“THE BEST OF
Sue Vaccaro Shines on
Broadway and in New Orleans
By Dean M. Shapiro
Every now and then we are blessed to meet a rare individual who
is perpetually cheerful, upbeat, confident and positive: someone
who never has a negative thing to say about anyone and is always
willing to lend a hand to others not quite as fortunate.
Not only is she all of the above, Sue
is also an empowered and accomplished
professional in her field: producing
Broadway shows. One of them,
Clybourne Park, won her the 2012 Tony
Award for Best Play as a Producer.
Sue’s current project, Empire,
is a Broadway musical about the
determination and perseverance it took
to build the tallest building in the world
at the time, the Empire State Building,
during the Great Depression. “It’s a big
entertaining show with a lot of heart,” as
Sue describes it.
“I have the best of both worlds,” she
proudly added, touting her hometown
of New Orleans and her second home,
New York City.
Sue’s journey from a 25-year teaching
career on the West Bank to a Tony
Award-winning producer on the Great
White Way is a fascinating and eventful
saga. She rubbed elbows with celebrities
and other creative professionals who
helped guide her along her chosen path.
But, before she could reach that point,
the groundwork had to be laid, starting
with the molding of her personality.
As she explained, “I was raised by my
parents, my aunt and my uncle, to try
to look at the good in everything and
everyone and not thrive on the bad. I don’t
Such a rare individual is Sue Vaccaro.
want to offend anyone and I don’t want
that kind of negativity in my life. I like
to spread joy; to be kind and respectful.
I believe that being respectful is part of
my heritage as a Southerner. That’s what
was preached to me as a child and what I
preach to my two sons.”
Born on the West Bank and raised in
Algiers, Sue was an exemplary student at
Martin Behrman High School. While in
her teens, she acted in local productions
at NORD Theater and was featured
in TV commercials for Diet Pepsi,
McKenzie’s bakeries, Winston cigarettes
(although she didn’t smoke) and several
After high school, Sue enrolled at
Nicholls State University in Thibodaux
where she graduated with honors. She
went on to receive multiple degrees
including a Masters of Education and she
later taught at three West Bank schools.
“I loved every minute of teaching,” Sue
said. “I loved every school I worked at.
I loved every person I worked with and
I loved every child I taught. I was so
blessed,” she said.
But, as often happens in life, when one
door closes another one opens. As her
long teaching career was winding down,
the next phase of Sue’s journey began
with a fortuitous and purely accidental
meeting with a widely known TV actress.
As she recounted, “I was waiting to
be seated at an AIDS benefit at Ruth’s
Chris Steak House and this woman in
front of me was looking around and she
said, ‘Oh, I think I see a photographer.’’’
After a brief, lighthearted conversation
between the two of them, the woman
identified herself as the character of
Blanche Devereaux on “The Golden
Girls” TV series. “And that’s how I met
Rue McClanahan,” she said.
Continuing, Sue recalled how the
1987 Emmy Award-winning Best Actress
insisted that she sit at her table and
the two of them conversed throughout
the meal. From that evening they
struck up a friendship. In the years that
followed, Sue was a frequent visitor
to McClanahan’s upscale Manhattan
apartment and she became known as
“Rue’s daughter.” Divorced at the time,
Sue said with a laugh, “She picked me
out to marry her son (Mark Bish). That
was never going to happen but he and I
are very good friends to this day.”
Sue then related the details of a phone
call she received from McClanahan
several years later, telling her, “I want you
to move to New York. And, when you’re
here, I’m going to mentor you and you
are going to produce my musical.”
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