All posts by Greg Christo

Hot Summer Broadway Musicals

The dog days of summer are over.  But it is still summer.  Some like it hot.  Some don’t.  Here’s a list of a few shows that deal with the heat of summer.

110 in the Shade

110 in the Shade is a musical with a book by N. Richard Nash, lyrics by Tom Jones, and music by Harvey Schmidt.  Tony Award nominations went to Schmidt and Jones as Best Composer and Lyricist.  It also had nominations for best actress, actor and director.  An original cast recording was released by RCA Victor.

Based on Nash’s 1954 play The Rainmaker, it focuses on Lizzie Curry, a spinster living on a ranch in the American southwest, and her relationships with local sheriff File, a cautious divorcé who fears being hurt again, and charismatic con man Bill Starbuck, posing as a rainmaker who promises the locals he can bring relief to the drought-stricken area. Nash’s book is faithful to his original play, although all the interior scenes were moved outdoors to allow for the addition of townspeople for ensemble numbers and dances. Many of Jones’ lyrics come directly from Nash’s play.

The musical opens with “Another Hot Day,” setting the scene for the scorching summer weather that is at the center of the show’s plot.

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here is a musical with a book by Arthur Kober and Joshua Logan and music and lyrics by Harold Rome. The musical was adapted from Kober’s 1937 play, Having Wonderful Time and revolves around a summer camp for adults.  For many years, this 1952 musical was best-known as the “swimming pool musical” because the production featured an actual swimming pool on stage.  The characters could take dip when they weren’t singing the wonderful Rome score.  The story centers around the guests looking for fun in the sun at Camp Karefree in the Catskills as they enjoy a respite from the everyday life.  The show opened at the Imperial Theater and ran for 598 performances and was a lighthearted escape into the world of summer vacations.

Carousel

Carousel is a musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) that was adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, transplanting the Budapest setting of Molnár’s play to a New England fishing village. The show includes the hit musical numbers “If I Loved You”, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Carousel was innovative for its time, being one of the first musicals to contain a tragic plot with themes of suicide and domestic violence.

The original production opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, and ran for 890 performances. The musical has enjoyed award-winning revivals (particularly the 1994 revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre) and has been adapted as a Cinemascope 55 film in 1956 and as a made-for-television special on videotape in 1967. It is particularly well-regarded among musicals by the theatre community, and Richard Rodgers, in his autobiography Musical Stages, said it was his favorite musical. Time magazine named it the best musical of the 20th century.

After a mill girl, Julie Jordan, marries a handsome, but uncivilized carousel barker, Billy Bigelow, things turn sour for the couple. Billy cannot find a job and he and Julie are forced to live with their cousin, Nettie. Further, Billy has taken to using violence against her. Nevertheless, Julie continues to love her husband. In the end, after Billy discovers that Julie is pregnant, disaster strikes. In a desperate ploy for money, Billy’s friend, Jigger Craigin, convinces Billy to help him assault and rob David Bascombe, the mill owner. After this plan fails, Billy kills himself instead of spending the rest of his life in prison. Nevertheless, fifteen years later, Billy is allowed one more visit to Earth. He attempts to show his love for his daughter, Louise, and Julie – but he is unable. Even still, Julie can sense his love and Billy witnesses Louise graduating from high school.

Greenwillow

This is a musical readers may not be familiar with.  Greenwillow is a musical based on a novel by B.J. Chute with a book by Lesser Samuels and Frank Loesser and music and lyrics by Loesser. The musical is set in the magical town of Greenwillow.  In Greenwillow, the eldest in each generation of Briggs men must obey the “call to wander” while the women they leave behind care for the home and rear their children in the hope that someday their husbands will return.  Gideon Briggs loves his girlfriend, Dorrie, and would like nothing better than to settle down with her, but he spends his days trying to fight his need to travel, instead focusing his energies on his girlfriend.   He finds in the town’s newest inhabitant, the Reverend Birdsong, an ally who will try to help him make his dream come true.  Greenwillow didn’t last for very long (97 performances at the Alvin Theater), but one song did enjoy popularity: “Summertime Love,” a tribute to the excitement and passion of a summer romance.

BONUS

Summer:  The Donna Summer Musical

You read that right.  Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is a musical with book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff and music and lyrics Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, Paul Jabara, and others, based on the life of Donna Summer.  The musical made its premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse from November 7, 2017 through December 24, 2017 and opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre to previews on March 28, 2018 before opening on April 23, 2018.

What Should I Bring to Rehearsal?

What do you bring to rehearsal?  Well, be prepared.  You don’t want to forget something you know you need or even something that might be nice to have…

So, before you head out, make sure your bag is packed with all of the essentials that you will definitely need.  If you bring the “definites”, then you should be ready.

