Category Archives: On Stage

Audra McDonald

Broadway Spotlight: Audra McDonald 

Now that the theater world is coming back to life, it’s a good time to take a look at some of the names and faces that we love to watch doing what they do best. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of Audra’s work on the stage and screen and see what she is up to next in the theater world. 

Audra McDonald

Who Is Audra McDonald? 

According to her site, Ms. McDonald has been bestowed many honors in her time on stage, screen and singing professionally. She is the “winner of a record-breaking six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards and an Emmy Award, in 2015 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and received a National Medal of Arts—America’s highest honor for achievement in the field—from President Barack Obama.”

It’s no wonder McDonald became an acting and singing powerhouse, she was raised in a family of talented musicians. At age nine, she began taking voice and acting lessons. Her classical voice training for her incomparable soprano range was completed at New York’s Juilliard School. 

Just a short year after graduating she won her first Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Carousel at Lincoln Center Theater (1994). Since that time she has gone on to win 6 Tony Awards for Best Lead Actress and Featured Actress in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2012 and 2014!

Along with being an amazing Broadway actor, McDonald is well-known for her concert stage presence and opera skills. She has sung with every major American orchestra including the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony under such renowned conductors as Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

As if this was not enough, McDonald is also not a stranger to the small screen as well. You may recognize her from her remake of Annie, appearances on Law and Order Special Victims Unit, Mister Sterling, Kidnapped, The Good Wife and so much more.

Audra McDonald’s Broadway Credits 

Audra McDonald has an extensive list of credits from Broadway including: 

  • Frankie and Johnny in Clair De Lune 2019 
  • Last Day at Emerson Bar & Grill 2014
  • Porgy and Bess 2012
  • Chance and Chemistry 2009
  • 110 in the Shade 2007
  • Children and Art 2005
  • Raisin in the Sun 2004
  • Henry IV 2003
  • Dreamgirls 2001 
  • Marie Christine 1999
  • Ragtime 1998
  • Master Class 1995
  • Something Wonderful 1995
  • Carousel 1994
  • Secret Garden 1991

For more resources on Audra McDonald and what her next project may be, check out her calendar of upcoming events and charity projects. 

spotlights

Spotlight on a Broadway Powerhouse – Susan Stroman 

During these months when the lights are dark on Broadway, it’s a good idea to remember how good it all once was and will be again someday soon. This month, we focus our spotlight on the incomparable Broadway powerhouse, Susan Stroman. 

Considered one of the brightest lights of the new millennium, Stroman is an innovative choreographer, director, and performer. Her accolades include being a 5 time Tony award winner and honored with Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel, and a record five Astaire Awards. She was also the director and choreographer for the Producers which was honored with a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards including Best Director and Best Choreography. There is really not much she doesn’t do, and does exceptionally well at all of it. 

Let’s explore her beginnings on the Great White Way and the shows that brought her such fame and awards. 

Susan Stroman
photo courtesy of Playbill

Who is Susan Stroman? 

Stroman began her journey to Broadway with her performances in a community theater in her hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. Her career in New York began with the show Contact, considered a “musical dance play” and the revival of the Music Man, a fan favorite about a fast talking salesman and con artist. In the spring of 2000, these two shows received resounding raves and got Stroman four Tony award nods for the two shows. 

young dancers

Stroman’s Broadway Credits 

Over the course of her amazing career, Stroman has a long list of shows and musicals to her credit. 

  • Crazy For You 
  • Prince of Broadway
  • Bullets Over Broadway
  • The Producers
  • Contact
  • Big Fish
  • Oklahoma!
  • Young Frankenstein 
  • Thou Shalt Not 
  • The Music Man
  • The Frogs
  • Show Boat
  • Big, Steel Pier

Her Off-Broadway credits include: 

  • The Beast in the Jungle
  • Dot 
  • Flora the Red Menace
  • And the World Goes ‘Round
  • Happiness
  • The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville

As if all of this is not enough, Stroman also put her love of choreography to work in creating ballets for New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Martha Graham. 

Due to all of these amazing works and her efforts throughout her illustrious career on Broadway, Stroman was the recipient of both the George Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater and inducted as a member of the Theater Hall of Fame in New York City. 

If you would like to read more about Susan Stroman’s awards as well as her long list of credits check out Playbill’s list of Stroman’s accomplishments during her 66 years contributing to Broadway and the arts. 

Benefits of Theatre for Children

Patience and Respect. Standing quietly backstage is not easy.  It requires patience.  But kids eventually learn to respect the performers on stage by not distracting them with their nervous energy.  Adults usually get tired of telling kids to keep quiet, but when they get it, it’s very satisfying.

