News Archives

This story is part of our news archives, prior to July 2010.

wes alcenat

NEW YORK — It's been a bad start to a busy weekend for theater producer Roy Gabay. A former TV star, out- raged that Gabay won't give him certain guarantees for a show, has called him unprintable names and hung up on him. An actress Gabay sought for another show has become the third to reject the lead role. Meanwhile, Pera Pelas, a surprise sellout, closes Sunday, and Gabay, the show's pro bono general manager, still hasn't found another theater for the original drama about three genera- tions of Turks.

And the pinnacle work of Gabay's still-young career, the Tony Award-winning revival of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, will turn an uneasy corner as its star leaves the show.

But what's a bad week in a great year? In June, Gabay, now 35, became one of the youngest Tony-winning producers in the 52-year history of Broadway's top award. The Tony has raised his profile, he admits. "Everybody knows." Since gradu- ating from Macalester in 1985 with a double major in theater and pre-law, Gabay has gone from trying to make ends meet between shows by typing 95 words per minute at temporary word-processing gigs, to becoming one of New York's hottest young producers.

He doesn't look the role. An on-again, off-again goatee is gone in the July heat, leaving a decidedly baby face. Nor does he dress the part, preferring khakis and linen shirts to clashing stripes and plaids And, with his distinctively high-pitched voice, he certainly doesn't sound like a tough negotiator. According to those he's worked with, he's unusually nice and down to earth in the world of theater egos.

"He's straightforward and honest and you feel that what he tells you is the truth, which isn't always the case on Broadway," says John Clark, producer and director of Lynn Redgrave's one-woman show, Shakespeare jar My Father.

Playbills and Pulitzers

But while Gabay wouldn't pass muster at a casting call, he is living the role. The maitre dJ at Joe Allen's, a theater crowd haunt near Broad- way, knows him by name. His desk at his Times Square office overflows with scripts writers are trying to get him to stage. Bookcases in his two- bedroom apartment are tight with Playbills of shows that he's seen. The walls of the living room chroni- cle his career with framed posters of shows he's worked on: the Royal Shakespeare Company's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women — which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 — and Redgrave's acclaimed show. He ran out of room at home and began to use the posters to decorate his office. There he's got Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, this year's Pulitzer winner, and View, Miller's lesser-known work about a Brooklyn longshoreman's fatal attraction to his niece, which landed Gabay his first Tony on his first try.

Without Gabay, View's general manager and one of its six producers, the show would have ended after its seven-week run at the Roundabout Theater, the nonprofit company that first staged it. "Other producers wouldn't touch it," says Michael Mayer, the Tony-nominated director of the show. "It couldn't have happened without him, that's for sure." Gabay says he felt Miller's play deserved the proper Broadway staging. "People needed to see this — this great, amazing story. It goes back to why you do theater," he says.

Gabay does theater because it combines all of bis talents. "1 really connect with it, as tar back as I can remember." Ironically, the native New Yorker wasn't drawn to the stage until he moved to Con- necticut. He was about 10, and the family bad just relocated from a New York suburb to Greenwich when his parents split up. His mother, a Brooklyn native and former actress, joined a local theater troupe. She dragged Roy and bis younger brother, Joey, to rehearsals. "I felt comfortable," Gabay says. "That became our surrogate family for a long time."

His mother, Marcia Roney, also began taking him to Broadway shows. His first was Two Gentleman of Verona, with Raul Julia, when he was 11. From then on theater tickets became his birthday and Hanukkah gifts. For his 14th birthday it was Eviui with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. His 16th: Ani't Misbehavin with Nell Carter. He saw A Chorus Line every few years during its 15-year run.

The Mac Connection

THOUGH HE acted a little in high school, it wasn't until Macalester — to which be transferred after two unhappy years elsewhere — that his theater focus became clear. "They gave you the chance to do things on your own," he says of the theater program. He acted, stage managed, handled lights, directed. He interned the summer after his junior year with Elizabeth McCann, a noted New York producer, and went back the following January Interim term. "He grew into himself and who he wanted to be and who he really was," Roney says. "It was a great school for him." Even today his closest friends arc from Macalester,
A year after he graduated, Gabay produced his first play. He was 22. Getting rights to Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, an angry indictment of New York's handling of the first AIDS cases, was surprisingly easy, but putting it on was another story. It would be a for-profit production — a rarity in the Twin Cities. "Coming from New York, that was all 1 knew," he explains. He told the Minne- apolis Star Tribune, in a story on his venture in 1986: "My biggest problem is credibility. When I go out asking for investors, what do I say when people ask, 'Who are you?' 'What have you done?' 'Why should we give you money?' Eventually I would like people to say, 'Roy Gabay is a good investment. He'll do a good show.' "

He recruited his Macalester theater friends to help him. Richard Levine '84 directed. Grace Fauver '87 did cos- tumes. Eric Muschler '87 han- dled advertising sales. In the middle of rehearsals, Gabay remembers hitting a brick wall. He was sure the show would fail, it it ever even made it to an audience. "I wasn't sure I was going to be able to carry out everything that I had set up."

