You might think Michael Mayer, the director who has become the toast of Broadway
with his megahit musicals Spring Awakening and American Idiot, would be a bit
blasé about travel, but he sounds like a gushing tourist when he talks about his
upcoming visit to Israel.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do
but haven’t had the opportunity before,” Mayer said in a recent phone interview
from his New York home.
“I’m jazzed about it.”
Mayer will be in
Israel to give master classes at the Stage-Center International Theater Workshop
in Tel Aviv from December 22-25. The Workshop was founded and is run Rivi
Feldmesser-Yaron, and the Ministry of Culture is co-sponsoring Mayer’s visit.
Actors, directors, other theater professionals will take part in these two
master classes, which will be held at the Nachmani Auditorium at 4 Nachmani
Street in Tel Aviv.
Mayer will do some hands-on work with these
participants on how to direct a song in a show, and they will also choose a song
from the Eagles’ Hotel California album and discuss how to present
The general public may also attend and observe the master classes for
Excitement is running high in Israel’s theater community over
Mayer’s visit. Although international theater luminaries occasionally visit
Israel (director Peter Brooks was here to accept the Dan David Prize a few years
ago), there are few working directors today who have the kind of superstar
status Mayer does. Mayer has had a long and distinguished career in the theater,
directing such revivals as Thoroughly Modern Millie, A View from the Bridge, The
Lion in Winter and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, but the 50- year-old
director broke new ground with his show Spring Awakening in 2006. He won the
2007 Tony Award for Best Director, and the production won seven other Tonys,
including for Best Musical, Book, Score and Featured Actor.
The show is
an unusual and original hybrid: Based on a late 19th-century German play, it
revolves around a group of teenagers dealing with angst, sex, drugs and suicide,
but Mayer chose singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik to write a rock’n’roll score
(Steven Sater wrote the lyrics). Mayer also brought in moderndance innovator
Bill T. Jones to do the choreography.
The New York Times, not known for
throwing around superlatives, gave it a rave, with Charles Isherwood writing in
his review: “A fresh breeze of true inspiration blows steadily through this
ambitious if imperfect show.” Fans of the television series Glee may be
interested to know that Lea Michele had a key role in the Broadway
“Things changed in a big way for me when Spring Awakening
opened,” recalled Mayer. “It really struck a chord with people, and I felt I’d
found a new métier for myself.”
BUT AS sweet as the success was, it
didn’t come easily.
Mayer struggled for seven years to bring Spring
Awakening to the stage.
“I thought of it as a little art project,” he
said. “I did not think it would be on Broadway, I didn’t think it would be a big
Mayer followed this up with another Broadway success
that brought new voices to the New York theater: American Idiot, based on a
concept album by the group Green Day. The show is about an alienated group of
suburban young people during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Idiot was an expression of a very specific moment. It’s a very political album,
during Bush’s first term. You have these young people thinking: ‘What the hell
have we done? Who are we?’ It’s a challenge to youth.”
Mayer said that
Green Day’s frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, saw Spring Awakening and decided
that Mayer was the right director to turn Green Day’s music into a
“It gave him the confidence that I could do it. It wasn’t South
Pacific. It wasn’t a jukebox musical. He got excited because it felt fresh and
there was a real voice musically. And that’s what he was trying to do with
Mayer takes understandable pride in the fact that his
musicals have broadened the traditional Broadway audience.
“If you go and
see American Idiot and look at the audience, you’ll see it isn’t the typical
It’s a more random collection of people. It’s more
egalitarian; there are students, teenagers, as well as the older
But now that Broadway shows have gotten so expensive, how
do students afford to see his shows? “The good news is that it’s in a very big
theater, so that means the balcony is extremely affordable,” he said. “If I had
a wish, it would be that older people who are afraid of the show, who think that
it will be aggressive and loud, would come and see. Because when they do come,
they are surprised by the heartfelt quality and how moved they
Growing up, Mayer’s strongest musical influence was The Wizard of
“It was my first, foremost and ultimate influence. It was shown once
a year on TV, and I cared more about that than my birthday. It had magnificent
performances, gorgeous music and a story I could connect to.
developed an adoration of Judy Garland as a performer. It’s informed everything
I’ve done. Just as Dorothy is trying to get out of Kansas, the characters in
American Idiot yearn to get out of suburbia.”
Mayer is currently working
on a revival of the show On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which he hopes to
bring new life to. But he’s taking a break from that to tour Israel, which he
hopes will be “a mind-blowing experience.”For information about buying
tickets to observe the master classes, go to the website