Facing your fears.  Public speaking is more feared than death by most people.  Theatre gives children an opportunity to face a crowd, speak in front of them, sing a song, and maybe even make them laugh.  A child can forget a line or two and still be supported and loved by their audience.  The reward of applause will whittle away at this fear inspiring confidence, which is the biggest medicine to fear.

Be yourself. In the theatre, everyone is welcome.  Uniqueness is embraced.  Are you loud?  A loner?  Flamboyant?  It seems that kids of all demeanors are accepted as equals.  The freedom to be themselves can take the world off their shoulders and create a zone of comfort that is relieving to those who feel like they don’t fit in.  Also, can you think of another activity where kids are encouraged to be loud and over the top, to speak louder and be “bigger”?  Most of the time, kids are asked to quiet down or be quiet.  While in some instances this is true in theater, for the most part, theatre gives them an outlet to be loud and be heard.

Responsibility.  Ever have the nightmare where you’re an actor, and you forget your lines?  Well, if they don’t want to be embarrassed or slow down rehearsals, kids learn pretty quickly that they need to take responsibility for their part.  A production is a team effort where everyone is counting on each other.  When one part of the team doesn’t function well, it can cause problems. They become part of a team and everyone is counting on one another to be prepared.  This includes backstage crew as well as onstage actors.

No screens allowed!  While there is plenty of technology involved in theatre including tablets and phones, screens are generally not allowed backstage or at rehearsals by the performers or crew who are not using these devices as part of the production.   The kids are experiencing human interaction and improving social skills, which in affect improves their interaction with the audience.  So, regardless of the human interaction aspect, it’s a couple of hours a day of saving some eyesight and posture.

Improves Education. It’s no secret that children who participate in the arts not only do better academically but they also have higher test scores. The arts are a vital part of the developing brain.  Kids will learn the art of language and reading in theatre.  Reading isn’t exactly high on the list of many students anymore considering all that they have at their fingertips, so the art of memorizing lines and reading in theatre can activate that part of their education.

While theatre may seem difficult to fit into a child’s already busy schedule, it’s a valuable option that usually lasts just a few months and can really make a difference.

How to Hang a Backdrop

One of the most asked questions when a customer calls me is “How do you hang the backdrops?”  It’s a simple question.  And like most simple questions, there isn’t always a simple answer.  But in this case, it is rather simple 90% of the time.  However, there are a few different ways to hang our backdrops.  It’s the other 10% that can be complicated.

Across the top of all of our backdrops, there are tie lines for hanging.  The easiest way to hang a backdrop is to simply tie the backdrop on to one of the stage battens.  The center of each backdrop is marked near the tie lines on the back.  My suggestion is to start from the center of the stage and work your way out.  That way, if there is any extra backdrop leftover (ie if the backdrop is wider than the stage), you can fold the ends behind and tie it off in the back keeping the backdrop centered on stage.

About 80% of our backdrops have the tie lines looped through grommets.  So, you can also hook these backdrops onto hardware through the grommets.  Not too many people do this, but it is an option.  The other 20% have cloth ties that are sewn into the top of the backdrop.  These backdrops do not have grommets.  Again, every backdrop has ties, but not every backdrop has the grommets.

About 33% of our backdrops have a sleeve across the top as well.  It is located below the ties (see photo below).  So, you can slide a pipe through the sleeve without having to tie the backdrop.  Usually, this method is used with pipe and drape systems.  The pipe and drape systems are typically used at trade shows or ballroom events and not with traditional theater stage rigging.

Another aspect of hanging a backdrop occurs before you even rent a backdrop.  You really should know what size backdrop would be effective on your stage.  You do not want to get one that is too small or too big, obviously.  But sometimes, you are not going to get the perfect size.  Sometimes when a backdrop is just a little too big, you can fold the extra backdrop under the scene letting it rest on the stage.  For instance, if you have a 15 foot tall stage but really want the 18 foot tall backdrop, you have to look at the picture to see if you can “fold out” the bottom part of the backdrop without losing the effectiveness of the scene.  If the backdrop is simply a blue sky with clouds, folding out any portion of the backdrop is easy, and you will not “lose” any of the scene.  But if you have a city street scene, you might be folding out half of a doorway or half of a window, and that will not look clean.  You can theoretically fold out the top of the backdrop using heavy clamps.  You would tie the backdrop as usual, but instead of folding the backdrop under, you would “lift” the backdrop up and clamp it to the batten.  This is more time consuming, but it has been done.  However, if you do this, it is very important to protect the backdrop from the clamps since the clamps can leave creases in the backdrop.