He did. The Star Tribune hailed the production as "a compelling and affecting staging." The four-week run sold out, and Gabay exrended the show for as long as he could get the theater — another three weeks. Also of note: His backers earned a 33 per- cent return on their investment.

It was a turning point. Even Gabay's mother, who had still harbored hopes that he would turn to a more secure side of show business, perhaps enter- tainment law, knew it was the beginning of the end. "It all came into focus for me as far as his abil- ity was concerned," she said. He produced a couple more shows in the Twin Cities before packing up for New York in 1988.

Redgrave and Company

INITIALLY, the Big Apple proved less easy. Work was hard to come by. He co-managed some shows that "opened and closed very quickly." He temped in between. And he refused his father Edward's occasional pleas to join him and Joey in the family business: Gabay's, a discount clothing store that grew from his grandfather's business sell- ing clothing scraps from a pushcart in the early 1900s.

Finally, in 1993, he got his big break: company manager of Lynn Redgrave's one-woman show. Scheduled to run just six weeks, Shakespeare for My Father lasted 10 months before touring 11 cities in three countries. "Very, very quickly we became friends," Redgrave recalls. "I liked his mind He has a really good eye and a good ear and a way of assessing theater. It's a mixture of business sense and artistic quality."
man, autobiographical show by Colin Martin '85, a friend of Gabay's at Macalester.

Some he imported to New York from other parts of the country. Martin's came from Los Angeles. Others, such as View, he took from limited runs at nonprofit theaters to longer, commercial produc- tions. Gabay rarely puts up money. He pulls the shows together, from helping to cast them to locat- ing a theater to paying all the bills. He is always general manager of shows he works on. If he finds investors, he's a producer as well. His favorite part of a show? "Seeing all the pieces that look like they have no cohesive tie come together in front of a group of people who've never seen it before." His least favorite? "Asking people for money."

That issue was especially touchy with View. The 33-member cast made it unlikely the show would ever make money in a commercial run. Indeed, Gabay's pitch to investors was less than appealing. "You probably won't get rich off this show," he would tell them. "But it's important. It needs to
be done." "He's the kind of producer, general manager who believes that everything is possible," says Mayer, View's director. Where other producers were telling him, " 'You can't do it,' Roy would say, 'Sure you can. We'll figure out a way.' "

And it paid off. Gabay and the other producers have picked up all the major awards, including the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk.

An End to a Beginning

NOW, a month after the ceremony, on a muggy July weekend, Gabay is sad to see the show as he knows it come to an end. Anthony LaPaglia, who won a Tony tor his portrayal of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, gives his final performance Sunday afternoon. Tony Danza takes over the role Tuesday. "It's tourist season," Gabay notes.

And while he's still working hard on the show, in many respects Gabay's life has moved on as well. He's set new career goals, having well surpassed his longtime dream of producing a Broadway show. Next up: Hollywood. He'd like to produce both televi- sion and movies. Meanwhile, he's doing more theater, and lots ot it. He's just come back from an overnight trip to Chicago to see Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing, a love story about two working-class teen-age boys. After years of wanting to produce the show, the rights for which weren't available, he likes the Famous Door's version enough to try to move it. He's hopeful. And despite the week's hassles that got his big weekend off to a lousy start, he's confident he can cast leads for two other shows: a revival of Israel Horovitz's The Primary English Class and An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf, a show about a lovelorn expatriate's attempt to starve himself to death in a Paris cafe, which he was introduced to by his best friend, Fred Tessler '84.

He continues to tell friends that he needs to stop working so much, although he doesn't know how not to work, he says. Theater is his only hobby. Most of his friends are in theater. There is no divide between personal and professional. Most mornings he takes Luke, a slobbery mutt he adopted from a pound five years ago, on a long walk before watch- ing Rosie O'Donnell's talk show — a must among the New York theater crowd — while calling the office to find out receipts from shows the previous night. "I love what I do," Gabay says. "It's what I've always wanted to do. It combines all my skills. If I had to write my perfect job description, this would be it, which is pretty lucky."

LaPaglia's Saturday night performance is a wrap, with just one more show to go. Gabay, waiting for a cast member, stands on the quiet Broadway stage. The single backdrop for the show, a screened silhou- ette of a shipyard, looms behind him. Dimmed aisle lights reveal rows of empty red velvet seats in the otherwise darkened Neil Simon Theatre. Though he spends much of his life in theaters, Gabay is rarely on this side of the curtain. Does he have any desire to be the actor absorbing the applause? He doesn't hesitate: "No, no, no, no, no, no, no."

Minutes later, now backstage, he continues his thought. "This is where it is so cool." He points to the infrared monitor which lets technicians see during blackouts on the set. And the computer lightboard, and the hotplate where the prop man- ager cooks up pasta tor the first scene in Act One. "I'm not one of those people who is caught up in the magic as much as I like to know how the magic is made," he says.
The next afternoon he watches from the ninth row as LaPaglia takes his final bow. The actor will hide his tearing eyes in the dozen roses he's just been handed. The cast will also be mostly in tears, as will the audience, on their feet, cheering wildly for LaPaglia's stunning portrayal. It is one of those magical theater moments. Roy Gabay knows intimately how it happened.

(Do you have a story to tell? Let communications and public relations know»)