David Stone has been stagestruck since he choked up at the end of Man of La Mancha at age four. At 31, he's a veteran Broadway producer -- most recently, of the controversial revival of The Diary of Anne Frank.
By Leslie Whitaker
ONE NAZI SOLDIER and two Dutch collaborators hurry three frightened men, two women, and three teenagers down a flight of stairs that descends through the floor at the front of the stage, all but one making their final exit. Sirens blare, and smoke -- symbolizing the gas chambers -- clouds the air. It is the closing scene of the new Broadway adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, the world-famous journal written by a precocious 12-year-old Jewish girl while in hiding from the Nazis with her family and friends during World War II.
For the adults in the audience, the story and its end -- how Anne, her parents and sister; another family, the Van Daans; and a Jewish dentist, Mr. Dussel, concealed themselves in an office building annex in Amsterdam for two years, only to be discovered and led away to the death camps just a few months before Germany was defeated -- is heartbreaking, but expected. For some of the children in the theater, and there are many school groups and families in attendance at each performance, the ending is more of a puzzle.
"Mommy, why are they taking them away? Mommy, where are they taking them?" Those questions, blurted out by a young boy at a preview matinee in Boston a few weeks before the revival opened on Broadway last November, may have jarred some adult theatergoers lost in private meditations over evil, but for David Stone, C'88, the show's producer, the little boy's questions were as moving as any line uttered on stage.
"That's how I know the performance is profound," he says. "This is going to affect this kid's life. The power lies in being in their world and seeing it happen in front of you."
Stone is no stranger to the hold that the stage can have on children. At seven years old, he had the lead role in his first show, the musical The King and I, at the French Woods Camp in the Catskills, where his parents' best friends were head counselors. He acted in three shows every summer for 10 years and was the only camper to direct. "It was great training," he says.
Stone's mother insists that her eldest son was first drawn to drama at age four, when she took him to see Man of La Mancha on Broadway. "We had the cast album at home," Stone recalls. "I didn't know everything that was going on, but at the end I couldn't swallow because I had a lump in my throat. My mother loves to tell that story."
The Stone family -- which also included David's younger brother, Steve, now a talent agent -- lived in Marlboro, New Jersey, within commuting distance from Manhattan. Stone's parents were Broadway enthusiasts who worked in the fashion district. The couple divorced when Stone was 13, and his father moved to Manhattan, where Stone visited him frequently.
Stone appeared in several high-school productions, including Guys and Dolls, and was valedictorian of his class. At Penn, anxious to broaden his interests beyond drama, he majored in communications as well as studying English and theater arts. He still values the "brutally honest" critiques of writing teacher Nora Magid and Emeritus Professor of Communication Dr. George Gerbner's dissection of the way television news is put together. "What they choose to include and choose not to include reflects the agenda of the network," says Stone. "That taught me to analyze everything I see rather than accept it without thinking."
One of Stone's favorite classes was a history course on the 1960s taught by Dr. Sheldon Hackney, Hon'93, then president of the University. Convened in the president's living room, the class engaged in weekly conversations about the politics of that era, including the struggle for civil rights and the student movement. Hackney supplemented a long reading list that included Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas, with viewings of documentaries and movies, and visits from guest speakers such as Rosa Parks. Hackney's role, Stone recalls, was "to inspire conversation and debate. He wanted us to think."
Outside of class, Stone continued to expand his repertoire of dramatic roles, appearing in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The House of Blue Leaves as a member of the student theater troupe Quadramics. He also directed Baby, a musical, for the Arts House Theatre and produced Shaw's Arms and the Man for the Penn Players, the oldest theater group on campus.
A summer internship between his junior and senior years at Jujamcyn Theaters, the smallest of the three companies that among them own all of Broadway's stages, provided Stone with an insider's view of the business of professional theater. "The president [of the company] at the time was fired, and a new one came in who turned this small company into a real force," recalls Stone. "I got to see the whole shake-up."
One of his duties as intern was to scout for promising plays by reading scripts and attending readings and shows throughout the Northeast. "I didn't like much," Stone says, but he came across some winners, which he recommended highly, including M Butterfly, which opened in a Jujamcyn theater and won a Tony, and Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, which the company coproduced Off-Broadway.
Back at Penn for his senior year, Stone continued to work for Jujamcyn by scouting plays in the Philadelphia area. As graduation neared, he decided to leave acting behind in favor of producing. "After 35 productions, the joy went out of performing for me, and I hated the process of rehearsals," he says. He secured eight interviews with producers, which resulted in four job offers. The downside: the highest salary was $15,000.
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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 6/1/98