Every October Manhattan is usually bursting with song as the Mabel Mercer Foundation presents the annual Cabaret Convention. The artform specializing in live and intimate song interpretation certainly wasn't created with "social distancing" in mind, but nobody's gonna rain on this parade. For the first time ever, audiences around the world can enjoy a virtual version of the event jam packed with star power. You can register to attend one of many sessions at the link below. In the meantime, here are TMTP's selections for must-listen cabaret albums.
We’re thrilled when our participants tell us they have learned, laughed, cried and loved (our
slogan) at one of our events—but I must confess I’m just as happy when I learn something,
which happens all the time.
Example: Now available on our Let’s Go to the Movies series is my preview of the Fred Astaire film A Damsel in Distress (1937). We’ve provided the link to the film, and you can be part of our live-streamed Q&A on October 15.
I programmed it because it’s such a curiosity: Set in Britain, it’s the only musical film starring
Fred in which his leading lady, the 20-year-old Joan Fontaine (remember her from Hitchcock’s
Rebecca?), could neither sing nor dance! I’ll tell you what’s positively disarming, though: In
their dance routine for George and Ira Gershwin’s “Things Are Looking Up,” Fred generously
does everything in his power to make her look good.
And here’s what astonished me: the film, which I hadn’t seen in about 25 years, turns out to be a
delightful confection featuring the great comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen; the last
complete score by the Gershwin brothers before George’s untimely death of a brain tumor (their
score includes “A Foggy Day” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It”); and a screenplay co-written
by P.G. Woodhouse, the droll British humorist who created the “Jeeves” stories.
So give it a whirl…Will you cry? Probably not. But there’s a fair chance you’ll learn, laugh and
love. Not bad for a film that’s virtually forgotten today.
By Jodi Maile Kirk
At The Musical Theater Project, we use the art of musical theater not only to step into a story or soak in the wonder of a song but to examine and explore the human condition. Musicals offer a unique opportunity to look within. They invite us to unearth our greatest joys and sorrows, to honor both our triumphs and our challenges.
Sadly, many of our most beloved musicals and favorite songs offer a limited world view seen primarily through a white lens. So many voices remain unheard, So many stories untold. We must continue to ask ourselves, “What stories are being erased? Eliminated? Reduced?” And most importantly, “Who is telling those stories?”
Currently, the story of our nation is one of a great divide. We continue to live in two Americas. It has been a summer of unrest and racial turbulence. Many of us continue to wrestle with hard truths as we bear witness to the horrific murder of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others. The fuels and flames of social injustice are raging throughout this land, and we seek to find a united voice.
In searching for a musical that reflects this time of reckoning, I landed on the musical Ragtime. Although written by white artists, the piece authentically explores part of our American story that is either glossed over or ignored. Once again, I was moved by the power of the music and the intricate weaving of three separate narratives. I soaked in the lyrics to one of the show’s stand-out songs, “Make Them Hear You,” an anthem inviting us all to stand for justice no matter the cost. As I listened to it this time, however, its promise rang hollow. I found myself getting angrier and sadder as I questioned the ongoing cost for people of color—the cost of generations—that continues to be too high.
I found myself haunted by the story of Mother and the journey of the song “Back to Before.” Although the song in the musical reflects Mother’s ownership of her own agency, I realized that in order to move forward, White America needs to sever ties with the stories that we have told ourselves for too long. We all need to step out of our comfort zones so we honestly look at our nation’s history, as well as our personal history. We must honestly look at the promise of the Civil Rights movement versus the reality. We must rectify the systemic injustices that continue to plague who we are meant to be. Only then will we find a way to be a nation in which everyone--everyone, no matter the color of their skin or who they choose to love—is treated equally, fairly and with justice and respect.
Black lives matter.
In Ragtime, the story of Coalhouse Walker ends tragically. We must continue to fight and change the narrative. Thankfully, an amazing group of TMTP artists shared their gifts and their hearts as we worked together to blend songs from this powerful musical as well as images from our shared history to create this video and--hopefully--begin a new dialogue. This performance invites us all to come together and lean into hard questions, as we try to move forward. To change the story of who we are and who we can be.
