Bakersfield is on a roll. A few months ago Bakersfield-born poet Frank Bidart wins the Pulitzer and on Sunday, South High graduate Alan Shorr won a Tony as one of the producers (he finds the money) for “The Band’s Visit,” a musical that is attracting record crowds on Broadway.
A Pulitzer, a Tony and a couple of years ago, the almost Triple Crown winner California Chrome, which had local roots.
“It’s been quite a last couple of days,” Shorr said, reached by phone between his flight from New York to his home in Boston. “I never expected this in my wildest dreams.”
Don’t let his niceness fool you. Don’t fall for his Bakersfield humility although Shorr seems to have plenty of both. Shorr is successful, enormously so.
In addition to “The Band’s Visit,” in which he and his two partners have a substantial stake, the group has a big piece of “Hello Dolly,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “Carousel” and to say nothing of last year’s smash hit, “Come From Away,” which soon will send five traveling companies around the world.
“The money is good, every six weeks I get residual checks,” Shorr said. “But what I really like about a successful show is that it keeps the actors, actresses and the set people working. Having them employed is important to me.”
Shorr likes being around these crazy, talented people.
“It’s fun working with the best performers in the world who happen to be nice people, too,” he said.
Before Shorr was around those people, he was around Bakersfield people. He was a theater person at South High (class of '71; he credits Ron Steinman and George Carson for their support) who, probably like tennis players, had to employ a certain amount of stealth in order to survive the jock-rich culture.
“What wasn’t to like about theater?” Shorr said. “There were girls, it had great camaraderie and I’d like to think what started 50 years ago on stage at the Bakersfield Community Theatre, North of the River children’s productions and Starlight of Kern culminated in New York on Sunday.”
Wow. Gives you hope.
In high school, Shorr was a rehearsal pianist (“no way you’re making money as a rehearsal pianist”) for local theater groups, later attending CSUB and then Cal State Northridge for a music degree.
Follow your passion and probably starve or make some money? Shorr opted for Plan B, getting an MBA and then ending up in the financial world where had made a ton of money. That was good and practical but the musical world tugged.
“In the '90s, I became involved with the (Los Angeles) Music Center as a donor, then a business adviser and I started to meet people,” Shorr said.
People led to people and one day he was watching “The Band’s Visit” at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York, where it had been transformed from a play to a musical.
“Once people like (Stephen) Sondheim started raving about it, we knew this could be a success,” he said.
Sharing in this joy is his wife, Marcia Wagner, one of the nation's experts on pension tax law, and five children between them.
“I like theater because it can be transformative,” Shorr said. “When it’s good, the audience leaves the theater and they are different.”
In the vein of "eventually all things lead to Bakersfield and Highway 99 runs through it," Shorr is considering bringing his show “A Night with Janis Joplin” to the Rabobank Theater after honing the production at the La Mirada Playhouse later this fall.
Joplin’s “Get It While You Can” may be apropos here. Shorr is doing everything he can to continue this wildly joyous ride.