Jill Furman has been an upstanding member of the Broadway community, with a successful run of award-winning shows under her belt. I’m proud of all her tireless work bringing such rich stories to the Great White Way. I’m also proud to call her a friend.
That’s why I support this woman’s work.
Furman is a Tony Award-winning producer of such Broadway and off-Broadway smash hits as In the Heights, the revival of West Side Story, The Drowsy Chaperone and Hamilton.
Randi Zuckerberg: Your father is also a Broadway producer. Would you say it’s Broadway or business that runs in your blood?
Jill Furman: Even though I went to business school, I’d say it’s Broadway. I love the art form, and it’s the creative aspects of production — from finding and developing material to putting a team together to casting — that excite me the most.
But the truth is, if you’re a lead producer on Broadway, you also have to be a business person. You can’t produce the show if you can’t raise the money. And every decision you make — from overseeing the technical elements of the production to marketing and advertising, etc. — is a business decision that will affect the bottom line.
RZ: You worked with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda before, on the Tony Award-winning In the Heights, which Miranda also created. What is the collaboration between producers and creators like in Broadway?
JF: It’s a team effort. A producer’s role is to facilitate an artist’s vision by helping to create collaborative, supportive work environments. We work with the creators to figure out the development path that’s best for them.
For Hamilton, we had several readings, staged workshop presentations and an off-Broadway run at The Public before we came to Broadway. The producers were able to provide the creative team with the resources they needed (time, rehearsal space, feedback, audiences and performers) to find the story and get it right.
In terms of hands-on script development, itvs a difficult line to walk as a producer. You offer suggestions and give notes, but you have to know when it’s time to simply get out of the way. When you’re working with a genius like Lin-Manuel, that’s most of the time.
RZ: Hamilton was nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tonys and won 11. Did you know it was going to be as big when you first heard about it/saw an early version?
JF: We knew we had something incredibly special, but there was no way to anticipate the overwhelming reaction and response.
RZ: What are the elements that go into making the perfect musical?
JF: If there was an answer to this question, all shows would be huge hits. The late William Goldman famously wrote, “Nobody knows anything” about the movie business. The same is true in the theater. It’s almost impossible to know what will work and what won’t.
But I look for material that I feel is unique and special — a project with broad appeal that has wonderful, catchy music and an incredible creative team to put the whole thing together.
RZ: What would you like to see next in the world of musical theater?
JF: I hope that a show like Hamilton will encourage theater artists to take more risks. Of course, it helps to be brilliant like Lin, but Hamilton is proof that unlikely subject matter and a different sound can resonate with audiences in profound and exciting ways.
— Randi Zuckerberg is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a SiriusXM weekly tech business show, Randi Zuckerberg Means Business. Follow her on Twitter: @randizuckerberg or connect with her on Facebook. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.