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Broadway Shockers 2021: The Fall of Mega-Producer Scott Rudin

2021 was the year Rudin's notorious reputation finally caught up with him.

Scott Rudin was the most powerful producer on Broadway until this year.
(© David Gordon)

As 2021 draws to a close, TheaterMania looks back on some of the most jaw-dropping stories of the year.

For two decades, Scott Rudin was the single most important producer on Broadway. He shepherded box office bonanzas (like The Book of Mormon) and challenging new plays (like Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus) onto the most high-profile stages in America. Like the Sith apprentice of David Merrick, he wielded a combination of money and fear in order to realize his artistic vision, resulting in a string of critical and commercial successes year after year. And then, all the sudden, he was out.

The ostensible reason was a Hollywood Reporter exposé featuring the accounts of several former staffers reporting a hostile work environment at Rudin's office, very much led by the big man himself. This was not news to anyone who had spent any time working on or around Broadway: Tales of Rudin's mercurial temper had circulated in the bars around Times Square for years, and had even appeared in print as far back as 1998. His run-ins with journalists and community theaters certainly suggest a prickly personality. And even if you don't believe the stories of hurled insults and office equipment, surely the growing battalion of Rudin veterans (many of whom didn't make it past a few weeks in his employ) speaks for itself.

The Book of Mormon is one of the hit Broadway shows Scott Rudin produced.
(© Joan Marcus)

The Hollywood Reporter article was posted on April 7, and by April 17, Rudin announced that he would be stepping back from the role of lead producer on his Broadway shows, including the much-anticipated revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman. A week later, amid continued public outcry and a protest march down Broadway, he announced that he was resigning from the Broadway League.

So why did this go down now, after all these years of industry insiders turning a blind eye to Rudin's behavior, or shrugging it off as the cost of doing business? Reports in the New York Times suggest that Rudin lost the support of some of his most reliable investors. One might chalk this up to a national reckoning about race, gender, and inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Maybe though, it was as simple as this: In a year without Broadway, Rudin had nothing to show for his behavior but a bunch of dark theaters and burned bridges.

Scott Rudin was the lead producer behind Aaron Sorkin's Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.
(© Julieta Cervantes)

Rudin's "cancellation" should be seen in the context of a broader generational conflict, in which aging millennials are impatient to supplant the imperious boomers who have dominated American culture since the late 1960s: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Rudin had a habit of compensating his young underlings with professional credits, including one unfortunate assistant whose hand was left bleeding following a close encounter with a computer monitor (he allegedly got three Associate Producer credits in addition to a monetary settlement). In a prestige industry in which there are 100 applicants for any one position, plenty of people are willing to suffer through abuse just to get a foot in the door and some credits on their résumé. But if that experience doesn't translate to professional success, if the cost of persistent mental torture has not paid off in the benefit of a career, the incentive for silence evaporates. It is unsurprising that Rudin's most disillusioned former staffers would turn to the only weapon they could possibly wield against someone as rich and powerful as their old boss: shame amplified by social media.

So for the moment, Scott Rudin seems to be history. And while there are many hopefuls, no one has stepped in to fill the void he has left as a producer of both blockbusters and artistically daring work (arguably, no one person should play this role on Broadway).

Could the Rudin-sized gap left on the rialto leave room for a comeback? As so many Broadway flops have taught us, where there's a will (read: access to substantial capital) there's a way. I suspect this isn't the last we've heard from Scott Rudin, and other formerly disgraced producers are already paving the way for his return.

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