His stewardship of his theaters is in some ways payback for the way theater took care of him as a child lacking in “carefreeness.” Though he is loath to discuss what he calls his first co-production with this mother—his bar mitzvah—she lets on that it featured him singing a Broadway medley. Daryl Roth even says she became a producer in part because she believed it would be a way to share a lifetime’s interest with her son. “And with Jordan,” she adds, “it wasn’t going to be sports.” She decided to produce the acrobatic extravaganza De La Guarda—“even though it was not my sensibility, really”—after he watched a videotape and told her to. (It became a seven-year hit.) “I had the best partner in the world in this kid,” she says. “He had very interesting tastes and deep insights and was comfortable in himself. That is not to say he was spared insecurities; growing up gay, you can’t be. Which is partly why I brought him to the theater so much. I wanted to ease his path in the gay world. This was long before he says he came out.”
If theater was his mother’s gift to him, his father’s financial acumen is equally central now. It “killed” him, he says, to lose investors’ money on The Rocky Horror Show and A Catered Affair—shows he produced previously. Running theaters is a much safer business, if a much larger one. With all its houses filled, Jujamcyn employs up to 450 people. Still, as an evangelist, Roth is looking to “expand the canvas” further. His ability to establish a Jujamcyn brand requires demonstrating to future creatives that a place exists on Broadway for what they may dream up. (Michael Mayer’s gender-morphed “revisal” of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever has barely had a reading, but Roth already thinks it would make a beautiful Kerr show: “It’s really hot!”) And he won’t rule out the idea of acquiring more theaters. (“Got any for sale?”) They would make it easier to curate his vision of Broadway, though he might also be forced, in lean seasons, to fill them with whatever schlock was available.
Not that it’s easy to divide the schlock from the gems; for all their merits, the new works Jujamcyn is offering—as well as other works Roth fostered, like Spring Awakening—trade some theatrical virtues for others. Visceral engagement takes priority over logical argument and character development; the traditional verbal element of drama is subordinated to light and sound. (American Idiot barely has any spoken words.) Matching that new language to the right new audience may take years, even with balcony seats that cost just $49.
Roth, not surprisingly, is philosophical. “The shows that change the world do it because they offer something you haven’t seen before,” he says. “To get that you have to take risks on something you haven’t seen before! Think of it this way: At one standard deviation you’re pretty safe. You won’t lose your pants and you won’t do anything great. It’s only at three standard deviations that you can change the world—or seriously fall on your ass. To have some ‘plus-three’ moments, you have to accept the risk of ‘negative three.’ ” He doesn’t even pause before adding, “I’m willing to take that risk.”