Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Longboat resident, Broadway producer brings 'Hadestown' to Sarasota

J. Antonio Rodriguez stars as Orpheus in the “Hadestown” North American Tour.
J. Antonio Rodriguez stars as Orpheus in the “Hadestown” North American Tour.
Photo by T Charles Erickson
  • Arts + Culture
  • Share

Will it play in Peoria? 

That was the question asked back in the days of vaudeville. Yes, hayseeds had a say in whether a show would make it to the big time. Later in the 19th century, theater producers would first try out a show in Philadelphia and New Haven to get it ready for Broadway. 

These days the tables have turned. After a show becomes a hit on Broadway, producers take a touring production on the road so local audiences can see “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Hamilton” in their hometown. 

In fact, many Broadway shows make more money on the road than they do on the Great White Way.

But will a show that’s a smash on Broadway be a sensation in Sarasota? 

That’s the question facing Tom Kirdahy, producer of “Hadestown,” which is playing at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall through Feb. 4.

A part-time resident of Longboat Key, Kirdahy is not a household name, unlike his late husband, Terrence McNally, the celebrated playwright who died of COVID complications in 2020.

But in the theater world and the gay community, Kirdahy is a heavyweight in his own right. And he’s got the trophies to prove it: Kirdahy won a Tony Award in 2019 for “Hadestown,” one of eight the mythological musical received, and another in 2020 for “The Inheritance.” 

Tom Kirdahy
Courtesy image

Right now, Kirdahy is producing “Hadestown” at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York and at The Lyric in London, where it makes its West End premiere Feb. 10, as well as the touring production visiting Sarasota.

Even if you’re a seasoned entertainment reporter, it’s hard not to fall into fangirl mode when interviewing Kirdahy, especially if you love theater. 

I got my swooning out of the way early in the interview, praising Kirdahy for his devotion to the theater the way I’ve thanked veterans for their service to their country. This, after all, is the man who produced “Here We Are,” the unfinished musical Stephen Sondheim left behind when he died in 2021. 

It was agreed that the songs were in good shape but the book for "Here We Are" was revised by the play's writer, David Ives, and its director, Joe Mantello. Inspired by two films of Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, “Here We Are” premiered off Broadway in September 2023 at The Shed in New York City and closed Jan. 21. It essentially closed the book on Sondheim’s oeuvre.

At this stage in his career, Kirdahy can be picky about what he wants to produce. What drew Kirdahy to “Hadestown”? In a word, music. “Anaïs Mitchell’s score is one of the best scores I’ve ever heard on a Broadway stage,” he says. 

When he was first approached with “Hadestown,” Kirdahy was so busy that his initial reaction was to pass. But fellow producer Dale Franzen encouraged him to listen to the music before making a decision. He took her advice. “From that moment forward, I was all in,” he recalls.

OK, they can hum to its songs, but will audiences across the country be drawn to a musical set in the underworld about two mythological couples — Persephone and her husband, Hades, and Orpheus and Eurydice?

Kirdahy has no doubt. “It’s a huge hit,” he said in a telephone interview from London. “We have been shocked at how well it’s done on the road. After ‘Hamilton,’ it’s the biggest hit in the last decade.”

The touring production of the mythological musical "Hadestown" is playing at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall through Feb. 4.
Photo by T Charles Erickson

Kirdahy plans to fly to Sarasota for the “Hadestown” run at the Van Wezel and spend some time at his Longboat Key home, which he and McNally bought in 2016.

“I’m so excited for ‘Hadestown’ to finally come to my other hometown,” Kirdahy says. “This world-class production of an epic musical will surprise and genuinely thrill the people who see it. The music, the sets, the movement, the timeless story of these two couples that is rooted in Greek mythology is enthralling.”

Talk about a master class in an elevator pitch. 

At 61, Kirdahy has amassed a long list of accomplishments and awards that usually prompt eulogists to declare, “This was a life well-lived.” And the show’s not over yet. 

Before he was a producer, Kirdahy was a lawyer and a gay rights activist who served in the trenches during the AIDS crisis. A graduate of NYU Law School, Kirdahy assumed he would become a civil rights or entertainment lawyer. “But when many of my peers were sick and dying, I threw myself into AIDS work,” he says.

In New York, Kirdahy developed HIV projects at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Bronx AIDS services and Nassau-Suffolk Law Services on Long Island. Kirdahy became part of the executive board of the in-your-face AIDS activism group Act Up.

His life turned on a dime, both personally and professionally, when he produced a 2001 panel discussion in East Hampton, New York, titled “Theatre from the Gay Perspective.” On the panel were a trio of iconic playwrights: Edward Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”), Lanford Wilson (“Burn This”) and Terrence McNally (“Love! Valour! Compassion!”). 

Recalls Kirdahy: “I met Terrence backstage at Guild Hall that day and fell in love. At some point, when Terrence and I became a couple, Terrence said to me, ‘You would be good at this,’ meaning the theater and producing plays.”

McNally’s hunch turned out to be right. Kirdahy earned his producing wings with McNally’s 2007 play, “Deuce,” starring Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury. 

Kirdahy also produced the Tony-nominated revival of McNally’s “Ragtime” in 2009 and the 2011 revival of McNally's “Master Class” in the West End, among his many productions.

In 2014, Kirdahy produced McNally’s play “Mothers and Sons” starring Tyne Daly. 

Asked if he and McNally ever engaged, even unconsciously, in the kind of competitiveness that destroys many show biz couples, Kirdahy rejects the idea outright.

“Loving Terrence McNally is the single greatest thing that happened to me,” he says. “It was pure joy.”

For his part, McNally told The New York Times in a 2017 interview: “I do believe in love at first sight. It just seemed right from the very beginning. I had lost a partner from AIDS the year before. I was 63 at the time and didn’t expect to meet someone again. We’ve spent almost every night together since.”

Kirdahy and McNally were married in 2003 in Vermont in a civil union ceremony. 

Of course, even the most harmonious relationships can have debates about domestic duties — “Could you put the cap on the toothpaste?” — Kirdahy notes. “But life was easy. We were madly in love. We were at the Supreme Court for the marriage equality hearing. We may have made history the night that Terrence won the Tony for Lifetime Achievement and I won for ‘Hadestown.’”

Marital bliss aside, Kirdahy does concede that there may have been less opportunity for competitiveness because the two spouses “didn’t do the same thing. He was a playwright and I was a producer.” 

Pressed to explain exactly what a producer does, Kirdahy laughs. “Producing is the hardest profession to define. Try to put on a show without one. The buck stops with me — choosing material, putting the creative team together, getting investors,” he says. “But my most important job is to provide a creatively nurturing environment.”

Part of Kirdahy’s interest in touring productions is the thrill of bringing world-class live theater to places far from Broadway. He still fondly recalls his own introduction to theater. It took place at the Jones Beach Theatre on Long Island, where Kirdahy grew up as the sixth child in a family of seven children. 

“My parents took me to see ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” he recalls. “I heard those opening notes, and I was hooked.”



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

Latest News