Between multiple Broadway revivals, cabaret recordings, film versions, television clips and concert events, it's hard to identify the quintessential Leonard Bernstein. As we celebrate the late composer's birthday this week, TMTP's staff went down the YouTube rabbit hole to share a few beloved clips worth watching.
Bill is up to what all of us at The Musical Theater Project are up to—and this goes for most arts
organizations in Cleveland as well. We’re creating online programming as a means of serving
our participants during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the case of TMTP, that includes our new
weekly series, “Let’s Go to the Movies…at Home!,” an adaptation of our acclaimed school
program, “Kids Love Musicals!,” and specially selected song playlists that can be streamed on
Spotify. (And of course our two long-running radio programs on public stations and Sirius
continue, unaffected by the virus.)
But you probably know that a big part of our work is producing live concerts and cabarets, and I want to tell you about preparing our very first online show because it will help me make an
important point about TMTP.
The show, which you’ll be able to stream in October, is titled “Sing Me a Story”—and my
colleague Nancy Maier and I know it’ll be lots of fun because the songs we’ve chosen are so
much fun. As the title suggests, they’re all songs that tell stories, and they range from
Hollywood’s “The Ugly Duckling” (Hans Christian Andersen) to Broadway’s “Nothing”
(A Chorus Line).
We were doing just fine assembling the music for our two vocalists, Ursula Cataan and Eric
Fancher, when all of a sudden we hit a roadblock. I was determined to include “Cheerleader,” a
little-known story-song by the great John Kander and Fred Ebb that’s both funny and touching.
In 1979 I saw it performed in New York by the late Phyliss Newman in her one-woman show,
The Madwoman of Central Park West.
But the song wasn’t in the Kander & Ebb songbook, nor was it published…period. Well, that never stops us. We go to a friend of mine in New York who has tons of unpublished material in the performance editions used in the theater. He scoured his files; nope.
So…on to composer John Kander (a friend of TMTP) and his assistant. They spent two months
searching for that elusive cheerleader to no avail. I suppose a lot of people would have given up by now; after all, Nancy and I have 20 other songs in the show!
But heck, this is TMTP, so we pressed on. We asked our friend in New York to recommend
someone there who could transcribe the piano-vocal from Newman’s cast album. We found a
terrific arranger named Balint Varga, and a week later, voila! I just sent “Cheerleader” to Nancy
and Ursula. As Balint noted, “Just think: We saved a little gem from oblivion.”
I share this with you because it’s typical of TMTP; we are all perfectionists and we never give
up. That’s a big reason I’ve been here for 22 years…
Don’t miss “Sing Me a Story” in October, OK?
P.S. Naturally I sent “Cheerleader” to John Kander. His response: “Wow! Thanks—it is great to
The 72nd Annual Emmy Award nominations just came out and as usual, Broadway is well represented. We thought this would be the perfect time to look back at our favorite musical TV shows. Everyone at TMTP was tasked with selecting a gem from the silver screen that would satisfy our hunger for musical theater while we're stuck home on the couch.
Harbinger's latest album, Geraldine Fitzgerald's Streetsongs, is now available as a special collector's edition ON VINYL! Yes, that's right, TMTP is now entering the retro-hip era of the LP record. So, with great nostalgia, the staff recalled memories of their most beloved vinyl cast recordings growing up and how listening to original LPs influenced their love of musicals today.
By Bill Rudman
It’s rare that something you created 37 years ago is still admired decades later. The first LP Ken
Bloom and I ever produced – Geraldine Fitzgerald in Streetsongs – was recently released on CD
on The Musical Theater Project’s Harbinger label, and though it won raves back in the day from
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, it appears to be a hit all over again.
