“It’s important to have that sort of graciousness in wanting to see others succeed.” Jamie deRoy The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
By: Alix Cohen
October 8, 2022: Jamie deRoy is an actress, host, vocalist, producer (78 Broadway shows -10 Tony Awards and counting- also Off Broadway and film), collector of art and artists, and a humanitarian. She juggles all this with energy – though not in the morning, honed acumen – 50-plus years in entertainment, unbridled, unjaded enthusiasm (sparks still fly), humor, and her gut.
Zelig-like, Jamie seems to have met, recognized the qualities of, and/or worked with a multitude of people before they became successful and often influential. She drolly bemoans not having made a better friend of eventually well connected television producer Steven Bochco while they were both at Carnegie Tech. “He was such a nice guy and took care of – got work for – everyone at school.” In 1968, her friend Sid Davidoff arranged for his assistant “Squirt,” aka Jeffrey Katzenberg, to squire Jamie around John Lindsay’s City Hall selling her handmade neckties. He became a movie mogul.
Bonding with fellow AMDA student Tyne Daly, however, lead to the ladies dueting “Marry the Man Today,” initially performed as collegians, at a recent benefit. Her rolodex is the stuff of dreams. Jamie frequently seems to be in the right place at the right time (with the right attitude). Ask her to tell you the Polo Lounge story where she ends up at the home of Sammy Davis, Jr. Or the one where her cat almost made it to a Broadway stage.
Her energy is legendary. Longtime friend Stephen Sorokoff notes she sometimes attends several events in an evening. Invited up to his Berkshire home “the first thing she asked after unpacking was is there a movie playing in town that we could go to now before the show tonight? “
Jamie has a grounded sense of self and judgment that applies almost everywhere except choice of (two) husbands. Despite a reputation for compromise (and collaboration), she loves guacamole, but won’t touch an avocado and eats raisins from a box but picks them out of anything cooked. Unable to leave the house before making her bed, scheduled on in two calendars, she nonetheless forgets to put things on her phone.
Skills as a super conductor, a “shadchanit” (matchmaker) are widely acknowledged, though often remain unknown to those for whom she secures auditions or jobs. Then there are those who do know. Former lighting designer Richard Winkler credits her with “creating” him in 2009 by giving the novice producer his first above the title credit earning his first Tony Award. (Alan Ayckbourn’sThe Norman Conquests.) A warm, successful professional relationship began.
Richard Maltby and Jamie, 2014
Lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. says the business, half love, half cut-throat, is made bearable by people like Jamie who “reminds artists that working hard and being good is worth it. We all need to be reminded. She’s a force, a true supporter, a lover of talent.”
Jamie was raised in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh by fine artist mother Aaronel deRoy Gruber, whose art and art collection lives with her daughter in New York, and father Irving Gruber who owned American Forge and Manufacturing Company. (Listen to her song “Daddy’s Girl.”) She has two siblings. There were piano lessons (she barely plays), voice lessons (a teacher wanted her to study opera, but she’d fall asleep when attending one and is admittedly bad with languages), and ballet lessons. “I toyed with the idea of becoming a professional until I learned how dedicated you had to be.”
Jamie and Her Parents
Mr. Gruber often woke the family with a Broadway recording as if reveille. When a friend who’d been Hal Prince’s college roommate asked for a $1000 stake, “huge those days,” in The Pajama Game, Gruber invested and got it back many times over, a rarity these days on which she comments. The show and its backstage environs were ten year-old Jamie’s first Broadway exposure. “From that time on I was hooked.” She never considered producing. “He was an investor.” The little girl started to act in community theater.
Used by permission – All rights reserved Playbill Inc.
Her father’s speculation with Damn Yankees followed. Jamie asked him why he decided to invest and was told the name George Abbott fostered confidence. Gruber’s third investment, a serious play, closed in three days. Years later, Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along didn’t do much better. “Who knew it would have that kind of afterlife?!” she quips. That was the end of that.
I ask about stage fright. Jamie says unlike today, it wasn’t pronounced when she was younger. “Every time I do a show now I want to quit performing. Then when it’s over, I think that was fun! And go through it all over again.” Longtime friend and collaborator Barry Kleinbort says, “It costs her dearly to get up on stage now. People from the industry come. The stakes are higher.”
Junior year summer the teenager played Polly Peachum in The Three Penny Opera opposite Rene Auberjonois with The Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. After graduation, she became an apprentice at Westport Country Playhouse (Linda Hunt directed her in No Exit) and was loaned out to Goodspeed without notice, in need of a jacket “it was cold!” and toothbrush. Then came Carnegie Tech. Impatient to begin as a professional, through school, she stayed only one year. Carnegie had no musical theater program at the time, and, in fact, frowned upon the genre. Jamie would sneak into practice rooms to sing early in the morning.
