night gift.

John Moore: How long did it take you to call Idina?

David Stone: The timing was right. Everyone was trying to find the next thing. I pulled in (director) Michael Greif at this point, because he of course had discovered Idina in Rent. Now the original treatment of If/Then involved a 25-year-old woman coming to New York for the first time, and looking at all the different paths her life could take. Interestingly enough, the character was originally going to be from Denver. But anyway, after working on it for a little while, I said to Brian and Tom, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be more interesting if she were older and had some baggage from her previous life choices? What if she were a woman who was a little older and coming back to New York with some wear and tear?’ And they said, ‘Well actually, that would raise the stakes much more. Then she would have to be somebody, say, approaching 40.’ That’s when I said, ‘Well in that case, why don’t we just stop trying to find something else for Idina? Why doesn’t she just do this?’ I asked Idina and she loved the idea. And that is how the two ideas became one.

John Moore: I’m not a classically trained singer by any definition. So can you help me explain to people what it means when they say Idina Menzel has a five-octave voice?

David Stone: All I know is there is something about the quality of her voice and the way she uses her emotion in her voice that touches me to the core. I could give you 20 other attributes, but if you are talking about her vocally, that’s it: Her voice is emotional. That’s what I respond to, and I can listen to it again and again because when I listen to Idina, I hear colors. That, and she has great technique.

John Moore: You will be making theatre history when If/Then opens in Denver as the first Broadway musical of the modern era to send out a national tour with its principal cast intact.

David Stone: I’ve never heard of it happening. But then again, I have never been part of any show where the entire company – backstage and onstage – really loved being together as much as these people do. That starts at the top with Idina. But they all just wanted to be together again. They love each other, and they love the show, and they want it to be seen by as many people as possible. They would do the whole tour if they could, but LaChanze has two teenage girls at home, and James has both a 2-year-old and 1-week-old.

John Moore: So this really is the rare chance where people on the road will get to see a show pretty much the way it was presented on Broadway.

David Stone: There is a little bit of a change in the way the show is being staged because we had a mirror effect in New York that we can’t do the road. So we are doing some things with video projections that are really very cool. Other than that, yes, I think this is a unique opportunity for audiences to basically see what everyone was talking about in New York.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.



If/Then
:
Ticket information
Oct. 13-25
At the Buell Theatre
Call 303-893-4100, buy in person at the Denver Center Ticket Office located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby, or BUY ONLINE
ASL interpreted, Audio described & Open captioned performance: 2 p.m. Oct 25,
Groups: Call 303-446-4829
(Please be advised that the DCPA’s web site at denvercenter.org is the ONLY authorized online ticket provider for ‘If/Then’ performances in Denver)


Our previous NewsCenter coverage of If/Then and Idina Menzel:

Look for additional coverage of If/Then, including our expanded interviews with Idina Menzel, Brian Yorkey, Tom Kitt and other members of the cast and crew, at denvercenter.org/news-center


The cast of ‘If/Then.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

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