Gordon Greenberg: Broadway Playwright and Director – Theatre People
By Mitch Stark
Hello TheatrePeople! This week I have a fantastic interview with Gordon Greenberg, a writer and director on Broadway, Off-Broadway, for television, and beyond.
Gordon is incredibly prolific and his profound love for the theatre is more than evident in his diverse body of work. I really enjoyed this interview with Gordon, and hope you do too!
Gordon Greenberg, New York City playwright, director and producer.
What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)
Evita. Hal Prince’s use of metaphor, bold operatic staging sequences, and film blew me away. I remember very clearly understanding something powerful about the story from the way they told it—which was a new thought for me. It went beyond the text and score—or even any individual performance. It was a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts, and I was hooked. I went back to see it ten times. I had the same feeling when I saw the original productions of Dreamgirls and Nine—and then later as a young adult when I saw Simon McBurney’s Caucasion Chalk Circle at the National in London. I am inspired by all of those productions – and shows, I think, because what they all have in common is inherent theatricality and a heightened sense of narrative thrust. I love a show that requires a strong point of view to find its best self.
What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre?
My first one – at the Broadway production of Grease. I was six years old, and I will never forget the thrill of discovering a new world. I was so excited talking about it in school and to friends on our suburban block that people assumed I had been to the country Greece. No sane child would get that worked up about a Broadway show. But the energy exchanged between the cast and the audience was magical to me, and I knew I wanted to live in that world. I believe I spent several years thinking Grease was the only show on Broadway. So my intended career, whenever someone asked, was Grease.
What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)
I’ve seen a lot! And the joy of a goof is watching people recover. That’s where good improvisation skills come in handy. I remember when I was in a tour of Broadway Bound and for some reason, at a weekday matinee in a city in the Midwest (I forgot which one) we had an audience that was virtually silent. It was so strange to me, having grown accustomed to the audience’s laughter in the rhythms of every scene. Suddenly, there were big gaps! I actually started laughing myself, since I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could not find our play hilarious. Pretty soon, I lost the plot and went dry. I stared at the actor playing my brother with a desperate look in my eyes, and he was a hero, leading me out of the woods. But you never forget those moments! There was another moment on the same show where the props department replaced one of the “notebooks” my character wrote his memoirs in. It would have been greatly appreciated – except for the fact that I had secretly written prompts for myself in that particular book! I used that notebook as an anchor when I would get so deep into a moment that I’d forget which speech I was up to, particularly on two show days. I can still feel the hot terror in my chest as I looked into the vast darkness – and from somewhere I didn’t know existed—the right words came out. I never forgot to check my props again.
Why do you love theatre?
Because you get to live a million lives, whether you are in the audience, in the play, or a part of its creation. Life is short, any way you slice it. Theatre makes it richer and fuller.
Theatre is for…
It gives us emotional intelligence, helps us understand ourselves and makes us feel less alone, as a shared but deeply private experience. It’s religious.
More about Gordon
Gordon Greenberg is a director and writer living in New York. He has directed on Broadway, Off-Broadway, In London’s West End, written for television and stage, and developed, directed and produced new works for arts institutions across America.
His acclaimed West End revival of Guys and Dolls was nominated for six Olivier Awards and played an extended run at the Savoy Theatre and then the Phoenix Theatre (starring Rebel Wilson.) In his review for The New York Times, Ben Brantley called it “Pure, unforced pleasure…a boozy, bawdy party.” The Guardian’s Michael Billington called it ‘An expert revival…delivered with grace and elan,’ and the Evening Standard said ‘This unstoppable hit keeps getting better and better…Gordon Greenberg’s delicious production of Frank Loesser’s classy classic once again boasts chemistry in all the right places.’ In its premiere for Chichester Festival Theatre, the week called it “a triumphant…exhilarating staging of a Golden Age Musical,” Charles Spencer of The Telegraph wrote, “I left the theater walking on air and with a grin of pure happiness on my face…one hell of an evening,” and Dominic Maxwell of The London Times wrote, “Gordon Greenberg’s production leaves the whole audience purring with pleasure.”
Greenberg co-wrote and directed the Broadway stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn at Studio 54 for Roundabout Theatre Company, Universal Pictures Stage Productions, and PBS television’s great performances. In its review, Variety said “Holiday Inn, the 1942 film, has gotten a complete and first-class stage redo…Director Gordon Greenberg and co-writer Chad Hodge have significantly rethought, reshaped and revitalized the script, giving the show more heart, a modern sensibility and a joyful spirit.” Deadline called it “An endorphin assault, inducing warm bath pleasure like no other show since 42nd Street,” The Hollywood Reporter called it “pure joy,” and the Star Ledger said “Directed with generosity and warmth, it wears down all defenses.” It premiered at Goodspeed Musicals, where it had the longest run of any show in that theatre’s history.
