Day 6

After 40 years, the publicist who hyped Hamilton says goodbye to Broadway

Broadway press agent Sam Rudy, who represented hits like Avenue Q, shares the highlights from his 40-year career — including the Hamilton cast's famous political appeal to Mike Pence.

Sam Rudy was behind the scenes for the Hamilton cast's appeal to Mike Pence

Sam Rudy celebrates his retirement during a party at Rosie's Theater Kids on July 17, 2019 in New York City. (Walter McBride/Getty Images)

Sam Rudy has helped launch some of the most influential musicals to ever hit the Great White Way.

The Broadway press agent had a hand in everything from Harvey Fierstein's musical rendition of La Cage Aux Folles to the beloved puppet show Avenue Q and, most recently, Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton.

After four decades of wrangling reporters, critics and celebrities alike, however, Rudy is retiring from the theatre business.

"I'm not going to miss openings because [at] my openings, I was working like a banshee," Rudy recalled.

"An opening night, for a press agent, is one of the most high pressure days and nights that you have in the entire run of a play."

Rudy shared some of his favourite memories from a 40-year career in New York's theatre scene with Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

When Mike Pence saw Hamilton

Following a Nov. 2016 performance of the record-breaking Lin Manuel Miranda musical Hamilton, performers took to the stage to address Mike Pence, then the Vice President-elect, who was in the audience.

"We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights," said actor Brandon Victor Dixon after curtain call.

Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda performs a tune from the musical at the 70th Annual Tony Awards on June 12, 2016 in New York City. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

The onstage declaration was swiftly criticized in a tweet from the recently elected Donald Trump who called the show "overrated" — an accusation Rudy disputes.

"From the moment [producer Jeffrey Seller] called me, until the dust started to settle three or four days later, it was an electrifying time because we were in effect making history," Rudy recalled.

Though Rudy had to deal with the publicity surrounding the cast's advocacy, he believes they made the right call.

"I was very pleased with how it all played out," he said. "The press was grateful; they got a great story. We had stepped up and made ... what felt to us like a very important point — right to the vice president-elect."

Making friends on Avenue Q

When Avenue Q premiered in 2003 featuring a cast of puppets, Rudy had no idea what he was getting into. He says the information shared with him ahead of opening night "made no sense."

As a parody of Sesame Street, the show tackles topics like racism, sex and loneliness for adults and was produced by the Vineyard Theatre, a company known for its multiple Pulitzer winners.

Members of Avenue Q perform during the comedy show Earth to America in November 2005. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

While Rudy was sold on the show's credentials, it wasn't until he saw the characters in action that he knew producers had a "gold mine" on their hands.

"I went to the photo call and I was just enraptured from the first moment and couldn't believe what I was seeing, and how infectious it was and how funny it was and how believable it was with the puppets," he said.

"I believe in them," Rudy said, adding the talented cast of actors behind the puppets took a backseat to the colourful felt characters.

Avenue Q wrapped a 16-year Broadway run in May. Rudy represented the show for its entire run.

The legend of 42nd Street

Though he didn't work directly on the hit 1980 musical 42nd Street, Rudy says the show goes down in history for its press.

Director Gower Champion died the afternoon of the show's Broadway on Aug. 25, 1980. Producer David Merrick kept the news secret ahead of the show, but announced his death in a surprise statement during the standing ovation.

David Merrick announces the death of legendary choreographer and director Gower Champion at curtain call on opening night of Broadway show 42nd Street. (Richard Corkery/New York Daily News via Getty Images)

"It was a shock that he died and equally shocking was the manner in which David Merrick shared that news with the cast, with the audience, with everybody in that theatre and everybody outside the theatre," Rudy recalled.

"I probably didn't know enough about my own craft at that point to realize what a calculated move that was."

Indeed, 42nd Street has remained a Broadway staple since its 1980 premiere. Its early success, Rudy believes, is due to that shocking announcement and curiosity surrounding the tragic circumstances.

"The pundits were certainly like, 'Wow, that was a very David Merrick move,' to cash in on his director's death on opening night," he said.

To hear the full interview with Sam Rudy, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.


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