Alumni Scene

Jordan Roth ’97: Shaking up Broadway

By Van Wallach ’80
Published in the October 26, 2011, issue


Jordan Roth ’97’s Jujamcyn Theaters will debut two new musicals in November.
Chad Batka/The New York Times/Redux
Jordan Roth ’97’s Jujamcyn Theaters will debut two new musicals in November.

As president of the 55-year-old Jujamcyn Theaters chain, which owns and operates five Broadway theaters, Jordan Roth ’97 has overseen a roster of financially and artistically successful musicals, including American Idiot, Fela!, and The Book of Mormon, which won nine Tony Awards last spring, including for best musical. 

The youngest of the three major Broadway landlords — the others head the Nederlander Organization and the Shubert Organization — Roth has aimed to expand boundaries and audiences in his two years at the helm of Jujamcyn. Fela!, for example, turned the theater into a “360-degree experience,” with the feel of a nightclub, while the musical comedy The Book of Mormon takes on religion through the provocative vision of the creators of the South Park animated series.

In November, Roth will debut two new musicals that continue that ­strategy. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, starring Harry Connick Jr. at the St. James Theatre, is a “re-imagining of the story and the score” of a 1960s musical by the same name. 

In the original, a psychiatrist has a female patient who regresses to another personality with whom the psychia­trist falls in love. In the new version, Connick’s patient is a man who displays the personality of a female jazz singer from the 1940s. Connick falls in love with the patient’s female personality. “The character is in love with a person inside a body he’s not attracted to,” says Roth. “That makes it achingly romantic and truly adult in that he’s grappling with a complicated adult emotion about what it is to love.” 

The other debut, Lysistrata Jones at the Walter Kerr Theatre, is based on the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, about women trying to stop war by withholding sex. In the new version, the withholding is by the girlfriends of ­college basketball players on a losing streak. “It’s about finding your voice,” observes Roth. “It’s got a deliciously ‘poppy’ [pop music] score and expands what a Broadway score can be.” 

Roth mixes new works and bold revivals as a way of “honoring the ­legacy of Broadway and the theater and pushing it forward.” In the process, he wants to connect to new — “not necessarily just young” — audiences that “haven’t found their way in” to Broad­way. Plays with pop-music, punk-rock, African, Mormon, and political themes are his way of “expanding the canvas,” he says. 

He’s intensely aware of his role as a custodian of Broadway spaces and ­history — indeed, legendary producer David Merrick once wheeled and dealed in what is now Roth’s office at Jujamcyn. 

He brings to the job both theatrical and financial savvy. His mother is a producer, and his father a major real-estate executive. Roth joined Jujamcyn in 2005 as a producer and vice president, and became president in 2009 when he bought a 50 percent stake in the company. He recently completed an M.B.A. at Columbia to bring a more rigorous approach to how he tackles business issues. 

Roth is constantly looking for new works to keep audiences coming back. Last summer he traveled to London, Toronto, Seattle, and Los Angeles to see productions, and in New York he constantly reads scripts, attends workshops, and hears pitches. He also keeps his finger on the pulse of Broadway by simply going downstairs from his office onto West 44th Street. “I can walk out the door and see people lining up for tickets. You can feel it, the experience, the anticipation,” he says. “This is why we do what we do.”

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