‘If/Then’ and Steve Traxler


These are heady days for the venerable
National Theater. The oldest theater in
town is looking better than it has in a long
time, and it’s full of energy. Sporting a physical
makeover done this summer, the National
is the site for something that hasn’t happened
there in years, a pre-Broadway tryout run of
a new musical, “If/Then,” a show with some
giants talents involved, on stage and off.
Not only that, but the National is having its
first season subscription series in many years, a
full slate of shows going well into next year. In
fact, a run (Dec. 25-29) of “Gershwin’s Porgy
and Bess” will follow “If/Then” during the
Christmas season.

All of this makes it an exciting time for
Steve Traxler, co-founder of Jam Theatricals,
based in Chicago, which, along with SMG of
Philadelphia is the National Theater Group’s
new programming team.

“We’re just glad have “If/Then” here. We’re
really excited about it, because there’s so many
really terrific, talented people involved in it,
it’s a brand new show, headed for Broadway,”
said Traxler, a veteran producer of Broadway
shows, both musicals and dramas.
“David Stone—he did such a great job with
guiding ‘Next to Normal’—is the producer and
he was looking to be in Washington, and so
we are honored and lucky to have the show.
Is there risk in doing something new? Sure,
there’s always risk when you get involved in
any show, on Broadway, in music, anything.
But you can’t do anything that’s really excellent
without taking a risk. That’s what I believe.”
In addition to producer David Stone, famous
for guiding the off-beat contemporary musical
“Next to Normal” (“If/Then” also has a contemporary
setting) through a process that led
through Arena Stage and eventual Broadway
success, was also one of the producers of
“Wicked,” a mega-hit which is still running on
Broadway and on the road. Not coincidentally,
there are a lot of people involved in “If/When”
that know each other, including composer
Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey, as well as
director Michael Greif (Signature’s “Angels in
America”) who were the creative masters of
“Next To Normal”.

The star is Idina Menzel, the woman with
the incredible beautiful and rangy voice who
starred as Elphaba, the green witch of “Wicked,”
a role which got her a Tony. Menzel plays a
woman making choices in her life, looking for
a second chance. She’s reunited with Anthony
Rapp, with whom she appeared in “Rent.” “If/
Then” also features LaChanze, who won a Tony
Award for Celie in “The Color Purple.”

Pre-Broadway runs were once a staple
at the National Theatre. “The National just
has this amazing history, which is so appealing
to me, personally,” Traxler said. “It’s
Washington’s oldest theater, and, programming
wise, certainly, we aim to restore it to its old
standing as a place for new works, great shows
and plays and performances, as well as special
events.”

The first subscription season includes
Green Day’s “American Idiot” in February,
a return of “West Side Story”, as well as
“Stomp”, “Mamma Mia”, Hal Holbrook still
doing “Mark Twain Tonight”, and “Blue Man
Group.”

Talking with Traxler, you realize he loves
theater, shows, the stuff on stage, the people
that do it, write it, sing it, act it. He’s what
you might call a careful enthusiast, somewhat
like his mother, a movie buff. He and his Jam
Theatricals got into theater in the 1990s, and in
2002, he turned to producing.. Before that he
had worked with an aging Frank Sinatra to put
on his last performance in Chicago. “That was
an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “The
man was a true professional.”

Jam Theatricals and its principals have won
six Tonys: for “Spamalot,” “Glengarry Glen
Ross,” “The History Boys,” “August: Osage
County,” “Hair” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf.”

Traxler was also one of four producers
on “August: Osage County,” the harrowing,
hit family play. The film version—for which
he’s also listed as a producer with Harvey
Weinstein—opens this Christmas. “Weird, I
mean it’s not exactly holiday stuff, but it’s
Oscar time, you know,” he said. It just might
do pretty well, given a cast that includes Meryl
Streep and Julia Roberts.

And now: “I just got into town,” he said.
“We’re really excited about this being here at
the National.”

(“If/Then” will run at the Naitonal Theatre
through Dec. 8 and is scheduled to have its
Broadway opening at the Richard Rodgers
Theatre in the spring of 2014 on March 27.)

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