Theatre Lover's Journal for January 2000

Norman Rothstein:
Memories of a Quiet Giant

by John Kenrick

Unless you worked in the theatre over the last few decades, chances are you have never heard of Norman Rothstein. However, if you went anywhere near a Broadway show during the last forty years, you heard of his work. I had the pleasure of knowing him when I was just getting started in the business. His death at age 63 in late December reminded me how many people spend a lifetime playing a crucial but invisible role in the theatre. The New York Times was right to call him "a driving force" in the theatre. In fact, Norman Rothstein's career reflects most of the core history of the musical theatre in the late 20th Century.

Born in Brooklyn, Norman studied theatre at the University of Massachusetts. He got his start in the Army with troop shows, getting experience in several Milwaukee theatres before coming to New York in the 1950's. There he worked as a stage manager for My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? After managing the prestigious Mineola Playhouse – which brought Broadway casts and national tours to Long Island in the 1960's – he became one of the most sought-after general managers in the business. In that capacity, he handled the day-to-day operations for hundreds of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions and national tours. He also acted as executive producer for many of these shows.

The roster of musicals Norman handled is mind-boggling: Pippin, Grease, Pirates of Penzance, On Your Toes, Tango Argentino, Hello Dolly with Carol Channing, Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan, Black and Blue, to name just a few. His wife, Julie Hughes, is one of the finest casting directors in the business, having handled everything from Broadway to Hollywood the The Cosby Show. In recent years, Norman was a governor of the League of American Theatres and Producers, and a consultant on the renovation of the New Amsterdam Theatre – as well as other theatre development projects in Houston, Miami and Atlanta.

When I was getting my start as a theatrical assistant back in 1986. Although we were not part of the same company, Norman shared the same office space. He invited me to join him for lunch on a number of occasions, and I relished the chance to share his vast store of experience and theatrical lore. His encouragement and undying enthusiasm for the theatre impressed me deeply. When I had a crucial decision to make regarding my own career, Norman made taking a risk sound like the most practical and level-headed move imaginable – something I will be eternally grateful for. Our occasional encounters in the years that followed were filled with the same abundant energy and goodwill.

Norman Rothstein was involved in the production of over 300 plays and musicals – the sort of career that few can hope to have anymore. Most importantly, he was that rarest of creatures in any business, a true gentleman. Although he never achieved personal fame, those of us in the business had infinite respect and affection for him. He will be remembered, and deeply missed, for many years to come.

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