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Our guest on this episode of the podcast is Joe Mantello, the best-director-of-a-play Tony nominee for The Humans who, over the last 22 seasons, has directed some 28 Broadway plays and musicals, most famously Wicked, but also many others that have received Tony nominations in major categories. At the moment, a remarkable four shows that he directed — Wicked, Blackbird, The Humans and An Act of God — are concurrently running on the Great White Way, something that only Susan Stroman and Casey Nicholaw have also been able to claim since 2000.
Click above to listen to this episode now, or click here to access all of our episodes via iTunes. Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Amy Schumer, Louis C.K., Lady Gaga, Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Harvey Weinstein, Jane Fonda, Aziz Ansari, Brie Larson, J.J. Abrams, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Stewart and Michael Moore.)
Over the course of our conversation, which was recorded at New York’s iconic Empire Hotel, the 53-year-old two-time Tony winner for directing (2003’s play Take Me Out, 2004’s musical Assassins) and seven-time Tony nominee (twice for acting, in 1993’s Angels in America: Millennium and 2011’s The Norman Heart) opens up about his unusual path to becoming one of Broadway’s most respected and versatile and prolific directors.
He talks about how, at drama school, he first began to feel comfortable in his own skin (“I went from being straight to being bisexual to being gay in about a week”), and how, after moving to New York in 1984, it took him “six or seven years before I got my first job”; why, after Angels, when his acting career was at its hottest, he moved away from acting and towards directing; why the phenomenal success of Wicked caught him completely by surprise; what convinced him to return to acting for The Normal Heart (and why he’ll be doing so again soon, opposite Sally Field in a revival of The Glass Menagerie); and what it’s like working with legendary producer Scott Rudin, his collaborator on Blackbird and The Humans.
He also discusses why, nine years after originally directing Blackbird Off Broadway, he decided to revisit the show on Broadway (he’s never returned to any other show); what attracted him to The Humans, the first Broadway play by the young playwright Stephen Karam; the challenges of directing actors on either a small and relatively spare set (Blackbird) vs. a complex two-story set (The Humans); the pleasure that he derives from working with actors (he previously worked with The Humans‘ Tony-nominated featured actor Reed Birney on Casa Valentina and featured actress Jayne Houdyshell on a summer stock production when he was 17); and much more.
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