Whether you're laying on the beach or curled up on your porch, nothing says summer quite like indulging in a new book. While there's plenty of escapist novels to dive into, the staff at TMTP is sharing some of our favorite musical theater books of all-time in case you're missing the bright lights of Broadway this season. Click on the book image to view/purchase on Amazon.
BY TED CHAPIN
PRESIDENT, THE RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN ORGANIZATION
When my father ran the Masterworks division of Columbia Records, the company released
specialized projects under the “Legacy” label. They were boxed sets, elaborately and impeccably
produced, and packaged with style and class including extensive notes.
If anyone is keeping the spirit of that series alive, it is Bill Rudman and Ken Bloom—and TMTP’s
Harbinger Records. Good on them to find a way to keep important recordings available for
those of us who love all aspects of musical theater and the Great American Songbook.
I’ve known Ken and Bill for years, and when they had the idea to create Harbinger, I felt it was a
noble, and probably foolhardy, idea. But wait! They got Maxine Sullivan and then Peggy Lee to
venture into recording studios—I was impressed. Because they had a sharp focus about what they
wanted from those recordings, the artists responded, and the results were superb.
And their ability to dive into songwriters’ tapes of demos and ephemera, combined with discreet
new recordings, in a Hidden Treasures series, illuminated musical theater creators in ear-opening ways. They even found piano rolls recorded in the 1920's by Richard Rodgers that I didn’t
know existed! Stunning.
They are still at it, and we are all the beneficiaries. Any time they have reached out to me, I’ve
done what I could, from providing notes (like this one) to getting the Rodgers & Hammerstein
Foundation to make unique grants to several albums in the Hidden Treasures series. Thankfully, each Harbinger release is painstakingly edited, sonically clean and elegantly presented.
And extraordinarily classy.
DID YOU KNOW THAT THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT HAS ITS OWN NATIONAL
RECORD LABEL? For 37 years many lovers of musical theater, cabaret and the Great
American Songbook have considered Harbinger Records to be a kind of musical oasis.
BY REBECCA PALLER
The label, since 2015 a division of TMTP, includes 70 recordings ranging from studio sessions by legends like Maxine Sullivan and Peggy Lee to live performances and recordings by such top-ranked cabaret stars as Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano—plus rare archival recordings by Richard Rodgers, John Kander, Sheldon Harnick and other songwriters (including the “backers auditions” of musicals such as Barnum and I Love My Wife).
In this day and age, when countless labels are long gone, it’s amazing that a specialized one—with a name that conjures images of a songbird (Harbinger’s logo) and of good things to come —is releasing six recordings this year, including the recent first edition in a quarter-century of the 1969 original cast recording of Celebration by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, and a fascinating Jones & Schmidt collection, Hidden Treasures, 1951–2001. This focus on the more obscure work of the
creators of The Fantasticks exemplifies the role of Harbinger as both connoisseur and
curator—making available to the public significant work that deserves to be heard.
Harbinger reflects the discernment and gumption of its founders, Bill Rudman and New Yorker Ken Bloom, who met in 1977 and forged an immediate bond in their passion for musical theater. Their tastes were “absolutely compatible,” said Bill and Ken, “and we decided we were destined
to produce recordings.”
In 1983 an opportunity presented itself: a recording of Geraldine Fitzgerald’s one-woman show, Streetsongs, that embodied another Harbinger tenet: “We want artists who can truly act the song,” said Ken, “not just make pretty sounds.” In 1976 Fitzgerald, a legendary actress on stage and screen, was packing in audiences at New York cabaret Reno Sweeney with a colorful array of numbers, from “Danny Boy” to Gershwin’s “Swanee” and the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.”
In 1979 Streetsongs scored a hit at the Roundabout Theater. Bill was a publicist for the show, and in 1981 he brought it to Cleveland’s Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival and had it taped in performance as a gift for Fitzgerald. “When the tapes turned out to be terrific, Ken and I worked on them in a Manhattan studio, and emerged with an album that won raves,” said Bill. “Miss Fitzgerald fills her performance with lusty, warm-blooded vitality,” wrote John S. Wilson in The New
By then Ken had relocated to New York from Washington, D.C., where he wrote and directed musical revues including Sweet and Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen. Many of the numbers in that show were first performed in the 1930s at New York’s famed nightspot the Cotton Club. They became the inspiration for Harbinger’s second album. “We wanted to include previously unrecorded songs alongside standards like ‘Stormy Weather,’ ” said Ken.
Arlen biographer Ed Jablonski helped them unearth the lesser-known songs, and Bill and Ken set their sights on the jazz singer Maxine Sullivan, who headlined at the Cotton Club in 1940 with Louis Armstrong. They found her number in the New York City phonebook and called her cold. At 72, she eagerly joined the team, and Great Songs From the Cotton Club by Arlen & Koehler was released in 1984, followed by albums devoted to composers Burton Lane (1985) and Jule Styne (1987). The reviews for the three recordings were rapturous, and Sullivan received a Grammy Award nomination for the Cotton Club album.
For their next venture, the two men pursued the iconic song stylist Peggy Lee. Again, a phone call did the trick. Bill recalled: “I said, ‘Miss Lee, we have this idea for you. You will record an album comprised entirely of unknown, unrecorded songs by Harold Arlen.’” Her response was quick. “Oh, I would be interested in that.”
