Sometimes you watch a story that has twists and turns, but you know the inevitable that’s going to happen no matter how many things are thrown the character’s way. That’s Dylan Kaplan’s life. His path to becoming both religiously observant and a Broadway producer (he produced Sweeney Todd which is on Broadway now!) has never wavered.
Born to a reform Jewish family in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, he credits the movie Fiddler on the Roof as a turning point early on, showing him how to connect to God. “I saw Tevye on the big screen talking to God and thought, ‘Well I can talk to God then, too.’”
At night, Dylan would take his dog on a walk and as he was out, he would reflect on his day with Hashem by his side. “I wouldn’t tell my parents, but I did it for years until I went off to college. That’s how I really got into Judaism,” he explains.
Always a theater kid, Dylan toured New York University at 13 or 14 years old with his grandfather. After that, he spent the next five years training to get in and become a student in the Tisch arts program. He fully committed to the goal. He was in 55 shows by the time he went to college, went to French Woods performing arts summer camp, did community theater and at one point, was doing three shows at a time. With a goal to be on Broadway one day, he thought NYU was the place to be.
During his freshman year though, one of his professors drilled in how much a profession as an actor becomes your life. It’s hard to see any definitive boundaries between the two. Dylan’s Judaism was one of the reasons he made that switch to producing. “My professor basically said, ‘If you don’t have a husband or wife, you don’t have a husband or wife. If you don’t have kids, you don’t have kids. It’s your craft first.’”
At that point, Dylan was fully committed to the idea of being a husband and a father and that wouldn’t work for him. “I didn’t want to be on national tours when I’m a dad or have things that would deter me from being a proper father. That’s really what drove me into producing.”
That same freshman year when he was making the mental shift of going from actor to producer, he also was diving deeper into what it really meant to be a Jew.
He and his brother went on Birthright that freshman year and for Dylan, it was a transformative experience. “At that moment, I found my identity,” he shares. “It was so powerful. My brother just thought it was a great trip, but for me, it was spiritually enlightening.”
Dylan wanted to stay — he initially channeled that love for Israel into Zionism and was planning to join the IDF and live there. His parents shut that down quickly. When he came back to school though, he joined another program called MEOR and six months later, was offered another trip to Israel for free. “I thought this has to be a sign from God. Who sends someone back to the Holy Land twice in the span of a year, for free? Clearly I missed something the first time,” he says.
On his second trip, he focused even more on learning — he learned about the Rambam, the Chofetz Chaim, the Talmud and learned in yeshiva for two and a half weeks. This time, he tried again to stay longer and instead of the IDF, study more in that yeshiva. Once again though, his parents gave that a hard no.
This time, they were worried about him becoming a religious fanatic. Dylan was confused. While he understood that more religious Jews were still a bit foreign, to him, they just looked so happy. “They seemed to understand the meaning of life,” he shares.
But Dylan obliged, completing college while continuing on a Jewish path. Throughout the rest of his college journey, Dylan continued learning more about his Judaism — he met more people at MEOR, Chabad events and eventually was led to an organization in the city called, Manhattan Jewish Experience, or MJE. After that and once he was done with college, he finally got the year experience in Israel that he dreamed of.
He currently works as a producer on the new Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd (with the Hamilton creative team behind it!), and previously worked on the show Company which he won a Tony Award for. Sweeney Todd is nominated for this year’s Tony’s (which are this Sunday, June 11). “I was actually offered Parade, but I was working on Sweeney Todd already. I couldn’t do two revivals that would compete against each other at the same time. Otherwise, I would have jumped on it.”
While Dylan’s Jewish pride is stronger than ever, he unfortunately hides his observance when he goes to work in the city. He had an “altercation” with someone who punched him while he was walking through the subway in a kippah and a suit. He only knows of one other Orthodox producer who works in Broadway, who also doesn’t wear a yarmulke professionally.
Dylan hopes that Broadway can be a safe place for Jews and that the theater continues to promote strong Jewish stories that work to eliminate antisemitism. Between Parade and Leopoldstadt, he is optimistic things will move in that direction. “I think Parade is going to win this year.”