Actually, “created” is too strong a word. What Ken and I did in 1983 was adapt the star’s live
performance into a recording that worked on its own terms. If her name doesn’t ring a bell,
Geraldine was a great Irish-American actor: a star from the 1930s through the 1950s, sharing the
stage or screen with the likes of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Gary Cooper, and then
appearing or directing on Broadway until a few years before her death in 2005. As if that were
not enough, in the late 1970s she decided to become a cabaret singer, and publicizing her show at the Roundabout was my first New York job.
We became friends, and I was captivated by her voice, though it was, by her own admission,
“peculiar” and “a rough instrument” – a kind of combination of Lotte Lenya and Marlene
Dietrich. But she knew how to take you deep inside songs as disparate as Gershwin’s “Swanee,”
Tommy Makem’s “Four Green Fields” and the Beatles’ “Leaving Home.”
But the question Ken and I asked ourselves last year was this: Would anyone care about our
work (and Geraldine’s luminous art) in 2020?
The response makes us very proud. The customer “reviews” on Amazon are loaded with Five Stars – the highest rating! And several of them amount to mini-essays. I’ll quote from just one, by Arthur Fergenson: “This is theater at its recorded best, where Ms. Fitzgerald acts in the roles
crafted by her….This is about playing a role in the course of a five- to 15-minute one-act play
with music. Listen carefully to Bill Rudman’s radio interview of Ms. Fitzgerald in 1983, excerpts
of which are included on this CD, and you will understand. She wants, craves a full stage with a
large audience so that she can feed off their energy and bring her actor’s craft fully to bear.
“And she does so brilliantly. Her ‘Danny Boy’ is justifiably the most famous piece in the show.
Reminding me of Andrea Marcovicci, Ms. Fitzgerald brings a powerful intelligence to bear
explaining what the song is really about, and seamlessly enters into the song and the character
she plays as the young woman saying goodbye (and possibly farewell) to her beloved. In six
minutes, Ms. Fitzgerald wills us into knowing and feeling.”
Bottom line: 37 years ago Geraldine Fitzgerald created a classic recording, and all these years
later, Ken and I are tremendously proud of it. P.S. This month Amazon will also offer the album
in its original vinyl edition; what goes around, comes around.
Order now on Amazon
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!
It's Tony Week! Since we can't celebrate Broadway's biggest night together with dazzling new numbers from this season, The Musical Theater Project staff has assembled some favorite clips from years past.* Have you seen them all? Did your favorite make the list?
*The Musical Theater Project does not own the rights to any of these recordings.
We're all missing the live theatrical experience right now. Fortunately, Hollywood has adapted many of our favorite Broadway musicals for the silver screen! While some interpretations are more successful than others, here are TMTP's Staff picks for their favorite classic stage-to-screen selections. Just click on the photo or title to stream on AmazonPrime while "sheltering in place."
Since The Musical Theater Project's mission is to educate as well a entertain, we thought we'd share our favorite Broadway-themed documentaries to catch up on while you're spending time at home. Most of these are available for streaming, some even for free. Check out the trailers for all of them right here and add these to your Watch List!
By Bill Rudman
No doubt there have been hundreds of us—men and women who found the confidence to make a career in musical theater thanks to Stephen Sondheim’s generosity of spirit and dedication to teaching.
I bet I’m typical. I wrote to him in 1969, when I was an 18-year-old living in a small town in Ohio. Topic: Anyone Can Whistle. I sent him a blank reel-to-reel tape, asking him (what chutzpah!) to respond to my questions. Lo and behold, he brought in Arthur Laurents so they could do it together, with Sondheim commenting that since I was writing “a master’s thesis” (!), he felt I deserved the “most pretentious possible reply.” (High praise indeed from Sondheim.)
I promise you I didn’t misrepresent myself—but for whatever reason, he took me seriously, and our correspondence officially began. Two years later, I was teaching a course in musical theater history while a student at a tiny Ohio college. Displaying more chutzpah, I invited him to speak to my class, but though he declined (graciously explaining that he hated to fly), he invited me to interview him at his Turtle Bay townhouse. In 1973 he even invited me to attend the recording session for A Little Night Music. I took notes! Nirvana! And after the epic 14-hour session, he took me and a friend of his out for a nightcap across the street from the Columbia Records studio.