When Held Lightly: Rare Songs by Harold Arlen was released in 1993, the reviews were rhapsodic for Lee, then 73—with special praise for two bittersweet songs: “Come On, Midnight” and “I Had a Love Once.”
Enlightening liner notes are another Harbinger hallmark. Among those who have written for the CD booklets are Stephen Sondheim, William Bolcom, Sheldon Harnick, Tom Jones, Jesse Green,
Marc Horowitz, Michael Feinstein and Ted Chapin. Harbinger’s archival recording of Sissle & Blake Sing “Shuffle Along” copped a 2017 Grammy Award for Ken and Richard Carlin’s liner notes, which provided a history of the trailblazing 1921 all-black show.
In the Harbinger pipeline are Hidden Treasures from Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, and Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta in a partnership with the Smithsonian. During this time of pandemic and loss, a niche record label is providing a bit of sweetness and light for music lovers everywhere.
BY JODI MAILE KIRK, DIRECTOR OF ACTIVE LEARNING
Many song lyrics from classic musicals that we perform with students in area classrooms have taken on powerful new meanings: “Where troubles melt like lemon drops” (The Wizard of Oz), “Just as long as I stay in my own little corner” (Cinderella), “Look for the bare necessities” (The Jungle Book), “It might be miles beyond the moon, or right there where you stand” (Peter Pan), and “Happiness is singing together when day is through” (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown).
Why? Because in mid-March, with the onslaught of Covid-19, the world came screeching to a halt. For those of us who deliver TMTP’s Kids Love Musicals! residencies to local schools, this was painful. Our in-school programs were canceled at 15 Northeast Ohio schools, the victim of necessary school closures in response to the pandemic.
The cancellation was especially difficult for students who don’t have home support systems or access to essential resources. For many students, school is a safe haven—one of the few places where they feel valued. TMTP’s teaching artists (TAs) amplify that environment by sharing amazing stories and characters from musicals, and inviting kids to enjoy and connect with them in deeply personal ways. How so? Our radiant TAs are ambassadors for all that TMTP does and believes in. As you can imagine, releasing them for the rest of the school year is a terrible loss for all of us in this organization—and for the community.
Right now, it hurts that we aren’t able to share classroom spaces and make real human connections. Our task: How to create something positive that could emerge from the setback.
Speaking personally, it can be difficult for me to balance work with the need to homeschool my twin boys. Both Xavier and Gabriel have learning challenges, and Gabriel is on the autism spectrum. The inequities for all students, but particularly for those with special needs, are more achingly apparent than ever: In addition to being mom, I am now thrust into the role of teaching multiple subjects while trying to provide the services of an intervention specialist, an aide and both a speech and occupational therapist.
In the best of times, a team of helpers is charged with closing a significant learning gap for my kids. Just as in Cinderella, it sometimes seems “impossible.” Yet our work at TMTP has always offered me incredible solace. I am reminded of the characters from the musicals we explore—like Cinderella, Peter, Mowgli, Dorothy and Charlie Brown. All of them are searching to belong and connect, and all of them succeed.
But these are not the best of times. That search—that need—has never been greater: for me, for my kids, for their helpers, for all of us. We at TMTP had to find a way to address that need without going into the schools this spring.
Well, the first thing we did was harder than it may seem. We resolved to embrace musical theater’s core conviction that even if we don’t know how a problem will turn out, everything is going to be OK.
Armed with that optimism, our suddenly-small team began brainstorming: What aspects of our lesson plans could we realistically deliver online? Students, their parents, their caregivers and teachers face enormous challenges. We wanted to support them, especially if they are in a
position like mine. Many are.
And we wondered—this became very exciting!—what we could develop online that doesn’t work in a classroom setting but could work well on a computer screen, with its potential for astonishing intimacy.
The result is our new “distance learning” curriculum that both reflects the values of our in-school programs and confronts the moment we’re living in right now. How can we communicate the disappointment of canceled activities, or when no one listens to our concerns? What does it feel like when we can’t get together with friends and family? How do we share the community’s burden for the benefit of the whole?
As teaching artists, we’re used to entering a classroom and reading the temperature of the group, assessing where individual kids are in the moment. We incorporate their ideas, validate student contributions to increase self-confidence, and facilitate discussion to help process and deepen a thought or feeling.
As you can imagine, the biggest thing we lose in online instruction is that kind of visceral and immediate feedback. We lose the power that comes with creating a group dynamic and fostering a sense of community. But when we return to normal (whenever that is, and however that looks), I believe our online activities and video skills will complement our inspirational, interactive, playful work in the classroom.
We can never replace the need to see faces and hear voices, to join hands and raise voices, to safely breathe the same air.
And yet, as we’re learning at TMTP, “online” is still a gift we have to offer, just as there is a gift to be found in solving any problem. My hope is that like Baloo in The Jungle Book, we’re all questioning what our “Bare Necessities” are and how they can fill and sustain our hearts.
This challenge has reaffirmed for me why we do what we do at The Musical Theater Project, which is all about building connection, even though for now it’s in a new and different way. We let kids know that they matter. We honor their feelings, ideas and voices. We empower them to know they are a big part of making everything OK. I am excited by the work we are creating, and I’m thankful that we are able to provide a vehicle for self-expression and pure joy during this time of uncertainty. I hope you’ll become part of our online classroom!
The Musical Theater Project's authors include Bill Rudman, Heather Meeker and Joanna May Cullinan - and guest writers from time to time!