By: Stefanie Sears
Putrino founded Basic Home Infusion Inc. (BHI), a home infusion company for those with movement disorders in Wayne. When Putrino is not helping his clients, he is part of the award-winning team for Best Revival of a Musical of “Once on This Island” at the 72nd Tony Awards. “Once on This Island” is a one-act musical from the early nineties that tells the story of an Antilles peasant girl named Ti Moune who prays to the gods in search of her life’s purpose and falls in love with a light-skinned man from the other side of her island.
Putrino was one of six producers for the musical. Some of his responsibilities included going to rehearsals, making sure everything ran smoothly, and inspecting the show in different segments while determining what worked and what did not.
Putrino, who has worked on 15 plays, such as “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “The Play That Goes Wrong,” and “Grace,” has always loved theater. However, he was always more of an athlete, and then chose the sciences as his professional career. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from St. John’s University, but wanting to explore his production interests more, he went back to school in Manhattan 10 years ago at the Commercial Theatre Institute (CTI). There he met some friends in similar circumstances and they produced some plays together.
“Healthcare is not that exciting. You’re caring for people who have had misfortune in their lives and I think I really needed something exciting. Golf just wasn’t doing it,” says Putrino, an avid golfer, skier, and runner in his down time, “I just felt like I need to get scared every day. This did it. You go in there and you don’t know what’s going to happen. The one thing I did notice though is the incredible dedication these people have to doing this. The actors, the producers, the directors, they all have a very high level of professionalism. Always on time. Always open to suggestions. Always wanting to make their craft better. In all of the industries I have been in, I’ve never seen such a dedication as I have with the people in theater.”
Although Putrino believes that none of his worlds have anything in common, he does feel that theater has helped him to be more empathetic in his healthcare field.
“The way I deal with people now comes a lot from the people I dealt with in Broadway. I find that my tone, the content of what I’m saying, is more upscale, more positive, more glass is half full instead of half empty. It’s helped me a great deal in my world.”
The revival version of “Once on This Island” was produced on a thrust stage in The Circle in the Square Theatre with the whole theater decorated as an island. When audiences entered the house, cast members would already be onstage cooking, cleaning garbage from the beach setting, and occasionally interacting with the audience members.
“That’s a small stage and it was a large cast,” explains Putrino, “We couldn’t put tape on the sand. They even tried laser lights where the person needed to be. At the end, they used a very clever way of knowing what chair was where and where they needed to be diagonally off of that lamp. They worked it out in an unusual way because they didn’t have the hard surface that you would normally get. It was the most unique play I’ve ever had to stage.”
This large cast also included an array of goats and chickens.
“They’re pretty good actors, I got to say. They had a whole area in the back set up like a barn for them and then every night they were sent back to their farm and then the next day they would come back to the theater. They’d be in this lovely room eating and hanging out. They really only had to walk across the stage once or twice. We had to get rid of the chickens because they were just unruly,” Putrino laughs.
The goat even made an appearance on Tony night.
“Once on This Island” was up against “Carousel” and “My Fair Lady” for the Best Revival of a Musical award and all three musicals performed.
“I’m sitting there not thinking that we’re going to win or anything, and the applause for ‘Carousel’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ were tremendous. But when our play came up, there was a standing ovation and it was thunderous. I could not believe the reception we got at the Tony’s for that play. They were just loving it.”
So what does Putrino believe makes a best musical?
“Things have changed over the years. The primary of course is a good story with a really satisfying ending, an ending you would agree with. A lot of the music that we’ve had growing up making its way to Broadway is now carrying a lot of stuff.” Putrino cites “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Ain’t Too Proud,” and “Jersey Boys” as some examples. “Music that is familiar to us that they work into the play seems to be a very strong formula for success. If you have a good story with familiar music, that seems to be the new way to go. I think there’s something inside of us when we hear a familiar song that we like that makes you more apt to like the play.”
Putrino agrees that biopic musicals are beginning to become overdone even though they are still selling tickets, but even though recognizable music may be a profitable formula, there is also the common complaint that originality is lacking. This, according to Putrino, is where the story comes in.
“If you’re going to do that, you should have an original story. Sometimes a person’s life is the story, but when you have a good solid story and you interject these super songs, then it works out well. But it’s very hard to get new music out there. I don’t see it being as successful as something you already know.”
Putrino’s next venture is even more familiarity. The musical adaptation of Jackie Gleason’s 1950s CBS television sitcom series “The Honeymooners” about bus driver Ralph Kramden made its world premiere during Paper Mill Playhouse’s 2017-2018 season. The Paper Mill version was a workshop, so now they are trying to perfect the show for Broadway. To prepare for Broadway, which could take as much as 10 years, they constantly need to keep up with current times.
“It is really a living, breathing thing, these Broadway plays,” says Putrino.
Some challenges arose to translate a simple half hour sitcom like “The Honeymooners” into a two-act staged musical, such as plot and character focus.
“This is where the producer comes in. As I’m sitting through this, my notes are saying ‘I’m not enjoying this.’ It was too long. It wasn’t all ‘Honeymooners.’ It needs to be the show. People are coming to ‘The Honeymooners,’ not to discover a new ‘Honeymooners.’ They want Ralph Kramden. He should be in almost every scene as far as I’m concerned. It was too much material with Ralph that we didn’t get to,” says Putrino, “That’s what we bring it to New Jersey for, so that we can see it. They’re fixing most of it now. Once you get that done, then you got to do it again in an Off Broadway scenario, and then when it’s really polished, then you can start looking for bigger actors and bring it to Broadway.”
Also, even though it is technically a period piece, it needed to undergo the political correctness treatment as well.
“You can’t really say he is going to hit her anymore,” says Putrino of Ralph, whose catchphrase “To the moon!” suggests a threat towards his wife Alice. “Those are the kind of things that have to be adjusted.”
Of course, this also raises the question of whether or not art should be altered in such ways, but Putrino believes that changes make art better.
“Would you want somebody to be smoking next to you in the theater? That was pretty common back then. Now, nobody smokes. I like that better. That’s how I look at it. It’s the job of this company, the producers, the writers, the directors, to make it better than what you’re expecting.”