The State of Broadway with Tony Award-winning producer Hunter Arnold

The Eagle got a chance to sit down with Arnold to discuss the Tony Awards, the future of Broadway, the Avengers, and more.

June 16, 2023 Evan Rosen
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It’s Monday morning, the day after the 2023 Tony Awards, and somehow Broadway producer Hunter Arnold is more awake and energized than I am.

“I don’t sleep,” Arnold tells me over zoom. 

Sitting in front of a full bar cart in his living room, he points to the liquor and tells me, “that’s my sleep,” as he begins to paint a vivid picture of the night prior.

“It was just a zoo the whole time, it was like 95 degrees, and by the end of the show inside the theater everybody was dripping sweat,” he says. “It was a bit of an evening.”

The 76th Tony Awards ceremony was a bit of an evening, taking place for the first time at the United Palace in Washington Heights and running completely unscripted due to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike.

It was also an historic evening, in the fact that J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell became the first openly nonbinary actors to win Tonys

Arnold helped produce Some Like it Hot, the musical which Ghee starred in, as well as the Best Play-winner, Leopoldstadt

“It was one of those years where you didn’t even care if you lost, because it was very meritorious, and that’s not always the case,” he tells me. “It was a pretty unpolitical year.”

Arnold dives into an example, an industry luncheon from before the Tonys organized to celebrate the success of Some Like it Hot

Co-star Christian Borle, who attended the luncheon and was up for the same award as J. Harrison Ghee, kept telling Tony voters that he didn’t want their vote.

“I just want you to know from my mouth, I know that J.’s role and J.’s performance are better than mine. Vote for him, he’s the one. I’ve been there, I’ve done it. He’s the future,” Arnold remembers Borle saying to multiple people.

Tony Award-winning producer Hunter Arnold on the red carpet. Photo: Joseph Marzullo/WENN

For Arnold, who’s produced past winners like Kinky Boots, Dear Evan Hansen and Hadestown, he sees the “collaborative generosity” as being indicative of a larger shift in the industry.

The most interesting thing going on in theatre, is there’s this very real accelerated demographic shift happening” resulting in new communities being welcomed in, he tells me.

Due to the effects felt from the pandemic and many older Broadway-goers moving out of the city, Arnold believes there’s a rapid evolution taking place, making room for new voices and new content.

It’s a shift that Arnold aims to help foster, with his company TBD Theatricals and a project called the Broadway Strategic Return Fund – an investment group supporting artistic freedom. He founded the group in 2016 alongside John Joseph and Curt Cronin, and the collaboration has generated over $167 million in assets since its inception, helping usher in Broadway’s new wave.

According to Arnold, 2022 was the first year that the average age of a Broadway-goer was in the 40s. Just a decade ago, he says, the average age was in the 60s. 

He says Broadway’s “historical excuse” for not welcoming younger content – the idea of a younger demographic being unable to afford the tickets – is no longer valid. He points to a current example, Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour,” with many tickets selling for thousands of dollars.

“If people think something is for them and valuable, they will pay for it,” he reasons.

“Broadway has just, literally in the last 18 months, just started talking to people in these communities,” Arnold says. He talks not only of young people, but communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community and the disabled community.

“The gut punch of post-George Floyd and post-pandemic Broadway, is we might not know what we’re doing yet, but now people know we have to be doing something,” he says. “That was a battle five years ago, and now it’s a race to self-educate and open.”

At TBD Theatricals, Arnold works closely with managing producer Kayla Greenspan, “literally whiteboarding things,” trying to figure out how to finance the shows that they believe in. 

There’s a duality, Arnold says, in trying to finance commercially successful shows so that they can take risks on shows they feel will move the artform forward. 

“I’m perfectly comfortable working on any part of the continuum because it’s all part of the ecosystem,” he says. “Entertainment is not a bad word. Not everything has to be high art.”

But the producer also recognizes the uphill battle Broadway is fighting in regards to accessibility. “We have to be thinking of ways to offer cheap options.” 

Other industries have been able to exploit their intellectual property in a 360 degree environment (think Marvel’s Avengers franchise: movies, comic books, theme park, action figures, etc.).

But Broadway, traditionally, has been limited to buying tickets to see the show or buying the cast-recording for musicals, he says.

Those things are starting to change with streaming, but Arnold believes the stagnant camera-capture of the live performance is not enough, and not the same experience as being there in the theater. 

He recently called for a drone shot during the filming of his new project, the Britney Spears musical, Once Upon a One More Time, because he felt the dance sequence called for it. 

“As long as it extends the art of theatre to more people,” Arnold says he’s for it, and isn’t worried about the possibility of cannibalizing ticket sales.

He’s excited about the evolution of Broadway. “If we get it wrong, which we do, nobody dies,” he explains to me. “Nothing bad happens. But when we get it right, it legitimately saves lives.”

Arnold tells me of the letters he’s received; stories of people who saw one of his shows and felt seen, felt like they were able to connect with their children for the first time, or realized they weren’t alone in the pain they felt.

“There’s very low downside and unbelievably high upside,” he says, in taking risks from his position.

For now, what he’s most looking forward to is his new show called Here Lies Love, a groundbreaking musical from David Byrne and Fatboy Slim about former Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos

The show is expected to be “totally immersive, with the audience standing and dancing,” Arnold tells me. 

As for the possibility of an Avengers Broadway musical down the road, he laughs, but then remembers he’s ushering in new possibilities; new offerings for everyone. 

“Call me Marvel, I can figure it out,” he says. 

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