Following a string of high-profile play revivals (A View From the Bridge, Amadeus, The Crucible) Adam Epstein won his first Tony at the age of 28 in 2003 for producing the still-running Broadway juggernaut Hairspray. Up next: Cry-Baby, his second John Waters collaboration (adapted from the 1990 musical film), opens April 24 at Broadway's Marquis Theatre. With his Great White Way revival of Godspell slated for this summer, plus a spring 2009 opening anticipated for his musical adaptation of the 1998 film Ever After, this out producer proves that, just as in Waters's world, the underdog wins.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: What's been the greatest challenge in bringing Cry-Baby to Broadway?
Adam Epstein: When you do another adaptation of a John Waters movie in the wake of Hairspray, you have to make sure it makes its own stamp.
As a gay man, do you take special pleasure in bringing Waters's queer sensibility to the mainstream?
John Waters's world is far more universal than he gets credit for. He winks at a gay audience but embraces a universal audience because he always tells the tale of an underdog who wins.
How do you respond to criticism that the onslaught of musicals based on movies is killing American theater?
Good material is good material. If you can find a story that can be told faithfully, with intelligence and heart, it doesn't matter what the source is. There's a double standard for musicals coming from movies; some people think it's crass, but is it any more crass than taking a Williams or an O'Neill and resurrecting it for contemporary generations?
Which movie should never under any circumstances be made into a musical?
Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Godfather — there's four right there, and the list goes on.
Could you produce a project that was poor-quality but would make tons of money?
When you produce something, from the time you get the rights to the time it opens can be three to five years. So to invest that kind of love, passion, and time, I'd rather do something which can be both artistically and commercially fulfilling.
Hairspray has become known for its casting of stage-green celebrities. Do you ever fear compromising the quality of the show for the sake of a big name?
You hope not to sell your integrity down the river. But I'd rather have Hairspray run 10 years than not have it run at all.
When can we expect a completely gay-themed project from you?
[Laughs] I'm certainly not going to choose anything based on sexuality, but that doesn't mean I'd be afraid of it. If it's the right project and it speaks to me, I'll do it.
Is Broadway ready for a big-budget gay musical romance?
Yes. We're undergoing a cultural shift right now, and the nation is growing much more tolerant and diverse. We've gone from a Will & Grace nation to a... well, we're not quite a Pink Flamingos generation yet.
Four words, Adam: Brokeback Mountain: the Musical.
That may make a better opera. Part of what made Brokeback Mountain so special was the sparseness of the landscape and cinematography. There was something about them being in the vast, open expanse of the West yet in total privacy. It was an intimate movie with a nonintimate setting, and I'm not sure how you would reconcile those onstage. So that's not a musical I would do — but I loved the movie!
Do you ever feel underestimated because of your relative youth in the business?
Absolutely. Always. I've felt like an underdog my whole life. Even to this day, with all that I've done, I still believe — and this might be my own paranoia — that people are like, OK, kid, let's see what ya got. Guess what? I'll show ya.
The Advocate, April 2008.