Look at a Roundabout season, and what pops out are the boldfaced names. In 2005 and 2006, for instance, Gabriel Byrne, Harry Connick Jr., and Alec Baldwin did turns on the company's stages. In 2007, Swoosie Kurtz, Blythe Danner, and Audra McDonald are performing. Early on, Haimes recognized an important fact in making theater economically viable: Celebrity matters in filling seats. But the eyepopper of a monetary factoid is that the top pay Haimes offers is $1,100 per week. "You can only imagine how much more Harry Connick Jr. makes giving concerts," says Haimes. This is where his personal secret sauce comes in: "I spend a lot of time cultivating relationships with the actors, actresses, and directors I want to work with," says Haimes, who says he might invest months in piecing together a package that would bring, say, Byrne to act in Eugene O'Neill's little-performed play A Touch of the Poet, a production that Roundabout staged on its Studio 54 stage in its 2005-2006 season. Haimes snares the big names by promising artistic freedom coupled - importantly - with limited runs that rarely take up more than four months of a top-grade actor's year.

Haimes still has big dreams, big goals. And that's expensive. "I want to get the funding to do more large-cast plays. A typical Broadway play might have five actors. There are older plays I want to do that have 20 or 40 actors. You don't see those shows on Broadway anymore." Unless, of course, it is Haimes producing, as he did with the Threepenny Opera, a musical that Roundabout staged in 2006 with dozens of parts.

Other marquee names: Lynne Meadow, Manhattan Theatre Club; Oskar Eustis, the Public Theater

Playwright
Doug Wright

A musical about a mother and daughter who hoard cats and, in their declining years, join the felines in eating cat food? That's Doug Wright's Grey Gardens, a surprise Broadway success that is the story of Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, cousins of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis who descended into an economic and personal decline that might, at first glance, seem more the stuff of a tragedy than of a musical.

Wright, 44, is proof that the best shows can come from the most unpredictable material. A few years ago, he had a smash hit with I Am My Own Wife, a play about a German transvestite who endured both Nazism and the Communist occupation of East Germany. From those unlikely ingredients, Wright fashioned a play that won not only Tonys but also the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. No wonder he was asked to work on Grey Gardens, an offer he rejected several times ("I didn't initially see the story line," Wright says). But Scott Frankel, who wrote the music, "kept wearing me away, and after two years, I said okay."

But just when you think you have Wright niched, chew on this current endeavor: "I'm writing the book for the Broadway-bound musical version of Disney's beloved The Little Mermaid. It's an unabashedly charming story. I think this is an exciting project."

Born in Dallas, Wright wrote his first play at age 11 - it was, he says, "an epic two-and-one-half-hour drama where everybody dies." At 19, in college at Yale, he wrote The Stonewater Rapture, his first viable play, which he says "still gets produced 30 or 40 times a year."