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Behold: Catherine Russell the off-Broadway force
NEW YORK (AP) - A late winter blizzard was recently clobbering New York but Catherine Russell watched the flakes fall without a worry.
Was Russell going to keep the doors open to her off-Broadway theater complex in the face of this massive storm?
“Are you kidding me? Absolutely,” she said.
You see, Catherine Russell is a force of nature, too.
She’s general manager of The Snapple Theater Center, which houses two theaters in the heart of Times Square. In one, she co-produces “The Fantasticks,” the longest-running musical in the world.
In the other, she acts eight times each week in “Perfect Crime,” showing such dedication that she is the Guinness World Records holder for the most performances by a theater actor in the same role. She has missed just four performances since 1987.
In her spare time, she teaches English and acting, and is always on the hunt for new raw space nearby to convert into theaters. She’s also producing a new musical that opens March 24 based on a “Piggy Nation” children’s book.
There’s more: She sells tickets at the box office, takes out the garbage and will work on the roof or boiler if needed. The night before the storm hit, she was busy repairing the bathroom.
“After 25 years of working off-Broadway, I can fix a toilet,” she says with a laugh. “You can wait for someone to fix it, or you can say, `OK, nobody is going to come right now. Let me see what I can do.’”
The woman who has been called the “Cal Ripken of Broadway” is a petite, stunning woman with a lightning-quick mind who started as an actress and turned into an entrepreneur.
Russell, who was raised in Connecticut and has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s from New York University, was in the 1987 opening cast of “Perfect Crime” and followed it as it hopscotched the city nine times.
In one temporary theater, a rat ran over her foot during a show. In another, “Perfect Crime” was housed one floor above a gay male burlesque show. “For 12 years, I heard `Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,’” she says, laughing.
The show was homeless again in 2005 and Russell found its current 20,000-square-foot space in an abandoned beauty school at 50th Street and Broadway. She contacted the beverage company Snapple and landed the first corporate-sponsored deal for an off-Broadway theater in history.
“People made fun of me at the time. I was like, `I don’t care. They’re giving me money. They’re a great sponsor. They trust my taste.’ There’s nothing wrong with that,” she says.
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