BWW Interview Part 1: Tony Nominee Chris Massimine 'Just the Right Person' to Continue and Expand Excellence of PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY
There's a new Chris in town. And he's a Tony nominee. Twice.
He can also boast the accolade of being the country's youngest executive to head a multimillion-dollar arts institution.
Chris Lino -- after 28 years at Pioneer Theatre Company where he dramatically heightened the fully professional theater company's reputation and built an unparalleled financial base -- has retired and turned the leadership role to Chris Massimine, PTC's third Managing Director in its 57-year history.
Massimine's resume includes three recent, prominent and wildly divergent productions.
He departs as CEO of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the world's oldest-operating Yiddish theater, which made headlines last summer when it produced a Yiddish-language "Fiddler on the Roof," directed by Joel Grey. (An Off-Broadway staging, "Fidler Afn Dakh" garnered high honors from the Outer Critics Circle, Off Broadway Alliance, Drama Desk and Drama Critics Circle.)
Massimine produced Paula Vogel's incendiary drama "Indecent," recounting the controversy of a Yiddish play that was shut down on the grounds of obscenity. "Indecent" was nominated for Best Play Tony, winning two others. Massimine's first Tony nomination was as a producer of "American Idiot," the musical based on Green Day's punk-rock album, also winning two Tonys.
At the press conference announcing his appointment, PTC Artistic Director Karen Azenberg said Massamine is "just the right person to continue the journey in the evolution of Pioneer Theatre Company. Chris and I share a similar vision, and a great combination of complementary skills and a similar sense of humor, I think -- and this may or may not be a good thing."
"The important thing is to remember that, at the heart, it is a theater of community," Massimine said. "There's a lot of work to be done, a lot of good to show for what theater can do."
An Italian-born Roman Catholic (at National Yiddish Theatre, he was the "right goy for the job"), Massimine came to America at 8 months old. He saw his first stage play at age 5, "Oliver!" at the State Theatre of New Jersey.
"The first thing I remember is the magic of the curtain coming up, then the spectacularly designed set," he told a Daily Beast interviewer. "It was scary a little bit, being set in an orphanage but it was an incredible set. It moved toward the audience. For me that was magical. By the end of it, all I thought was, 'I want to be on that stage. I want to be part of the magic.'"
His first audition was for "Annie" (where he was told, "I couldn't be mean for the dog"), and got his applause at age 7, playing Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol." That led to Broadway child roles, including in "Beauty and the Beast" and "Les Misérables." "It was amazing, being in this special place where people could forget what else was bothering them. It elevated the spirit. It's the kind of magic you can't put a price on."
At an early read-through of "Fidler Afn Dakh," he recalled: "I was almost crying. One of the staff joked, 'We're all holding it together. Only the non-Jewish guy can't keep it together,'" according to the Daily Beast article.
The production opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage last year, and it was extended four times. The Off-Broadway transfer is successfully playing today, becoming a New York Times Critics' Pick that "strikes a deep emotional chord" and "offers a kind of authenticity no other American 'Fiddler' ever has."
Part 2 of this Massimine profile will be a Q&A with PTC's new Managing Director.