There are some instances where the stage is bigger than the backdrop and where the battens are dead hung meaning they don’t move.  When this happens you will have to look into adding rope extensions so that the backdrop will hang lower.  So, the size of your stage is part of how you are going to hang a backdrop.

The last part of hanging a backdrop is weighting it down so that the wrinkles are lessened and so that it does not sway in the wind.  Across the bottom of the backdrops is a pipe pocket.  Some of the pipe pockets already have a light chain sewn into the bottom.  But most have the empty pocket.  You can slide in pvc pipe, wood, metal rods, or a chain into the pocket.  If you have to fold out any part of the backdrop, you’ll have to deal with the weight in the pocket.  You do not HAVE to use a weight in the pocket.  But if you do not have to fold out any part of the backdrop, I highly recommend using one to help with the wrinkles and stability.

Can We Stump You With Broadway Trivia?

Missing Broadway like we are? If you can’t seem to get enough of the streaming services for Broadway shows, you may like our blog this month. Check out some of our questions below to see if we can stump you with some Broadway Trivia.

Check out these trivia categories. Which did you score the best? Can you stump your friends too? We have included the answers below so there will be no questions about who got it right!

Name the Broadway Show From these Lyrics

  1. “There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.”
  2. “Can you feel the love tonight?”
  3. “On the steps of the palace…”
  4. “A spoonful of sugar lets the medicine go down.”
  5. “Ah the intoxicating smell of the graveyard.”
  6. “Hey there, Teenage Baltimore! Don’t change that channel! ‘Cause it’s time for the Corny Collins Show!”
  7. “Sometimes, when someone has a crush on you, they’ll make you a mixtape to give you a clue.”
  8. “And when someone needs a makeover, I simply have to take over.”
  9. “Don’t go wasting your emotions.”
  10. “The plan is to spark this into a flame, but damn it’s getting dark, so let me spell out the name.”
  11. “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.”
  12. “We’re supposed to be all ladies and nurturing and care. Is that really fair?”
  13. Every man has his daydreams, every man has his goal. People like the way dreams have of sticking to the soul.”
  14. “Suddenly Seymour is standing beside you. You don’t need no makeup, you don’t need to pretend.”
  15. “Climb every mountain…”
  16. General Trivia
  17. Kristen Chenoweth won her one Tony Award in the Broadway production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown playing what character?
  18. What was the other musical based on the characters of Charles M. Schulz?
  19. The musical The Addams Family is based on The New Yorker cartoons of what artist?
  20. What was the sequel to the musical Annie?
  21. What type of aquatic creature is Spongebob Squarepant’s best friend?

Movie Posters

  1.  What Broadway smash hit is portrayed in this image?Les Mis
  2. What toe-tapping, street-dancing musical is portrayed in this image?West Side Story
  3. Can you tell what Broadway hit show this poster is portraying?Fiddler on the Roof
  4. What was the last Broadway musical Rodgers and Hammerstein created, which starred Mary Martin and debuted in 1959?
  5. A helicopter was the unforgettable set piece of this musical, which opened in 1991.

Answers:

  1. Hamilton
  2. Lion King
  3. Into the Woods
  4. Mary Poppins
  5. The Addams Family
  6. Hairspray
  7. Avenue Q
  8. Wicked
  9. Mama Mia
  10. Hamilton
  11. Rent
  12. Mean Girls
  13. Pippin
  14. Little Shop of Horrors
  15. The Sound of Music
  16. Sally
  17. Snoopy! The Musical
  18. Charles Addams
  19. Annie Warbucks
  20. Starfish

Movie Posters

  1. Les Misérables
  2. West Side Story
  3. Fiddler On The Roof
  4. The Sound of Music
  5. Miss Saigon
Disney castle

Backdrops for Children’s Theaters 

Does your local or community theater love producing children’s theater?. Well, now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for this global pandemic in the way of a vaccine, it is time to start preparing for your productions in 2021. From the Wizard of Oz to Aladdin, Pinnochio to Little Mermaid, Charles Stewart Backdrops offers a wide variety of backdrops to make your performance look professional and polished. 

Nutcracker scene on stage

Theaters Are Getting Creative 

Theaters across our nation are getting very creative in the ways that they are keeping theater going even in the midst of this COVID-19 outbreak. Some productions are taking place outdoors in parking lots with theater-goers hunkered down in the cars, while other theaters are going forward with virtual productions. It is vital to social and emotional growth that youngsters are able to be a part of a production no matter how it is produced. 

