If you can make it here… you’re probably director Arin Arbus or producer Debbie Bisno — two of the key players who helped bring Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune back to Broadway, complete with some serious star power. In advance of opening night, Broadway Spin sat down at Sardi’s with Arbus and Bisno to chat about getting this revival to the Great White Way, what it’s like giving notes to Michael Shannon and Audra McDonald, and the ultimate post-show snack.
Broadway Spin: As opening night draws closer, do you give fewer notes to Michael and Audra?
Arin Arbus: Yes. These days I’m just meeting them before every show and giving a couple of thoughts from the night before.
Debbie Bisno: It’s so interesting because the nuance in this particular play comes from those two doing things slightly differently each time. They are so present. There’s nothing that sounds exactly the same as the night before.
BS: And Arin, you’re obviously an experienced director, but this is your first Broadway show. How is it making your Broadway debut?
Arbus: It’s terrifying! But it’s also really exciting and it’s really cool to make a show on that scale. I love intimate spaces. I love working off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway, but it’s cool to be doing something like this. The whole team is of a certain level that – it’s just sort of impossible or almost impossible to get to that level.
BS: Speaking of that, is it hard to give notes to actors at that level, like Michael and Audra?
Arbus: Umm… (laughs). I give them notes. They might not like them sometimes.
BS: Do you know when they don’t like the notes?
Arbus: Yes. (laughs)
BS: Debbie, I know you had worked with Michael before, but how did this all come about?
Bisno: I had just done a Broadway show with Michael and he and I were always friends. If there was ever a muse for a producer, he’s sort of been a muse for me. Now that’s Arin (laughs). But I remembered Frankie and Johnny, and I thought, “This is something that Michael wouldn’t otherwise get to do – a romantic lead.” I went to him and said, “If I can get the rights what do you think” and then I went to Terrance and I said “I have this idea.” And Terrence McNally and he thought it was a great idea. And then five years later, here we are!
BS: And Arin, Terrence said he found you by “seeing a lot of theater,” but how did that happen exactly?
Arbus: For a long time I was working off-Broadway directing a lot of Shakespeare (at TFANA, just FYI) and Terrence loves Shakespeare so he would come and that’s how we connected.
BS: When he asked you about coming to Broadway did you ever consider not doing it?
Arbus: No. (Laughs)
BS: Why do you think the timing is right for this revival?
Bisno: I think it’s about human connection at a time when we don’t have. What we’ve heard from so many people is “this is so relevant” — whether you’re single or in a relationship, it’s about connection. It’s about navigating the ability to really share time with another human being. It’s not about bells and whistles it’s truly about two people connecting and vulnerability.
BS: You have pretty late nights with this production. What do you do to unwind when you leave the theater and before you go to bed?
Arbus: I sort of lie on the couch and look at my computer for a little while and maybe have a snack. My go-to are frozen cherries. They are great. Highly recommend.