One might call Andy Sandberg, the Tony Award-winning producer of Hair (2009 revival) and star in the upcoming Scarlett Fever, a Renaissance Man of the theater. I recently had the chance to meet with him at AQ Kafe, near Columbus Circle, and soon realized that Sandberg, despite his initial training as an actor, does just about everything there is to do in the world of theater, from acting to playwriting, from directing to producing. And he’s been doing just about everything since his undergraduate days at Yale, where he doubled majored in English and Theater Studies.
When it was time for Sandberg to look at colleges, he decided that a liberal arts institution would be more suited to his interests than a conservatory would, since conservatories often require students to confine themselves to a single discipline. As Sandberg put it, “I learn best by doing. You have to pick one track in a conservatory, and I was worried that I’d spend too much time in training.”
A New York native, Sandberg was drawn to Yale for several reasons, not the least of which included its stellar, extracurricular theater program, run mostly by students. “I think Yale had more extracurricular productions than any other school [I looked at],” Sandberg explained. At Yale, he immersed himself in all different facets of theater production, and studied with some of the country’s most formidable scholars of dramaturgy, including Toni Dorfman, Joseph Roach, and his advisor, David Krasner.
Sandberg was also a member of The Yale Whiffenpoofs, the oldest collegiate a cappella group in the United States. He took a year off from college to become business manager of the Whiffenpoofs. As he explained, “Running my own nonprofit group gave me the confidence to go into commercial producing.” Sandberg’s involvement with the Whiffenpoofs – as a business manager and as a singer – would serve him well, not least because it helped make him both a savvy businessman and a captivating entertainer.
Upon graduating from Yale in 2006, Sandberg immediately moved back to New York to learn more about how to produce shows. He also pursued acting as well, and in the Fall of 2006, starred in a musical called Hot and Sweet, which featured Tony-winning actress Katie Finneran, Miss Hannigan in the upcoming revival of Annie, and Lea Michele of Glee. “It was exciting and humbling to be in such a great company,” Sandberg said. He also knew that he did not just want to be an actor, which is why he devoted equal amounts of energy to directing, producing, and writing.
And in fact, during those first few months out of college, Sandberg forged connections with many people in the theater world, hoping that each of his ambitions might become more fully realized as a result. He met with several writers and producers, all of whom helped Sandberg make a name for himself in a highly competitive industry. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons Sandberg learned from his mentors is that any theatrical project requires patience and time. “So many of the projects I’ve been developing for years are finally coming into fruition,” he said.
One of the most high-profile pieces that Sandberg has produced was the 2009, Tony Award-winning revival of Hair. He became involved with the production after meeting with actor Will Swenson, who invited Sandberg to a few dress rehearsals. Sandberg adored director Diane Paulus’s unique vision for the 60s classic, and knew that he wanted to be part of it, especially after hearing rumors that it might run on Broadway.
The path to Broadway wasn’t always easy, though. The show received negative press early on, largely because of the change that it would have to make from being performed outdoors (as it was performed in the Central Park’s Delacorte Theater) to being performed indoors (as it would have to be performed on Broadway). Sandberg and his fellow producers strongly disagreed with the press, and it only made them more eager and determined to promote the show. “Diane and everyone on the creative kept working at it,” said Sandberg, who was particularly impressed with Paulus’s use of space, as well as the integration between cast and audience.
All of the hard work paid off, and in June 2009, Hair won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and Sandberg received the award for his work as producer. Winning that prestigious award certainly opened up many doors for Sandberg, who still wanted nothing more than to continue developing exciting new projects.
Right now, though, Sandberg will turn back to acting in the upcoming play, Scarlett Fever. Written by Josh Duboff and directed by Ashley Rodbro, the play takes a look at a small group of friends obsessed with Scarlett Johansson, and addresses, by extension, current infatuations with celebrity culture. As Sandberg sees it, Scarlett Fever offers compelling and unique takes on pop culture, along with the permeable divide between celebrities and ordinary folk.
Sandberg was also drawn to the play because, as he put it, “It’s for and about young people.” He hopes that audiences will appreciate the talents of Scarlett Fever’s team and identify with Duboff’s exciting, young voice.
Sandberg has become something of an expert at multi-tasking, since he is almost always working on multiple productions at once. After Scarlett Fever, he will continue to develop a number of plays to which he has committed himself. One such play is Operation Epsilon, which tells the true story of a group of German scientists held captive by American and British forces at the end of World War II. Then there’s Shida, a one woman musical concert that Sandberg is still pitching to a few regional theaters. And to be sure, there are several others. When asked whether there was a particular “dream project” that he had in mind, Sandberg suggested that he is always looking for such projects, and that he already has a few underway.