NEW YORK — Megan Savage had always dreamed of Broadway. When she was a teenager listening to show tunes in her bedroom in Newton, she sometimes imagined singing like those iron-lunged belters Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth or channeling the plucky charm of Sutton Foster. But instead of a life in front of the footlights, Savage is building a different kind of career behind the scenes — as a Broadway producer.
She’s off to a pretty good start. At 26 years old and just four years out of Harvard University, Savage already has two Tony Awards on her mantel for her work as a coproducer. Last month, she nabbed her second Tony as a member of the producing team for best-musical winner “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” That trophy came after the Tony she picked up in 2013 for coproducing Christopher Durang’s best-play triumph, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
This run of early-career success in the insular, risk-heavy world of theater is an unusual occurrence, especially for someone just a few years out of college. But it had its roots in Savage’s love of Broadway and her girlhood vision of future stage stardom. Savage, who attended the Winsor School in Boston, entered her freshman year at Harvard raring to be an actor. Yet when the parts didn’t come her way those first few years, she realized she had a different set of talents.
“I always knew I wanted to work in theater,” Savage says. “It was disappointing at first to find that performing was not my calling. But my interest in acting slowly got replaced with this other thing — producing.”
Savage’s role in “Gentleman’s Guide” and “Vanya” is what the industry calls an above-the-title coproducer, which means that she raises investment money to help fund theater productions. But at this point, it’s a moonlighting gig that doesn’t yet pay the bills. Like performers who wait tables or do commercials to supplement low-paying acting jobs, Savage works 9-to-5 as a program administrator at the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. She hopes to one day transition into a full-time lead producer role — in which she would build productions from the ground up, manage the entire operation, and give creative input.
Speaking over coffee and snacks at an outdoor cafe in the Flatiron District on a balmy summer evening, Savage evinces an enthusiasm and easygoing confidence that feels mature-beyond-her-years. At Harvard, Savage was part of the Gilbert and Sullivan Players and the Hyperion Shakespeare Company. She produced “Pirates of Penzance” in her senior year. She also helped run the Harvard Summer Theater after graduation, an all-consuming gig.
“It was really rewarding and made me feel like, yes, this is the thing that I need to be doing,” Savage says.
After graduation, she took an internship with New York general manager and producer Roy Gabay, where she learned how to put together a compelling presentation for potential investors on Broadway shows, an education that proved invaluable later on.
Savage also did hands-on assistant producing work for several in-development and fringe shows, including “Foreverman: The Musical,” where she met a producer named Michael Roderick (“The Scottsboro Boys”). He asked her what she wanted to do next, and she replied, “I want to try raising money for a Broadway show.” It was a bold statement, but Roderick sensed that she had the chops.
“That was the pie-in-the-sky claim that I could not have imagined was so imminent,” Savage says, with a laugh. “I was surprised to hear, ‘Hey, want to try it right now?’ ”
Roderick led her to Joey Parnes and Larry Hirschhorn, who were still accepting investments on “Vanya and Sonia.” “I had to really rustle up quite a lot of money in a short period of time,” she says.
She started off approaching the people she knew in her personal network, including family friends. (Her father, a trial lawyer, is a partner at Goodwin Procter; her mother is a senior medical writer and former practicing physician.) “No one gave me a list of names to call. You have to find them,” she says. “Some of them would say, ‘I don’t think I can do it right now. But I think this person might be interested.’ Once one person in a group of friends gets involved, it’s a bit like dominoes falling.”
Still, she says, “I had to be careful to explain that this is a high-risk investment and that most Broadway shows do not make their money back. Then I had to convince them that I think this is one of the ones that’s going to rise to the top.”
In total, she raised about $200,000 for “Gentleman’s Guide,” which Parnes also produced, and $75,000 for “Vanya.”
‘I always knew I wanted to work in theater . . . but my interest in acting slowly got replaced with this other thing — producing.’
Savage understands there’s a big leap going from coproducer to lead producer. But it frustrates her when people use the terms “coproducer” and “investor” interchangeably.
“It doesn’t accurately capture what many of us do to get that money. It implies that anyone who’s above the title but is not a lead producer just wrote a giant check. But for some of us, it really took significant legwork to raise that money that the show needed.”
Still, “the goal,” Savage says, “is to have my name on the door” — at her own producing office one day.
Roderick has no doubt Savage has the skills and motivation to eventually succeed in that role. “There’s a lot of talkers in the entertainment industry. But Megan is a doer,” he says. “There are certain people who love this business so much, and they’re just going to keep hustling. And Megan is somebody who’s always looking at the next step and the next opportunity.”
At the moment, she’s keeping an eye out for passion projects she might want to get involved with. She attends readings, peruses scripts, and plans on seeing shows at festivals this summer and fall.
As for those two silver medallion-topped trophies on her shelf, she acknowledges it has been, in part, a case of beginner’s luck. Still, she relished the experience of Tony Awards night — getting dressed up, attending the after-party with her investors, and ending up on camera in front of millions of television viewers.
Clambering onto the Radio City Music Hall stage with the “Vanya” producing team after winning the best-play award last year, Savage says that she was “hyperventilating and shaking.”
“I was verklempt. People were turning around to look at me like, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Then one of the other producers was like, ‘Oh, this is your first time!’ ”
As for her early career success, Savage chalks it up to hard work, luck, and persistence, with maybe a dash of naiveté thrown in.
“Some great people gave me some great opportunities, and even when it was daunting and I didn’t know what I was doing yet, I just said yes.”Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story incompletely described the profession held by Megan Savage’s mother.