Richard Jay-Alexander is equally at home in Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall directing Barbra Streisand and Kristin Chenoweth, or in a South Beach gay bar listening to off-key karaoke.
“I support the arts. I go to things. Not just the big touring shows. I go to the little companies,” says Jay-Alexander, a Miami Beach resident. “It’s not like I have a coin collection or I go fishing. I’m reading a script or listening to a new musical. Or catching up on a singer. I love pop culture.”
Jay-Alexander has been part of the local scene for more than 20 years. His first friend here: Charles Cinnamon, dean of South Florida show-biz publicists.
On Wednesday, Cinnamon will accompany Jay-Alexander as he accepts a Legends Honor arts award from Unity Coalition, South Florida’s Hispanic LGBT rights group, at its annual Leaders, Legends & Lovelies Ball. Other 2014 honorees are Sebrina Maria Alfonso, founder and conductor of the South Florida Symphony Orchestra; producer and artistic director David Chacón Perez; and Pedro Pablo Peña, founder and artistic director of the International Ballet Festival of Miami.
Growing up as “Dickie Fernandez” in Syracuse, N.Y., Jay-Alexander says Unity Coalition's mission “speaks to me and I need to bang the drum a little bit.”
“I was born Richard A. Fernandez. Richard Alexander Fernandez.” He changed his name to join Actor’s Equity — the unions already represented actors named Richard Fernandez and Richard Alexander.
After earning a theater degree in 1974 from State University of New York at Oswego, Jay-Alexander moved to New York City and got small acting jobs in the plays Zoot Suit and Amadeus. He soon became a dance captain and stage manager in producer Cameron Mackintosh’s organization.
His big break came in 1987, as executive producer and associate director of Mackintosh’s huge musical hit, Les Misérables.
In 1996, Jay-Alexander cast former Menudo singer Ricky Martin as Marius. “Everybody thought I was nuts to bring him to Broadway. They thought I was insane because nobody heard of him,” he says. “I saw him at Radio City Music Hall and got on my hands and knees and said, ‘Please come do this show.’ ”
After a falling out with Mackintosh, Jay-Alexander reinvented himself as a concert and recording director, working with musical stars including Bernadette Peters, Polly Bergen and Johnny Mathis.
In 2000, Streisand hired Jay-Alexander to take over direction of her “Timeless” tour. Their relationship blossomed, and since then, he has co-directed (with Streisand) all of her world tours.
“That girl has captured my heart,” he says of Streisand. “As I always say to people, I like her so much I forget how talented she is.”
This week, he directed Streisand’s younger half-sister, Roslyn Kind, for her sold-out opening at New York City nightclub 54 Below. He has also worked with Bette Midler, Donna McKechnie and Chenoweth, who on May 3 performs at Carnegie Hall in a Jay-Alexander-directed concert, “The Evolution of a Soprano.”
“He has given me confidence, and has complete and utter belief in my talent,” Chenoweth tells the Miami Herald. “I have complete and utter confidence in him and his gifts.”
Jay-Alexander, 60, is confident, particularly about his reputation.
“I’m passionate. It’s genuine. It gets me in trouble a lot, actually. Sometimes people can’t take it. I’m a tornado. You get a lot with me,” he says. “It’s a lot for people to handle, and sometimes it’s like, ‘We love you, but don’t get too close. We want you, but do it our way.’ I’ve learned to detect this now so I don’t get in trouble when I get hired. It’s hard. If you hire me, you have to be absolutely sure about what you want.”
The Leaders, Legends & Lovelies Ball is 7 to 11 p.m. Wednesday at the Fillmore Miami Beach. Tickets $100. http://www.unitycoalition.org