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From Wayne to Broadway

Producer Daryl Roth talks about producing Jewish stars

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Aaron Serotsky, Alan Schmuckler, Donna Vivino, and Janet Metz in “Jewish Stars.” Carol Rosegg

When theater producer Daryl Roth was growing up in Wayne, she was the only Jew in her public school.

It was a very different community then than it is today. “There were some incidents that were not pleasant,” the multiple Tony Award winner said in a recent interview, but “I look at it as a life lesson.” Her family belonged to a synagogue in Pompton Lakes and that gave her a strong sense of connection to the Jewish community, Ms. Roth said, and the experience may also have provoked her deep interest in the status of outsiders.

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Daryl Roth, who was born in Wayne, has made her mark on Broadway.

“I’m interested in issues of identity,” Ms. Roth said, and that interest is apparent in the shows and plays she has produced. Her current hit musical, “Kinky Boots,” focuses on drag culture; the play “Clybourne Park” dealt with integration and gentrification; “The Normal Heart” tackled the epidemic of AIDS; “How I Learned to Drive” explored the nuances of sexual abuse, and there are dozens more on a wide variety of topics that reflect Ms. Roth’s concerns.

Ms. Roth’s latest production is a musical adaptation of “Stars of David,” a book of interviews with famous people talking about what being Jewish has meant to them. The book’s author, well-known journalist Abigail Pogrebin, is the daughter of Jewish feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the founding editors of Ms. Magazine.

“Stars of David: Story to Song” is playing at the DR2 Theatre on West 15th Street. An exceptionally good cast performs songs written by an illustrious group of composers and lyricists, including Sheldon Harnick, Michael Feinstein, Amanda Green, Marvin Hamlisch, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The songs all are based on the interviews with people ranging from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tony Kushner to Kenneth Cole and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Living so close to New York City, Ms. Roth’s family often went to the theater, but although she loved the shows they saw, Ms. Roth never dreamed of being an actress. She did, however, want to know more about the process of putting a show together. She now believes that producing, like editing and conducting and other “interpretive” processes, is deeply creative. She began reading plays and produced “Nick and Nora” in 1991. While she loves musicals, most of her productions have been straight plays, she pointed out, and several have won the Pulitzer Prize.

As her parents introduced her to the magic of the theater, “I did the same for my children,” Ms. Roth said. The theatrical itch has spread to her son, Jordan Roth. He is the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns and operates five Broadway houses. Ms. Roth’s daughter, Amanda Roth Salzhauer, is a social worker and president of Hillel at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, at the Roth Center for Jewish Life. “We are a very committed family,” Ms. Roth said.

When Ms. Roth first read Ms. Pogrebin’s book, she was producing Nora Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” which was a series of stories. That gave her the idea that “Stars of David” could be handled in a similar way. “I remember thinking I didn’t even know that one was Jewish,” she said, noting that Jews always love to discover a “member of the tribe.”

Although few of the celebrities are observant, most feel that Judaism plays an important role in their lives as tradition, culture, and as a way of being. “I think that many of us today think of that as what being Jewish is,” Ms. Roth said. (That, of course, is a view validated by the latest research on American Jews by the Pew Center for Research.)

Ms. Roth and her team are planning to take “Stars of David” on the road when it finishes its New York City run, performing at Jewish community centers and other venues. The show already is booked in Florida, California, and Toronto. “Our whole intent was to birth it here and have it go where audiences will respond,” Ms. Roth said. She hopes that some of the cast will travel with the show.

It’s a very positive piece of material, Ms. Roth said, and it emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself. “A lot of the people coming to see the show are not even Jewish.”

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