What a Wonderful World
Broadway’s Joe Grandy takes his talents to the Cape Playhouse
We look to you“We Look to You” from “The Prom”
In good times and bad
The worlds you create
Make the real ones seem less sad
The curtain goes up
And every now and then
It feels as if we’re coming home again
There have been countless worlds Joe Grandy has helped create throughout his lifetime in theater, but perhaps none as momentous as “The Prom.” The hit Broadway musical—nominated for seven Tony Awards this year, including Best Musical, and set to receive the movie treatment for Netflix by Ryan Murphy—has struck a major cord with its message of self-acceptance. A heartfelt and witty story centered on two gay high school students who want to attend prom together, “The Prom” is about more than what’s on stage, says Grandy, a co-producer of the project—it’s a show with the power to change the lives of its audiences.
“So I thought, ‘We need to be a production that actually does that too,’” Grandy recalls. Before “The Prom” opened on Broadway in 2018, Grandy helped establish a partnership with the Educational Theater Association. A portion of tickets sales would benefit the organization’s Jumpstart program, which creates theater programs in schools without them. “We wanted to do that because it felt right and it felt like using our platform for a larger cause, but also that was shaping that world around the show and trying to say to people, ‘Coming here will not only change your life, it’s going to change someone else’s life,’” Grandy explains. “What I think of in building the world around a show, it’s introducing to the audience that yes, this show is entertaining, it’s wonderful, and it’s a great way to get away for a bit… but it’s also putting something else out into the world.”
Grandy is still working to build worlds, just now on Cape Cod, as the new executive producer of The Cape Playhouse. “The whole reason we’re here is for the community,” Grandy says of the Playhouse. “We are here for their smiles as they’re leaving, for the laughter while they’re in there, for the applause after a great number, or even for their tears, so that they walk out changed and relieved in some way. Here, the world around the Playhouse is how we’re connected with the community and how we are here for them.”
The importance of community was instilled in Grandy at an early age—as was his love of theater. Grandy’s story, as he explains, is just like that of the character Michael from “A Chorus Line,” referencing the lyrics of the song “I Can Do That”:
I’m watchin’ Sis go pitter-pat.
Said, “I can do that,
I can do that.”
Knew ev’ry step right off the bat.
Said, “I can do that,
I can do that.”
“When I was 2, going on 3 years old my sister was in ballet class,” recalls Grandy, a native of Belleville, Illinois. “My mom would take me on watch week, and I would get really bored, so I’d go in the back of the room and start dancing, doing whatever they were doing in class. One week, the teacher had been trying to get the kids to do this tap step for many weeks, and none of them could do it still, so out of frustration she said, ‘Can anyone do this?’ And of course I thought that meant me too! So I jumped off my mom’s lap and said ‘I can!’ I did the tap step, and the teacher walked over and grabbed my shoulders, looked at my mom and said, ‘He’s mine!’”
Grandy’s mother later encouraged him to pursue theater, which led him to The Muny in St. Louis. “They were looking for a way to connect more with the community,” Grandy says, “so they started this summer program for kids. They built shows around us, and then we toured around the city of St. Louis doing these shows. And I got to be in these main stage productions with real Broadway actors when I was 7 and for many years after that.”
After studying musical theater at Syracuse University, Grandy moved to New York City, and for the next several years he worked as a performer. But, “My brain always was kind of dipping into the producer world,” he admits. “I believe that the reason I was put on this earth is to be a storyteller, in whatever facet that takes. And right now it’s certainly coming out in producing.”
It’s been in recent years that Grandy has discovered The Cape Playhouse, coming down to Dennis to see shows his Broadway friends were starring in. Grandy recalls one night after he saw a show at The Cape Playhouse with longtime friend Michael Rader, the Playhouse’s artistic director. “That night I think we stayed up ’til probably past 2 a.m. drinking rosé on the porch—as you do on Cape Cod,” he jokes. “I said to him, ‘Michael, this is the Lincoln Center of Cape Cod! This can be everything!’ This campus—it’s a theater, it’s a cinema, it’s an art museum, it’s a restaurant—it’s everything you need in one place. And I thought it was phenomenal that there was so much opportunity here.”
In February Grandy officially joined The Cape Playhouse as executive producer, a newly created position at the theater company. The goal, says Grandy, is to take the Playhouse’s reach to the next level. “I’m overseeing the operations and business side of it all, but approaching it with a different lens, which is that whole world we can build around the Playhouse,” he explains. Grandy is in talks to partner with the Cape Cinema to host film screenings that coincide with this season’s shows. “It would be wonderful if at the end of this season the community here feels ownership of the Playhouse,” says Grandy, who also hopes to collaborate with the Cape Cod Museum of Art on behind-the-scenes exhibits.
“I’m so, so excited that we have Joe,” says Michael Rader. “I think we have very bright times ahead for us.”
Continuing in the storied tradition of The Cape Playhouse—whose coveted stage has seen the likes of Julie Andrews, Betty White and Henry Fonda—its 93rd season, beginning June 12, is set to be marked by some serious star power. Grandy is so utterly giddy about this summer’s lineup he can barely contain his excitement. Highlights include Edward Hibbert (“Frasier”) as Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Andrew Keenan-Bolger (“Newsies”) as Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors,” and Heidi Gardner (“Saturday Night Live”), alongside Playhouse favorite Jennifer Cody, in “Noises Off.”
“‘Noises Off’ might be the play I’m most excited for,” Grandy reveals. But of course, he adds, “I can’t wait to hear the music of ‘A Chorus Line,’” which premieres July 24.
For Grandy, “A Chorus Line” is both a reminder of his roots and of his future—a future that will take him far with an indomitable can-do attitude.
For more information on the Cape Playhouse and the 2019 season, visit capeplayhouse.com.