STAFF WRITER SUZANNE FREEMAN
Carolyn and Marc Seriff experienced an extraordinary bucket list moment that few can claim during the 73rd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York on June 9. The former Horseshoe Bay couple co-produced “Hadestown,” which won eight Tonys, including the coveted Best Musical. That’s the one they get to take home.
“It’s exhilarating to look in the mirror and see a Tony winner looking back,” wrote Marc Seriff on his Facebook page the night “Hadestown” won. “Only wish my high school drama teacher, Lady Dawson from McCallum, were still alive to see this!”
The Seriffs, who lived in Horseshoe Bay for 20 years before moving back to Austin a few years ago, are co-producers of two of Broadway’s biggest hits this season: “Hadestown” and “Tootsie.” In fact, both productions were up for Best Musical. While “Hadestown” took home eight Tonys, “Tootsie” didn’t do so bad either.
“Icing on the cake is ‘Tootsie’ came home with another two Tonys,” Seriff wrote.
The decision about which production to ultimately root for had to be made with seat assignments for the live awards show, which aired on CBS.
“We were seated with the whole group from ‘Hadestown,’” Seriff said. “We were on the edge of our seats. There were a lot of really good shows up for Best Musical.”
In fact, “The Prom” won Best Musical at the Drama Desk Awards on June 2, so while they were hopeful, they were also nervous. (“Hadestown” was only eligible in the Drama Desk Awards category for elements that constituted new work, excluding its book and score, because it was produced off-Broadway in 2016.)
Marc said he and Carolyn knew “Hadestown” would do well, considering its 14 nominations. They believed in the show the moment they first heard the music.
“‘Hadestown’ is a show that doesn’t come along very often,” he said. “It’s original. We first committed to it before we knew anything about the play. We committed based on the music.”
Writer Anaïs Mitchell, who won a Tony for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre, worked on the music and eventually the theater production for 12 years, moving it from album to regional theater to Canada and London’s West End before arriving on Broadway.
“It’s different from anything else on Broadway,” Marc said about the musical, which combines the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with that of King Hades and wife Persephone. “The music is spectacular. The staging is gorgeous. They’ve done things with lighting that we’ve never seen before. The casting is near perfect.”
All proven points since “Hadestown” also won Best Direction of a Musical (Rachel Chavkin), Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (André De Shields), Best Orchestrations (Michale Chorney and Todd Sickafoose), Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Bradley King), Best Sound Design of a Musical (Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz), and Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Rachel Hauck).
“Tootsie” won Tonys for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Santino Fontana) and Best Book of a Musical (Robert Horn).
The two winning musicals are not the first theater investments made by the Seriffs, or the first of them to make it to Broadway. The couple invested four years ago in “Anastasia,” which was nominated in 2017 for Best Costume Design of a Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Another is a revival of a play currently in a limited run on Broadway: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” This one has star power along with its short run. It features Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon and opened May 30 and closes August 25.
“It’s spectacular,” said Marc, who finds thrills in both the finished work and the investment process.
“The bottom line is we do it because it’s enormous fun,” he continued. “We’ve met incredible people, and we’ve been behind shows we are extremely proud of.”
As an investment, the Seriffs admit theater is a risky business.
“It’s like investing in a startup,” Marc said. “It’s a long shot.”
Marc is known worldwide for taking risks that pay off. He’s the co-founder of AOL, a web portal and online service provider that brought mainstream America online in a big way in the 1990s. By those standards, investing in Broadway is small potatoes but with a big emotional payoff the Seriffs certainly enjoy.
Well-known philanthropists, Carolyn and Marc Seriff were instrumental in starting the Boys and Girls Club of the Highland Lakes, the Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center, and the Marble Falls Legacy Fund. They were also on the director’s council of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas. Marc has served as a trustee of the Austin Community Foundation and on the board of directors for Austin Musical Theater and was president and CEO of the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
Investing in Broadway-bound theater was the next obvious step as far as Marc and Carolyn are concerned, despite its risks. According to Marc, this is the first year the couple has gotten other investors to come in with them.
“We’re not just using our own money now,” he said. “And we are clear with them: You have to do it for the love of theater.”
As for “Hadestown,” that risky investment is paying off.
“It’s one of the hottest tickets on Broadway right now, even before the Tonys,” Marc said. “Financially, it should be as good as it is artistically.”