Then in 1975, when I was working for Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, he gave us the first non-aquatic rights to do The Frogs. He and Burt Shevelove made revisions, and we premiered the heart-piercing Sondheim-Shakespeare song, “Fear No More.”
By 1979, I was living and working in Manhattan—and I decided not to trouble him further (except sporadically!). Forty-one years later, I’m artistic director of The Musical Theater Project, an educational nonprofit in Cleveland. We have a national record label, Harbinger Records, and a few years ago I asked him to do a liner note for a CD retrospective on Hugh Martin, a songwriter I knew he admired.
Amazingly he remembered me and wrote a splendid note. In gratitude I sent him a CD we had produced of piano rolls that nobody knew existed, recorded in the 1920s by Richard Rodgers, and I finally had the chance to teach him something.
In 1994 New York Magazine famously asked, “Is Stephen Sondheim God”? It’s my favorite rhetorical question.
Happy Birthday to the godlike man who believed in me…
Top 10 Vocal Releases
Lets Go Into A Picture Show
Top Historical and Reissues
Eubie Blake & Noble Sissle Sing Shuffle Along
Sissle & Blake's - Shuffle Along 1950
DARRELL KARL (CasRecL ListServe)
The Year in Show Music 2019
Year's Top 10 Desert Island Discs
Sara Zahn: Both Sides of Bernstein
Notable Cast Album/Studio Cast Album Reissues
Top 10 Female Vocalists CDs
Wendy Scherl: You'll See
Sara Zahn: Both Sides of Bernstein
Notable Composer Anthologies/Tributes
Sara Zahn: Both Sides of Bernstein
Special Award: Favorite Flop Score Reissue
Honorable Mention: Philemon
Special Award: I Never Thought I'd Live To See The Day Reissue
Labors of Love
Sara Zahn: Both Sides of Bernstein
By Bill Rudman
"They have matched familiar tunes with obscurities...it all adds up to a unique and delightful Christmas collection.”
- Jersey Jazz
What a Classy Christmas Present! The word “legendary” is the best word to describe singer and pianist Steve Ross, who has enthralled audience in Manhattan since the 1970s. In September he headlined at TMTP’s Rendezvous cabaret series in Cleveland, and last month he was featured at New York’s 30th annual Cabaret Convention. Last Christmas you may have missed his just-released new CD, “It’s Almost Christmas Eve,” in which he is joined by three of his cabaret colleagues. Together they celebrate Christmas songs both well-known (“We Need a Little Christmas”) and rarely performed (Rodgers & Hamerstein’s charming “Happy Christmas, Little Friend”). Don’t let another holiday season go by without Mr. Ross and company.
It's Almost Christmas Eve is Harbinger's November Album of the Month and available now for only $10!
By Bill Rudman
As you know, Greater Cleveland lost an irreplaceable community leader and philanthropist on September 20 with the death, at 88, of Lainie Hadden.
When we think of her, we think first of how Lainie, the Junior League and a visionary named Ray Shepardson saved the Playhouse Square theaters from the wrecking ball in the early 1970s. Over the years, she deflected all praise for her work, but those of us who had watched closely knew she spearheaded the effort. By now, of course, the Playhouse Square district has developed beyond her most fantastic dreams.
What you may not know is that Lainie's many "causes" included The Musical Theater Project. More than 20 years ago, while in the first stages of forming TMTP, I paid a call on her at her Cleveland Heights home. The scene in her study -- a room filled with books and LPs -- plays vividly in my mind's eye; I even remember the table where we sat. I knew she loved the "glorious" (her word) classic musicals, and I told her about my own dream: an arts-education nonprofit that would explore them.
Then I said, "Lainie, would you do me the honor of serving on the board of trustees?"
"Oh, I couldn't possibly," she replied. "I have so much on my plate."
I looked her straight in the eyes. "But Lainie," I said, "I can't do this without you."
And I meant it.