  1. Script

Obvious, right?  Guess what?  Sometimes you forget the most obvious things.  It happens to everyone.  Not a bad idea to check for the script before you leave the house.

  1. Notebook

Don’t forget a pencil and/or highlighter too.  It’s a good idea to write down notes from the director, any schedule changes, steps for choreography, and even your own lines (they say you remember what you write more than what you read).  Blocking will inevitably change.  Your lines might change.  A highlighter will help with this too.

  1. Flashlight

You’re sitting there.  Waiting.  Wishing you could rehearse your lines or check out your notes because you remembered your script and a notebook.  But it’s so dark and you forgot your bleeping flashlight!

  1. Sweater

Theaters and rehearsal studios are known to be chilly.  Just sayin’.

  1. Recorder

Now I mentioned earlier that people usually remember more what they write than what they read.  Hearing is the same thing.  During some down time, record your cue lines so that you can respond to the correct characters.  Recording your own lines as you would perform them can also help with dialect, accents, intonation, etc

  1. Water bottle

Duh!  Very important to hydrate especially if you’re involved in very intense dance routines, fight scenes, etc.  Plus, water fountains are gross, and no one wants to share with you!

  1. Snack

Who knows how long you’ll be?  Rehearsal could go through lunch or dinner.  Bring something with protein and healthy fats to help keep you energized.  Because like water, no one wants to share with you.  You don’t want anything sugary either where you’ll crash in the middle of rehearsal.  Nuts, food bars, and fruit salads are good choice for snacks.

  1. Towel

No one wants to perform or rehearse through a puddle of sweat on stage.  No one wants to give you a sweaty hug or high five.  Your cast mates will appreciate that you brought a towel.

  1. Shoes

The shoes make the man…or woman…or character.  Don’t start rehearsing in say high heel shoes or work boots even if your character calls for them.  Start out in flats or tennis shoes or any other stage shoe so that you get comfortable with the routines and staging.  Once you get into the rehearsals and the costume department provides you with your character shoes or recommends what you should wear for your character should you start rehearsing in them.  Once you have this info, then you can bring them to rehearsal and start “becoming” you character.

  1. Rehearsal Outfit “Blacks”

There’s no need to stand out at rehearsal.  Save it for your character and performance.  Bring rehearsal blacks or darker colors that are easy to move in.  Jeans and dresses are not recommended unless the director has specifically instructed you to do so.

Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat Part II

With the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals all wrapped up, here are some more sports themed stage productions.

 

Rocky (Boxing)

Rocky the Musical (originally Rocky: Das Musical) is a 2012 musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, with a book by Thomas Meehan, adapted from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone. The show held its world premiere in Hamburg in 2012 and opened on Broadway on March 4, 2014 at the Winter Garden Theatre and closed on August 17, 2014 after 28 previews and 188 performances. The show roughly follows the plot of the 1976 film Rocky.  The show featured 20 original songs, with additional music taken from the original film series including “Eye of the Tiger” and “Gonna Fly Now”.

The show’s set, which for Broadway cost $4.3 million, is set around a mostly bare stage which represents the Gym that Rocky trains in. The production uses sliding box like sets to represent the homes of the characters and the sliding element goes onto include a full sized regulation boxing ring.  Audience members seated within the front stalls Golden Circle seating section, are escorted onto the stage for the final 20 minutes to sit on bleacher style seats, in doing so this allows the boxing ring to enter the auditorium and sit in rows A-F, bringing the audience close to the final fight scene.  The production did win a Tony Award for Set Design.

 

Lombardi (Football)

Lombardi is a play by Eric Simonson, based on the book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss.  I’ve read the book.  Unbelievable life.

The play follows Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi through a week in the 1965 NFL season as he attempts to lead his team to the championship. (The Packers won the NFL championship that year, which would be the last season before the introduction of the Super Bowl.) A “Look Magazine” reporter, Michael McCormick, wants to “find out what makes Lombardi win”. However, players on the team refuse to be interviewed, wary of giving up information. He goes instead to Lombardi’s wife, Marie, for answers. Meanwhile, in a flashback, Lombardi frets over his lack of promotion and contemplates quitting football. His wife reveals that the family had an emotional move to Green Bay, Wisconsin when Lombardi joined the Packers.

Lombardi ends up yelling at Michael in front of the team, prompting both to storm off. Linebacker and place kicker Dave Robinson comforts Michael at a local bar, sharing stories about his initial impressions of the coach, the “honor of being barked at” by Lombardi, and the equality established on the team. After more positive insight from running back, option quarterback and kicker Paul Hornung and fullback Jim Taylor, Michael decides to attend the next game. As he narrates what happened at the game, the Packers win.

