So where does the money come from? “I can’t tell you whether it’s their husbands’ or their ex-husbands’,” says one Broadway producer. “I have a hunch Anita has more money than Elizabeth – but I don’t know that,” muses another. Offers a third, “I think Anita’s husband invented the cat scan or something. But with either of them, money is no object. I think.”
Would it surprise anyone to learn that Anita Waxman made her millions all by herself? Or that her husband – who invented the ultrasound, by the way – doesn’t put a penny into her shows? Or that her partner, Elizabeth Williams, was an academic before she became a producer?
Broadway is proving to be less of a boys’ club these days than it was in the David Merrick era, and this season, Waxman and Williams rivaled powerhouses like the Dodgers, Barry and Fran Weissler, and, yes, Disney. The pair, who first partnered in 1998 on A Night in November, Electra, and the Studio 54 Cabaret, helped to mount five shows this year, probably a record for female producers. And all five were critical smashes – probably a record for any producer. The Real Thing, The Music Man, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and The Wild Party are nominated for a collective 24 Tony awards; Off Broadway’s The Waverly Gallery garnered a host of awards for 81-year-old star Eileen Heckart, who will receive a special lifetime-achievement Tony at the June 4 awards ceremony.
The producers are a study in opposites. The Arkansas-born Williams, tall and quietly composed, holds a Ph.D. in art history and archaeology; Waxman, petite and invariably sunny, grew up in California and didn’t go to college until a few years ago. “I come from nothing,” Waxman says cheerfully. She fell in love with theater by attending studio tapings of I Love Lucy, and made her first big money – $1,100 – as a contestant on Hollywood Squares before starting the country’s first biotech headhunting firm out of her house in the seventies. Business boomed and she became a venture capitalist, then dropped everything to apprentice for two British producers – and tapped her old contacts for her new ventures. “A lot of people made a lot of money with me back then,” says Waxman. “Those are the people I go to now to invest in theater.”
Williams helped produce Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, and Crazy for You but had a few quiet years before meeting Waxman, who was specializing in straight plays like Mrs. Klein and The Young Man From Atlanta. They made overtures to the Donmar Warehouse, the experimental London theater that’s home to American Beauty director Sam Mendes, and scored a first-look deal. At the Tonys, they’ll be especially rooting for the Donmar’s Real Thing revival (on their other Broadway shows, they were investors rather than active producers). “Donmar does magnificent work,” says an envious Fran Weissler. “As far as I’m concerned, I wish I could just transfer everything Donmar does.”
Next season, Waxman and Williams are attached to The Visit with Angela Lansbury, Sweet Smell of Success with John Lithgow (which will try out at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse), and the Donmar’s Orpheus Descending with Helen Mirren, plus a Mendes production to be announced. Offstage, Waxman has recruited Williams to sit on the board of her charitable foundation, which has started an orphanage in Moscow. They consider it another phase of the partnership, the next stage in a healthy co-dependency: Williams affectionately calls Waxman “the Little Tornado,” while Waxman counters, “Elizabeth is the elegant, intelligent one. Whenever I find a big word I could never use, I call it an Elizabeth word.”
Their sun-drenched office, a few doors down from Sardi’s, has become a place of employment for six female staff members – no males. “We’ve been told we had better get a man in here,” Williams says, “or we’ll have a class-action suit.”