Making a Difference Behind the Scenes

Making a Difference Behind the Scenes

Before Nick Scandalios began working with the Nederlander Organization more than 30 years ago, he spent some time in front of the footlights himself: He played Tony in his high school’s production of West Side Story, and he was Che in a staging of Evita presented by a Long Island theater company he formed with friends.

“I guess I’m a high baritone,” Scandalios says modestly. “I wouldn’t call myself a tenor. Well, I wouldn’t call myself anything anymore!” As with many people working in the industry, he explains, his love of theater “started with performance. But I didn’t really have the hunger necessary to be a successful performer, as I learned through early experiences. If you’re lucky enough, though, you can find your way to another avenue in the business.”

Luck alone cannot, of course, furnish the accomplishments that have made Scandalios — who was initially hired at Nederlander as a receptionist and is now Executive Vice President — a leading figure, both as an executive and an advocate. The Nederlander Organization currently owns nine Broadway venues — including the theatres where Hamilton, Wicked, and The Lion King are performed — in addition to houses in other markets around the country and in London. This past season, the company co-produced acclaimed revivals of Angels in America and My Fair Lady. Co-producing highlights from recent seasons include School of Rock, On Your Feet!, and revivals of Fiddler on the Roof and Cats.

As for advocacy, Scandalios was honored at this June’s Tony Awards with the prestigious Isabelle Stevenson Award, which recognizes individuals who have contributed their time and effort to charitable and humanitarian causes. For a decade, Scandalios has served on the board of directors for the Family Equality Council, which states its mission as advancing “legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families, and for those who wish to form them.”

Scandalios became involved with the council after he and late husband Ric Swezey became parents of twins, a daughter and son, now 10. “What appealed to me is that it was a national organization for families,” says Scandalios, chatting in a small conference room in Nederlander’s offices in NYC’s Midtown. “The bulk of the families the organization serves live in the South, and there’s a huge number that live at or below the poverty line. Often you have people who were previously living a heterosexual life and have the complications of a family changing. Here in New York, even with our struggles, we take certain things for granted; it’s up to us to step up and help others who don’t have access to certain things.”

An amicus brief put together by the council, titled “Voices of Children,” was, in fact, cited by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy while he was posing questions in the 2015 case that resulted in the legalization of gay marriage; Kennedy authored the 5–4 decision. “It was that brief that exposed the stories of the children being raised in the [LGBTQ] community,” Scandalios says. He acknowledges that political winds have shifted since then, and while “we’re obviously a culture in conflict,” he remains optimistic.

“The current political climate has emboldened people who feel that they can utilize certain parts of the Constitution to discriminate and, in my humble view, promulgate hate,” Scandalios says. “There are kids out there in the foster care system who need help and support. There are homes willing to adopt. I don’t understand, and I never will, how anyone could be against taking kids out of a system that is not the best place for them and putting them in a loving home. But I think doors have been opened, and that human interaction and openness lead to more openness, and the long arc of history leads to fairness.”

Progress has informed Scandalios’s own journey, he notes. “Growing up and as a young adult in the ’80s, part of my coming-out process was grieving that I would never have children. Then I met my husband, who, well, it never dawned on him not to have children in his process. Now people in the LGBTQ community have full expectations that they’re going to have marriages and families, and that’s a beautiful thing. Why wouldn’t we want to encourage that? It helps create a stable society.”

Scandalios often uses the word family in describing the Broadway community as well; he did so while accepting his Tony Award. “There’s something unique to these 15 blocks as an industry,” he says. “We’re always interacting. We’ve all seen the good and the messy, because it’s really not easy; you stay with it because you love it. The way an actor needs to act, I think many people in many fields of the business feel the same passion. I’ve spent 30 years with a group of people, and we have war wounds — from shows that worked and shows that didn’t, from experiences where the show worked but it was difficult and from experiences where the show didn’t work but you loved it. From all that, you end up with a very complex and intimate relationship with a wide swath of people.”

Though summer traditionally sees fewer Broadway openings than other seasons, Scandalios has a full plate, with the musical adaptation of Pretty Woman starting previews in July (for a scheduled August 16 opening) and The Cher Show due in the fall. “We’re also doing an interesting real estate project at the Palace, where we’re lifting the theatre 29 feet off the ground, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Having little downtime suits Scandalios just fine. “I always say I’m very fortunate, because I get to wake up every day and love what I do,” he says. “And I’m able to raise my children in an industry that I love, in a city that I love. It doesn’t get any better than that.”