It was her turn to look me straight in the eyes: "Well, all right then. I'll sign up." Soon after, she sent me a letter including a line that I still quote: "Musicals remind us of what we like best about ourselves." And let it be known that although Lainie Hadden could be seen in her box at Severance Hall everything Thursday night when the Orchestra was in town, her favorite art form was musical theater. Whenever I alluded to that passion -- which was often, of course -- she gave me her captivating smile.
About 10 years ago, she suggested I present a talk around town with the tongue-in-cheek title, "Everything I Know About Life I Learned From Musicals." I thought it was a crazy idea, but I did it (still do), and she was right. People love that talk, because there's a lot of truth in it.
Lainie served on our board until her death, and for me one of the best things about TMTP was getting to know her better. She became an extraordinarily generous contributor, but it was her generosity of spirit that inspired all of us. My colleague Nancy Maier recalls, "When Lainie particularly enjoyed one of our concerts, I would receive a personal phone call, or a card from her, or even flowers. We had the most wonderful talks, and she was truly interested in everything about me and my family."
Lainie and I chatted on the phone nearly every Saturday morning. Typically the conversation began with a jovial "Mr. Rudman!" -- and an inquiry about that night's edition of Footlight Parade on WCLV. When I revealed the topic, she would guess which songs I had chosen. (Lainie knew the musical theater repertoire so well, she easily could have hosted my show and done it with style).
Then we'd segue into conversation about TMTP and Broadway and PBS specials and national affairs. At the end it was always, "Goodbye, dear man," and my own ironically formal "Goodbye, Mrs. Hadden." We enjoyed the fact that both of us had been college English majors; our dialogue was unabashedly old-fashioned, even courtly.
Lainie became quite frail a year ago, but in February, that didn't stop her from attending at TMTP concert in Beachwood in the middle of snowstorm. Dressed in a multicolored, knockout winter coat and moving with the aid of her elegant walking stick, she had come to hear Cole Porter, by God, and once my commentary began, I could see her down front taking notes, as usual. What she didn't know, she wanted to learn. Lainie and Cole had something in common: what critic Bredan Gill called and "elevated mind."
At TMTP board meetings, I sometimes made a point of hailing her as the "mother of us all." She clearly liked playing the role, and yet, as she told Cleveland magazine several years ago, "I've been too busy living my life to consider my legacy."
I visited four times last summer. One gorgeous evening on her patio we traded reflections. There was something I wanted to know, but I had to be careful how I said it or she wouldn't accept the compliment: "Lainie, you're the most gracious person I've ever met, and I wonder where that came from."
"From my father," she said, "who brought home my first treasured Broadway album, Oklahoma!, on a set of 78s. He was a great influence because he taught me the art of living."
Lainie's graciousness has had an impact on our organization, if such an ineffable quality can by passed on outside a family circle. I do believe it can, and for that, among so many other qualities, we felt privileged to know her -- to live in her time.
The 2019-20 TMTP concert and cabaret series is dedicated to the memory of Lainie Hadden and to her fellow trustee Robert Conrad.
Whether you love to hate them or hate to love them, musical theater is filled with delicious villains. From the comic (Miss Hannigan in Annie) to the misunderstood (Jud Fry in Oklahoma!) and the downright evil (Judge Turbin in Sweeney Todd), Halloween is the perfect time of year to celebrate them all!
Check out TMTP's staff picks for favorite "bad guy" and let us know who makes YOU shiver in your seat.
Les Miserables has some great villains. I find Inspector Javert's lyrics in "Stars" to be incredibly striking since the policeman with his moral absolutism is the villain of the piece.
- Debbie Schinker, Administrative Consultant
I’ll go with a classic: Captain Hook in Peter Pan. His song is so well known and because he's so over the top, it’s clearly fake scary.
- Bill Rudman, Artistic Director/Founder
My favorite is the Witch from Into The Woods. She's multilayered, funny, fabulous and hits on so many core issues. “Children will Listen” is one of the greatest songs of all time and guides me as both a mother and teacher.
