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Interview: Meet the Fabulous Couple of OLD SHOW QUEENS- Streaming Now!

The show is every theater lover’s new happy place.

Dying for a new diversion in the absence of live theatre? Look no further than Old Show Queens- a 13-episode web series that is streaming now!

Gary Gunas and Billy Rosenfield, a couple for over 40 years, had front row seats not only for some of the biggest hits of the second half of the 20th century-but an insider's view of what was going on backstage, too. A general manager and producer (who worked on shows including Dreamgirls, La Cage aux Folles, and Godspell) and a playwright and executive producer of cast albums (including Assassins, The Last Five Years, and Avenue Q), Gunas and Rosenfield sat down with Andrew Hawkins and Jeff Marx in their London home to share their memories of the end of the Golden Age of Broadway.

Below, we check in with Gary and Billy, who tell us more about the show, as well as some of their favorite memories of Broadway past!

Watch the episodes today!

What have you enjoyed the most about working with Jeff [Marx] and Andrew [Hawkins] on Old Show Queens?

BILL: The guys themselves. They're spontaneous, inclusive, joyful and committed to the project in ways that surprise us almost everyday. I mean they created a line of merchandise for God's sake. The Pillow alone is a work of genius.

GARY: All the above, plus LOVE They showed us such respect that it was easy to ignore the cameras and just chat to their kind, encouraging faces. And when we discovered weeks later that I'd put the wrong person into a story, they actually formed the correct name out of syllables lifted from other stories. Magic!

Are you glad you agreed to do this project?

BILL: Absolutely. It came out of nowhere and we didn't really know what it would be. But the boys promised us that they wouldn't make us look bad and if we didn't like it, they'd scrap it.

GARY: Yes, though I initially thought that the title "Old Show Queens" was just an inside joke. It's not quite how I see myself, but watching these episodes, yeah - it fits!

You've both worked on dozens of Broadway shows... does one stand out as a favorite?

BILL: It's hard for me to choose because my involvement as a recording executive tended to be relatively short term. Working on smash hits such as Chicago, Guys & Dolls, or The Who's Tommy is exhilarating and satisfying both from an artistic and commercial point of view. The sense of discovery and hope for the future of musical theater when I saw shows such as Avenue Q and Songs for a New World brings a different sort of emotional satisfaction. However in terms of a favorite meaningful experience I think it would have to be Curtains. It stands out because it happened at a very difficult time in my life when my parents were quite ill and all the trauma that comes with that, along side a creative project with which I was involved was "going south". So recording a big musical while all of that was going on could've been difficult, but in fact the opposite occurred. The level of people with whom I was working on that are simply the best in the business. They all treated each other with respect and humor. There was a genuine collaborative spirit from the top down into every aspect of the recording from contractual, technical, creative - it doesn't matter - everyone involved was fantastic. I'm so glad that show came along when it did.

GARY: I'll stand by LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, as I described my experience of it in one of the episodes. The top pros, doing their best work, making a giant hit. Key to that was Fritz Holt, who held the very unusual dual job of executive producer and production stage manager. He was a master of both, and inspired in every one of us the joy and pride of doing our own career-best work alongside him, Harvey, Jerry and Arthur. There was still pain in the process - NO show is without its traumas and nightmares! - but LA CAGE held far fewer than any other production I know of. And far more love and laughs.

Is there a show you didn't get the chance to work on, but wish that you did?

BILL: Oh God yes! There's a list - Crazy For You, Spamalot, Wicked - all those smashes which, for one reason or another, didn't come my way. And then there are the smaller shows which I loved but for one reason or another I wasn't able to acquire - Floyd Collins for example. But no one can do 'em all.

GARY: Well, that would be ANNIE, but not because I like that show very much. While working for Marvin Krauss way back in the day, we were general managing three new musicals in development: ANNIE, PLATINUM and KING OF HEARTS. As the twists and turns of each show's gestation sorted themselves out, they all wound up scheduled to open in the very same month, each for a rock-solid reason, Marvin said to me, "We can survive two shows at once, but three would kill us. Which one will we have to drop?" Well, feeling that PLATINUM and KING OF HEARTS showed by far the most potential (to us), we dropped ANNIE. Our chosen two each ran about two weeks, while ANNIE, of course, is still top of the heap.

Interview: Meet the Fabulous Couple of OLD SHOW QUEENS- Streaming Now!

Being a part of the industry for so many years, what do you see as the biggest change in the business?