After he writes his news story, Michael reveals to Lombardi that he is quitting “Look Magazine” to form his own publishing company. Lombardi congratulates him on his move to independence and celebrates the win with Michael and Marie. Michael realizes that Lombardi is “the most imperfect, perfect man” he ever met.

Lombardi officially premiered on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre on October 21, 2010, after previews beginning on September 23. The creative team includes direction by Thomas Kail, sets by David Korins, costumes by Paul Tazewell, and lighting by Howell Binkley. This production is being produced by Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser. Lombardi closed on May 22, 2011, after 30 previews and 244 performances.

Due to the Packers winning Super Bowl XLV in 2011, their fourth Super Bowl but their second since Lombardi was head coach, the show’s producers were “hoping for a halo effect at the box office.”  Patrick Healy wrote in The New York Times: “The Packers’ victory on Sunday lent “Lombardi” plenty of visibility before and after the Fox broadcast of the game. One FOX commentator, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, who had seen the play, talked up the play before kickoff and during the postgame show he said, ‘I think Lombardi the play just got an extension on Broadway.’ ” Healy also wrote that the show had not recouped its $3 million investment, and while producer Tony Ponturo said that the show was scheduled to run until June 19, 2011, it ended its run early. Producers would not comment on whether or not the play had earned back its production budget.

The original Broadway cast included Dan Lauria as Vince Lombardi, Judith Light as Marie Lombardi, Keith Nobbs as Michael McCormick, Bill Dawes as Paul Hornung, Robert Christopher Riley as Dave Robinson, and Chris Sullivan as Jim Taylor. Light was nominated for a 2011 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in Lombardi.

 

 

The Changing Room (Rugby)

The Changing Room is a 1971 play by David Storey, set in a men’s changing room before, during and after a rugby league football game. It premiered at the Royal Court Theatre on 9 November 1971, directed by Lindsay Anderson. The 1973 Broadway production, directed by Michael Rudman, won several awards including the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for Best Play and the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor for John Lithgow.  After three previews, the Broadway production, directed by Michael Rudman, opened on 6 March 1973 at the Morosco Theatre, where it ran for 192 performances.

At the play’s core is a semi-pro Northern England rugby league team. During the week, its members are peaceable men toiling away at mindless, working class jobs. On Saturday, they prepare for gory combat on the playing field. The changing room is where they perform their pre-game initiation rites, strip down, loosen muscles, and get into their uniforms. After the match they return, often broken, muddy, and bloody, regretting their loss or giddy with victory in the communal shower. There is little in the way of plot, but Storey engages his audience with his ability to dissect his characters’ hurts, hopes, desires, and fighting instincts.

Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat

Sports.  It has drama, competition, and emotion.  A perfect recipe for a Broadway show.  Sports has been the backdrop for many movies, tv shows, and musicals.  We will take a look at a few classics and maybe a few not so classics.  But nonetheless, the marriage of sports and Broadway has gone on for a very long time, and it’s easy to see why.

 

Damn Yankees (Baseball)

Perhaps the most classic sports musical ever made, Damn Yankees is a musical comedy with a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The story is a modern retelling of the Faust legend set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. It is based on Wallop’s novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.

The show ran for 1,019 performances in its original 1955 Broadway production. Adler and Ross’s success with it and The Pajama Game seemed to point to a bright future for them, but Ross suddenly died of chronic bronchiectasis at age 29 several months after it opened.

Joe Boyd, an aging Washington Senators fan, would sell his soul for the Senators to beat the New York Yankees and win the pennant. Enter Applegate, who offers to turn Boyd into Joe Hardy, a powerful young baseball player, in exchange for his soul. When Boyd agrees, he becomes Hardy and leads the Senators on a winning streak. When he starts to miss his wife, though, and questions the deal, Applegate sends temptress Lola into the mix.

Hey!  As a Red Sox fan, I might have considered this after the 2003 season!

 

Good News (Football)

Another classic Broadway musical, Good News is a musical with a book by Laurence Schwab and B.G. DeSylva, lyrics by DeSylva and Lew Brown, and music by Ray Henderson.  The show opened on Broadway in 1927, the same year as Show Boat, but though its plot was decidedly old-fashioned in comparison to Show Boat’s daring storyline, it was also a hit. Good News spawned two films, an unsuccessful 1974 Broadway revival, and a 1993 updated production by Music Theatre of Wichita, which created a largely new libretto and made changes to the score, It proved to be DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson’s biggest hit out of a string of topical musicals.

