When Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spikewon the Tony award for best play on June 9, among those celebrating was John Johnson, FCLC ’02.
Johnson is one of three producers from Joey Parnes Productions who ushered the play from Lincoln Center’s Newhouse Theater onto Broadway, and took home his first Tony for his efforts.
The play, which was written by Christopher Durang and described by The New York Times’ Ben Brantley as a “sunny new play about gloomy people,” debuted at Lincoln Center in late October and closed there in January in anticipation of the move. Johnson said it was unusual to close a show in one location and reopen it in another six weeks later, but he felt it was worth the effort.
“We laughed, we thought it was really funny, really touching. [But] I don’t think any of us thought at the moment it was going to be something that was going to win the Tony,” he said.
“I think what we thought was, ‘There aren’t a lot of comedies on Broadway in the spring, people really like to laugh, and people were really responding to the play.’”
When it reopened on Broadway on March 14, the play’s momentum kept growing via ticket sales and publicity, and it culminated with six Tony nominations, including four for acting. Johnson said the win was gratifying.
“I never thought we would be at the level we’re at now, and that’s probably the most exciting thing,” he said.
As a theater management major at Fordham, Johnson was well prepared for his role as a producer. He distinctly recalls how he was told as a student that the goal of the Fordham theater program was to create “eclectic professionals” who could wear the hat of actor, director, playwright, and producer.
Even as he focused on management during his studies, he filled in on stage when classmates needed someone who could play a cop, gangster, or a wrestler.
“The role of a producer is to do many different things. You’re focusing on selling tickets, you’re focusing on advertising, you’re focusing on contracts, you’re focusing on the day-to-day aspects of working with actors, directors, crew members, etc.,” he said.
“Raising money, budgeting . . . you need all of those things in your tool kit, and that’s definitely something that Fordham taught me right from the outset.”
Looking ahead, Johnson is working on the musical comedy A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, which will open at the Walter Kerr Theater in the fall. It will be a reunion of sorts for him, as it will be the first time working with Aaron Rhyne, FCLC ’02, a projection designer who was his roommate at Fordham.
Fordham College at Lincoln Center was well-represented in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Before it moved to Broadway, Camille Hickman, FCLC ’84, worked as a casting associate on the production. Andy Snyder, FCLC ’03, is the press agent for the current show, and Steve Sosnowski, FCLC ’03, worked on the show’s advertising. And just as Johnson interned at Parnes Productions when he was a junior, Bianca Crudo, a current Fordham student, is interning there now.
“There were a lot of Fordham hands on this show who helped it get to where it was,” he said.