- Jodi Kirk, Director of Active Learning
Every year I can't wait to watch Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas so I can act out "Oogie Boogie's Song" in front of the TV.
"It's hopeless! You're finished! You haven't got a prayer! Cuz I'm Mr. Oogie Boogie, and YOU ain't goin' nowhere."
- Heather Meeker, Executive Director
I like the snake in Bock and Harnick’s The Apple Tree. It’s brilliant how he entices Eve to take that bite of the apple - his song “Forbidden Fruit” is just so sneaky and witty.
- Nancy Maier, Associate Artistic Director
Jekyll/Hyde fascinates me. I don't know of another role where the actor has to play both hero and villain at once as he does in the song "Confrontation". As an actor I am so intrigued by the choices made, how to play both characters fighting each other, changing vocal styles, changing from mass murderer to a savior of the mentally ill, and all in 4 minutes!
- Bridie Srsen, Kids Love Musicals! Program Coordinator
The devilish duo of Lola and Mr. Applegate in Damn Yankees is hard to beat. They are great villains in their own right and have standout musical numbers, but together they just have too much fun making trouble!
- Joanna Cullinan, Director of Marketing
I love King George in Hamilton. "You'll be Back" offers so much insight about a Historical figure that was seen by our Founding Fathers and ALL those in favor of the revolution as the ultimate villain who united an entire country.
- Heidi Lang, Director of Development
By Ken Bloom
For the first time on CD, here's Noel Coward's demo recordings for what eventually became Sail Away. Believe it or not some of these were recorded in India by Coward! There's 26 delicious tracks of the master including two bonus tracks of Coward and director Joe Layton providing vocals. Some of the songs never made it into the finished show and these are their only recordings. This is a terrific album for Coward fans as well as Broadway collectors and aficionados.
Noel Coward Sings Sail Away and Other Coward Rarities is Harbinger's August Album of the Month and available now for only $10!
On July 31st, the Broadway community lost a legend. Hal Prince was a trailblazing producer and director who championed the American musical for more than six decades! Here's what TMTP Founding Director Bill Rudman had to say:
"John Kander loves to tell the story about how he and Fred Ebb were blown away by Hal Prince’s approach to Cabaret. Kander told me (and everyone else over many years) that 'for days we sat around a table with book writer Joe Masteroff and talked…and talked…and talked…and talked…and talked.' That grueling process of making sure all the creators were in alignment about what the piece was trying to achieve was something that never would have occurred to Prince’s mentor, George Abbott. For decades, Abbott was the master of musical theater directors; he gets credit for making them 'rational' instead of woefully illogical. But it was Prince who went deeper — a lot deeper. Jerome Robbins had the same instinct, but not nearly as much skill in collaborating with actors. That commitment to depth was all over the Prince and Sondheim musicals, of course, but also in other works like Kander and Ebb’s Zorba and Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Lloyd Webber’s Evita and Phantom of the Opera. Add to that the layer of stunning social consciousness that distinguished virtually all of Hal Prince's works. Yes, the man is irreplaceable."
Click here to see a complete obituary from the New York Times.
This week the theater community mourns the loss of Martin Charnin. Best known as the creator, director and lyricist of Annie, his career started onstage in the original production of West Side Story. He continued working on Broadway and national tours throughout his life.
"I worked with Martin on several projects over the past five years — both in Cleveland and New York," recalls TMTP Founding Director Bill Rudman. "He never failed to amaze me with his encyclopedic knowledge of musical theater history, his dedication to his lyric-writing craft, and one more thing: Martin had great chutzpah; nearly every one of his musicals, including Annie, was conceived and spearheaded by…Martin. He was a terrific lyricist, yes — but more than that, for some 60 years, he was a true Broadway Baby."
Charnin joined TMTP for a very special Member Event in 2016. He sat down with Rudman in front of a live studio audience at Playhouse Square to record an episode of Footlight Parade discussing his "Top 10" favorite songs of his career. Check out the link below to hear an excerpt from that episode. TMTP also produced an in-depth three-part Footlight Parade focusing on Charnin's career that will air locally October 26th, November 2nd and November 9th.
