Northwestern alum makes Broadway producing debut with ‘Frankie and Johnny’


Credit: Deen van Meer

Six-time winner Audra McDonald and one-time Tony nominee Michael Shannon in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” The Broadway show is currently in previews, and will open on May 30.

Wilson Chapman, Reporter

Sharing a show with a six-time Tony winner is the dream of any Northwestern theater major. For Jamie Joeyen-Waldorf (Communication ‘18), she got this opportunity less than a year after she graduated, working alongside Broadway legend Audra McDonald.

This May, Joeyen-Waldorf is making her Broadway debut as a co-producer on the revival of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” The play is currently in previews at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York, and will officially open May 30.

“It’s definitely intense to be working on a Broadway show,” Joeyen-Waldorf said. “The stakes are much higher than they were with shows I produced at Northwestern.”

“Frankie and Johnny” focuses on a one-night stand between two lonely, middle-aged co-workers. After their first date leads to a unplanned night, the two attempt to sort out their complicated feelings for each other amidst the looming question of a second date.

Debbie Bisno (Communication ‘92) said this revival of the play focuses on the theme of struggling to build lasting and honest connections with the people around us. Bisno, the show’s lead producer said the show has endured because the problems the two leads face are universally experienced.

“It’s about connection at a time when we aren’t connected. To me that’s what makes it relevant today,” Bisno said. “While it was written in 1987, it’s incredibly relevant and timeless in that we live in a world where we’re all connected to our devices and not each other.”

This revival stars McDonald and two-time Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon. According to Joeyen-Waldorf, this is the first major production of the show to portray an interracial couple — McDonald is a black woman and Shannon is a white man. In previous major productions, Frankie and Johnny were both played by white actors.

Joeyen-Waldorf, who is an Asian woman, said part of the reason she wanted to work on the production was the diverse creative team. The show is directed by a woman, Arin Arbus, and a woman of color explores a traditionally white role, both of which Joeyen-Waldorf said is still too rare in Broadway shows.

After graduation, Joeyen-Waldorf got involved in TBD Theatricals as an intern and joined its Uplift program a few months later. Uplift connects young people of underrepresented identities with Broadway shows they’d be interested in working with. Her involvement with the program led to her taking the co-producer role on “Frankie and Johnny.”

Joeyen-Waldorf said the Uplift program and other efforts to promote underrepresented people in the business side of the theater industry is important because the vast majority of Broadway producers are still white, and it’s difficult for people from underrepresented groups to get their foot in the door. Joeyen-Waldorf said even though the creative side of theater has slowly been getting more diverse, the business side has struggled to improve at the same rate.

“When I’m talking to potential investors for the show, I tell them, you invest in this show, you’re also investing in me, and my future as a woman of color in this industry,” Joeyen-Waldorf said.

Uplift program supervisor Kayla Greenspan, who is also serving as a co-producer on “Frankie and Johnny,” said producers are ultimately the people who decide what shows are funded and what stories are told through theater. Because of this, having producers of marginalized identities and diverse perspectives is how the industry will produce more representative, inclusive shows.

“If you have what is mostly white men being the entire decision makers of that process, you’re going to get shows that are all very similar to one another,” Greenspan said. “Our industry really needs to focus on creating new works from other voices so we have more diversity, but then also have the people deciding what works get seen have more diversity as well.”