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Lehigh alums rock Broadway

Marc Falato ’87 and Rob Bailenson ’88 share a common history. Both men lived in the same dorm, studied business and graduated from Lehigh, and then went on to successful careers in banking and finance.

And on a star-studded night on Broadway in June, both shared in the excitement as Spring Awakening, a rock musical they helped produce, won eight Tony Awards, including best musical and best direction.

Although the musical about teenagers wrestling with sexual desires received good reviews during its off-Broadway run at the Atlantic Theater Company last summer, only the most savvy theatergoers knew of it. After its run, it existed only as a printed script accompanied by a few recordings. Despite its modest beginnings, Falato and Bailenson knew the show’s music and message could shine on Broadway.

Unlike most Broadway shows, Spring Awakening uses rock music, written by Duncan Sheik. Rarely do successful plays use rock music. Even in the popular musical Rent, the rock ‘n’ roll sounds like a show tune, according to Charles Isherwood of the New York Times.

An enduring message for parents

Unlike other Broadway plays, the music for Spring Awakening explores characters’ internal passions rather than developing the plot. Based on an 1891 play by the German playwright Frank Wedekind, the musical describes the angst of19th century German teenagers as they blindly explore their passions. Without adult guidance or information, they discover the consequences of their actions too late.

The play warns “parents, teachers, clergy and adults about the importance of being open and honest,” Falato says. “One hundred and fifteen years later, it is just as applicable today.”

Bailenson also recognized the play’s enduring and personal message. “As a parent of two young daughters, I know how important it is to communicate with your children and encourage dialogue and discussion,” he says.

Although he has long been a passionate theater buff, Bailenson’s involvement in the theater had been confined to acting in a play at Lehigh and reviewing financial information for shows produced by his father-in-law. Eager to participate in the production of Spring Awaking , he and his brother-in-law created Cold Spring Productions.

Spring Awakening was Falato’s second Tony Award-winning production in just three years. His first Tony went to “Glengarry Glen Ross,” a smart-talking play by David Mamet describing the dark side of the real-estate business that won for Best Revival in 2005.

In April 2004, Falato and his friend, Pun Bandhu, created ZenDog Productions to produce plays and independent films. Unlike most commercial producers, ZenDog wanted to develop the playwright as well as the play.

Most of ZenDog’s productions were to be off-Broadway, where the audience tends to welcome more progressive and risk-taking plays. When Falato considers what play to produce, he seeks one that will be “mature, thought-provoking, challenging to the audience and challenging to ourselves as producers.”

The Lehigh connection

As a former banker, Falato uses his knowledge of finance, investing and marketing to successfully produce plays. Although, Falato’s major, foreign careers—now known as international relations—has little to do with producing, Falato left Lehigh with the ability to evaluate opportunities.

“The overall learning experience helps me make business decisions,” Falato says.

Bailenson also credits Lehigh with his success in theater and in business.

“Lehigh was extremely competitive and helped prepare me for the real world,” he says.

When the coursework was over, his Lehigh degree provided quick connections with other professions.

“Lehigh has a good reputation. It opens doors for you,” he says. “After that, (life) is what you make of it.”

Spring Awakening is now playing on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. For more information visit www.SpringAwakening.com.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007

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