Musical theater is considered one of the greatest American art forms. So we thought it was only appropriate to honor Independence Day with a nod to patriotism on Broadway. Here are our staff picks for some of their favorite musical numbers.
BILL RUDMAN (Founding Director)
"God Bless America" by Irving Berlin
Many people don't realize that Berlin wrote it for a World War I Broadway revue, and though it wasn't used then, his impulse was musical theater. Berlin was the quintessential immigrant; as his daughter Linda Emmet observed, "America was his home sweet home."
HEATHER MEEKER (Executive Director)
The songs from School House Rock
Decades before my kids laughed while King George sang "You'll Be Back" in Hamilton, I learned musical American history lessons from songs like "No More Kings" in the Saturday morning School House Rock series. And guess what? The music and lyrics for that 1975 song were written by none other than Lynn Ahrens, who went on to write Seussical, Ragtime and Once on this Island. "Looks like it's going to be a free country!"
HEIDI LANG (Director of Development and Community Engagement)
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" by George M. Cohan
I remember watching the movie as a kid with James Cagney, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and just loving it. I would always try to dance and sing-a-long when this song came on. It takes us all back to a period in our history where we could all unite around a very simple idea.
JOANNA MAY CULLINAN (Director of Marketing)
"The Old Red Hills of Home" from Parade
It's an incredible opening number that displays the dedication young soldiers have to their country. In this case, it's a confederate soldier so there's a duality that exists in the song. The character's honor and passion is beautiful, but it also reveals how broken our nation was and continues to be.
NANCY MAIER (Associate Artistic Director)
"A New Deal for Christmas" from Annie
This is a fun mixture of the political setting of the time and the joy of Christmas - it seems to perfectly capture the joyful conclusion to Annie’s story and the hope that Roosevelt‘s New Deal brought to the country.
JODI MAILE KIRK ( Associate Director of Active Learning)
"The Story of Tonight" from Hamilton
I love the lyric “tomorrow there’ll be more of us” because it reminds me that even when battles for justice and freedom seem insurmountable, change begins with individual people fighting for and acting upon their beliefs.
BRIDIE SRSEN (Kids Love Musicals! Program Coordinator)
"Ragtime" from Ragtime
Maybe I'm a bit bias right now, but America is and SHOULD BE a Melting Pot! We all need to respect and appreciate each other's differences -- especially in our current political climate. The sooner we start with providing each other more grace, compassion and understanding the faster our country will heal and thrive.
DEBBIE SCHINKER (Administrative Consultant)
Pick one? Impossible! Here are my top 3: Irving Berlin's "Song of Freedom" from Holiday Inn "The House I Live In" from Let Freedom Sing and "America" from West Side Story. Happy Independence Day!
By Bill Rudman, Producer
For those of us who love classic musicals, there's a thrill about what I like to call archaeology: finding things that hardly anyone knows about -- even our friends who know a lot!
Here at Harbinger Records/The Musical Theater Project, we just released the 1975 Original Cast Recording of Philemon, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the guys who gave us The Fantasticks and I Do! I Do!
I worked on this project on and off for a year. How come it took so long?
Well, although it's an amazing piece about courage, spirituality and true freedom -- and although it won the major Off Broadway awards that year -- the cast album on LP was only sold at specialty stores in New York. And I doubt that more than 500 copies were pressed. I wore mine out 44 years ago!
So we had to track down a mint copy of the LP to work from, and along the way I'm happy to report that the negatives from the original photo shoot were unearthed. See what I mean about archaeology?
Now it's finished -- complete with a 24-page booklet and notes by Tom Jones himself, who says he thinks it's the most interesting musical he and Harvey ever wrote.
I think he's right about that. Here's to the gifts that come from archaeological digs!
The Musical Theater Project's authors include Bill Rudman, Heather Meeker and Joanna May Cullinan - and guest writers from time to time!