Top Children’s Shows 

According to Children’s Theater Plays online, some of the most popular plays and musicals currently are the traditional shows that we all grew up loving such as: The Wizard of Oz, Finding Nemo, Grease, the Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and of course the Disney fan favorites. Maybe we are all craving a bit of the familiar and the comfort of a storyline that we can follow along with easily or have songs that we can sing along with. 

forest with dirt path and streamBackdrop Options for Children’s Shows 

Under the Sea Backdrops 

One of our most popular backdrops that can be used in a variety of shows is the “Under the Sea” backdrop. From Little Mermaid, to Finding Nemo, to SpongeBob Squarepants, our under the ocean themed backdrop can bring the audience right into the action by making it appear as though the action is happening beneath the water. Add to that the expertise of lighting professionals and the stage can seemingly be under the sea! 

Storefront Themed Backdrops 

Mom and Pop shops seem to be the setting for many plays and musicals, and Charles Stewart has a few options for backdrops to set the scene for each of these. Whether you are staging Geppetto’s wood carving shop in Pinnochio, or the famous flower shop seen in Little Shop of Horrors, Charles Stewart has the backdrops that can transport audience members into the action in each show. 

Tropical Backdrops 

Who doesn’t love the beach and a tropical destination? Broadway shows that have been adapted for children’s theater have produced some fan favorites such as Tarzan, Mamma Mia, and Treasure Island. Charles Stewart can create a tropical paradise at your location using high- quality backdrops to set the scene on a beach with palm trees and beautiful blue skies. 

Check out our categories on our website that can get your imagination going and your creative juices flowing for your next children’s performance. 

 

Times Square NYC

Broadway Reopening Delayed a Little Longer 

According to a New York Associated Press report on the PBS site, fans of Broadway theater will have to wait a little longer for shows to resume. Theater enthusiasts will need to wait until at least late May 2021. Read on to find out more about this safety precaution as the coronavirus rages on across the country. 

The sad announcement about the reopening delay came this Fall from the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry. The 700-plus members of the League include theatre owners and operators, producers, presenters, and general managers in North American cities, as well as suppliers of goods and services to the commercial theatre industry. 

The decision was not an easy one. 

guitar case open on the ground

The Specifics of Reopening & Refunding 

While there actually is no specific date as of right now for reopening, May 2021 is the current timeframe being looked at. The League, in coordination with Broadway producers are now offering refunds and exchanges for tickets purchased for shows through May 30. Adjustments can be made to your credit card or funds can be taken as a donation to the theater industry.

This new timeframe may complicate a long list of shows that had planned to open in the spring, including “The Music Man,” “Flying Over Sunset,” “Caroline, or Change,” “Plaza Suite,” “American Buffalo,” and “The Minutes.” Within hours of the announcement, the musical based on Michael Jackson, called “MJ,” pushed back its performances to September 2021.

Times Square NY

Reactions and Reflection 

This most recent delay in opening of theaters was endorsed by the Actors’ Equity Association, which represents 51,000 theater actors and stage managers. Sadly, it is understood by most in the industry as well as theater-goers that the safety of the actors, crew, and vendors is the most important thing at this point. 

Mary McColl, the executive director for Actors’ Equity Association said this about the decision. “It was a difficult but responsible decision to put the safety and health of their workers and audience first. This is a deeply painful time for everyone who depends on the arts for their livelihood.”

The coronavirus has shuttered Broadway, Off-Broadway and community theaters across the country since mid March. This industry helps to power the United States entertainment economy, making an approximated $1.8 billion dollars last year alone. 

Actors, directors, and producers continue to encourage Americans to wear masks, practice good hand hygiene, stay socially distant, and take the advice of the scientific community in order to protect yourself, others, and get our economy open sooner rather than later. 

 

Broadway theater

What’s Coming to Broadway This Spring?  

Are you looking forward to scoring tickets to a Broadway musical this spring? Well, you’re not alone in that aspiration. Millions of theatergoers will flood New York City and other major hubs hoping to catch their favorite musical on stage. 

This year should prove to be a banner year for musicals along the “Great White Way.” Some shows that are successfully running will still be a big draw for tourists and NYC visitors. Shows like Wicked, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hanson, and Mean Girls will continue to shine. Some musical newcomers and revivals may shock us all with the scenery, costumes, and amazing musical scores. 

theater

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

This revival of Edward Albee’s classic drama will star Rupert Everett, Russell Tovey, Patsy Ferran, and two-time Tony winner Laurie Metcalf, marking her fifth consecutive season on Broadway. This show will begin at the Booth Theater at the beginning of March with an official opening night slated for April 9th. 

Playbill explains that this musical explores the complexities of a marriage when, “a college professor and his wife invite a younger academic and his wife over for drinks after a late-night party, leading to an evening of sadistic games, attempted seductions and shattering revelations.”  

Mrs. Doubtfire 

Based on the movie by the same name, this musical follows the story of a recently divorced, out-of-work actor, who will do just about anything for the chance to spend some time with his children. He disguises himself as a nanny, Euphegenia Doubtfire, whose persona begins to take on a life of its own. 

The show is packed with all the hilarity you can expect from a cross-dressing, Scottish nanny who learns more than he bargained about his children and himself. 

Directed by Jerry Zaks, the musical starts performances March 9 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. The official opening night is slated for April 5th. 

theater

Plaza Suite 

This marriage comedy starring real-life husband and wife Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, follows the story of three couples, all played by Broderick and Parker. This revival of the Neil Simon original follows a long, married couple seemingly doomed for a break up, high school sweethearts, and a mother and father of a bride who are ready to celebrate their daughter’s wedding, if only they could get her out of the bathroom. 

It’s been 20 long years since Parker and Broderick have been on stage together. Directed by John Benjamin Hickey, the play starts its limited run at the Hudson Theatre March 13 ahead of an April 13 opening.

What shows are you looking forward to this spring? Drop us a line in the comments to check out our Facebook page for more spring shows. 

 

theater

Hidden Lessons of Popular Musicals 

Hamilton, Mama Mia, Kinky Boots, and Wicked are just a few of the popular Broadway musicals that have graced the stage along the “Great White Way” in the last few years. These musicals are more than just a combination of fantastic dancing, singing, and plot lines. They have hidden lessons that make theatergoers think about long after they have left the hall. Here are a few of the hidden, yet important, lessons that musicals are teaching audiences. 

stage

Wicked

The life of the wicked witch of the west as told in the musical Wicked, is filled with life lessons about friendships. The strongest message is that friendships are truly everything in life. The well-developed characters explain that some friendships run so deep that they imprint upon you and can change your life for the better. The musical also shows through actions that even though friends may critique one another, the best of friends will always be your biggest fans and most staunch supporters in life. 

Another important life lesson that we could all use a reminder about is the idea that looks are not everything. Take for example the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba. Glinda isn’t keen on Elphaba at the start of the story because she was very obviously green, and Glinda’s sparkly, pink and girly sense of style really wasn’t Elphie’s cup of tea either. They eventually discover that it’s what’s inside that counts. 

These lovely life lessons are paired with incredible music, amazing scenery, and costumes that help promote it to the level of being one of the most popular musicals of the west end. 

Hamilton

Hamilton 

If you are lucky enough to score tickets to the famed Hamilton, then you will be delighted with life lessons from the moment the curtain goes up until it goes down at the end of the night. Hamilton tells the story of forgotten American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and his ascent out of poverty and to power against the backdrop of the American War of Independence.

There are so many little life lessons as well as grand sweeping ones in this musical that it’s hard to know where to start. Overall, the inspirational message to audiences is that now is the time to take your shot no matter what the risks. You have but one life so take your chance and make it happen for yourself. 

Believe it or not, fans of this particular musical have written fan sites on what they learned from this production, the characters, and the public’s reaction to it. Here’s just a quick overview of what some fans say are the biggest takeaways to Hamilton. 

  • Excuses are a waste of time in life.
  • You are responsible for your own education.
  • Believe in yourself, before you expect other people to believe in you.
  • Pride can literally kill you. Be humble to be truly brilliant.
  • Sacrifice leads to greatness

Dear Evan Hanson 

Evan Hansen is the story of a young man who suffers from severe social anxiety. On the first day of senior year, he writes himself a letter as per his therapist’s recommendation. This awkward teenager craves communication and connection with others. 

He, unfortunately, assists with promoting a huge lie that hurts many people. Evan must come to the very tough realization that he needs to accept himself for who he is before others will do the same. He sings the message powerfully: “All I ever do is run so how do I step in, step into the sun?” While the lesson is one our younger selves could have benefited from, even adults can learn something about loving themselves from this hit musical. 

What hidden messages does your favorite musical promote? Drop us a line in the comments or on our Facebook page