How Daryl Roth of 'Kinky Boots' Became The Biggest Force on Broadway

Jewish Producer Grew Up Feeling Like an Outsider

Good as Gold: Daryl Roth captured yet another Tony award for “Kinky Boots.”
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Good as Gold: Daryl Roth captured yet another Tony award for “Kinky Boots.”

By Simi Horwitz

Published October 04, 2013, issue of October 11, 2013.
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Roth, who has received the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Patron of the Arts Award and the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Louis B. Marshall Award, does not view herself as especially politically-minded.

Her concerns are moral. She is a vegetarian and animal activist. She serves on the board of the Animal Rescue Fund, and produced a documentary, “My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story.” She also produced the Oscar-nominated “Albert Nobbs,” and says she is hoping to produce movie versions of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” and “The Temperamentals,” a play centering on the Mattachine Society, a gay rights organization of the early ’50s.

Roth has a reputation for tenacity and fierce loyalty. “Daryl has played an enormous role in my life and career over the past 13 years,” said playwright and actor Charles Busch. “She has taken me under her wing as she has a number of other very fortunate people, and provided us with so many opportunities to work and learn, and she doesn’t give up on us if we fail numerous times.”

Still, there was nothing in her life that prepared her for the kind of mega-success she has enjoyed. Following her graduation from New York University, she was drawn to the arts — first design and then theater — but didn’t quite know what role she could play. In the interim, she married, had two children and joined various theater companies,.

“My catalyst was working with lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. at City Center,” she said. “He invited me to hear songs that he and composer David Shire had written. I loved the songs — each one was a little story about personal changes — but I still don’t know where I had the confidence to take the show to Williamstown and then to the Cherry Lane where it ran nine months. The show was ‘Closer than Ever’ and the songs are among the most frequently used audition pieces.”

From the outset, Roth has produced projects that spoke to her sensibility, whether or not they seemed likely to find a wide audience. Indeed, her early productions were housed off-Broadway. “At least I felt fulfilled,” she said.

To date, the show she is most proud of is “Kinky Boots,” in large part because of her intense involvement right from the get-go. At Sundance, where Roth viewed the film upon which the musical came to be based, she had a startling epiphany.

“I realized this is the story I wanted to tell on stage as a musical,” she noted. “It had the elements I cared about: relationships, acceptance and the courage to be who you are.”

Asked what she wants her legacy to be, Roth said that she would like to be remembered as someone who “did wonderful plays that changed peoples’ minds.”

Simi Horwitz writes frequently about the arts for the Forward.


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