World War I is over, the Roaring Twenties have arrived, women have won the right to vote, and college campuses, such as fictional Tait College, are as much a social scene as an academic one. Football is the big game, and star player Tom Marlowe is a prime catch. All the girls are interested in Tom, and vice-versa, although one society climber seems to have him in hand. Studious part-time school librarian Connie Lane doesn’t seem to have a chance and stays out of the fray. When Marlowe fails a final exam, he needs a tutor to help him pass so he can play in the big game on Saturday. Connie is selected to help keep his nose to the grindstone, and the two fall for each other. The couples’ romance can only endure if the team wins the big game.

 

Golden Boy (Boxing)

Golden Boy is a 1964 musical with a book by Clifford Odets and William Gibson, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse.  The Broadway production was directed by Arthur Penn, choreographed by Donald McKayle, and starred Sammy Davis Jr and opened on October 20, 1964 at the Majestic Theatre, where it ran for 568 performances and twenty-five previews.

Based on the 1937 play of the same name by Odets, it focuses on Joe Wellington, a young man from Harlem who, despite his family’s objections, turns to prizefighting as a means of escaping his ghetto roots and finding fame and fortune. He crosses paths with Mephistopheles-like promoter Eddie Satin and eventually betrays his manager Tom Moody when he becomes romantically involved with Moody’s girlfriend Lorna Moon.  In Odets’ original book, Joe was a sensitive would-be surgeon fighting in order to pay his way through college, but careful to protect his hands from serious damage so he could achieve his goal of saving the lives of blacks ignored by white doctors.  In an ironic twist, the hands he hoped would heal kill a man in the ring.

 

Magic/Bird (Basketball)

Magic/Bird is a play by Eric Simonson about basketball stars Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, their rise from college basketball to the NBA and super stardom, and eventually the Olympic Dream Team, their team and personal rivalries and ultimately their long-running friendship. The play premiered on Broadway at the Longacre Theater on March 21, 2012.  It has the full support of the NBA with Johnson and Bird prominently supportive.  And, according to the producers: “At the heart of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports, two of the greatest athletes of all-time battled for multiple championships and the future of their sport…Johnson and Bird, went head to head, electrified the nation, reinvigorated the NBA, and turned their rivalry into the greatest and most famous friendships in professional sports. With classic NBA footage prominently designed throughout, Magic/Bird transports the audience into the heart of their matchup.

I Saw the Strangest Thing On Broadway

Has anyone seen a truly strange play or musical?  What’s the strangest one you’ve heard of?  Here, we will look at a few of the strangest plays or musicals out there.  Some you may have heard of, and some, maybe not.

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – Wallpaper #1

Rocky Horror Picture Show

We all have heard of it.  We all don’t really understand it.  We all know it has a cult following with people dressing up like the characters.  But what is it about?  The story centers on a young engaged couple whose car breaks down in the rain near a castle where they seek a telephone to call for help. The castle or country home is occupied by strangers in elaborate costumes celebrating an annual convention. They discover the head of the house is Dr. Frank N. Furter, an apparent mad scientist who actually is an alien transvestite who creates a living muscle man, Rocky, in his laboratory. The couple are seduced separately by the mad scientist and eventually released by the servants who take control.  The musical was adapted into a film in 1975 and still enjoys success to this day…but I don’t get it.

 

Urintown: The Musical

Urinetown: The Musical is a satirical, comedy musical that premiered in 2001, with music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis. It satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, and municipal politics. The show also parodies musicals such as The Threepenny Opera, The Cradle Will Rock and Les Misérables, and the Broadway musical itself as a form.  Does sound strange, right?  Well, not until you realize that it all revolves around—you guessed it—going to the bathroom.  Due to a twenty year drought and a severe water shortage, all restroom activities are regulated.  No more private toilets only public ones.  You have to pay to go to the bathroom.  There are strict laws that if broken gets you sent to a “penal colony” called Urinetown…..

 

Octomom: The Musical

Do I really need to write anything about this?…

I will mention one thing, when the show opened, the producers left nine seats open just in case.

 

Triassic Parq

The novel and film Jurassic Park told from the perspective of the dinosaurs. A clan of genetically engineered female dinosaurs (played by male and female actors) is thrown into chaos when one of the female dinosaurs spontaneously turns male. Originally directed by Marshall Pailet and presented Off-Broadway at the Soho Playhouse in 2012. The original cast featured Alex Wyse (Velociraptor of Innocence), Wade McCollum (Velociraptor of Faith), Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Velociraptor of Science), Shelley Thomas (T-Rex 1), Claire Neumann (T-Rex 2), Brandon Espinoza (Mime-a-saurus), Lee Seymour (Morgan Freeman) and Zak Sandler (Pianosaurus).  Originally produced in 2010 at the NY International Fringe Festival under the title “Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical” where it won “Best Overall Musical/Production.” After Off-Broadway, it was slightly re-written and presented at the Chance Theater in Orange County where it won the Ovation Award for “Best Production of a Musical (Intimate Theater)” in addition to two other awards.