BILL: There is so much more at stake financially now and everyone wants a piece of the pie. Not that they don't deserve it, but when you keep dividing up that pie there comes a point where the people paying for the pie aren't going to think its worth the risk. And "risk "should be the cornerstone of the theatre, commercial and non-profit, but unfortunately it isn't. Sure there are shows which break the mold and I'm grateful for them; they should be the norm not the exception. Instead we're in a world where a familiar title becomes the reason for a show to exist and not an artistic impulse on the part of the creatives.

GARY: Oh, money. And the people who bring it. It used to be one producer and one manager meeting with the ad agency each week to fine-tune the ever-evolving marketing plan. Now 20 additional "producers" (investors) show up and have opinions that have to be heard.

What do you miss the most about old school Broadway?

BILL: Risk! I also miss the fact that when a show was bad and doing no business, they would close. Now everything runs for a while and of course it's nice that people are employed, but if you're a member of the paying public and you've spent a ton of money to see a show that's mediocre, you won't be so quick to take a chance on another show. In the long run I think that hurts us all.

GARY: This question makes my brain hurt.

What show do you think the world needs to see a revival of?

BILL: The world? None. Over the last 30 years I think we've seen just about everything except Whoop-Up and Saratoga. I'd be much happier if Broadway producers took the 12-18 million dollars it would cost and commissioned 10 original musicals from a variety of writers . Established, forgotten, up and coming, doesn't matter, and said to them: Here's enough money to sustain you for a year. At the end of the year let's see what you've got and we'll go forward from there - or not. I promise you 5 of them will be bad, 3 will be ok but just not good enough and 2 of them will be worth pursuing. Those two might fail but at the end of the year 10 teams will have written new musicals and tapped their creative juices in a positive way by writing something they want to write.

GARY: I agree with Billy. For me, Broadway is the thrill of the new; great artists growing right under your eyes.

If you could go back and see one live performance/show from the past, which would you choose?

BILL: One of the the things I love most about the theatre is that its ephemeral and if you miss it the closest you can get to it is someone telling you about it, or holding the program in your hand. That said, there are too many... Noel Coward/Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives, The Lunts in The Visit, Ina Claire in anything! and of course Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie. Oh, and Katherine Cornell and Ruth Gordon in The Three Sisters, Maggie Smith in Ingmar Bergman's production of Hedda Gabler. But then there's Ethel Merman in Girl Crazy, Gwen Verdon in Can-Can - I'd want to see those performances to see what made them overnight national sensations. I'm lucky enough to be born just in time to see many of the great musical theatre stars - and speaking of "just in time" I'd have killed to Judy Holiday live on stage in Bells are Ringing.

GARY: I'd happily tag along with Billy for any of the above (in accord with the brain-washing he's done to me over all these years), but what I'd really love to go back in time for are the glorious opening nights of LA CAGE, DREAMGIRLS and TOMMY. And to see them again from my standard opening night seats - always in the center of the front row mezz - where I can see the show perfectly and get to see the audience below me going CRAZY.

Being together for over 40 years, you must share many of the same loves - what's your biggest difference in opinion concerning a show/artist etc.?

BILL: The biggest difference between us I think is that other than being here at home with Gary there is no other place on earth where I feel safe and comforted than the inside of a theatre. It's my safe space.

GARY: For me, it's a safe space too, but seeing a show still triggers my old manager's impulses. I just CANNOT watch a curtain call without counting the actors and calculating what the show's weekly payroll must be.

You talk a lot about cast albums. If you could pick just three to listen to for the rest of life, which would you choose?

BILL: Impossible. I have a playlist called "Simply Fabulous". It's 190 songs (and counting) and currently runs 12 hours and 35 minutes. The point of it is that I hit "Shuffle" and any track that comes up I'm truly happy to hear again. Victoria Clark singing "Dividing Day" followed by "Turkey Lurkey Time" followed by the Korean cast recording version of "Hard to Say Goodbye" from Dreamgirls, followed by Audra McDonald singing "I'll Be Here" and then Karen Morrow belting "I Had a Ball" -they all make me happy.

Interview: Meet the Fabulous Couple of OLD SHOW QUEENS- Streaming Now!

GARY: Certainly DREAMGIRLS. Back at the time, many of us felt betrayed when David Geffen produced that album as a pop album and not as "a Broadway show". But, man, was he right! It is as compelling as my memories of that electrifying opening night. That's the only one of "my" shows that I can bear to listen to - the rest fail to ignite me, or worse, depress me - as I miss the faces, the dances, the scenery, my favorite lines and jokes. When you know a show extremely intimately, it's a living breathing entity, not just a playlist. The other two of my top three, which I also listen to over and over again, are the brilliant RAGTIME (Best.Musical. Ever.) and SUNDAY IN THE PARK.

Your home is beautiful and filled with so much incredible show memorabilia. Is there a piece that stands out as particularly important to you?

