Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: Q & A with Lily Fan, Lead Producer of The Other Josh Cohen

Lily Fan at Paper Mill Playhouse after the opening night performance of The Other Josh Cohen on February 23, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lily Fan at Paper Mill Playhouse after the opening night performance of The Other Josh Cohen on February 23, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lily Fan, a theatre producer and the founder of Scandobean Productions LLC, is having quite a banner year. As lead producer, Ms. Fan recently opened the first regional production of the multi-award nominated new musical The Other Josh Cohen by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, directed by Ted Sperling at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey; released her first documentary film The Standbys directed by Stephanie Riggs, and has joined the Board of Directors for the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). Photos: Steve Rosen, David Rossmer, Hannah Elless, Vadim Feichtner, Cathryn Salamone, Ken Triwush and Kate Wetherhead Celebrate The Other Josh Cohen Opening Night

The Other Josh Cohen at Paper Mill Playhouse: From left to right: Hannah Elless, Kate Wetherhead, Steve Rosen, Ken Triwush, and David Rossmer. Photo by Jerry Dalia

The Other Josh Cohen at Paper Mill Playhouse: From left to right: Hannah Elless, Kate Wetherhead, Steve Rosen, Ken Triwush, and David Rossmer. Photo by Jerry Dalia

The Other Josh Cohen, a hilarious original musical comedy about good guy Josh Cohen who is caught in a lifetime battle of bad luck and asks the question, “Can a nice guy finish first?”, was produced by Ms. Fan at the Soho Playhouse in 2012. During its Off-Broadway run, The Other Josh Cohen was a 2012 New York Times critics pick and was nominated for 2013 Off Broadway Alliance for Outstanding Musical; 2013 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical; 58th Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music, Outstanding Lyrics, Outstanding Book of a Musical, Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Steve Rosen), Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Kate Wetherhead). On its current run at Paper Mill Playhouse through March 16, 2014, The Other Josh Cohen has garnered another round of critical praise. “Like its bifurcated hero, “The Other Josh Cohen” is quite winning. Sometimes, nice shows do finish first.” – The Record “The Other Josh Cohen” is a solid winner that’s endearingly written, superbly performed and staged with style and charm.” – The Asbury Park Press https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cocGS9zM24E Ms. Fan’s foray into producing Off-Broadway began with the original physical comedy show The Rotten Plantains in 2010. Her other Broadway and touring credits include the Tony-nominated 2012 revival of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish on Broadway and first international tour to Hong Kong. She has also invested in the productions of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop on Broadway starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, The Addams Family (National & Australian tours), Holland Taylor’s original play Ann on Broadway, and Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage.

Mark S, Hoebee,Ted Sperling, Kevin McCollum and Lily Fan join the cast of The Other Josh Cohen-Hannah Elless, Vadim Feichtner, Steven Rosen, David Rossmer, Cathryn Salaone, Ken Triwush and Kate Wetherhead at the opening night party at Charlie Brown's in Milburn, NJ on February 23, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Mark S, Hoebee,Ted Sperling, Kevin McCollum and Lily Fan join the cast of The Other Josh Cohen-Hannah Elless, Vadim Feichtner, Steven Rosen, David Rossmer, Cathryn Salaone, Ken Triwush and Kate Wetherhead at the opening night party at Charlie Brown’s in Milburn, NJ on February 23, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

I sat down with Lily over lunch at Cafeteria in New York to learn how she transitioned from her work as an attorney to an accomplished theater and film producer.

Todd Schmidt, Managing Director, Paper Mill Playhouse, producer Kevin McCollum and lead producer Lily Fan, and Mark S. Hoebee, Producing Artistic Director, Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Lia Chang