DO NOT Do This!

Here are a few things to keep in mind while renting backdrops.  More specifically, here are a few things you shouldn’t do when renting backdrops.  The big thing to remember is that you don’t own the backdrops.  Treat them as if you did, but remember that they are not yours and that other customers are waiting to possibly use the backdrops after you are finished renting them.  They want the backdrops in as mint condition as possible for their shows too.  So with that being said, here are some hints to avoid any damage and extra fees.

DO NOT nail, staple, tack, or pin the backdrops in any way.  It says this right on the contract!  Here’s what happens.  Nails, staples, tacks, and pins create holes.  The stress of the weight could rip that pin and create a huge problem.  Over time, the small holes from the pins and staples add up deteriorating the integrity of the fabric.  So no adding company logos or cardboard cutouts such as stars or clouds directly to the backdrops.  And no adding Velcro pieces either.

DO NOT cut or alter the backdrops in any way.  Again, it says this right on the contract.  Believe it or not, we have received backdrops back from customers literally cut into pieces.  We have also had backdrops returned with new additions painted on the backdrop that were not on the original design.  Remember, you don’t own these.  If the backdrop you see on our website does not fit your needs, then ask us if we have something else.  Do not take it upon yourself to change it because you think it would look better with your idea on it.  We design our drops to fit a myriad of different shows to satisfy as many customers as possible.

DO NOT lay the backdrops face down on the stage.  This was covered in a previous blog entry, but it can be mentioned again.  Always place the backdrops face up for hanging and folding.  This keeps the painted side clean.  On this note, DO NOT forget to sweep your stage before you lay the backdrops on the stage.  The backdrops are not to be used as a broom to sweep your stage.

If you need to add rope extensions to hang the backdrop, DO NOT forget to remove them when you are done.  Also, leave the original tie lines attached to the backdrop, which leads to my next point.  DO NOT cut off the original tie lines when removing the backdrop from the pipe.  There’s no need to tie sailor knots that are impossible to untie.  Simply tie the lines like a shoelace.  There are typically 40+ ties per backdrop.  The shoelace knots will hold.

While we’re talking about hanging the backdrops, if you need to use a cherry picker to hang the backdrop, DO NOT let the backdrop hit any of the greased parts on the machine.  Grease is impossible to remove or camouflage especially if you’re using a white scrim or cyclorama curtain.  Make sure there’s a person on the ground monitoring this.

Lastly, DO NOT get too close to the backdrops when they are hanging.  Performers should not get too close to the backdrops while on stage.  We don’t want them tripping over or grabbing on to the backdrops for fear that someone could get hurt.  If you have built sets, try to keep them as far away from the backdrop as possible.  When I get a backdrop back with a large rip on it, it is usually because it got caught on a built set, or it caught on the strip lights up high.  So, if you can help it, place your built sets as far away from the backdrops as possible and hang the backdrops as far away from the strip lights as you can so that they can’t get caught on that either.  I know it happens.  Just be wary of it.

These are basics to help keep our backdrops in good condition.  We know that 99% of the time any damage occurs it is not intentional.  We simply want our backdrops to last and to be in great condition for as long as possible and for as many customers as possible.

How To Fold and Pack a Backdrop

“Using a backdrop for my show makes scenery a whole lot easier than making my own scenery.  But I have no idea how to fold it back up to fit in the box.”  This is a common comment that we get here at Charles H Stewart.  So, I thought I would reiterate what comes with every backdrop we rent.  Instructions on how to fold and package a backdrop and why we do it this way.

When you open up one of our backdrops, you will see that the box is labelled in Sharpie pen on the ends with the id number and description of the backdrop that is inside the box.  Obviously, the backdrop is also marked with the same information.  You will also notice that the backdrop is wrapped in a plastic bag and that there are loose pieces of cardboard on the top and bottom of the box.  There is also a “How to Fold a Backdrop” instruction sheet and a “Caution: Save Plastic Bag” sheet in the box.  Lastly, on the outside of the box, there will be a plastic pouch.  Inside the pouch are your prepaid UPS return label(s). (In some instances, there will be no pouch with the return labels.  They will be emailed to you if this is the case.)

When you open the box to unfold the backdrop, you need to save all of these pieces for repackaging when you are done.  So save the box, the bag, the cardboard pieces, the instructions, and most importantly, the return labels.  If any of these should be misplaced, no worries.  Any box or bag will do for shipping.  And, we can always send new return shipping labels via email too.  It’s no big deal.

However, what is a big deal is that before you lay out the backdrops for hanging, please, SWEEP THE STAGE!  This keeps the backdrops from getting dirty.  Dirt is very difficult to clean off of scrims, cycloramas, and velours.  Also, make sure that the stage isn’t wet.  Water will also damage the backdrops.

So, you hang the backdrops and have your show.  Now, it’s time to take the backdrops down and pack them up for shipping.  Before you take them down, you have to do one important thing.  SWEEP THE STAGE!  And make sure the stage isn’t wet.  Also, please lay the backdrops on the stage with the painted side up and not face down.  Once again, this prevents the backdrops from getting dirty.

Here’s where those two instruction sheets come in handy.  First, you have to fold a backdrop.  We have a preferred way on how we like the backdrops folded, but we know that there are some very experienced stage hands that do not fold the backdrops the way we prefer.  That’s OK.  As long as it folded neatly and it fits in the box, we’re cool with that (just don’t roll it in a ball and stuff it in the box!).  But we like the backdrops folded accordion style because when the backdrop is folded and placed in the box, we can see the id number right on top for a quick check in especially during our busy season when time isn’t our friend.  Plus, our method is fast and only takes two people.  Basically, while the backdrop is face up on the stage, one person goes to the top corner and one person goes to the bottom corner on the same side.  While crouching down like a catcher, each person reaches out an arm length and pulls the backdrop to the corner.  Repeat this until the backdrop is about two feet wide.  The person at the bottom takes the bottom and folds it up to the top.  Repeat until you see the backdrop taking the shape of the box.

Once you are done folding, wrap it in the plastic bag.  Why?  The plastic bag protects the backdrop from dirt and more importantly dampness just in case the box itself happens to get wet.  If we get a backdrop back damaged due to wetness and it is not wrapped in plastic, then you will be responsible for the damage.  On top of that, if another customer is waiting for the backdrop and we cannot get it to them due to your negligence, then you would be responsible for lost rental charges while the backdrop is being repaired.  Now, this information isn’t meant to scare you.  But it is mentioned to show the importance of packing the backdrops up appropriately.

Before you put the wrapped backdrop in the box, you need to do a couple of things.  First, place one of the cardboard pieces across the bottom of the box with the two instruction sheets.  Second, match up the labelled backdrop with the labelled box.  If you have rented multiple backdrops from us (we’ll call them backdrop # 0001 and # 0002), you want to make sure that backdrop # 0001 is in the box labelled # 0001 and that backdrop # 0002 is in the box labelled # 0002.  Third, after you put the backdrop(s) into the correct box, place the other cardboard piece across the top of the backdrop.  Close and seal the box.  Last, place the UPS return label on the boxes.  In the lower left corner of each return shipping label will be the corresponding backdrop id number.  So again, match the # 0001 label with the # 0001 box and the # 0002 label with the # 0002 box.  Now, you have matched the labelled backdrop with the labelled box and placed the matching return label on the box (# 0001 backdrop is in the # 0001 box with the # 0001 shipping label).  Why is this important?  Because sometimes we ask that you forward our backdrops to different locations.  We will make sure that your UPS return labels are addressed correctly, but if a backdrop is not coming back to Charles H Stewart, we want to make sure that you send the correct backdrop to the correct location.  We do not want you to place backdrop # 0001 inside the # 0002 box and vice versa.  Imagine you receive your backdrop.  You’re expecting backdrop # 0002.  You get the box, and it’s labelled # 0002.  But, you get to the theater on Friday night, open it up, and backdrop # 0001 is in the box.  Not good.  Just match the three numbers even if everything is shipping back to us!

Here are the two instruction sheets that are in each of our backdrop boxes:

 

Based on a True Story

Most Broadway musicals are works of fiction.  However, non-fiction stories make their way to the stage with regularity as well.  Well, at least, they are stories based on a true story.  Some of classics include shows such as Annie Get Your Gun, George M, Fiorello!, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Some others that are classics or yet to be are as follows:

 

Hamilton: An American Musical

Probably, the most popular show presently running, Hamilton: An American Musical is a sung and rapped-through musical about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics, and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow (I have read this book!). Notably incorporating hip-hop, rhythm and blues, pop music, soul music, traditional-style show tunes, and the casting of non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures, the musical achieved both critical acclaim and box office success.

The musical made its Off-Broadway debut at The Public Theater in February 2015, where its engagement was sold out. The show transferred to Broadway in August 2015 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. On Broadway, it received enthusiastic critical reception and unprecedented advance box office sales. In 2016, Hamilton received a record-setting 16 Tony nominations, winning 11, including Best Musical, and was also the recipient of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The prior off-Broadway production of Hamilton won the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical as well as seven other Drama Desk Awards out of 14 total nominated categories.

 

1776

In keeping with the American Revolution theme, 1776 is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The story is based on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It dramatizes the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document.

