Classically trained soprano, Broad Stage founder, mother of three and Tony Award-winning producer Dale Franzen not only possesses voice—she gives voice to others.
Sweeping the 73rd Tony Awards in June with 14 nominations and eight wins, including Best Musical, “Hadestown,” the meteoric Broadway hit by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell (directed by Rachel Chavkin and produced by Franzen) has hypnotized audience and critic alike, dubbed “spellbinding” by The New York Times and “hauntingly resonant” by Vogue.
“I’m on my third career now,” Franzen told the Palisadian-Post. “Each one I thought would be my legacy. Now I’m starting to think ‘Hadestown’ will be my legacy.”
Metamorphosing from DIY stage project to Broadway production, “Hadestown” revivifies the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a mesmeric journey through underworld milieu part dustbowl shantytown, part industrial wasteland, part Bourbon Street Mardi Gras voodoo, with songs by Mitchell spanning the musical gamut from folk to Dixie to rock ‘n roll.
“It’s an experience you can’t get on Netflix,” Franzen said with a laugh.
Franzen’s career began as a classically trained operatic soprano working with icons like Jonathan Miller, Placido Domingo, Frederica Von Stade and Sir Peter Hall. The next stage in her life would be one of her own creation: In 2000, Franzen was approached by Santa Monica College President Piedad Robertson to help fund and build the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at the college’s Performing Arts Center.
“I don’t know why she chose me,” Franzen said. “I’d never proven myself as a fundraiser. She just believed in me and mentored me. It’s because of her that I do what I do now.”
Franzen raised $123 million to build and run the Broad Stage, enriching the Westside with theater, dance, opera, jazz, film, orchestras and symphonies for 17 years as its founding director and seven seasons as its founding artistic director.
“Hadestown,” originally developed with funding from the Broad Stage under Franzen’s and partner Mara Isaac’s direction, was further developed in collaboration with the Broad Stage through New York Theatre Workshop’s Artist Workshop programming, completing an accomplished off-Broadway Run at the NYTW in 2016 that was extended twice.
After a pre-Broadway run at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, “Hadestown” later performed at the Olivier Theatre of the National Theatre in London ahead of its debut in April 2019 at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway (where it was produced by Franzen, Isaacs, Hunter Arnold, and Tom Kirdahy).
Despite whirlwind success, Franzen remains committed to empowering young female artists, consulting with nonprofits, and lecturing and appearing on panels in academic settings, including UCLA, USC and CalArts, to help forge opportunities for new talents.
“My desire is to see young women succeed … Broadway is unbelievably lacking in gender parity, especially women of color.”
Indeed, “Hadestown” director Rachel Chavkin was the only woman who directed a musical on Broadway this season, with Mitchell the fourth woman in history to solo-author a Broadway musical.
“The fact that we’re doing well on a commercial level is phenomenal and important,” Franzen said. “But for me when I stand in the theater every night and see people laughing and crying, deeply moved, questioning—that is something extraordinary. To me, that is success.”
Franzen is producing (alongside husband Don Franzen and Elizabeth Weber) a stage adaption of Linda Hirshman’s bestselling book “Sisters in Law” about the unlikely bipartisan friendship between Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“Two of the most powerful women in our country from completely different sides of the political aisle learn to work together,” Franzen said. “It’s an important message, especially now when dialogue has become so difficult.”
“Sisters in Law” will have its Los Angeles debut at The Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in September.
For more information, visit thewallis.org.