Left:Westport Country Playhouse (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0); Right: Goodspeed Opera House (Public Domain)
She resolved to move to New York. Hoping for discouragement, her father suggested talking to Hal Prince. His advice was to remain a big fish in a small pond awhile, but the young woman was chafing at the bit. She registered at AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy). Through her mother, a one bedroom apartment was found, then a roommate from school.
Jamie then; Barry Manilow and Jamie 2022
In 1965, Jamie auditioned for the heroine in W.H.S. Smith’s 1844 play, The Drunkard – “…only because it was on my way to dinner. I was lazy and cheap.” She got the part, played Off Broadway, then toured with the campy show. Barry Manilow (yes, that Barry Manilow) was musical director and wrote special material.
Expecting to sign a tour contract for Camelot at the office of producer Laurence Feldman, she was kept waiting for hours, got “antsy,” and volunteered to help his beleaguered secretary. Eventually “Lairy” (Pittsburgh pronunciation) came out and told the young actress he couldn’t use her. “I started crying. I was a kid. I wanted to be in musical theater.”
His secretary then asked whether she could hire Jamie. The job was flexible, allowing her to sleep mornings. The next civilian gig was with Michael F. Goldstein Public Relations. She met people. Jamie always met people. She still does. And oh, how she remembers names!
Ashley Famous (the agency then became International Famous, then ICM) was looking for “a nightclub singer – not an actress, not a musical theater artist. I thought, I sing, I don’t care where. I didn’t really understand. There was no such word as cabaret.” An agent asked how many charts she had. Charts?! Jamie called “Beary” (the Pittsburgh version of Barry) in a dither. “I need an act!” She grins.
They wanted a girl singer (her tone implies the raising of an eyebrow) who performed standards, an opener for male comics. She and Manilow had begun working together on isolated songs. He became her music director. Jamie played Goldman’s in New Jersey to get her feet wet; the Nevele, the Concord, eventually Atlantic City and even St. Kitt’s.
Evolution of the Hair
One evening at Reno Sweeney, her ex-husband’s lawyers heckled her (she’d passed through a first short marriage). Jamie responded with clever retorts. Comedian Alan King’s partner (in the audience) told her she was quick on her feet and funny, that she should go in that direction to distinguish herself. “I never knew I was funny, but I thought, well, I can always burst into song.”
With relish, she started specializing in humorous material like David Friedman’s “My Simple Christmas Wish”:
“I wanna be rich, famous, and powerful/Step on all my enemies and never do a thing/ I wanna be rich, famous and powerful/So all I have to do all day is sit around and sing…”
David Buskin’s “Jews Don’t Camp”: Jews don’t camp/If it hasn’t got a kitchen/And it isn’t air conditioned/Where’s the exit ramp/…Jews don’t camp…”
And, sung to the tune of “My Favorite Things,” Barry Kleinbort’s parody of the places Jamie played:
“Dannys’ and Dillons’and Freddy’s, my golly!/Mickey’s, the Living Room and Grand Finale/Then at The Monkey Bar, I stayed and stayed…/These are a few of the clubs I have played…
Arci’s, Jan Wallman’s- My God, that was teeny/Both the Panaches, McGraw’s, Reno Sweeney/Joints where they paid you and joints where YOU paid/ These are few of the rooms I have played…”
Tom Postilio, Baby Jane Dexter, MariEileen O’Brien, Karen Akers, Judy Barnett, Sam Sagenkahn, Karen Mason, Christine Pedi. Me! Cabaret month 1997- Photo by Maryann Lopinto
There are several more verses. She has a real penchant for parodies and clearly got around. Moving from clubs to cabarets was a shock, however. Suddenly take-home was a percentage of the door rather than a pay check. Ever resourceful, when she played The Triad (then called Palssons) between showings of Forbidden Broadway, Jamie blocked out signage to read “Forbidden Broad.”
Kleinbort remembers seeing her show Upstairs at Eighty-Eights.. Jamie sang Andrew Lloyd Weber/ Tim Rice’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (Jesus Christ Superstar) while stripping down to “a corset, whips, and chains.” And a set that included “My Funny Valentine” sung to Taffy, the dog, a sympathetic, Bill Huber marionette.
The vocalist has collected a pocket full of missing piano stories. Arriving midday at an unfamiliar Sacramento club, she discovered the owner drunk and no sign of a piano. “I thought you were going to bring it!” he declared. “Go see the town,” “Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of it.” This is a phrase that came to scare Jamie “more than any other in the English language.” She made sure to visit the sole piano store which had not, in fact, received an order and rectified the situation.