Todd Schmidt, Managing Director, Paper Mill Playhouse, producer Kevin McCollum and lead producer Lily Fan, and Mark S. Hoebee, Producing Artistic Director, Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How did The Other Josh Cohen come to you?
Lily: I saw the show at NYMF in 2010. I just loved it. I loved the character and the clever humor. I love the message it has. I love the encounters. I love how simple the story is. And I knew I had to produce it. As far as me being Josh Cohen, I wouldn’t say that I’ve had the same experiences. I think a lot of people in New York are much kinder and have a bigger heart, more than other people give them credit for. I think that a lot of people outside of New York would say New Yorkers are all mean and selfish. I think there is something about how New Yorkers all really care for each other, and support one another, and get through life together because it is so complicated and so chaotic here. There’s something about returning something that you don’t own, going out of your way – I connect with that. I’ve returned 3 or 4 wallets, I’ve returned 3 or 4 phones. I was at a concert last week and I found someone’s jacket with their phone in it. I charged it up, I found her email in the phone and I emailed her. It took her 5 days to respond to me but she got her jacket and her phone back. So I relate to people making an effort. I myself have also dropped a wallet, and by the time I got home, after running around the city looking for it, I had a message on my machine saying I found your wallet. I believe in karma and think whatever goes around come around.

Lia: Were you the sole producer when The Other Josh Cohen played at Soho Playhouse in New York?
Lily: Yes. I optioned it in 2010 and I was the only producer. We had a not-for-profit partner; by now, we have had three non-profit productions.

Lia: How many hats do you wear when you are producer on an Off-Broadway production?
Lily: It’s everything. It’s like a thousand hats. People are like, “What do you do?” You decide on the business strategy, you negotiate all the contracts. I have a legal background, so I was looking at all of the contracts and negotiating things very carefully myself. We had a general manager that was creating the budget, but obviously I was the one who was assessing whether those numbers made sense, whether that was the amount of money we wanted to spend. I was the one who was doing all of the fundraising. I was the one who was trying to participate in all of the marketing, advertising conversations, and driving the press strategy. And really creating the buzz around the show, which I think that I wouldn’t say was my sole effort. That’s definitely a whole team, everyone going out and talking to their friends about it. By the time we opened at Soho Playhouse, there was a huge buzz around the show.

40937_428374469769_2221346_n Lia: How long were you an attorney?
Lily: I practiced law between 2004 and 2010; first at two big firms and then as legislative counsel in the State Senate. When I can, I continue to be involved in political campaigns and public policy work.

Lia: How did you make the transition? How did you decide to become a producer?
Lily: I actually was working as legislative counsel in the Senate at the time in 2010. How I started was -this is a true story- there were a bunch of clowns from Cirque de Soleil, who were my friends. They wanted to create their own show. I saw it as a labor movement, and said, “I’m going to help you.” I had no idea what I was doing, I just went to 45 Bleecker Theatre, because I saw a show there and thought the space was a fit. I negotiated to rent the theater, and put them in there and ran the show. We were sold out. We never bought advertising, but we recouped. It was like getting a P.H.D. in theater, just jumping from the deep end and learning how to do it. The adrenaline that I felt, when you know the show otherwise wouldn’t have been there, is what drives me to be a better producer everyday.

Lia: What was the name of that production?
Lily: It’s called The Rotten Plaintains.

Lia: Did you grow up going to the theater?
Lily: I grew up in Hong Kong. My mom always took us to live performances, not just theater. In Hong Kong, there aren’t a lot of musicals. They don’t create original musicals. There are a lot of plays that TV stars would be in. My mom would take us to go see. Also, because Hong Kong is such an international city, they would always have orchestras from this country, ballet from that country. Hong Kong is also a big pop culture place so of course I went to a lot of pop concerts growing up. Every experience was always super energizing.

Lia: When did you leave Hong Kong?
Lily: I left Hong Kong when I was 13. So that was 1993.

Lia: Do you miss it?
Lily: I think I miss some aspects of it, but mostly the food. At the same time, I read Sing Tao Daily News here, so I keep up with what is happening over there. My family is there, so I visit a lot. It’s not an accident that when I was a lawyer, I had clients there. When I produce shows, Chinglish‘s first international stop was Hong Kong. These were all strategically planned career moves.

