Q & A

Broadway's Favorite Event Planners

July 31, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

It's the opening night of a big Broadway show. Where are the cast, crew, producers and hundreds of their friends and family? Most likely they're at a party organized by Cathy Dantchik and Suzanne Tobak, two of the most respected names in event production among Broadway theater folk. In only its third year, their company, Tobak-Dantchik Events & Promotions, has become the go-to event firm for Broadway's biggest players, while planning events including The Producers premiere party, the Tony awards supper ball and the closing parties for Cats and Miss Saigon.

The six-person company produces approximately 75 events a year. Among a long list of Broadway events are premiere parties for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, True West, Copenhagen, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Seussical. The firm's non-showbiz clients include Insignia, Nickelodeon, Starwood Hotels and several small Wall Street firms.

So how did Tobak-Dantchik get so popular among the Broadway set? “We're known for being very fiscally conservative and very careful with the client's money,” Tobak says. Some of the company's celebrity-studded events are so high-profile that many assume they're working with unlimited funds. Not true. “People are under the delusion that we have a huge budget, and they want to meet and work with us. But once they see the realities of Broadway events, they run,“ Tobak says. “We're known for making that dollar go far. We do a lot of barter, and have a lot of special pricing relationships with venues. When I read about other events' budgets, I'm astounded! We've never been the recipients of those kinds of budget lines.”

The process of determining the creative direction of an event is a collaborative effort between the client, Tobak-Dantchik and their creative partners. “Sometimes we have very specific instructions on what to do,” Tobak says, sitting at a glass conference table in Tobak-Dantchik's office loft near Times Square. “Other times we come up with things and we're 100 degrees off. My first idea for The Producers was, instead of doing an opening night for The Producers, let's do an opening night for 'Springtime for Hitler!' And this wonderful group of producers sat and listened to this entire Bavarian Oktoberfest idea presentation, and when we were finished, one of them said, 'Suzanne, I don't want to spend four hours in Bavaria. Do you?' So we went back to the drawing board.”

Instead, the successful premiere party's theme was “a love poem to Broadway.” Tobak-Dantchik's team created four distinct sets, each portraying a different era of Broadway history. The festive decor included a giant bubbling champagne glass on stage, and a re-creation of the interior of Sardi's, with giant caricatures of the cast on the walls. Tom Viertel, chairman of Scorpio Entertainment and one of the producers of The Producers, raves about Tobak-Dantchik. “We would never use anyone else,” he says. “They're virtually perfect. They respect budgets, and always deliver a party that's done with imagination and taste.”

Tobak, who possesses the rosy-cheeked face of a woman who smiles easily and loves her work, got her start in event planning while organizing fund-raisers for medical research as an assistant hospital administrator at New York Hospital. Her enthusiasm for event planning led her to the now-defunct event management group the Personal Touch, where one of her clients, Grey Advertising, later hired her away to head the special events division of Grey Entertainment. She produced the premiere parties for Broadway hits Angels in America and Crazy for You, and after almost six years, she decided to start her own business.

By this time, her friend Dantchik--their families have been close for more than 40 years--was ready for a change. The former head of the brokerage division of Susquehanna Brokerage Services had quit her job on Wall Street after 10 years. “After I took a year off, I didn't know what to do, and Suzanne offered me some freelance work at Grey, and I found an affinity for it,” she says, sipping her coffee from the Starbucks below their office. (The pair speak fondly of the caffeine fixes the cafe provides during their busy seasons.)

One thing that helped get Tobak-Dantchik into producing Broadway's biggest events: connections. “Most of my friends from college ended up working in the performing arts,” Tobak says. “By the time I was switching jobs, they were in decision-making positions. Having friends open the doors has made a big difference, especially in the entertainment business.” But the company didn't go from inception to huge Broadway bashes overnight--their promotions business took off first. “I had to sell a lot of pens and buttons before anyone let me do their premiere,” Tobak says.

Aside from the numerous Broadway events and corporate clients, the partners also organize events for nonprofit organizations, including Save the Children, the American Composers Orchestra, the Columbia Business School and Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning (Pencil). Pencil president Ruth Cohen, who hired the duo for the nonprofit's annual benefit last year, is another one of their many happy clients. “They think of every detail, almost to the point of obsession,” Cohen says. “They ask the right questions, they're great negotiators, and have an immediate understanding of what we're trying to pull off.”

When asked if they'd rather have more direction from the client or creative freedom in producing an event, Tobak says, “It's always wonderful to think that somebody wants your opinion, but I'm just as happy to make their idea come to life, because if I do it well, I have a happy client and a possible repeat customer, and that's the only way to build a business. It's not about what we want. It's about the client.”

Posted 07.31.01

Read our coverage of the Cats closing party...

Read our coverage of the Tony awards supper ball...

Read our coverage of Pencil's Soundtrack for Learning benefit...

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