Current projects include directing & co-writing (with Steve Rosen, Michael Mahler & Alan Schmuckler) The Secret of My Success for Universal Pictures Stage Productions, which premiered in February 2020 at the Paramount Theatre in Chicago and was closed prematurely due to the Covid-19 health crisis, directing & co-writing (with Steve Rosen) Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors!, which he also adapted and directed as a radio play podcast for the Broadway Podcast Network, starring John Stamos, Laura Benanti, Annaleigh Ashford, Christopher Sieber, Alex Brightman, James Monroe Iglehart, Ashley Park, Richard Kind, and Rob McClure, directing and co-writing (with Steve Rosen) Ebenezer Scrooge’s Big [Your Town Here] Christmas Show! for the Old Globe (in its second season) and Bucks County Playhouse (in its third season), directing the North American Premiere of Piaf/Dietrich for Mirvish in Toronto, which was extended three times and is scheduled to play London’s West End, the world premier of The Heart of Rock and Roll, the new Huey Lewis musical, which had a record breaking run at the Old Globe and is scheduled to premier on Broadway next season, and co-writing Ettie, a new play with Irish playwright Dierdre Kinahan about Ettie Steinberg for the Irish Arts Center in New York and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, co-writing (with Steve Rosen) a new full length play commissioned by The Old Globe and a new radio series for Dori Berinstein and the Broadway Podcast Network, and Port-Au-Prince, a NYSCA Commission for the new group, with Kirsten Childs.
He recently wrote Killing Time (with Steve Rosen), an at home play commission from The Old Globe, directed the Gala Benefit of Terms of Endearment at the Geffen Playhouse for Greg Berlanti, starring Alfred Molina, Calista Flockhart, Constance Wu, Kate Burton and Kumail Nanjiani, the London Revival of Barnum for the Menier Chocolate Factory, which The Guardian called a “charming, toe tapping carnival,” and The Independent called a “flashy, warm-hearted, striking production,” and he wrote the new book of Meet Me in St. Louis for the St. Louis Muny’s 100th Anniversary.
He directed and adapted (with Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda) the Drama Desk Award-winning production of Working at 59 e 59 in New York, Broadway Playhouse in Chicago, and The Old Globe in San Diego, which New York one said was “Delivered to near perfection under Gordon Greenberg’s imaginatively resourceful direction,” Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune called it “moving and fresh,” Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun Times called it “Superb,” and Variety called it “100 uninterrupted minutes of buoyant pleasure.” He directed and adapted the acclaimed New York revival of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well… (Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Award Noms). For television, he co-wrote Emerald City Music Hall, an original movie musical for Nickelodeon Television and Scramble Band, an original movie musical for the Disney Channel, co-wrote the Single Girls Guide (a new musical updating Jane Austen’s Emma to 1964), which he developed at Dallas Theatre Center, ARS Nova, Capital Rep and ASCAP, and the podcast Theatre Camp for Sirius XM on Broadway.
Other directing credits include the acclaimed Klezmer-Rock reimagining of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl (Asolo Rep), Floyd Collins (Signature), Johnny Baseball (Williamstown), the stage adaptation of Tangled (Disney), Blue Sky Boys by Deborah Breevort (Capital Rep.), the professional premiere of Edges the Musical (Capital Rep.), the acclaimed revision of Jesus Christ, Superstar starring Billy Porter, Emily Skinner and Drew Sarich (Helen Hayes, St. Louis Muny), the all-female workshop of Man of La Mancha (Mirvish, Toronto), Evita (Helen Hayes), assisted loving based on the best selling memoir by New York Times writer Bob Morris (Capital Rep.), Luck Be a Lady (Asolo), Rags (Roundabout, Workshop), Stars of David (by Jeanine Tesori, Tom Kitt, Tony Kushner, etc.) for Daryl Roth, Pirates! or Gilbert & Sullivan Plunder’d (Co-creator, Huntington, Paper Mill, Goodspeed, Muny), Band Geeks! (also co-writer, Goodspeed, Nea Grant), The Baker’s Wife (Paper Mill, Goodspeed), 1776 (Paper Mill), Half a Sixpence (Goodspeed), Barnum (Asolo), the U.S. National Tour of Guys & Dolls, Disney’s Believe, The Disney Fantasy Christening (with Neil Patrick Harris & Jerry Seinfeld), West Side Story (Muny, Circle Award Nom), Happy Days, A New Musical (Paper Mill, Goodspeed, U.S. National Tour), Vanities, A New Musical (Theatreworks Palo Alto – winner, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for Best Musical Production), Theory of Three (NY Stage & Film), Citizens Band: the Panic is On (Spiegeltent, NY), O. Henry’s Lovers (Goodspeed), It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play and Meet Me in St. Louis: A Radio Play (Bucks County Playhouse), We the People (Theatreworks USA, Lortel Nom.), 33 Variations (Capital Rep.), Cam Jansen (Lambs Theatre) by Nell Benjamin and Larry O’Keefe, the National Tour of Peter Pan (Big League), The Broadway Festival (New Amsterdam Theatre), The Broadway Divas (North and South American Tours) and numerous television commercials.
Born in Texas and raised in New York, Greenberg performed in his first broadway show at age 12. He attended Stanford University and NYU Film School before joining J. Walter Thompson Worldwide for a stint as a producer/director of commercials. He then moved back into theatre—first performing on Broadway and on television and soon directing and writing. He was a Curator for ARS Nova, Director of Musical Theatre Development at The New Group, and Artistic Producer at Musical Theatre Works, where he created the Writers Development Program and the New Voices Workshop Series. He is also deeply involved in arts education and is co-director of the Broadway Teaching Group, Broadway’s Largest Education Program, in conjunction with Music Theatre International and Playbill.
He is a member of the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatists Guild, and the Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab.