Tag Archives: Musicals

Some Stories Behind the Dancing Feet

By Evan Henerson

As showbiz tales go, “42nd Street’s” is one of the oldest and most inspirational. Fresh faced starry-eyed girl gets off the bus from Allentown determined to find a job – any job – in show business. When the star breaks her ankle, up steps the unknown to take over and write her name in lights.

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Caitlin Ehlinger and Matthew J. Taylor of the 2016 42nd Street Touring Cast.

Great stuff, right? Well, naturally, there’s a story behind the effort to bring the classic 1933 film to the Broadway stage in 1980 where it ran for more than eight years. Likewise, there’s another tale behind the 2001 Broadway revival on which the current production at the Hollywood Pantages is based. In the more than 30 years he has spent with the show, Mark Bramble – the musical’s co-writer and the revival’s director –can rattle off an assortment of them.

But in the summer of 2015, when Bramble and choreographer Randy Skinner re-assembled to assemble the newest touring cast, Bramble put out a call for new stories about another time.

“When I approach a new production, I really do start from scratch, and I want to put the show in a context that’s relevant to the time in which the production is being done,” Bramble said. “We’re just getting out of — and some people say we’re still not out of — this tremendous recession. In 1933, 42nd street, the film really got America out of the Depression.”

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2016 Touring Cast of 42nd Street

“These are people in their 20s and 30s and they had no understanding of the Great Depression. Many of them didn’t even know it existed,” he continued. “I gave them an assignment: find someone in your life who was alive in 1933 and who had a memory of that time. We shared those stories every day before rehearsal.”

While several “42nd Street” company members came back with stories of loss and ruin, others found evidence of ingenuity and even prosperity. An African American singer and dancer and her sister got jobs singing at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem (“they had never had it so grand,” Bramble said.) Another cast member found someone who spoke of planting a secret vegetable garden, protected by a ramshackle fence, on which they survived and, when possible, helped feed the neighborhood.

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42nd Street Opening Night 1980

Bramble shared a personal story as well. Bramble’s mother, a child at the time, accompanied her father when he went to work on Saturdays to take violin lessons at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute. One day while on the train, they learned that the stock market had crashed and the banks had closed. The girl asked her father what all of this meant. It meant, her father explained, that the only money the family had left was what was currently in his wallet.

“When the country began to get back on its feet, and she resumed her routine of going to Baltimore, she would see people on the train and in the train station who she had once seen as well dressed businessmen, and they were selling apples,” Bramble said. “They had lost their jobs. They had lost everything, and there they were trying to survive by literally selling apples.”

Bramble first heard this story in the late 1970s when he and co-writer Michael Stewart were figuring out how to bring “42nd Street” to the stage. After watching a screening of the film at the Carnegie Cinema in the basement of Carnegie Hall, they rushed back to Stewart’s apartment and called composer Jerry Herman to gauge his interest in composing new music. Herman’s response: absolutely not. Anybody who adapted “42nd Street” for the stage and didn’t use Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s songs in a stage musical was a fool.

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1980 Cast of 42nd Street

Bramble, Stewart and director-choreographer Gower Champion set out to secure the rights to the song catalog. Meanwhile, word of the team’s quest filtered back to legendary producer David Merrick. Merrick, who had been working on films in Hollywood, wanted to get back to Broadway and thought “42nd Street” would be the perfect vehicle.

Stewart balked, still smarting from the failure of their collaboration on 1974’s “Mack and Mabel.” Bramble insisted they take a meeting with the producer, and Stewart went in with guns blazing.

“We met at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel,” Bramble recalled. “Mike was a very feisty guy and he was very pissed off with Merrick over ‘Mack and Mabel.’ He sat down and he was practically growling, he was so angry. He said, ‘David, this is a big show. We want 16 girls,’ and Merrick looked at him as if he had lost his mind.”

“He said, ’16 girls? I won’t do it with less than 24, and if we can fit them on the stage, I’ll use 36.’ Of course, that shut Mike up. David said, ‘I want to do the biggest show since the Second World War,’ and we set about to do that.”

As the team came together, Champion – the show’s director and choreographer – needed a male dance assistant to work with arranger Donald Johnston. Johnston recommended a young dancer from Ohio named Randy Skinner.

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Randy Skinner

“I was kind of the same age as a lot of the kids I was in charge of,” Skinner recalled. “On the one hand, I felt like one of the kids, and wanted to go out with them at night. The other half of me realized that this was one of those breaks that happens without your realizing that it could be life altering. Which it was.”

The out of town reviews were not favorable, but Merrick forged ahead anyway. At its first preview in Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Bramble recalls maybe 300 people in an auditorium that held 2,000. On the play’s opening night in 1980, Champion passed away. The musical went on to become the 14th longest running show in Broadway history.

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After an opening night of “42nd Street” in 1980, the producer David Merrick, right, announced the death of the show’s director, Gower Champion.

“42nd Street’s “success effectively launched the careers of both Bramble and Skinner who reunited to stage the 2001 revival, Bramble as director, Skinner as choreographer. The two men have subsequently worked on productions both regionally and around the world from London to Shanghai, from Berlin to Tokyo. Bramble has been nominated for Tony Awards for the original book and for his direction of the 2001 revival. Skinner’s choreography for the revival was also Tony-nominated.

Skinner calls it “the granddaddy of all musicals.” Bramble concurs, citing the life-affirming message about the possibility of the American Dream, a theme that he says never gets old.

“If you follow your bliss, dreams really can come true,” Bramble said, “and I think that’s what the appeal was of the film in 1933, I think it’s what the appeal was of the original Broadway show in 1980, and I think it continues to be the appeal.”

And speaking of following your bliss, here’s one more story.

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Matthew J. Taylor and Caitlin Ehlinger as Peggy Sawyer and Julian Marsh in 42nd Street

While still in high school in Houston, Caitlin Ehlinger took a master class with Skinner and declared it a dream to one day dance for Skinner professionally. Nearing her graduation date and with only high school musicals on her resume, she travelled to New York to audition for “42nd Street.” After a 10 day audition process, she won the role of – you guessed it – Peggy Sawyer, the unknown ingénue who becomes a star.

Only in the theater.

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

This Is How We Jerry Herman

Theatre and arts education in high schools is an integral part of young adults coming into their own. Each year, the Hollywood Pantages hosts the Jerry Herman High School Musical Theatre Awards with one goal: to constructively support local high schools with their drama programs. With the awards happening this Sunday, May 22nd, we are officially in full “Jerry Herman Mode” as we call it. There are three main sections to go through when prepping for a ceremony of this size.

Adjudication process

At the beginning of each school year we begin the sign-up process for the Jerry Herman Awards for the following spring. Schools must fill-out an intent to participate form and provide the name of the show being performed and performance dates. Meanwhile, we at the Marketing department meet with the volunteer adjudicators to sign-up and prepare them for the shows ahead.

Each participating school also fills out an informational sheet. This lets us know which categories they can qualify for in terms of nominations. The Categories include: Scenic Design, Lighting Design, Costume Design, Orchestra, Ensemble/Chorus, Musical Staging/Choreography, Musical Direction, Technical Crew, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, “No Small Parts”, and Best Production.

Once we have all of the information from a school, our adjudicators visit each theatre to watch the productions. Each adjudicator then fills out an evaluation form – scoring each category individually from 1-10 and the production as a whole. They also have the opportunity to fill out a “notes” section where they may say anything that the survey may not have given them the chance to.

Nomination Process

After a school’s performance has completed, they are required to send a either a DVD or digital copy of their show along with a program. This is when we here at the theatre bump our involvement up to the next level. Our small but mighty team closely watches each production, taking copious notes of our own, along with having the adjudicators’ documents right by our sides.

As we watch, each school is given one over-all production score and also individual scores for each award category. The way we calculate these scores is easy: we add up all the numbers in each category and divide it by the number of adjudicators that saw the performance. Simple, median math. The schools with the highest scores are nominated for their respective categories and, naturally, the highest score is the winner.

Audition Process

This is the part of the process that many people scrunch their eyebrows at. An audition process for an awards show? But haven’t you seen and scored all the productions based on all categories? Yes, we have, but that category does not include leading actor and actress. The process for that particular category is a little bit different.

At the beginning of each season, each school is given a list of qualifying lead roles provided by the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, and then each school must choose one leading lady and one leading man to audition for the best actor/actress category. They attend one of two nights of auditions, bringing their headshot and two pieces of sheet music (one from the part they played in their production, and one of their choosing) and perform in front of our panel of judges. This year includes John Bowab, Kenny Ortega, Nancy Dussault, Kathy Rigby, and Lewis Weintraub.

Once the two nights of auditions are complete, the judges narrow the participants down to six finalists. On the night of the Jerry Herman Awards Ceremony the six finalists are announced. Each finalist will sing the song from the part they played in their production during the Jerry Herman Awards as a final audition. During intermission the judges come together to decide which leading lady and which leading male will win and move onto New York City for the Jimmy Awards.

What are the Jimmy Awards you ask? Well that’s a blog post for another time.

For ticket information about the Jerry Herman Awards Sunday, May 22 CLICK HERE

Cabaret in a Roundabout Sort of Way

A classic show that has seen many iterations since the 1960’s, Cabaret is still going strong. As we know here at the Hollywood Pantages, just because something has been around for a long time does not mean you know everything about it. We did a little digging on Cabaret, playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre July 19 – August 7th, and here is what we found.

The original Broadway production of Cabaret opened on November 20, 1966. In addition to several Broadway revivals and West End revivals, Cabaret has been staged in over 16 countries across the globe. Roundabout Theatre Company’s most recent revival opened at Studio 54 on April 24, 2014 in which Alan Cumming returned to revive his Tony-Winning turn as the Emcee.

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Alan Cumming as the Emcee in Cabaret

For those of you currently enjoying Chicago now playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre you may consider Cabaret for your next theatre outing. Both shows were written by the highly successful songwriting team, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, and have more in common that you may know. Kander and Ebb’s greatest acclaim came from Cabaret in 1966. The musical, directed by frequent collaborator Harold Prince, was a major success, with a Broadway run of over 1,100 performances. It won a Tony Award as the season’s best musical, and its original cast recording won a Grammy Award. The film, directed by Bob Fosse, won eight Academy Awards. The musical Chicago (1975) after an excellent initial run of 936 performances was revived on Broadway in 1996 to become an even greater hit. It has become the longest-running revival in Broadway history, and the 2002 film version was also a great success.

Many well known leading ladies have claimed the role of the British singer Sally Bowles each bringing their own version of the character to the stage. Starting with Judi Dench in the original London production in 1968, other notable Sally’s include Natasha Richardson, Brooke Shields, Molly Ringwald, Emma Stone, Debbie Gibson, Teri Hatcher, and who could forget Liza Minelli for her portrayal in the 1972 Oscar-Winning film.

Judi Dench in her provocative role as the amoral Sally Bowles in Cabaret, the new musical show at the Palace Theatre, London.

Judi Dench in her provocative role as the amoral Sally Bowles in Cabaret, the new musical show at the Palace Theatre, London.

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Emma Stone as Sally Bowles

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Teri Hatcher as Sally Bowles

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Debbie Gibson as Sally Bowles

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Molly Ringwald as Sally Bowles

The multi-Oscar-winning movie makes several changes to the play; in addition to adding and dropping songs, the secondary love plot of the original is replaced with a different secondary plot, a male character is added whose role emphasizes the bisexuality of the leading male character, and the nationalities of Sally and Cliff are switched.  (When ABC aired the movie for the first time, it cut out the revelation of Cliff’s affair with another man, which basically made hash of the end of the film.)

Cabaret 1972 RŽal. : Bob Fosse Liza Minnelli COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL

Cabaret 1972 RŽal. : Bob Fosse Liza Minnelli COLLECTION CHRISTOPHEL

 Cabaret was based on several chapters from Christopher Isherwood’s somewhat autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin, and it seems that new versions of this story have always appeared at times of crisis in America. The novel appeared at the close of World War II; the non-musical stage version debuted during the McCarthy era; the stage musical opened during the Vietnam era; and the movie musical opened in the midst of the Watergate era.  Each subsequent version of this story has been braver, edgier, more explicit, and only now can it be told completely truthfully. Only now can Cliff be fully gay as Christopher Isherwood – the real Cliff – was. Only now can the Kit Kat Klub be as sexual, as decadent, as it really was. Only now, after musicals like Assassins and Kiss of the Spider Woman, are musical theatre audiences ready for the disturbing extremity that this story really demands.

Randy Harrison as the Emcee and the 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sarah Bishop as Helga, Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles and Alison Ewing as Fritzie in the 2016 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Now experience Cabaret for yourself at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre July 19-August 7. Direct from Broadway, CABARET reunites director Sam Mendes, co-director / choreographer Rob Marshall and many of the same creative team members behind the Tony-Winning 1998 revival production. The New York Times calls it, “Divinely, dangerously decadent,” while Time Out New York hails it “A Broadway jewel in all its glittering glory!”

Randy Harrison as the Emcee and the 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Get your tickets to Cabaret by visiting us at: www.HollywoodPantages.com/Cabaret

 

I Auditioned for HAMILTON

Step One: Admit You Have A Problem

Greetings! I am Michael, Office Manager at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. If you are a theatre nerd like me, you probably have the new musical, “Hamilton”, on repeat in your car. I was fortunate enough to see the show on Broadway a few months ago and it completely moved me. I am still recovering to this day. Baby steps.

A few weeks ago it had been announced that the casting team behind “Hamilton” would be hosting an open call in Los Angeles. I was not going to throw away my shot! Yes, that show reference just happened. Sorry, not sorry.

Saturday, April 16th. The day was finally here! I had my sheet music, headshot and resume ready to go! I met up with my friend Nina and we carpooled to save ourselves the crazy parking hassle. We arrived at the Hollywood United Methodist Church, right in the heart of Hollywood, at 8:30am (Sign In began at 10 a.m.), thinking we were a little “early”. Little did I know, auditioners had arrived as early as 6:30 and I was given #250. The first 2 hours were spent waiting outside in line. Note to self: bring an umbrella to the next open call. From there we were brought into the church’s gym where we signed in and received an audition form. By the time I had reached the front of the line, the chairs/space in the gym had already filled up. I saw an open door leading outside and I decided to take a walk. I found a beautiful rose garden and most importantly: SHADE! I decided to make that my home for the remainder of the audition day.

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The halls were alive with the sound of music! See? Theatre nerd, I warned you. Numerous auditioners were spread out throughout the area doing vocal warm-ups or rehearsing their audition pieces “one last time”. Another HAM reference…I’m a monster that cannot be stopped! Due to the large turnout, we were instructed to do away with our sheet music and go a Capella and the 16-32 bar requirement for our audition song was lowered to 8 bars. I decided to change my song completely and I went with “A House Is Not A Home” by Luther Vandross because I felt I could show/give more in 8 bars with that song, rather than my first song choice. By 12 p.m., they had 600 auditioners and the line had to be cut off. After about an hour, the casting team started lining up the first 50 people and they were put in numerical order and it went on as the day went by. In the waiting process I met many people from various backgrounds and it was great to see this wonderful show bring people together. I met a girl in line from Upstate New York who had just moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. She heard about the auditions and immediately cleared her schedule for the weekend. Another person I met was from New York as well, here on vacation. His friend is in the Ensemble of the Broadway cast and filled him in on the audition notice and encouraged him to audition.

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The audition team had the process down to a science and I was truly impressed. Instead of a Broadway audition it felt like an audition for “The Voice” or “American Idol” where you are lined up and then sent to different tables of casting directors. It was about 2:30 p.m. when my group of numbers got called. THIS IS IT! We were lined up, walked to our audition space and then waited outside the room, where we were instructed to go in one by one. I walked in to the cold, quiet audition room also known as The Grant Hall. I walked in to see a casting director, sitting at a table by himself. I walked in, was asked to introduce myself and tell him what I was singing. I got about 30 seconds to sing my song and that was that. If they were considering you for a callback, you were asked to step into another room to sing another song selection or a musical theatre piece and from there they would decide whether or not to call you back the next day.

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In the end, I left without a callback but gained a wonderful experience. I got to audition for THE hottest show in the world and be in a room filled with bright, future stars of tomorrow. Everyone I met was so excited to be there and it was great to see a show like this EXCITE so many people.

As an actor, you will hear a lot of no’s, but it’s up to YOU to pick yourself up and start again.

The next chapter begins…now.

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Michael currently works as the Office Manager for the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. He was bitten by the theatre bug at the age of 4, when his grandmother encouraged him to audition for his first musical. Michael not only loves to perform, but he loves watching live theatre whenever he gets the chance and is a huge advocate for Arts education in our schools. When not at work or performing, Michael serves as Vice President for the Santa Fe Springs Community Playhouse, a Board Member for the California State Thespian Society and an adjudicator for Pantages’ very own Jerry Herman Awards. Michael has performed all around Southern California in shows such as The Wizard of Oz, Urinetown, Grease and West Side Story…to name a few. Theatre is a huge part of his life, so he thanks you for your patronage and for helping to keep the theatre community alive and thriving!