Another occasion found a rich Long Island hostess whose baby grand was in the foyer insisting (vociferously) that her hired entertainment sing in a living room down the hallway. Jamie could barely hear accompanist Dick Gallagher who remained at the only instrument. He couldn’t see her at all. They got through it. Her equanimity is fabled.
Walking home to West 72nd Street, Jamie passed a film shoot outside The Dakota (apartment building). She had just secured her SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. Never shy, she asked who was in charge and strode into the courtyard to address casting. (Things must’ve been very loose in terms of security.) She was told to come back with a headshot/resume and, living just blocks away, very promptly returned. At 5 p.m., Jamie received a phone call asking her to be on set the next morning as an extra in Rosemary’s Baby.
The young actress would go on to be cast in Hello, Dolly! “We were told no photos of Barbra,” Annie Hall, and The Front. Producer (on the Allen films) “Charlie” Joffe, whom she’d date, told Jamie she has a “great laugh.” (She does.) At the Monkey Bar, because of said laugh, comedy duo Randall and Charles asked that she be in the audience at a live album recording of their show. Later there would be television roles and commercials for her. Spirited and attractive, Jamie frequented Studio 54 and the discotheque Xenon always breezing in. “The clubs were nice to single, young women.” She threw annual 30th birthday parties at the venues.
One of Jamie’s many 30th birthdays (Courtesy of theaterlife/Barry Gordin)
All photos not credited, by permission of the photographer or candid photos.
Opening Photo by Maryann Lopinto
The performer relocated to California in 1980 and 1981, only to find SAG and writers strikes with directors threatening. Fortunately, Joan Rivers and her husband Edgar offered a job opening for the comedienne. “Rivers’ agent said you can open, but no funny stuff.” She frowns. “I left New York to change trajectory. And this job paid next to nothing. I got my hair done, paid the pianist and literally made nothing.” Once again, with little to back her up, she took a stand. The powers that be decided to give it a chance. Jamie was so successful that after her return to New York, she was asked to open for Rivers at Michael’s Pub.
Top: Joan Rivers 1966 press photo (Public Domain)
At this point, she began to co-host Bradshaw Smith’s Cabaret Beat (with Sidney Myer) on Manhattan Cable Television. She gained further exposure, saw shows and interviewed artists. When Smith transitioned to Broadway Beat, he suggested she put herself on the air to continue. Jamie did just that.
Interviews-Top: Ted Chapin; Bottom: Melissa Errico from the show
As the eighth woman allowed to join The Friars Club (preeminent members-only club for entertainment professionals), Jamie was and remains extremely active. Larry Gatlin was impressed watching her pair discretion with high spirits as she surged forward with a Skitch Henderson tribute after he unexpectedly passed away. She got married again. (This would last ten years.) Inspired by her now famous birthday parties where friends entertained, she launched Jamie deRoy & friends at Steve McGraw’s (which became the Triad), then at Caroline’s.
The Friars Club (Courtesy of Theaterlife.com/Barry Gordin)
“It was getting harder and harder to find and learn special material. The possibility of a thyroid operation which would’ve made it difficult to sing hovered,” she says. “I wanted to stay in the game and I love to introduce my talented friends to my other friends and audiences… In those days, I did three songs. Lately I just open and close in the company of about five performers…
“We ask each performer what they would like to sing and both my director, Barry Kleinbort and Ron Abel, my musical director, work together with the artist on the creative process. I often request someone sing something I’ve heard them do and especially enjoyed. In the case of comedians, I just leave it to them.”
The multi-hyphenate’s MANY MANY shows have all been benefits. She established the Jamie deRoy Cabaret Initiative funneled to The Actors Fund (now The Entertainment Community Fund). Indefatigably altruistic, producing and performing in fundraisers, Jamie wanted to make sure others struggling in the field of entertainment could receive needed aid.
Kleinbort became and remains the Jamie deRoy & friends director – first once a week, then once a month, now twice a year. “The show looks easy, but it’s because we’ve done weeks of prep,” she says. “People sometimes come in with things that aren’t ready…” Taped shows are edited together with live performance and interviews.
A Jamie deRoy & friends company: Jamie deRoy, Penny Fuller, Chuck Cooper, Doreen Montalvo, Paulo Szot, Tom Hubbard, Billy Stritch- Courtesy of Theaterlife.com/Barry Gordin
“We’ve never taken a hiatus,” Kleinbort continues. “We just did something on the Tony Awards. She’s lasted this long because she’s continually able to adapt. Jamie never says, ‘where are the good old days?’ Instead she says, ‘what’s on next season?’, always looking forward.” Energized rather than daunted by multiple projects, Jamie’s put out nine CDs in the Jamie deRoy & friends series released on Harbinger and PS Classics labels.