It premiered on Broadway in 1969, earning warm reviews, and ran for 1,217 performances. The production was nominated for five Tony Awards and won three, including the Tony Award for Best Musical.  In 1972, it was made into a film adaptation and was revived on Broadway in 1997.

 

Evita

So let’s stay on the political front.  Evita is a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death.

The musical began as a rock opera concept album released in 1976. Its success led to productions in London’s West End in 1978, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, and on Broadway a year later, where it was the first British musical to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical.

This has been followed by a string of professional tours and worldwide productions and numerous cast albums, as well as a major 1996 film of the musical starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas. The musical was revived in London in 2006, and on Broadway in 2012, and toured the UK again in 2013–14 before running for 55 West End performances at the Dominion Theatre in September–October 2014.

 

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is a musical with a libretto by Terrence McNally and a theatrical score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. It follows the story of a con artist named Frank Abagnale Jr.  A majority of the plot is borrowed from the 2002 film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, which in turn was based on Abagnale’s 1980 autobiography.  Abagnale lived his life as a former confidence trickster, check forger, and impostor between the ages of 15 and 21.  He became one of the most famous impostors ever, claiming to have assumed no fewer than eight identities, including an airline pilot, a physician, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer. He escaped from police custody twice (once from a taxiing airliner and once from a U.S. federal penitentiary), before he was 21 years old. He served less than five years in prison before starting to work for the federal government.

After a tryout musical performance in Seattle in 2009, Catch Me If You Can opened at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre in April 10, 2011. The production received four Tony Awards nominations, including one for Best Musical, winning Best Actor in a Musical for Norbert Leo Butz.  The show closed on September 4, 2011 after 32 previews and 170 performances.

Animation Adaptation Part 2

Here’s a second installment of animated comics, movies or shows made into musicals.

 

Pokemon

Pokémon Live! was a musical stage show that toured the United States on September 22, 2000 to January 19, 2001 including a run at Radio City Music Hall. Plans for some 2002 performances in the United Kingdom were also made,  but later canceled.  Despite that, Pokémon Live! was invited to perform in Dubai, U.A.E. at Al Mamzar Park in the duration of March 2001, coinciding with the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.  The musical was based on the Pokémon anime series, using similar characters, clothing, and story elements. Approximately 90 minutes in length, it told the story of Ash Ketchum, Misty and Brock as they travel to a contest to win the much sought-after Diamond Badge. The event turns out to be part of a plan by the evil organization Team Rocket and its diabolic leader Giovanni to take over the world. The music of the show consisted of songs previously released on the Pokémon anime soundtracks Pokémon 2BA Master and Totally Pokémon, as well as new songs.

The show was successful, but it was largely ignored by critics. It has never received a video release, even though Pokémon’s official site contained a statement for quite some time implying that such a release would appear.  A cast recording CD of the show, however, had a limited release.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

To capitalize on the Turtles’ popularity, a concert tour was held in 1990, premiering at Radio City Music Hall on August 17and sponsored by Pizza Hut. The “Coming Out of Their Shells” tour featured live-action turtles playing music as a band (Donatello, keyboards; Leonardo, bass guitar; Raphael, drums and sax; Michelangelo, guitar) on stage around a familiar plotline: April O’Neil is kidnapped by the Shredder, and the turtles have to rescue her. The story had a very Bill-n’-Ted-esque feel, with its theme of the power of rock n’ roll literally defeating the enemy, in the form of the Shredder (who only rapped about how he hates music) trying to eliminate all music. A pay-per-view special highlighting the concert was shown, and a studio album was also released.

 

Tarzan

Tarzan is based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios 1999 film of the same name. The songs are written by Phil Collins with a book by David Henry Hwang. The musical mostly follows the plot of the Disney film: Tarzan is raised by gorillas, meets Jane, a young English naturalist, and falls in love. Jane’s entourage plans to kill the gorillas, and Tarzan’s loyalties are tested.

The musical began previews on Broadway on March 24, 2006, and officially opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on May 10, making it the only Disney Theatrical production without an out-of-town tryout. Bob Crowley designed the sets and costumes and directed the original Broadway production; choreography was by Meryl Tankard and lighting by Natasha Katz.  Danton Burroughs, grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs, attended the opening night party, as did Phil Collins.  The production was nominated for a Tony award for Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Natasha Katz). But, due to poor ticket sales, the show closed on July 8, 2007 after 35 previews and 486 performances.

 

Anastasia

Anastasia is a musical with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and a book by Terrence McNally.  Based on the 1997 film of the same name, the musical tells the story of the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, which claims that she, in fact, escaped the execution of her family. Anastasia, who appears in the plot as an amnesiac orphan named Anya, hopes to find some trace of her family, but sides with con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess.