Kathryn Layng, producer Lily Fan, playwright David Henry Hwang and director Leigh Silverman backstage at the Longacre Theatre before the opening night performance of Chinglish on October 27, 2011. Photo by Lia Chang

Kathryn Layng, producer Lily Fan, playwright David Henry Hwang and director Leigh Silverman backstage at the Longacre Theatre before the opening night performance of Chinglish on October 27, 2011. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: That was ideal. The first time I met you was backstage at Chinglish. Were you the only Asian American producer on board?
Lily: Yes. That was interesting. I didn’t realize I was going to be the only Asian American producer or that my involvement was going to become so heavy. Lead producers on Broadway, Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, entrusted me with a lot of the promotional tasks within the Asian American community. Later, the Hong Kong Arts Festival wanted to do the show so I was involved in some of the initial talks. Playwright David Henry Hwang had me participate in that conversation to ensure quality control. On the other side, after all the deals were done with Berkeley Rep and South Coast Rep, director Leigh Silverman realized she had a conflict in her schedule. She asked me to do what she would have done on the tour. I spearheaded the set built in China and went to Hong Kong three times to prepare for our 8-show run.

An ad in the New York Times for David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, currently playing at the Longacre Theatre through January 29, 2012. Photo by Lia Chang

An ad in the New York Times for David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish, currently playing at the Longacre Theatre through January 29, 2012. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: The tour was very successful across the board. Would you say that it was received differently from the Broadway production?
Lily: I would not say it was received differently. I think audiences really love Chinglish. We were on Broadway during a very competitive season. We ran longest on Broadway. We were successful on its first tour and in its regional productions because of the buzz that was created on Broadway.

Lia: That year you were also an investor on The Mountaintop, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.

Lily: Yes that show was great and it recouped financially. It’s always very hard to tell what is to happen on a show. I was grateful that I was part of that. It worked out and some of my investors did well on that. You never know.

Lia: How did you come up with the name of your company?
Lily: Scandobean was my nickname in high school. For a long time my friends would call me Scando. The reason why I use it as my company name is because the person who gave it to me, ended up stealing from me. It’s my way of reminding myself that you’ve got to be the bigger person. That is how I try to go about this business but I am still learning.

Lia: Can you tell me more about your mission statement for the company and how that fuels how you choose your projects?
Lily: There is certainly a social cause element. I see my participation in this area as a social cause. I hope to create works that inspire thinking, and change the way people relate to each other. I would like what I do to be one of those things where people walk away and say, “Oh yes, that’s what they said in The Other Josh Cohen. It will happen for you.” I’ve actually had friends who have come from out of state, that are struggling in their own life, and doing poorly financially. They watch the show and they are in tears because they can relate so much to the character in the show. They go home and they really want to keep trying. Obviously, everything you do still has to make commercial sense, but there’s definitely an ulterior motive. 1981836_605388639538156_707167030_n

Lia: You are the executive producer on a documentary film, The Standbys, which had it’s theatrical run at The Quad last month.
Lily: That film was also something that I signed on to do in 2010. I’m very interested in telling the underdog story. I love that. So making a film about the standbys cannot be any more on point. We started making the film in 2010. The Standbys follows 3 Broadway actors, Merwin Foard, Aléna Watters and Ben Crawford, for several years through their ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, onstage performances and private lives. Merwin, when he was the understudy for Nathan Lane in The Addams Family. Ben Crawford who was the standby for Shrek and got the role, when Brian d’Arcy James left. Aléna Watters, who was a swing on the Bette Midler tour. The movie is a New York Times critics pick and has done exceptionally well. It debuted in the 2012 Tony Film Series. Then it played the festivals and was voted top 3 at the Seattle Film Festival. Stephanie Riggs, the director is very good about pushing the project along so she put it back in theaters this year. It just finished playing the Quad Cinema last week. www.TheStandbys.com

Lia: What are the other projects you are working on?
Lily: This season, there are a couple of shows that I am invested in. Beautiful, the Musical, If/Then, the Musical and for next season, I will be participating in The Last Ship, the new Sting musical. There are also new shows that I hope to option.

Lia: Do you have a 5 year plan?
Lily: To be honest, I want to create shows that would outlast me, in whatever form. I don’t really have a, “Oh, I’ve got to get to Broadway or I’ve got to win a Tony.” Those things come if you are lucky. It is important for me to be able to participate in the conversation with integrity and create shows that would outlast me in whatever forms they should take.

