By R. J. Donovan
Special to The BIR
The lobby of The Colonial Theatre is a sea of faces. It’s Opening Night for the musical “Hair,” and anticipation is in the air. As people crowd the box office to pick up their tickets, a smartly dressed young woman with long dark hair and a dazzling smile is on the opposite side of the lobby, greeting members of the media, many of whom will be reviewing the night’s performance. This is Ann Sheehan, Director of Public Relations & Community Relations for Broadway Across America-Boston.
Ann’s work is a maze of negotiating interviews, television coverage, photo shoots and personal appearances, all to spread the word about a show. There’s advance publicity to coordinate for productions yet to come, while simultaneously dealing with the demands of the show that’s currently running. Juggling becomes both a talent and a necessity.
She has publicized the Boston engagements of some of Broadway’s biggest hits, from “The Producers” and “Movin’ Out” to “Hairspray,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Wicked.” She also handled publicity, not only for the reopening of Boston’s magnificent Opera House, but for its inaugural production of Disney’s “The Lion King.” Along the way she has rubbed elbows with everybody from Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft to Kelsey Grammer, Kathleen Turner, and Judith Light, among others.
While some might see the job as glamorous, Ann often puts in marathon days that don’t end until well after a show’s final curtain. But that’s par for the course.
“It’s not 9 to 5,” she says when we chat. “I haven’t seen my wonderful husband [Michael] all week. You have your daytime responsibilities and then there’s the evening responsibilities. Getting the show up and running and doing what you have to do. But entertainment is like that. You know what you’re getting into. It’s a lot of long hours.” Still, she loves her job and the diversity of promoting live theater.
Although the current season for BAA is not yet over (a revival of “West Side Story” opens at the Colonial on June 14), Ann is already busy publicizing the company’s stellar 2011-2012 season, set to include “South Pacific,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” “American Idiot,” “The Addams Family,” “Les Miserables,” “Disney’s Beauty & The Beast,” and “Billy Elliot.”
She has been on staff at BAA-B (originally called Broadway in Boston) since 1997, having previously worked at The Boston Ballet. And prior to that, she worked for the Red Sox. Starting at Fenway Park when she was just 16 (“I was a wee one”) and continuing on through her studies at Suffolk University, she worked everywhere from the grounds crew to the box office, marketing and community relations.
Even though she’s been in the theater for 14 years, the girl who grew up in Dorchester (“St. Brendan’s – it’s very important to note the parish”) maintains the same sense of enthusiasm she had the day she started the job.
“I remember my first trip to New York for work,” she said. “We went for an advertising meeting, ironically for [a show called] ‘The Irish and How They Got That Way.’ I’ll never forget sitting in the offices of Grey Advertising and looking out the window. We were just above the Cup of Noodle Soup (billboard display in Times Square). It was exhilarating.”
Although she once considered an on-air career in sportscasting, Ann has never had a desire to be on the stage herself. But her love of the arts can be traced back to ballet lessons as a child. “My parents had five kids (including Lee, Jackie, Paul and the late Darlene) . . . Sunday nights were as a family, at home, 7 o’clock, watching Disney together. When they could, they would take us to the theater. My earliest memory with my Mom is at the Shubert, the first touring production of ‘Annie,’ which was like ‘79. I remember walking into the Shubert and being ‘Wow.’ “
These days, her niece Brianna is the performer in the Sheehan family, achieving great success in step-dancing competitions around the world. “She just came back from the All Irelands in Dublin. She placed 31 out of 125 and she’s going back to Worlds in April. She dances with The O’Shea Chaplin Academy. I’m just so impressed with her. Here she is, 17, she’s so committed . . . She’s grounded. She’s adorable. She’s a great kid.”
If there’s one constant in Ann’s life, it’s her sense of family. “I think that’s one of the great things about being Irish.” Of her own history, she said, “My grandparents left Ireland when they were really young. And when they got here, they never really looked back . . . There was so much poverty . . . They came here for the dream . . . They were from Cork and Kerry and they came over, like everyone, through Ellis Island.”
Her grandfather was an elevator operator in addition to working for John Hancock. And her grandmother was a chambermaid at the Kenmore Hotel. Her father, Leo, who worked for Boston Edison and later as a national rep for the AFL-CIO, was originally from South Boston while her mother Marie was from Mission Hill. Once the couple married there was a debate over where to settle. “My mother said, ‘I’m not going to Southie,’ and my father said ‘I’m not going to Mission Hill,’ so they compromised on good old Dorchester.”
Her face lights up when she speaks of her parents. “I don’t have children, but if I did, boy I would raise my kids exactly like my parents raised us . . . We were taught, ‘Be a good person. Put yourself in other people’s shoes before you make a judgment. Be a leader not a follower. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or for someone else’ – those types of things. And remember, ‘Family first. Your best, best, best friends are the ones that sit around your dinner table.’ “
“That’s how we all grew up – ‘don’t get a big head,’” she says with a laugh. “My father would say, ‘Just because you’re so great doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else in this family.’ But behind your back they’re be bragging about you.”
Famous folk have come and gone in Ann’s life. But so many years later, Leo and Marie Sheehan would take great pride to hear their daughter beam, “I’m so lucky to have the family and friends I have.”
“Hair” continues at The Colonial Theatre through April 10. For tickets, call 800-982-2787. For information on the 2011-2012 Broadway Across America season, visit broadwayacrossamerica.com/boston/.
R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com