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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Last Tuesday at Sardi’s, Charlotte St. Martin made an excellent point: “Nothing happens on Broadway until somebody produces something.”
St. Martin, Executive Director of the Broadway League, along with TDF's Victoria Bailey and the Commercial Theatre Institute's Jed Bernstein, was on hand to honor producer Stuart Thompson with the 2010 Robert Whitehead Award. Presented by Theatre Development Fund, The Broadway League, and the CTI, the award is given to outstanding commercial theatre producers who have graduated from CTI’s fourteen-week intensive program. Its namesake is the late, venerable producer who shepherded plays like Bus Stop, A Few Good Men, and Master Class, and his legacy was especially apparent at this year’s ceremony.
After all, Robert Whitehead gave Stuart Thompson, whose current Broadway projects include God of Carnage, Lend Me a Tenor, and A View from the Bridge, a major boost in his early career.
Speaking to a packed house in Sardi’s second-floor lounge, Whitehead’s son Charlie, a film producer, recalled the day in the early 1980s when a young Thompson came to discuss transferring Whitehead’s production of Medea to Australia. It was an enormous undertaking, but Thompson, a native Australian, pulled it off. “For a twenty-six year-old, that’s pretty impressive,” Charlie said.
Thompson stayed connected to the Whitehead family: That production of Medea starred Zoe Caldwell, Robert’s wife, and Thompson and Charlie Whitehead eventually spent six years as business partners.
Thompson has generated goodwill outside the Whitehead clan. Many cast members from his current productions were at the ceremony---including Jeff Daniels, Lucy Liu, Dylan Baker, and Janet McTeer from Carnage and Liev Schreiber and Jessica Hecht from Bridge---and as they sampled cheese and wine, they praised their producer’s manners, supportiveness, and dedication to work he believes in, even if it doesn’t seem profitable. In a formal speech, Schreiber told the room, “When they said he was involved with A View From the Bridge, I knew my fate was sealed. I would have to perform this play. With Stuart’s involvement, it was a go. He’s a gentleman of the highest order.”
Joking, he also noted, “He’s also careful to extract every last drop of blood, sweat, and tears from the people in his employ, and that is why I came here before my 7:00 curtain.”
When he accepted his award, Thompson quickly turned his remarks to the future of the theatre itself. Stressing the importance of developing and producing new plays, he said, “While we celebrate the Commercial Theater Institute, I think it’s important that we fight for the future of Broadway by advocating for non-profit regional theatres.”
With that, he returned to the pleasant chatter in the room, which lingered until it was time for the 7:00 curtains to rise.
[photos: home page: Stuart Thompson and Liev Schrieber; this page: Stuart Thompson, third from left, with cast members from God of Carnage and A View from the Bridge]
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor