Obstacles and overtures: The unsinkable Mark Schoenfeld

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Mark Schoenfeld, left, with Alim Yai, Manchester.

spotlightMANCHESTER, NHMark Schoenfeld, co-creator of the Broadway musical Brooklyn, is positioning himself for his second curtain call. The former street performer-turned-Broadway playwright stunned the theatre world with his improbable come-back kid story in 2004. Now, after overcoming an eight-year debilitating illness that left him virtually bedridden, he’s making an A-list return.

“I have a relentless nature. I am willing to go down to the depths of nothing to make it happen, and if you’re comfortable you can’t do that. No one does it if they are comfortable,” Schoenfeld says.

Go down to the depths is precisely what he did. After Brooklyn Schoenfeld, along with his writing partner Barri McPherson, created an animated musical called The Music Boy. It was sold to Disney, who optioned it for three years. When the option expired, they decided against renewing with Disney a second time. Instead, they included the possibility of creating a theater piece, something which was successfully pitched to Hugh Jackman, who attached himself as a producer. Through Jackman’s business partner at the time, it was then pitched to Dream Works and Miramax among other studios. Shortly after pitching Hollywood, Schoenfeld became ill with a rare condition.

Barri MchPherson and Mark Shoenfeld, co-creators of “Brooklyn, the Musical.”

“I had memory loss. At times, I looked like I had Parkinson’s. I had bone pain, headaches, stomach pain. The doctors kept telling me I was depressed, but I knew I wasn’t,” Schoenfeld said.

After examinations came back negative, doctors sent him to a psychiatrist for mental evaluation. The psychiatrist conducted a DNA test and found that Schoenfeld had a rare condition blocking his liver from properly metabolizing medication. The accumulation in his body was near toxic. For approximately eight years, he endured the debilitating pain that virtually left him bedridden. One day, after stopping all medications for eight months, his agony subsided.

“One morning, I woke up and the pain was gone,” Schoenfeld says.

Currently, Schoenfeld, Hollywood/Broadway producer Scott Prisand (whom Schoenfeld mentored, also the producer of Brooklyn) are creating a reality show with Alim Yai, sister of the supermodel sensation Anok Yai, who skyrocketed to fame and an international modeling career, after her Instagram photos went viral in 2017. The reality show focuses on the six-sibling Sudanese family, which was transplanted to New Hampshire.

“A few years ago a friend of mine introduced me to Alim Yai. I found her striking. This young woman could end up being a senator. When Anok went viral, I contacted Alim and spoke with her about the possibilities of fame. She suggested a reality show —the  Sudanese version of the Kardashians. The family is unusually exotic. The father demanded the children listen to English recordings to learn the language. When they arrived here, they were three to a bed, and the father slept on the floor,” Schoenfeld says.

Jodi Katz and Mark Shoenfeld.

The Yai family is not the only local talent Schoenfeld has promoted. While visiting a choir class at Manchester Memorial High School several years ago, he was introduced to senior Jodi Katz. Amazed by her stunning voice and extraordinary presence, he immediately decided to represent her. She moved to New York City and became a background singer for Miley Cyrus, and landed a spot with the Kidz Bop brand. It was during this time Schoenfeld became ill.  Katz went on to tour with one of the top ten ticket-selling bands for the last decade, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. 2018 marks Katz’s 10th consecutive seasonal tour.

“I’m an excellent promo guy. In Hollywood, they called me the pitch-man,” Schoenfeld says.

He continues to manage songwriters and producers, solidifying publishing deals with major labels. He is picking up where he left off writing, mentoring, cultivating and promoting new talent. As for the animated project, after his eight-year absence, Schoenfeld explains, “We didn’t want another option. Either Barri and I are going to make it into an animated film ourselves, or we’re going to bring it to the theater and make it a Broadway spectacle… Something is going to happen with it,” he says, with confidence.

At 68 years young, Schoenfeld proves your never too mature for a triumphant second act.

About this Author

Constance Cherise

Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic MoviesSee her work here.