We phoned Broadway producer Ken Davenport to chat about on why he chose such a diverse cast for Spring Awakening, what he predicts for the Tony Awards, and whether live-staged productions featured on TV networks are a good thing.
Sometimes it just takes getting punched in the gut to know that you’re on to something really good. That’s figuratively what Broadway producer and creator of The Producer’s Perspective Ken Davenport felt like when he first viewed a Deaf West production of Spring Awakening. He felt so affected by the performance that he moved the show to Broadway for a limited run. Now, with three Tony nominations this year (one being for Best Revival of a Musical), all will be revealed on Sunday, June 12 when the Tony Awards air.
With this season’s cast, you have hearing and non-hearing talent as well as the first-ever actor in a wheelchair. How important was it for you to represent this type of diversity in your cast this season? KEN DAVENPORT: When I choose projects, I choose projects that move me. Something that punches me in the stomach type of way, you know, that really affects me. And when I saw Spring Awakening in Los Angeles with this very unique cast, I knew the show itself just became so much more powerful with this group of people.
In terms of casting, what are your thoughts on the diversity of casting in the Broadway community vs. Hollywood and how it has changed? KD:Hamilton is a perfect example. Spring Awakening is also an example of the difference. Hollywood and the film industry are a realistic art form. The great thing about the theater is that we’re a non-realistic art form. We depend on the audience’s imagination to complete the picture. What’s incredible and one of the features of Hamilton is that it’s a story of the founding fathers and not one of the actors on stage looks like any of the founding fathers. It just makes it more unique and different.
What are your thoughts on the big networks hosting their own live productions on TV? KD: It’s terrific. It’s once again putting a national spotlight and even an international spotlight on what we do here in the theater. When the giant networks do live-staged productions and these classical musicals, or even new musicals—it just gives everyone around the world a taste of Broadway. And the hope is that those people will want to come to Broadway more often or for the first time, or even go see live theatrical productions in their home town.
Aside from your own future wins at the Tonys, who else do you predict to be big winners for the upcoming Tonys? KD: Well, there’s a little musical called Hamilton that’s taken a lot of the attention these days. I certainly expect them to be big winners this year but well deserved. It’s an extraordinary piece of theater. Whenever there’s that kind of spotlight on the industry, thanks to a show like that, it helps all of us.
If you were asked to sing a solo at a fun party, what Broadway tune would you choose? KD: Oh boy, I probably would be a producer and pay someone else to sing it for me.
What’s next for you? KD: I’m working on a musical called Gettin’ The Band Back Together, which will hopefully be on Broadway in the next year or so. It debuted at the George Street Playhouse a couple of years ago and we’re just waiting for a theater.