From the award-winning Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 to Angels in America, renowned theatre producer Suzanne Gilad has an eye for the next big show. Boasting an array of memorable tunes, Sue’s current musical project, A Taste of Things to Come, has been described as Jersey Boys meets Betty Crocker meets the 60s feminist movement. It takes the stage at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse through April 29.
Sleepless Critic: You are involved in a number of well known projects such as Angels in America, Madame Butterfly, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and upcoming project, The Other Josh Cohen. What first brought you into the theatre world?
Sue Gilad: I was a performer a long time ago and then started doing voice overs, which took me down a completely separate and fun path. A few years ago, a friend created a show and asked me if I would help shape it. I discovered being a producer meant that I could be responsible and still have a life. We get to be creative in terms of what kinds of work we bring to the public to see and hopefully open their minds and hearts. It made sense and there are still relatively few female producers in the business, although that is changing. There is a lot of growth for that.
I would jump Broadway projects as a co-producer and that is what is happening with the recently opened Angels in America. People ask me if they can meet Andrew Garfield who delivers a tremendous and transformative performance in the show. I’ve never seen him like that.
SC: What was it like for you when Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 got multiple Tony nominations?
SG: It was such a big honor that the show received the most Tony nominations of any show last year. The best part about getting the nominations was The Great Comet was a big creative risk. I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be on Broadway with its tiny stage and cast. When it was at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Diane Paulus wanted to take the show which was in the round and remount it into proscenium theatre. She did to great acclaim and it became an immersive production, unlike anything Broadway has ever seen before.
SC: A Taste of Things to Come has an all female crew. Was it planned that way?
SG: Dare I say that the women were the most qualified for the job? A Taste of Things to Come, written by Hollye Levin and Debra Barsha, is based on Hollye’s experience of her mom and a part of it tells the story of the life her mom had growing up. Then director Lorin Latarro came onboard when the show debuted at Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania. Everybody loved her and she brings tremendous things to the show.
The show features four women that age from age 25 in 1957 to age 35 in 1967. Everything blows open in the beginning of Act 2 when they are 10 years older and wiser with more opportunities for women and delicious secrets about race, religion, and sexuality which is not something you really talked about in the 1950s. By the 1960s, there was a real space for it. You get to see these women’s journeys during an incredible moment in history.
SC: What was it about A Taste of Things to Come that grabbed your attention?
SG: I saw a rehearsal or reading of this show and loved it. It gave me the opportunity to articulate my gratitude to the generation before me that broke through so many glass ceilings I didn’t even know existed.
Women of that generation either didn’t work or they became teachers and nurses so my generation can become doctors and superintendents. Then my kids’ generation can do whatever they want for work or nothing for work. It’s just extraordinary and gave me a window into the past. I can share it with my mom and, if I wanted to, bring my teenage daughters to it. It’s a celebration of friendship, solidarity, and kind of interestingly timed with the advent of the ‘me too’ and ‘times up’ movement that women in their time also had to take a stance for things that were beyond their comfort zone or what was socially acceptable at the time.
SC: The New York Times has described A Taste of Things to Come as ‘a recipe for catchy musical theatre.’ Please tell me a little about the music and your favorite songs.
SG: Composer Debra Barsha worked on Jersey Boys on Broadway for ten years so it starts out with the popular tunes of the 1950s. Ten years later, things become a lot groovier and it had a really distinctive 60s sound. My favorite song has been shifting as I get to know it better, but today I love the song, Blessings in Disguise. It’s a testament to the things we think will challenge us which are actually the things that make us stronger and give us unexpected gifts. My other favorite song is In Time, the final song of the show. The entire cast sings it and they look back at what they have been through together as individuals and as a group of friends. The best things happen in time.
SC: What has it been like putting the show together?
Since the show is set in Winnetka, A Taste of Things to Come is making its home in Chicago. It’s been fun listening to the audio discs during previews because of the way the audience giggles with any Winnetka or Chicago reference. We were very lucky to get New York Broadway actresses but we also have an understudy that can swing all four roles. Madison Kauffman is a Chicago native who just graduated from college. She came in for the first day of rehearsal completely off book for all four roles. Her level of excitement and passion is so thrilling.
SC: What kind of support is the show looking for?
SG: We have a great sponsor based out of Chicago called Turtle Wax. It is in the script because it was wax that men were using in 1957 for their cars. We would be open for Chicago-based companies to sponsor the show because we do have a wonderful, primarily female, well-educated audience.
SC: What is in store for the future of the show?
SG: We have wonderful theatres interested in having the show at their theatre so we might take the show on tour. Then we’re hoping to get it licensed so every school, regional theatre, community, and worldwide theatre can perform it and share the victories of womanhood.