By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
Lovers of vintage musicals in New York always want more options to see their favorite shows, and their wishes came true in February 2020 when J2 Spotlight Productions launched their initial season with acclaimed productions of Seesaw and No Strings.
Now, after a COVID-enforced break, the company returns to Theatre Row in February 2022 with revivals of A Class Act, about the life of award-winning lyricist Ed Kleban (February 12-19),the delightful A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (February 24-March 6), and The Baker’s Wife (March 10-20), the tuneful musical by Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein that never even made it to Broadway – but still gave us the cabaret standard “Meadowlark.”
Theater Pizzazz recently spoke with the company’s executive producer and co-founder Jim Jimirro – a former entertainment executive – about the creation of this very special enterprise and what’s in store for audiences this year.
Q: How did the idea for J2 come about?
I’ve been a musical theater aficionado my whole life. Then one day, I went to see a staged reading of Kander & Ebb’s The Happy Time at Studio 54 and I loved it. As it happened, my friend Jim Brochu was in the cast, and he told me about Robert Schneider. Soon after, Rob and I had this 90-minute lunch, and we made a deal then and there to launch this company with me producing the shows and him as the artistic director.
Q: How do you two decide which shows to put on?
When I started talking with Bob, I had a list of 150 musicals I loved, and he had a list of 200 musicals. But ultimately, it almost doesn’t matter to me if we do Carnival or She Loves Me or Sweet Charity. A lot of what we produce is dictated by outside factors, such as whether it was done too recently in New York or if there are rights to Broadway revival.
Q: Since you’re doing a second season, can I assume people liked the first one?
Yes, we had very positive reactions to those shows. We knew that people who like musical theater were already on our side, and our audiences are especially thankful that we are doing these fully staged productions. So, we’re getting a lot of re-subscribers as well as well as some new ticket buyers!
Q: Tell me what you’re most excited about when it comes to this season’s shows?
We were supposed to start performances of A Class Act on March 12, 2020 – the day the pandemic hit and everything shut down – so I am thrilled we are able to get to do it, and that seven of the cast members we chose were able to return. We’re thrilled to be working again with the talented Deirdre Goodwin, who will be choreographing and co-directing A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. As for The Baker’s Wife, it’s a score I think is just extraordinary, and we’re so happy that its composer Stephen Schwartz wants to be involved somehow in our production.
Q: Unlike some other series, you don’t worry about having “big names’ in your shows. Why is that?
We realize that so much entertainment today is star-driven, but Bob really believes in showcasing young talent. When we first started casting, I was overwhelmed by how much amazing talent there is in New York; it was truly a revelation to me. Unfortunately, it also makes me a little sad knowing some of these people won’t make it in the business.
Q: What can we expect from J2 in the future?
In the immediate future, I am going to institute this season what I call the “lagniappe program,” which is the idea of doing something extra after every performance to enhance or supplement the show, whether it is talkbacks with the creative team or me talking about the show’s history. We’re also planning to do cabaret shows on our off-nights, and this year, they will be related to Stephen Sondheim. The bottom line is that I am excited to give our audiences a little something extra and also help them learn or appreciate musical theater even more.