Former Houstonian Harold Wolpert brings to town the Roundabout Theatre Company production of the courtroom classic Twelve Angry Men, in the first-ever national tour.
If you are going to the opening-night performance of Twelve Angry Men onn Valentine’s Day—the Roundabout Theatre Company production of the courtroom drama runs February 14-25 at the Hobby Center—you may find yourself sitting next to a major mover and shaker in the New York theater world. With his strong ties to Houston, Roundabout managing director Harold Wolpert naturally didn’t want to miss his play’s engagement here.
“I do go to check in on the tour from time to time, and because I have so many people I want to see in Houston, I can kill two birds with one stone,” Wolpert said in a recent phone interview from his Manhattan office at the not-for-profit theater company.
A native of Philadelphia, Wolpert, 40, has worked in New York his entire adult life–all of it, that is, except for the six years he spent in Houston as the general manager of the Alley Theatre. While part of the local company (1994-2000), he saw the Alley celebrate its 50th anniversary and win a Tony Award for best regional theater, and he helped the company recover from financial difficulties. Among the highlights of his tenure, he says, was working with legendary playwrights including Horton Foote and Edward Albee as well as a number of esteemed actors, Vanessa Redgrave among them.
Wolpert also became involved in AIDS activism while here, heading up the AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH) AIDS Walk for several years, and serving as chairman of the board of the agency. Ironically, he had not been very involved with AIDS volunteerism until he moved to Houston.
“New York is such a big city, and on the one hand there are so many things going on, but I found it much more difficult to become involved there,” he said. “Houston is also a big city, but there is much more of a sense of community in Houston, and you can really connect. In Houston I had friends literally from all walks of life, and not just within the arts. That made it much more interesting.”
A friend from his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, who lived in Houston and volunteered with AFH, introduced him to the organization, which marks its 25th anniversary this year (see page 44).
“It was a very exciting time for AFH,” Wolpert said. “There were a lot of challenges facing us, and we were trying to figure out the direction of the agency. There was growth. I think the agency really moved forward. One thing that was very exciting was that right before I left Houston, we found out that we had been given a million-dollar grant from the Houston Endowment, which was by far the largest gift that AFH had ever received. It was a really exciting moment and made me feel slightly less guilty about leaving.”
Also while in Houston, Wolpert met Rui Rita, a New York-based lighting designer, who traveled to Houston to do the lights for a production at the Alley. Wolpert and Rita (a native of Portugal) developed a long-distance relationship, which they maintained until Wolpert returned to New York. They have now been together for 11 years.
Twelve Angry Men is the first play the venerable Roundabout has ever taken on a national tour.
“Our production of Cabaret went on tour, but we didn’t produce it,” said Wolpert, who has been with the venerable Roundabout (founded in 1965) since July 2005. “It’s unusual for a not-for-profit theater to send out such a tour.”
Traveling to 19 cities over 32 weeks, the production (in a tour presented by Broadway Across America) features a strong ensemble cast with a couple of familiar-name actors–Richard Thomas, the beloved John Boy from The Waltons, among other television and theater credits, and George Wendt of Cheers fame. The Broadway run of the play, whose jury-room plot is familiar from the Sidney Lumet-directed 1957 movie, marked the first time the story (originally written by veteran television writer Reginald Rose) had ever been presented on stage.
If you don’t spot Wolpert on opening night, you may find him eating Tex-Mex somewhere while he is in town. “Tila’s is my favorite,” he said. “I love margaritas. I have a hard time eating Tex-Mex food in New York because it just is not even close.”