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The New NEA Head is a High-Stakes Broadway Gambler


by Jerome Weeks 13 May 2009

The New York Times reports that Rocco Landesman, the head of Jujamcyn, the smallest of the Broadway theater chains, has been appointed by President Obama as the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts.

CTA TBD

cy111And that’s good news. It’s a lively, promising, game-changing choice.

The New York Times reports that Rocco Landesman, the head of Jujamcyn, the smallest of the Broadway theater chains, has been appointed by President Obama as the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Landesman has been known as a producer willing to take risks on “quality” shows and musical crossovers — everything from The Gospel at Colonus and Angels in America to The Who’s Tommy, Grey Gardens, Spring Awakening and the plays of August Wilson. Years ago, when I interviewed Landesman for a story for The Dallas Morning News, he was a) the only theater chain head who took the time to speak to me, an out-of-town theater critic, and b) he was refreshingly modest, blunt and funny — three attributes not normally associated with theater chain owners or Broadway producers.

In addition to theater, Landesman loves horse racing and baseball (he once owned three minor league teams) — so the various profiles of him always associate his bet-placing and competitive interests with his theater shows. Fittingly enough, he produced the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, with its crap shooters and gamblers.

Landesman is not entirely a Broadway animal, however. His background includes a doctorate at Yale Drama (where he has occasionally taught), and he’s married to the director of a philanthropic foundation (Debby Landesman is the head of the Levi Strauss Foundation). So he’s well-versed in the non-profit world.

Presumably, he’s also thick-skinned enough to withstand the rough-and-tumble world of Washington politics and journalism. He should make for a very interesting head of the endowment.

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  • Carlo

    Your right. I think he will shake things up for good at the NEA. I met him briefly about 10 years ago. A whirlwind.