Sometime in 1994, neighbor Jeffrey Richards invited Jamie to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Compleat Works of Willm Shkspr (Abridged), which he brought from London for a single show at Lincoln Center. She loved it. Richards asked whether she’d like to coproduce. “I had never raised money in my life, but my husband said, ‘try it.’” And she did, barreling through with energy, persistence, smarts and finesse.
When attendance dipped and they were operating at partial rent, the show got on to Good Morning America. With an offer of full rent by another show, however, their landlord wouldn’t give the production breathing space. “It was so disappointing!” As Richards had the rights, they licensed it to multiple cities and “got money back for some 18-20 years.” Jamie has also developed a relationship with Primary Stages for which she’s on the board and for whom she’s produced both shows and a series of benefits. “I think the more I know, the less I know, because producing theater is not a science.” In 2002, she made the leap to Broadway as associate producer on Goodnight Gracie by Rupert Holmes, a one man play featuring Frank Gorshin, then Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.
Jamie and one of her many Tony Awards (Courtesy of Theaterlife.com/Barry Gordin)
Seventy-eight Broadway shows followed, garnering ten Tony Awards: The Norman Conquests; Vanya and Sonia and Masha, and Spike; A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, The Band’s Visit, Angels in America (the 2017/2018 version), Once On This Island, The Ferryman, The Inheritance, The Lehman Trilogy, and Company – the last two this year! Coming up this season are: Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, new productions of The Piano Lesson and Death of a Salesman (Young Vic /West End production), Ohio State Murders with Audra McDonald, Gabriel Bryne’s one man show, Walking with Ghosts, and KPOP.
A: How has producing changed over the years?
J: Well, the first thing I did in 1995 was with Jeffrey Richards and Richard Gross. None of us had ever produced before, but Albert Poland our General Manager had experience. We were a small show, a small group of producers. A lot of our meetings were downstairs (from her apartment) in Jeffrey’s office. As years went by, there would be more and more producers. You could go to meetings and say things, but whether they’d listen or not…It started to get more like reporting than participating. With the pandemic, meetings segued to ZOOM or went away… Prior to the pandemic, there were meet-and-greets. Lately, a lot of shows haven’t even been holding opening night parties.
Backstage: James Earl Jones and Jamie deRoy – The Gin Game, 2015
A: Just how many producers does it take to float a current Broadway show and how does the hierarchy work?
J: Each entity is given a certain amount of money to bring in to be given a producing title. There are generally three to four lead producers. They have to take on the liability. If a producer runs short raising enough money and wants to get the play on, that person’s gonna have to come up with the money. For Tony purposes, if your name or entity is above the title and/or in the opening night program (and the show wins), you’re designated an award.
Jefferson Mays and Jamie deRoy: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2013-2014)
A: How do you feel about opening first out of town?
J: I think it’s an excellent idea. It’s very hard to bring a brand new project into New York and make any kind of changes as people are watching. Nowadays some out of town productions get reviewed whether they want to nor not, however. And not every show has raised all its capital at that point. You never know how things are going to pan out. Look at the way Into the Woods extended again and again. The Piano Lesson was going to move into that theater. I think it’s worked out better though, because that’s now going into the Barrymore which is a playhouse, not a musical house. Just because you have that many seats doesn’t mean you can sell that many tickets.
Jamie deRoy and Tom Stoppard at his play Leopoldstadt
S: What’s your experience with British imports?
J: After Willm Shkspr (Abridged), my first import was Coram Boy (by Helen Edmundson). I loved it, but it had a very different reception here than in London. (i.e. it was unsuccessful in New York.) Some things translate, some do not. Enron didn’t, while The Inheritance, The Ferryman and TheLehman Trilogy did. I used to go to London once or twice a year, but haven’t been anywhere since the pandemic.
A: What would you advise a young person who wants to produce?
J: Try to start with small productions, intern at a nonprofit or with an established producer.
Jamie deRoy loves theater (and cabaret). She LOVES it. “I go with what I’m passionate about, not what’s going to make the most money,” she says. After years at this, she still believes that even if a show is not financially successful, it may still deserve to be on Broadway. “Breaking even is a win.”
All photos credited or candid.
Jamie deRoy on television: Every other Monday at 8:00PM on MNN5: Spectrum HD Channel 1993 and Verizon FIOS Channel 37