June 12, 2019

McCarter Alumni Score Big at Tony Awards Ceremony

By Anne Levin

With former McCarter Theatre Producing Director Mara Isaacs the winner at Sunday’s 2019 Tony Awards for the Broadway musical Hadestown, and several other alumni of the Princeton theater honored in various categories, Artistic Director Emily Mann is a proud mama of sorts.

“We’re so thrilled for everyone. It’s really exciting,” Mann said Tuesday, two days after the annual awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall. Hadestown, which Isaacs co-produced, won eight awards including Best Musical. “Mara — what an amazing grand slam home run she’s made,” Mann continued. “She’s been working on it for years, and what a job she’s done.”

Hadestown was written by Vermont-based singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell. The show is based on a collection of Mitchell’s songs that retell the Greek myth of Orpheus, who rescues his betrothed, Eurydice, from the underworld. McCarter presented Mitchell in concert in March of 2018, prior to Hadestown. Following that concert, Mitchell was joined onstage by Isaacs for a special post-show conversation.

Isaacs helped assemble a team to turn Mitchell’s songs into a musical. The team included director Rachel Chavkin, who won on Sunday for Best Director of a Musical.

Isaacs, who lives in Princeton with her family, worked at McCarter for 17 years before forming her own production company. “She often says that our work together made it possible for her to do what she does now, but I think she just has the innate talent,” said Mann. “She’s an extraordinary producer. I knew, when I met her, that I wanted to work with her.”

Among Isaacs’ strengths is her “great taste,” said Mann. “She can spot artistic talent. She knows how to get people to work together. Sometimes tensions arise with creative people, but she knows how to diffuse it like nobody’s business, getting people to solve problems and do their best work. She also knows how to put creative people together who have the right chemistry. That’s another mark of a great producer.”

Mann, who won a Tony Award herself in 1994 when McCarter was honored as Outstanding Regional Theater, has followed Isaacs in the process of shepherding Hadestown to Broadway. Asked if she offered Isaacs advice, she said, “I wasn’t advising her. I was cheering her on. It was an enormous amount of work.”

McCarter was also represented at the Tony Awards by former staffers Rachel Hauck, who won for Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Hadestown); Bradley King, who won for Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Hadestown); Fitz Patton, who won Best Sound Design of a Play (Choir Boy); and Daniel Fish, who won Best Revival of a Musical (Oklahoma). Fish was the musical’s director.

“We’re so thrilled for him. The show is brilliant,” Mann said of Fish. “I was mentoring him and believing in him from his earliest days. He did everything here from Moliere to Hamlet to The Importance of Being Earnest, and we’ve really supported him throughout his career. This production is his brain child — totally his conception.”

Rosemary Harris, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award, represents another McCarter connection. “She did All Over, which I directed here and off-Broadway, so I’m so happy for her,” said Mann.

Continuing her praise for Isaacs, Mann said part of her strength as a producer is her ability to “get the money. She is tenacious and strong. People think being a producer is just about writing checks. But when you’re a creative producer, that’s not what it is at all.”