In just nine seasons, Andrew Kato has built the Maltz Jupiter Theatre into one of the most successful South Florida regional companies. The walls of the Jupiter theater are lined with Carbonell Awards for the company’s critically-acclaimed musical productions. He recently oversaw a multi-million dollar expansion of the company’s facilities and subscriptions continue to break records (7,626 for the current season).
A South Florida native, Kato led a successful career in New York City before returning home. He has been the Creative Consultant/Coordinating Producer on the Tony Awards for the last 11 years and received the Emmy Award eight times.
Kato produced many Broadway concerts, including “Chess in Concert,” starring Josh Groban; the 20th anniversary concert benefit of “Dreamgirls,” starring Audra McDonald; “Funny Girl” in Concert; the original Broadway cast reunion concert of “Once On This Island;” and the 10th anniversary concert version of “Into the Woods.” On Broadway, Kato was a producing associate on “Jelly’s Last Jam” and “Angels in America.”
He sat down with “Mirror” to discuss his career, life in the theater and the stunning transformation of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre during his tenure:
You got an early start in theater, didn’t you?
I grew up here in Jupiter and worked in the Burt Reynolds Theatre. I was a waiter for eight years through high school and put myself through college with the money I made….When I was growing up, people were always surprised because I was clear in what I wanted. In fact, someone I dated in my early 20s told me that I told him I would someday run this theater.
So you didn’t have aspirations to become an actor?
No, in my early 20s, I wrote a musical called, “Switch!” with an exclamation point, because every musical has an exclamation point. We did a reading and the director of the institute said, “You’re done and you need a production.” Given the scale, we would need to raise $100,000—at that age, you don’t realize creating a 20-character show isn’t in the interests of a young writer. I invited friends and family, the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post did pieces, (and I) raised $10,000 to put on the show. In a strange way, my early days were like an early education (in theater production).
Did you leave Florida for New York?
No, I went to Portland, Maine, and spent two years at Portland Stage. What’s great about working in a smaller organization is that they need so much help and you automatically get to help. I was a sponge, soaking up everything….but, Portland was a bit too small of a town and I had my eye on New York.
What was life like in New York City?
Making a living in the industry is difficult. Everything that you’re enjoying is an experience you’re paying for….I’ve slept on floors, my first apartment I literally pulled out a sleeping bag almost every night. I’m not ashamed about that, those are the sacrifices you have to take.
But, you had some amazing opportunities, including working on “Jelly’s Last Jam” and “Angels in America” on Broadway.
To work on a show that had so much prestige was great. (It was) not too dissimilar to my work in Portland—even when you’re working with a Broadway producer, it’s a one-person office. Broadway was my master class in producing.
You eventually landed a gig working on the annual Tony Awards broadcast. What is that like?
Of the 11 years, we received an Emmy for eight. It’s such a well-planned and well-executed show. I’m really in awe of the team. A lot of TV shows you see a lot of errors. We rehearse that show for a week—every camera angle, every decision is planned and rehearsed until the last minute.
Were you excited to return to Florida?
When I got the call, I was very excited, but I was also happy in New York. Honestly, what I saw when I came down here, I told my partner I didn’t have a good feeling.
The community had gotten tired of being disappointed so many times. Getting people to come back to a theater that they had given up on was going to be a challenge.
But in just a few years, you managed to turn the company around. How did you pull that off?
It’s one of the things I’m most proud of. In a leadership role, you learn that time is your friend and everything is strategic. An analogy I use is that we’re landing at an airport and when you bring a big plane in, you start the descent far away and slowly bring it in. I’m the air traffic controller, landing those planes over the course of a season. In order to do that you have to have a team of amazing people who are amazing pilots. The team is very self-critical. If we do it well, we’re happy, but if we don’t, we quickly do a postmortem and we plan way in advance.
You still maintain close relationships in New York and with the Broadway community, don’t you?
I spend five weeks of each year working on (the Tony Awards) show… and I still go to New York City to do casting. Most of my relationships started at my first job.
When you look back at your career, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned?
That’s something that I teach to our conservatory students, you can have your dreams if you want something bad enough. We live in a country where those dreams can come true with hard work and perseverance and tenacity. I believe in the power of carrying that image with you.
At the close of the interview, Kato admitted ambitious plans—which he would not divulge—are underway to put Maltz Jupiter Theatre on the national stage. He promised, “It’s a big push, but an exciting one for our local community.”
To learn more about Maltz Jupiter Theatre, go to JupiterTheatre.org.