Todd Haimes, Who Rebuilt Roundabout Theater Company, Dies at 66

Todd Haimes, who rescued New York’s Roundabout Theater Company from bankruptcy and built it into one of the largest nonprofit theaters in America, died on Wednesday at 66.

His death, at Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital in Manhattan, was caused by complications of osteosarcoma, according to a spokesman, Matt Polk. Mr. Haimes had lived with the cancer since 2002, when he was diagnosed with sarcoma of the jaw.

As the artistic director and chief executive officer at Roundabout, Mr. Haimes had an extraordinarily long and effective tenure. He led the organization for four decades, turning the nonprofit company into a major player on Broadway, where it now runs three of the 41 theaters.

The theater company has focused on classics and revivals but has also been a supporter of new work, and under Mr. Haimes’s leadership, it has excelled on both fronts, winning 11 Tony Awards for plays and musicals it has produced and nurturing the careers of contemporary American writers, including Stephen Karam, Joshua Harmon and Selina Fillinger.

Among Roundabout’s biggest successes during his tenure was a 1998 revival of “Cabaret,” originally starring Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson, that survived a bumpy start (a construction accident interrupted performances for four weeks) and then ran for nearly six years, returning a decade later for a one-year reprise. There were many other triumphs, including a 2020 revival of “A Soldier’s Play” that is now touring the country. Both productions won Tony Awards.

Catalyzed by America’s social unrest over racial inequality in 2020, Mr. Haimes led Roundabout in an effort to unearth lost gems written by artists of color. One result was an acclaimed Broadway production of Alice Childress’s 1955 backstage drama “Trouble in Mind,” which had never made it to Broadway because the Black playwright had refused to soften the show’s ending to make it less challenging for white theatergoers.

Mr. Haimes joined Roundabout in 1983 as the company’s managing director. He was just 26, and the company, founded in 1965 and saddled with debt, was operating in a Chelsea movie house. At one particularly desperate point, he used his own credit card to keep the company afloat, but a few weeks after he arrived, the board of directors voted to shut it down.

A board member donated enough to buy the company some time, and Mr. Haimes engineered a turnabout, cutting staff members, reducing expenses, improving marketing and, over time, expanding the audience with measures such as early weekday curtain times to attract an after-work crowd, special events for singles and gay theatergoers, and discounts for children. In 2016, he became the first presenter to allow the livestreaming of a performance of a Broadway show, a much-praised revival of “She Loves Me.”

Bernard Todd Haimes was born on May 7, 1956, in New York City to Herman Haimes, a lawyer, and Helaine Haimes, a homemaker.

His onstage life was exceedingly brief: In elementary school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he wore a dress to play the title role in a production of “Mary Poppins.” He later claimed he had landed the part because he was the only child who could pronounce “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. at Yale. Before arriving at Roundabout, he worked as general manager of the Hartman Theater Company in Stamford and as managing director of the Westport Country Playhouse, both in Connecticut.

“I had no desire to trade stocks and bonds, and making Nivea cream wouldn’t turn me on,” he told The New York Times in 1986. “I’ve loved the theater all my life. I have no desire to be on stage, but I get a tingle just being around one, ever since I worked on the stage crew for ‘How to Succeed in Business’ on Broadway when I was in 10th grade.”

He became producing director of Roundabout in 1989 and added the title of chief executive in 2015.

“The advantage of my background is that all of my artistic decisions are being informed by management concerns,” Mr. Haimes said in 2004. “No one’s ever going to accuse me of being a crazy artist. The disadvantage is the same: that perhaps there are brilliant things other people could accomplish that I just can’t.”

He is survived by his wife, Jeanne-Marie (Christman) Haimes; two children, Dr. Hilary Haimes and Andrew Haimes; two stepdaughters, Julia and Kiki Baron; and four grandchildren. His first two marriages, to Dr. Alison Haimes and Tamar Climan, ended in divorce.

Mr. Haimes led Roundabout’s move to Broadway in 1991, when he began presenting work in the Criterion Center, which no longer exists. The move was a turning point for the company, he said: “Because of the Tony Award eligibility, we will have a tremendous advantage when it comes to obtaining the rights to plays, securing directors and attracting distinguished actors.”

In 2000, he moved the company into the renamed American Airlines Theater, which is now Roundabout’s flagship house. It has since also acquired the theater at Studio 54 and assumed operations of the theater now known as the Stephen Sondheim.

Among the Tony-winning shows produced by Roundabout during Mr. Haimes’s tenure were revivals of the plays “Anna Christie” and “A View from the Bridge” and of the musicals “Nine,” “Assassins,” “The Pajama Game” and “Anything Goes.” Roundabout was also among the producers of Tony-winning productions of two new plays, “Side Man” and “The Humans.”

The company now runs five theaters, all in Midtown Manhattan, including the three Broadway houses, an Off Broadway theater and an Off Off Broadway black-box space that it developed to give a platform to emerging playwrights.

Over the years there have been flops and budget deficits, as well as successes, and some critics have suggested that Roundabout was overextended. Its enormous real estate footprint became a financial challenge that the company addressed partly by renting out some of its Broadway venues to commercial producers. The company made a significant amount of money, for example, by renting out the Sondheim for five years to the producers of “Beautiful,” the Carole King biomusical.

Mr. Haimes was also one of a handful of leaders of nonprofit theater companies in New York whose decades-long tenures have raised eyebrows among those who want more turnover. He held onto the Roundabout job even when he took another one, as artistic director for the deeply troubled Toronto theater company Livent, in 1998; that company collapsed, and Haimes stayed at Roundabout.

Roundabout’s size — 150 employees and a $50 million annual budget — has given it the ability to support significant endeavors offstage. It operates substantial education and training programs, including school partnerships that serve more than 4,000 students each year and a partnership with the stagehands union to train theater technicians.

But like many nonprofits, it has not yet fully rebounded from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. It staged one show on Broadway this season, a revival of “1776.”

Mr. Haimes, who was often content to remain in the background rather than grabbing the spotlight, was a well-liked figure in the industry, and retained an enthusiasm for the art form. He was active in both the Broadway and the Off Broadway communities, serving on numerous committees, and over the years he taught at Yale and Brooklyn College.

But he remained a businessman and a booster at heart.

“Basically I’m incredibly insecure and don’t take myself seriously as an artist,” he said in a 1998 interview. “But somehow my taste seems to match up with what the public wants.”

Back to top button