Daryl Roth, Broadway’s Drama Queen

Guild Hall honors the legendary producer for a lifetime of making magic onstage.

By Regina Weinreich

Theater producer Daryl Roth puts on a good show. “My favorite way to produce is from the beginning so that I can assemble the creative team, and work with people I love,” she says, interviewed recently in her corner office overlooking Central Park. 

Take Kinky Boots. The hit Broadway musical from 2013 originated in a small British indie she saw at Sundance in 2006. Thinking she had to act fast to acquire rights, she found the competition to be less than fierce. “Disney was not about to make something about drag queens.” 

A recipient of Guild Hall’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing Arts at this year’s Academy of the Arts gala, Roth quips modestly about the honor: “I’m moving on in years.” Silver-framed legends adorn every surface of her workspace. Oprah Winfrey poses at a performance of Paula Vogel’s Indecent; there’s Edward Albee for Three Tall Women, amid tchotchkes for her 36-year career as producer of over 130 plays (both Broadway and Off-Broadway), seven of them Pulitzer Prize winners. A dozen of her 13 Tony Awards stand tall on a shelf. And, leaning against a wall, sparkly red thigh-high boots.

“A producer,” says Roth, “is a facilitator of other people’s dreams. Whether I start something or join, I will only work on projects instinctively important to me.” Certain themes dominate: “family, Judaism, gender, women.” On the eternal tension between art and commerce, she offers, “We hope for financial success. Sometimes the reward is more meaningful if it fills your soul.”

A work-in-progress, Left on Tenth, follows Delia Ephron’s memoir about finding love after her first husband died, and surviving a blood disease similar to the one that killed her sister Nora. While getting treatment, she remarries at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Roth thought of prior successes: “This is between Wit and The Year of Magical Thinking, with a happy ending, a rom-com for this generation. I said, ‘Let’s do a play,’ and introduced Delia to Susan Stroman. They got on like girlfriends do.” They plan for a fall opening. Another new project: a Nancy Drew musical. 

Off-Broadway, Daryl Roth’s downtown venue, a refurbished Union Square bank, is the locus for experimentation. When Gloria Steinem approached Roth about making the autobiographical play Gloria: A Life, the producer fulfilled Steinem’s wish for creating a talking circle; in Act 2, audiences took the mic. As COVID restrictions loosened, Roth staged Blindness, a first to open a door to theater’s post-pandemic revival. Just ended to sold-out audiences: Patrick Page’s All the Devils Are Here, a theatrical evolution of Shakespeare’s villains, along with a Titanic musical spoof, Titanique—yes, featuring drag queens—which wowed the crowds.

On a quiet Hamptons afternoon when she lived on Apaquogue Road, her neighbor Nora Ephron invited her to lunch and gave her Love, Loss and What I Wore, saying, “We’re [she and Delia] going to write a play and I want you to do it.” They devised a girl-talk strategy involving a rotating cast of A-listers on the original idea that clothing and accessories trigger memories.

Her East Hampton home, where she lives part-time with her husband, Steven, a real estate developer, and where her children—Amanda, a life coach, and Jordan, president of Jujamcyn Theaters—have houses nearby, is a place to chill, walk her dogs, garden and wear sweats from Friday till Monday. darylroththeatre.com