Part II (Read Part I)
The performer relocated to California in 1980 and 1981, only to find SAG and writers strikes with directors threatening. Fortunately, Joan Rivers and her husband Edgar offered a job opening for the comedienne. “Rivers’ agent said you can open, but no funny stuff.” She frowns. “I left New York to change trajectory. And this job paid next to nothing. I got my hair done, paid the pianist and literally made nothing.” Once again, with little to back her up, she took a stand. The powers that be decided to give it a chance. Jamie was so successful that after her return to New York, she was asked to open for Rivers at Michael’s Pub.
Top: Joan Rivers 1966 press photo (Public Domain)
At this point, she began to co-host Bradshaw Smith’s Cabaret Beat (with Sidney Myer) on Manhattan Cable Television. She gained further exposure, saw shows and interviewed artists. When Smith transitioned to Broadway Beat, he suggested she put herself on the air to continue. Jamie did just that.
Interviews-Top: Ted Chapin; Bottom: Melissa Errico from the show
As the eighth woman allowed to join The Friars Club (preeminent members-only club for entertainment professionals), Jamie was and remains extremely active. Larry Gatlin was impressed watching her pair discretion with high spirits as she surged forward with a Skitch Henderson tribute after he unexpectedly passed away. She got married again. (This would last ten years.) Inspired by her now famous birthday parties where friends entertained, she launched Jamie deRoy & friends at Steve McGraw’s (which became the Triad), then at Caroline’s.
The Friars Club (Courtesy of theaterlife/Barry Gordin)
“It was getting harder and harder to find and learn special material. The possibility of a thyroid operation which would’ve made it difficult to sing hovered,” she says. “I wanted to stay in the game and I love to introduce my talented friends to my other friends and audiences… In those days, I did three songs. Lately I just open and close in the company of about five performers…
“We ask each performer what they would like to sing and both my director, Barry Kleinbort and Ron Abel, my musical director, work together with the artist on the creative process. I often request someone sing something I’ve heard them do and especially enjoyed. In the case of comedians, I just leave it to them.”
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
The multi-hyphenate’s MANY MANY shows have all been benefits. She established the Jamie deRoy Cabaret Initiative funneled to The Actors Fund (now The Entertainment Community Fund). Indefatigably altruistic, producing and performing in fundraisers, Jamie wanted to make sure others struggling in the field of entertainment could receive needed aid.
Kleinbort became and remains the Jamie deRoy & friends director – first once a week, then once a month, now twice a year. “The show looks easy, but it’s because we’ve done weeks of prep,” she says. “People sometimes come in with things that aren’t ready…” Taped shows are edited together with live performance and interviews.
A Jamie deRoy & friends company: Jamie deRoy, Penny Fuller, Chuck Cooper, Doreen Montalvo, Paulo Szot, Tom Hubbard, Billy Stritch- Courtesy of theaterlife/Barry Gordin
“We’ve never taken a hiatus,” Kleinbort continues. “We just did something on the Tony Awards. She’s lasted this long because she’s continually able to adapt. Jamie never says, ‘where are the good old days?’ Instead she says, ‘what’s on next season?’, always looking forward.” Energized rather than daunted by multiple projects, Jamie’s put out nine CDs in the Jamie deRoy & friends series released on Harbinger and PS Classics labels.
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
Sometime in 1994, neighbor Jeffrey Richards invited Jamie to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Compleat Works of Willm Shkspr (Abridged), which he brought from London for a single show at Lincoln Center. She loved it. Richards asked whether she’d like to coproduce. “I had never raised money in my life, but my husband said, ‘try it.’” And she did, barreling through with energy, persistence, smarts and finesse.
When attendance dipped and they were operating at partial rent, the show got on to Good Morning America. With an offer of full rent by another show, however, their landlord wouldn’t give the production breathing space. “It was so disappointing!” As Richards had the rights, they licensed it to multiple cities and “got money back for some 18-20 years.” Jamie has also developed a relationship with Primary Stages for which she’s on the board and for whom she’s produced both shows and a series of benefits. “I think the more I know, the less I know, because producing theater is not a science.” In 2002, she made the leap to Broadway as associate producer on Goodnight Gracie by Rupert Holmes, a one man play featuring Frank Gorshin, then Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.
Jamie and one of her many Tony Awards (Courtesy of theaterlife/Barry Gordin)
Seventy-eight Broadway shows followed, garnering ten Tony Awards: The Norman Conquests; Vanya and Sonia and Masha, and Spike; A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, The Band’s Visit, Angels in America (the 2017/2018 version), Once On This Island, The Ferryman, The Inheritance, The Lehman Trilogy, and Company – the last two this year! Coming up this season are: Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, new productions of The Piano Lesson and Death of a Salesman (Young Vic /West End production), Ohio State Murders with Audra McDonald, Gabriel Byrne’s one man show, Walking with Ghosts, and KPOP.
A: How has producing changed over the years?
J: Well, the first thing I did in 1995 was with Jeffrey Richards and Richard Gross. None of us had ever produced before, but Albert Poland our General Manager had experience. We were a small show, a small group of producers. A lot of our meetings were downstairs (from her apartment) in Jeffrey’s office. As years went by, there would be more and more producers. You could go to meetings and say things, but whether they’d listen or not…It started to get more like reporting than participating. With the pandemic, meetings segued to ZOOM or went away… Prior to the pandemic, there were meet-and-greets. Lately, a lot of shows haven’t even been holding opening night parties.
Backstage: James Earl Jones and Jamie deRoy – The Gin Game, 2015– Photo by Flynn Jones
A: Just how many producers does it take to float a current Broadway show and how does the hierarchy work?
J: Each entity is given a certain amount of money to bring in to be given a producing title. There are generally three to four lead producers. They have to take on the liability. If a producer runs short raising enough money and wants to get the play on, that person’s gonna have to come up with the money. For Tony purposes, if your name or entity is above the title and/or in the opening night program (and the show wins), you’re designated an award.
Jefferson Mays and Jamie deRoy: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2013-2014)
A: How do you feel about opening first out of town?
J: I think it’s an excellent idea. It’s very hard to bring a brand new project into New York and make any kind of changes as people are watching. Nowadays some out of town productions get reviewed whether they want to nor not, however. And not every show has raised all its capital at that point. You never know how things are going to pan out. Look at the way Into the Woods extended again and again. The Piano Lesson was going to move into that theater. I think it’s worked out better though, because that’s now going into the Barrymore which is a playhouse, not a musical house. Just because you have that many seats doesn’t mean you can sell that many tickets.
Jamie deRoy and Tom Stoppard at his play Leopoldstadt
S: What’s your experience with British imports?
J: After Willm Shkspr (Abridged), my first import was Coram Boy (by Helen Edmundson). I loved it, but it had a very different reception here than in London. (i.e. it was unsuccessful in New York.) Some things translate, some do not. Enron didn’t, while The Inheritance, The Ferryman and The Lehman Trilogy did. I used to go to London once or twice a year, but haven’t been anywhere since the pandemic.
A: What would you advise a young person who wants to produce?
J: Try to start with small productions, intern at a nonprofit or with an established producer.
Jamie deRoy loves theater (and cabaret). She LOVES it. “I go with what I’m passionate about, not what’s going to make the most money,” she says. After years at this, she still believes that even if a show is not financially successful, it may still deserve to be on Broadway. “Breaking even is a win.”
All photos credited or candid.
Jamie deRoy on television: Every other Monday at 8:00PM on MNN5: Spectrum HD Channel 1993 and Verizon FIOS Channel 37