Rock of Ages

An exuberantly sunny Broadway director? Really?

June 1, 2012: 12:58 PM ET

Former "Rock of Ages" director Kristin Hanggi explains how she tries to say yes as much as possible and that aggression is not the only effective leadership style on Broadway.

Kristin Hanggi

FORTUNE -- Not all of us could get a horde of Broadway actors wearing 1980s wigs to do anything worth watching. No, it takes a special kind of talent to be Kristin Hanggi, who directed the feel-good Broadway musical "Rock of Ages," which was nominated for five Tony awards in 2009 (including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical). She's young to have come so far so fast -- Hanggi is only 34 years old.

Fortune spoke with Hanggi while she was on the set of her new production, "SURF The Musical," which features the music of the Beach Boys and opens this coming June in Las Vegas. She explains what it takes to make a musical work.

Fortune: What's involved in pulling off a Broadway production?

Kristin Hanggi: Definitely trusting your instinct. When you're hiring people for a project, you pay attention to how they connect to you. Sometimes, there's a back-and-forth that starts to happen immediately, where you know this person gets what you're doing.

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Then you try to create those clicks in as many places as possible. In fact, I was talking to a set designer today, and I said, 'Ooh, you know what time I want it? I want the sky when it isn't fully dark yet, and it's just starting to turn purple.' And he goes, 'you want a little magic in your sky,' and I said, 'yes, that's exactly what I want!'

You're quite young to have gotten so far in theater. When would you say you first began to trust your instincts as a director?

I remember being 22 or 23 and I had just graduated from graduate school a little early and I was doing my first professional production, a musical called Bare. Everything else that I had done before had been shoestring.

I remember sitting there as we were creating it, and I felt this, I don't know, voice inside of me that said 'trust your instincts.' More

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