BILL: Well, there's my autographed Follies poster which everyone can see in their copy of Ted Chapin's indispensable book "Everything Was Possible" but the most unusual and unique item is a piece of white posterboard that I carried with me around the theatre district on one October weekend in 1972. Anyone famous that I saw in the street, I asked them to sign it - Alan Bates, Eva Marie Saint, Hermione Gingold, Joel Grey, Micki Grant, James Earl Jones, Ellis Raab, Rosemary Harris - about 20 names in all. It's a sort of snapshot of my life that one weekend in the theatre district at that particular moment in time. I love it.

GARY: What you see in the interviews is Billy's library/office, tucked away on the top two floors of our house. I love going up there to paw through stuff. (He spent this Covid summer alphabetizing his 5000 Playbills, so I can finally enjoy some great reminiscences over them.) In our home proper, in the floors below, there's not one shred of theatrical stuff. I always felt that home should be a complete withdrawal from work, to the point of building Billy a barn at our place in Connecticut to keep it all in before we moved to London.

You've both worked with so many legends... did any of them leave you totally star-struck?

BILL: Sort of, but I've never really been speechless except once: Leslie Uggams. I wasn't working with her but I sat next to her at some sort of presentation at the old SIR Studios and I simply couldn't speak. She was outgoing but I think because I grew up seeing her on "Sing-a-long with Mitch" and because my parents adored her, she was an important and happy part of my childhood and adolescence that I simply couldn't form the words to tell her that. And over the years not only is she a superb singer, she's a mesmerizing actress.

GARY: This is silly but very real. I never worked with Harry Connick, but Billy did. Billy introduced us at the Drama Desk Awards ceremony, and told him I was a Tony Voter. As it was the season of THOU SHALT NOT, Harry immediately leaned close in and whispered, "Will you marry me?" Well, be still my heart. To this day, I can still conjure up the chills and heartthrob of that moment - the lustful HEAT that man can generate, even in jest like that night, is beyond all describing.

I understand you've been in London for many years now. Do you think it holds up to NYC as a theatre capital?

BILL: To quote Gypsy "New York is the center of New York". I was a Drama Lit major in college (Hofstra University) and as far as theatergoing is concerned living in London is a Drama Major's wet dream. Wanna see "Uncle Vanya"? There was one 10-month period a few years ago when you could've seen 5 different productions. FIVE! (I only went to four of them.) And everywhere there are new plays that are challenging and bold (and of course sometimes awful but that's to be expected.) Musicals? Not as exciting, but Plays, old and new? London is the place to be.

GARY: Billy's so right about the tremendous superiority of London when it comes to serious plays. But for musicals, it's New York every step of the way. Here in London there's an underlying contempt for musicals, and no one applies the same standards to them as they do with plays. We've all seen lousy British musicals helmed by some of London's finest talents. You can just feel the shame that they feel in the belief that they're slumming for money.

What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?

BILL: That I was able to gain the respect of so many members of the Broadway community - creatives as well as managers and producers who trust me with their work.

GARY: The accomplishments that I'm proudest of belong to the teams I've been part of, so none of them is truly "mine". What's mine is that I've always sought to be effective while being honorable, supportive, brave, smart and kind. Blooper moments aside, I think I mostly achieved that.

Interview: Meet the Fabulous Couple of OLD SHOW QUEENS- Streaming Now!

What's the best piece of advice that you were given by a mentor or someone you crossed paths with professionally?

BILL: Listen. And if you have nothing to say, say nothing. And if you have something to say, it better be good or at least genuinely funny.

GARY: I will humbly quote myself here. At the Krauss office decades ago, we slowly discovered that a new producer we were working for was a liar and a fantasist. Our angry and baffled staff asked for advice on handling him and representing him. I replied, only half facetiously, "When in doubt, try the truth." Still works for me.

What advice would you give to people starting out in the industry?

BILL: Don't be in such a hurry. Learn from those around you. Give credit where credit is due. Be willing to laugh at yourself. No one does it alone. No one.

GARY: Don't be afraid to start small. Touch every aspect of the business as you grow. Park your Yale MBA at your mom's house and go get your hands dirty. Build sets in summer stock, spend a few months working in a box office, date a press agent, all that. When you know at root level the work of all the people around you, you can join the community in a primal way, respecting every one who will eventually contribute to your career.

What's the greatest gift that a life in the theatre has given you?

BILL: You mean after Gary? It's given me a home.

GARY: It gave this gay kid a safe place to be back in 1969. And it's where I met Billy. And it opened my heart to joy.

Learn even more about Old Show Queens here and watch all 13 episodes!

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