Theatergoers across the country eagerly anticipate the 73rd annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 9, but Joey Monda is particularly excited and hopeful. After all, the Youngstown native and 2011 Wright State University musical theater graduate co-produced Anais Mitchell’s acclaimed, beautiful, dark, and tuneful jazz musical “Hadestown,” which received 14 nominations including best musical.
Inspired by Greek mythology, particularly the relationships between Orpheus, Eurydice, Hades, and Persephone, “Hadestown” was previously seen off-Broadway and at London’s National Theatre. The production’s romantic depth, eerie relevancy, intimate originality, keen universality, fabulous score, and superb direction has taken Broadway by storm, especially as a crowd-pleasing alternative within a crowded season that catered heavily toward screen-to-stage adaptations.
“This show presents two classic love stories and there’s a reason why these stories have been retold for thousands of years — it’s just classic drama,” said Monda, 29. “And when you put all of this toward the current political climate, in which the loudest voice wins (in addition to growing concerns) about people (being afraid) of someone who is different from them, the show’s themes are not just American themes but global themes. But at the heart of ‘Hadestown’ are all the questions art has struggled for thousands of years to deal with. Can art change the world? Orpheus literally writes a song that can change the seasons and undo climate change. Art has such a powerful impact. The battle of art, represented by Orpheus, versus commerce, represented by Hades, is definitely present.”
Added Monda, “I think the 14 Tony nominations are indicative of not only the amazing storytelling in the show, but the amazing family that has gotten the show to where it is. It’s been a communal experience since Anais first began writing it over 10 years ago when it started as a school touring community theater project of hers that became a concept album and (ultimately) became a full theatrical experience. Community and the idea of accessibility and representation has always been a part of the show’s DNA. The nominations represent the power of how much we all want to see great art during this time. It’s such an honor to be a part of it.”
The summer between his sophomore and junior year at WSU, Monda traveled to New York City to assist musician, actor, writer, and Sirius/XM radio personality Seth Rudetsky, who introduced him to the Broadway community and specific power players within the business. After graduation, he took an internship in the office of Tony-winning producer Daryl Roth (“Kinky Boots”), allowing him the opportunity to see how shows are produced from the ground up.
In 2013, following his internship, he was instrumental in producing off-Broadway productions such as James Wesley’s drama “Unbroken Circle” starring Eve Plumb and Rudetsky’s kooky jukebox musical “Disaster!,” which transferred to Broadway for a brief run in 2016.
In 2014, he joined Sing Out, Louise! Productions, which takes its name from an iconic line in the classic musical “Gypsy” and notably creates Broadway films that expand the brand, reach and impact of live theater. Among the shows the company has brought to cinemas in collaboration with Fathom Events include “Allegiance” (starring George Takei of “Star Trek”), “Bandstand” and the forthcoming London production of “Kinky Boots,” which is slated to hit theaters June 25 and 29.
Next season, riding on the successful heels of “Hadestown,” the company will bring Matthew Lopez’s Olivier Award-winning gay-themed drama “The Inheritance” to Broadway. Inspired by E. M. Forster’s novel “Howards End” and directed by Tony winner Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot”), “The Inheritance” has already drawn comparisons to Tony Kushner’s landmark epic drama “Angels in America.” Regarding the company’s commitment to bring filmed musicals to cinemas, Monda acknowledges how vital the decision has become.
“The reality is the majority of people who want to see Broadway shows may not see them due to geographic or financial obstacles,” he said. “As for ‘Allegiance,’ if you didn’t get to New York to see it, you were never going to be able to see it. ‘Kinky Boots’ (didn’t play) every city, and if it did, perhaps some were unable to afford the ticket. Doing these wider distributions gives many people an opportunity to see shows and further incentivizes them to see a live production. If you loved seeing the movie, you’re more likely to pay the $100 ticket to see it live.”
“Joey is one of our most active and engaged alumni in the New York City area,” added Joe Deer, Chair of WSU’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures, who directed Monda in his sunny portrayal of songwriter/producer Bert Barry in WSU’s joyous 2011 production of “42nd Street.” “(He) sponsors and organizes alumni panels for our new grads and organizes our alumni reunion.”
“I tell the seniors every year that in the same way you should dress for the job you want not the job you have, it’s important to consume the level of what you want to achieve,” Monda echoed. “Ultimately, that’s where luck and opportunity intersect. Wright State was the perfect school for me because Joe Deer and the entire departmental staff was so focused on me living my dreams and living my bliss. I wouldn’t have had the same flexibility in any other type of conservatory program. For instance, I was able to work in the office of the Human Race Theatre Company and also play in the pit orchestra of their production of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ while at school. It was great to take in (various) jobs from multiple perspectives.”
Three additional WSU alums have ties to shows nominated for this year’s Tonys. Joel Shier (BFA Lighting Design) is the associate designer of Jack Thorne, Marius de Vries and Eddie Perfect’s musical spectacle “King Kong,” which received three nominations including best lighting. Jeremy Cunningham (BFA Lighting Design) is the associate designer of Eddie Perfect, Scott Brown and Anthony King’s musical adaptation of Tim Burton’s 1988 dark comedy “Beetlejuice,” which received eight nominations including best musical. Press representative Matthew Alan Troillett (BFA Acting) serves as the project director of O&M Etc., a newly launched division of the Broadway public relations company DKC/O&M, handling publicity for “Hadestown” as well as the acclaimed production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which received nine nominations.
“This is a very good year for Wright State Theatre grads on Broadway,” Deer said. “The more that our students see the success of our alumni, to know it is achievable and within their reach, is hugely important. Representation matters.”