The musical opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on March 23, 2017 in previews and officially on April 24, 2017.  The musical was nominated for the Drama Desk award for Best Musical, among other award nominations.  The production was met with mixed reviews by critics, citing uneven subplots and an overly long running time as primary issues.

Animation Adaptation

We’ve covered movies made into musicals and musicals made into movies.  Another interesting concept that has been quite popular is making animated series or movies into live action shows.  We all know Annie, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and Lion King along with Shrek as well.  Here, we will look at some “lesser known” or less successful attempts at live action adaptations from animations.

 

Doonesbury

Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury started in 1970. It began following the lives of a group of college students attending the fictional Walden College, though it ultimately became known for its political and social commentary. The strip was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975, the first daily comic strip to be given that honor.

The characters in the strip had remained perpetually of college age, but in January 1983, Trudeau announced he would take a nearly two-year hiatus from the strip to bring his characters to Broadway. And notably, the musical Doonesbury marked college graduation for his characters. Trudeau set to work writing the book and lyrics, while Elizabeth Swados provided the music. Doonesbury opened on Broadway November 1983 with a cast that included Mark Linn-Baker (You Can’t Take It With You), Gary Beach (The Producers), Lauren Tom (A Chorus Line), and Kate Burton (Present Laughter). The show received mixed notices and closed after 104 performances, but a cast recording preserved the score.

Doonesbury the musical remains important in the history of the Doonesbury comic strip; following the musical adaptation, Trudeau began illustrating his characters aging in near real-time. The Broadway musical was the turning point.

 

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Bono and The Edge, members of Irish rock super group U2, wrote the music and lyrics for this unique musical. David Campbell worked on the arrangements and Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote the book. The inspiration for this superhero musical came from the original comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, first published by Marvel Comics.

The plot follows Spidey’s love for Mary Jane and his rival the Green Goblin. Unfortunately, the set designs and productions the creators had imagined proved to be difficult to produce. There were technical problems and performers were injured on set. At the premiere, there were disruptions, which caused the reviews to be negative.

After the show officially opened in 2011, the response from the critics were still mixed but more positive than after the previews. This musical is the costliest Broadway production ever but also held the top slot on record box office sales after pulling in nearly three million dollars.

In 2012 Spider-Man was nominated for two Tony Awards, one Drama Desk Award, and five Outer Critics Circle Awards winning two of the latter for Outstanding Set Design and Outstanding Costume Design.

 

It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!

Broadway’s first superhero musical was It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!, which opened on Broadway in 1966. Superman—or Clark Kent—first took flight in the pages of a comic book in 1933. He made the jump to television with 1952’s Adventures of Superman, which became extremely popular and ran through 1958. By the time producers decided to adapt the character for a Broadway musical in 1966, Superman had become quite the hot property.

But the musical adaptation of the Superman franchise took quite a different spin on the story of Clark Kent. It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!, with a score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie) and a book by David Newman and Robert Benton—who would also go on to co-write the screenplays to Superman and Superman II in 1978 and 1980, respectively—found a good deal of campy comedy in the Superman story. The musical dispensed with many well-known Superman characters—most notably Lex Luthor—in favor of new characters created for Broadway. In fact, of the characters in It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, fans would only recognize Clark Kent/Superman, his love interest Lois Lane, and his boss Perry White.

Despite positive reviews, the original production had only a brief run of 129 performances. A drastically shortened version of the show was presented on TV in 1975, starring Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane. The show was revised again in 2010, premiering at Dallas Theater Center with a new book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa who re-introduced elements from the original comic. Ultimately, the show’s biggest success has been the song “You’ve Got Possibilities,” originally sung by Linda Lavin, which broke out and became a standalone hit (and can be seen in the current Broadway revue Prince of Broadway.)

SpongeBob SquarePants

SpongeBob has not yet opened on Broadway, although the musical adaption of this popular Nickelodeon cartoon show began previews on November 6, 2017. The stage adaptation, which tried out in Chicago, features many of the characters from the cartoon, but the story is completely original. The musical tells the story of SpongeBob and his starfish best friend, Patrick, and their efforts to save their underwater city of Bikini Bottom from Armageddon, in the form of an underwater volcano.

Unlike the other musicals on this list, SpongeBob flaunts an extensive list of writers. Kyle Jarrow wrote the book, and the score reflects a compilation of songs by pop and rock artists, including Sara Bareilles, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! at the Disco, They Might Be Giants, David Bowie, and more. Tina Landau co-conceived and directed by Tina Landau the production with choreography by Christopher Gattelli.

Fans of the show eagerly anticipating its performances are in luck—the cast recording is now available.