Lia: What drives you?
Lily: It’s back to the mission. It’s telling the underdog story and changing the way people think about issues, or how they deal with traumatic experiences. I choose to produce comedies. I choose to produce shows that are based on true stories. The Other Josh Cohen is actually something that actually happened to co-author Steve Rosen. It’s based on a true story. I find that exciting and there is some value in that. I like comedies. I don’t want to tell sad stories. If I wanted that, I could go back to politics or I could read the newspapers. I like to learn. I change careers like people move houses. It’s so hard to predict what is going to happen as a producer. You have to come across works that you like and stars have to align for me to have the honor of shepherding.

Lia: You’ve recently joined the board of NYMF. What do you hope to accomplish as a board member? Lily: NYMF offers an amazing opportunity for musical theatre artists to have their work seen by the highest level of theatre professionals. It is an invaluable asset to theatre and to New York City and I am excited to be a part of it as we move ahead towards our second decade of musicals. I hope to add a youthful and diverse voice to those who are at the forefront of creating new American musicals and help the organization improve its international reputation.

Remaining Performances for The Other Josh Cohen:
Friday at 8:00pm
Saturday at 1:30pm and 8:00pm
Sunday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm

Tickets range from $27 to $98.Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at papermill.org. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Groups of ten or more can receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973.315.1680.

Other articles about The Other Josh Cohen:
nytimes.com: Nearly Everything Changes (Except the Red Plaid Shirt) A Review of ‘The Other Josh Cohen’ in Millburn
theatermania.com: The Other Josh Cohen, Steve Rosen and David Rossmer’s original off-Broadway musical moves to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse.
nj.com: ‘The Other Josh Cohen’ opens at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn
broadwayworld.com: BWW Review: THE OTHER JOSH COHEN Proves Diamond is a Guy’s Best Friend

Other articles by Lia Chang:
Lucille Lortel Awards for Here Lies Love, Fun Home, The Open House, Good Person of Szechwan
Apr. 29-May 17: Gordana Rashovich, Mia Dillon and Brian Murray Lead Cast of Westport Country Playhouse’s A SONG AT TWILIGHT
May 19: The Orphan of Zhao’s BD Wong and A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff in Conversation at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater
May 1-30: Eating Cultures, A Multidisciplinary Art Exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center, Features Christine Toy Johnson, Cathy Lu, Genevieve Erin O’Brien, Kate Hers Rhee and More
Jun. 4-29: Tony Award–winner BD Wong Leads Cast of A.C.T.’s U.S. Premiere of Orphan of Zhao, a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder Leads 2014 Tony Award Nominations; Bryan Cranston, LaTanya Richardson, Neil Patrick Harris, Mark Rylance, Audra McDonald, Leigh Silverman among nominees
Photos: Bryan Cranston, Peter Jay Fernandez, Roslyn Ruff, Tamara Tunie, Leslie Uggams, Ruben Santiago-Hudson Celebrate All The Way Opening Night
André De Shields, Kevin Carolan, Usman Ally, Mary Zimmerman, Doug Peck Among 10 IRNE Nominations for Huntington’s World Premiere of The Jungle Book, a co-production with The Goodman
Photos: Backstage and Opening Night of Signature’s World Premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Kung Fu
Photos: Harriet Harris, John Tartaglia, Christine Toy Johnson, Alan Muraoka, James Saito and More celebrate Ann Harada’s Debut at Lincoln Center in the American Songbook Series

Q & A with Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play’s Garth Kravits
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Annie Baker and Rajiv Joseph honored at Sixth Annual Steinberg Playwright “Mimi” Awards 
Photos: Christine Toy Johnson, Baayork Lee, Jose Llana, Ann Harada, Dodie Pettit and More at Charles Randolph-Wright’s “Three Voices” concert series at Stage 72 
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Charles Richard Barboza

Lia Chang. Photo by Charles Richard Barboza

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia recently starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine. All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2014 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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