January 17, 2020

The Man Behind the Curtain: An Interview with Goodspeed’s Enduring—and Endearing—Executive Producer Michael Price

Michael Price - Executive Producer of the Goodspeed Opera House and Vice President of the American Theatre Wing. He has been overseeing the Goodspeed musical productions since 1968 (Photo courtesy of Ira Lewis)

Michael Price is the Executive Producer of the Goodspeed Opera House and Vice President of the American Theatre Wing.  He has been overseeing the Goodspeed musical productions since 1968.

Old Saybrook High School senior Rachel Berliner and Shoreline Web News LLC intern (… and Broadway aficionado) sat down with Price to talk about the upcoming 2011-2012 theatrical season.

As Rachel walked through the door into Price’s office, she found herself spellbound.  The walls were adorned with theatre memorabilia from Price’s numerous Goodspeed seasons (he has been in charge there since 1968) and also Broadway itself.  Quickly composing herself, she posed a series of questions to Price as follows:

Q:  How do you choose the shows in general for the seasons at Goodspeed and the Norma Terris Theatre?

A: : Each theatre has its own separate process for choosing shows.  The Goodspeed season is a balance between dance and drama.  We work from a list of about 30 musicals we have an interest in doing.  We add and subtract from that list every year.  In October or earlier (September), we start looking at what we would like to do the following year.  We are even doing some work on what we would like to do a year from now.

I do this along with two other producers.  The music director is also involved in it.  And the marketing director who needs to ensure we can sell all of our tickets.  We look at: “Do we like the show?”, “Do we have the right talent?”, “Do we have a director to do it?, “Do all the shows look alike so they are not all tap dance musicals?”  We try to balance it out for the season.  They have to tell a good story and have good tunes.  For some musicals, there are certain limitations and they are too broad for us to do.  There are some musicals that are too small for us to do.  Our audience expects a certain production value.

The Chester season (Norma Terris Theatre) has all new shows and it’s just as exciting as what we do upstairs in this theatre.  We see hundreds and hundreds of auditions of new musicals a year.  The two producing members of the staff read several hundred scripts a year and out of that, we come up with three that we would like to do.

Q: Where do you hold the auditions?

A: We do most of our auditions in New York.  Once a year we do local auditions here (East Haddam).  Basically, all of our actors come from New York.

Q: Since you have been at Goodspeed since 1968, do you have a favorite production or season?

A: Well, no.  I have a lot of musicals I like.  You can’t pick one.  Out of the several hundred musicals we have produced from the time I’ve been here, I don’t think I could pick one.

Q: What are your goals for the future of Goodspeed?

A: Goodspeed will continue to produce three musicals a year: three old and three new.  We are running a vast educational program during the off-season.  We teach musical directors how to be musical directors, we teach scenic artists how to paint, and high school students how to audition for conservatories.  There is a lot of work that we do to make shows, make new theatre personnel, and to educate them.  Every season we set the bar a little bit higher.

Q: Annie will be celebrating its 35th anniversary next year and had its pre-Broadway run at Goodspeed.  What was your role behind the scenes during the production?  Did you think that it would go as far as it did?

A: I was the producer.  I put together the designers and choreographer (Peter Gennaro) with the cast.  I never thought that it would be alive and well and exciting as it is today.  The Broadway revival will be exciting.

Q: What are you thoughts about the planned “Annie” Broadway revival to be directed by James Lapine (librettist for the Stephen Sondheim musicals “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods)?

A: Just the same way we (Goodspeed) take a look at an old musical 35 years later, it’s time to take a new look at Annie.  We know it is still relevant today, but how relevant?  What changes might we make to make it even more so (relevant)?

Editor’s Note: We are indebted to Mr. Price for giving up his valuable time to meet with Rachel.