Susan Booth Is Leaving the Alliance Theatre
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Susan Booth Is Leaving the Alliance Theatre

As artistic director, she amassed a string of successes that went on to Broadway, including the musical version of “The Color Purple.”

Productions that originated at the Alliance Theatre during Booth’s tenure often made their way to Broadway. // Credit: Joe Mazza
Productions that originated at the Alliance Theatre during Booth’s tenure often made their way to Broadway. // Credit: Joe Mazza

After twenty-one years as the artistic director of the Alliance Theatre, Susan Booth is moving on to Chicago to take over the top job at the Goodman Theatre.

During Booth’s lengthy tenure, the Alliance put on 85 world premieres and became a favored first stop for musicals destined to make it to Broadway. Six of the musical productions that debuted at the theater under her leadership went on to a Broadway run, including “The Color Purple,” which was adapted from the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Georgia-born Alice Walker.

The popular production based on Walker’s novel was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and ran for three years on Broadway, from 2005 to 2008. A motion picture version of the musical is scheduled for release next year. Booth credits its success with helping to make the Alliance a favored venue for Broadway-bound tryouts.

“You get one first chance to succeed, right? And ‘The Color Purple’ was ours. And our production staff delivered so beautifully that the producers made sure that the word got around. If you want a theater that takes good care of you and will partner well with you, you should look at the Alliance.”

“The Temple Bombing” was produced by the Alliance Theatre to commemorate The Temple’s 150th anniversary. // Photos by Greg Mooney, The Alliance Theatre

Among the world premieres that Booth oversaw was the 2017 production of “The Temple Bombing,” based on Melissa Fay Greene’s book of the same name. The staging recounted the events leading up to the 1958 bombing and its aftermath at The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, as The Temple in Midtown was then formally known.

The play helped to commemorate the congregation’s 150th anniversary that year. It’s a production of which Booth says she is the most proud because it was the result of what she described as an “authentic community partnership.”

“We were approached by representatives from The Temple who said, ‘we have a commemoration and we would like to figure out a way that it can resonate throughout our city and is embraced by the cultural community.’ Coincidentally, just as we were opening, there were a spate of synagogue attacks up and down the East Coast. And the fact that we could create a safe place in our city to talk about what that meant, meant the world to me. And it never would have happened if The Temple hadn’t approached us and said, ‘could we partner?’”

Susan Booth and her husband, Max Leventhal, oversaw the total rebuilding of the Alliance Theatre, completed in 2019.

Booth’s links to the Jewish community here include the renaming of the Alliance’s 200-seat experimental theater, the Hertz Stage, in honor of prominent Atlanta business leader and member of The Temple, Jennings Hertz.

The theater’s National Graduate Playwriting Competition is supported by The Kendeda Fund, which is named for the three children of Diana and Arthur Blank — one of whom, Kenny Blank, took over the successful development of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival at about the same time as Booth began her work at the Alliance.

Booth’s husband, Max Leventhal, who served as general manager of the Alliance Theatre from 2001 to 2012, has served as the president of the Board of Directors of the AJFF. He also managed the $32-million 15-month-long extensive makeover of the theater at the Woodruff Arts Center, a project that was completed just over a year before the COVID pandemic began.

Booth credits the experience she gained from steering the theater through the pandemic with inspiring a reevaluation of how she views the performer-audience relationship.

“During the pandemic we have lost institutions and institutions that we had previously thought of as somehow untouchable are struggling,” she noted. “We need to listen to our audiences about how they want to gather and what is compelling to them to want to choose to be together. I feel like the pandemic reset the way we think about how we spend our time together.”

The 59-year-old is returning to Chicago and the Goodman Theatre, the place where she launched her career and where she first met her husband after graduating from Northwestern University. When she officially begins her new position on Oct. 3, Booth will be the first woman to serve as its artistic director. The Goodman has long been recognized as the most important nonprofit theater in a city known for its enthusiastic support of the arts.

Booth’s final production in Atlanta will be codirecting “Everybody,” by the young African American playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, who was selected for the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2016.

The play is a modern retelling of the 15th-century morality play “Everyman” — one of the first dramas in the English language. “Everybody” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2018 and runs from Sept. 2 to Oct. 2.

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