Category Archives: Musical Theater

Theater as a Political Artform

Since the dawn of the earliest Greek performances, the stage has forever been a place where political issues have been examined. Aristophanes was known to be one of the earliest Greek comical satirists, bringing up issues of morality, Athenian politics, social life, and law into his plays. Today, our theaters are a reflection of the myriad of issues in our society such as respecting people of different colors, creeds, and orientations. Let’s take a closer look at theater and how it can, for better or worse, raise red flags about the nature of politics in our lives.

Since our current administration took office, there have been political statements, both outright and subtle, about the legislation that has been embraced regarding immigrants, Muslims, women’s rights, and the list goes on and on. Theatergoers have long since expected and, in some cases, demanded that performances take note and address these issues.

Whether you agree with political happenings or not, theater has always been, and probably always will be, a voice for those who are disenfranchised. Theater performances have a way of holding up a mirror to society and showing the majority the inner thoughts of the minority. Broadway is famous for calling out issues and societies mistakes in play or musical form.

Take, for example, the cast of Hamilton, a wildly popular Broadway musical lauded for telling the Founding Fathers’ story with a deliberately multi-cultural cast and compassion for immigrants, calling out Vice President Mike Pence. The Vice President, who openly opposes LGBTQ+ rights, took his seat at a Hamilton production to a chorus of boos.

According to Vox online, “the booing would’ve been noteworthy on its own — but it was only the beginning. The real coup de grâce came when the Hamilton cast remained onstage well past their curtain call to address Pence directly.”

As Pence was walking out of the theater, Hamilton cast member Brandon Victor Dixon — who’s currently playing Aaron Burr — called out to him, asking him to stay and listen what they had to say. He then pulled out a piece of paper and delivered the following remarks, as the cast linked arms in solidarity behind him:

Vice-president elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do. We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

The moment was top billing on the news for days to come. Some Americans were shocked at the actions of the actors while others were quick to point out that political satire and accountability have been a hallmark of theater productions since the first plays in the marketplaces in ancient Greece.

While this event took place in 2017, the question has still remained about the role of theater in political expression. What are your thoughts about theater as a place for political art? Leave your comments below and let us know how you feel.

 

The Curtain is Rising on Summer Theater

Are you ready for summer? For some people, it is a time to get ready for vacation or a trip to the beach. For theater lovers, it means the chance to see or be a part of a summer production in some of the amazing Off-Broadway theaters that come to life every summer.

If you’re looking for quality summer stock theatre, a road trip to New England should be on your summer bucket list. Some of the best summer playhouses and theaters call the six New England states home. According to New England Today Travel, the region is home to some of the oldest and most-respected summer playhouses in the country, and these theaters put on a wide range of shows – from comedies to operettas.

Let’s start our summer theater tour in the lovely state of Maine in the town of Ogunquit. The Ogunquit Playhouse is one of the oldest summer theaters in the nation and is nestled in a beach town along the rocky Maine coast. The beautifully unique playhouse, combined with the excellent productions put on within it, make for an unforgettable theater experience. Check out what they have going on this summer on their website.  

Moving from the northern coastline of New England to the sandy beaches of Cape Cod and you will find another summer theater that will take your breath away – The Cape Playhouse. Since 1927, the Cape Playhouse has been home to some of Broadway’s most famous actors who are practicing their craft. Imagine catching a show after the beach only to see actors who have been gracing the stages in Manhattan!

Swing on over to Rhode Island to find a quaint seaside summer theater aptly named Theater By the Sea. This smaller theater is just minutes from the coast and puts on many musicals and summer children performances.

Head north to Vermont and New Hampshire to find some of the summer theater festivals that will have you never wanting to leave. Located in a rustic theater, the Dorset Theatre Festival boasts some engaging summer theater from June to September. New Hampshire’s Barnstormers is one of the oldest summer theaters in the country. This will be their 89th Season of bringing live professional theater to the Lakes Region and the White Mountains.

If you are looking for some outdoor theater, head to Connecticut where the Sharon Playhouse presents acclaimed plays and musicals on its stages throughout the summer months. After each performance, late-night cabarets are offered outside on the theater’s open-air patio.

 

No matter where you’re headed, theater in New England is alive! Check out some of the shows when you get a chance and who knows, you may see some familiar and famous faces out there!

 

Looking Toward the Tony Awards

Every year, the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League host the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre. You may know the awards by its more common name, The Tony Awards. We know the awards aren’t until June 9th, but we just heard about the three amazing theater veterans who will be honored that night with Lifetime Achievement Awards.

These are non-competitive honorary awards that recognize an individual for the body of his or her work. This year, the three Lifetime Achievement Awards will be going to musician Harold Wheeler, actress Rosemary Harris, and playwright Terrence McNally. Nominees for the competitive awards were announced at the beginning of May but, in this blog, let’s focus on these three and their remarkable lifetime commitment to theater.

Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing, and Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, stated that these Lifetime Achievement recipients, “are pioneers in each of their crafts and their contributions to American Theatre and culture has been immeasurable.”

Actress Rosemary Harris was a past Tony Award winner with 26 Broadway credits including Tony-nominated performances in The Royal Family (2009), Waiting in the Wings (1999), Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance (1996), Hay Fever (1985), Pack of Lies (1984), Heartbreak House (1983) and Old Times (1972). She won the Tony for Best Actress for The Lion in Winter (1965) and is currently starring as Mrs. Higgins in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of My Fair Lady. At 91, Ms. Harris is still doing what she loves. She is beloved by all who get the opportunity to witness her on stage.

 

Playwright is a four-time Tony winner, for the plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class, and for the books of the musicals “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime.” It’s hard to believe that at the ripe age of 80, McNally’s writing has been the basis of 24 Broadway productions! In honoring McNally, the Tony committee noted that the playwright has had at least one new work on Broadway in each of the last six decades. A revival of his Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune begins its Broadway run on May 4.

 

 

Composer Harold Wheelers career as an orchestrator, composer, conductor, record producer, and arranger spans more than five decades, from being the youngest conductor on Broadway with Burt Bacharach’s Promises, Promises, to 17 seasons as musical director for the ABC’s Dancing with the Starsˆ. His Broadway credits include Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, A Chorus Line, The Wiz, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, and Dreamgirls, with six Tony Award nominations for The Life, Little Me, Swing, The Full Monty, Hairspray, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Are you looking forward to Tony Award night on June 9th on CBS? We can’t wait to see our favorite thespians all dolled up and ready to celebrate.

Theater in the Lives of Young Adults

There is no question that the arts are a huge building block for learning at early ages for students and young adults. Throughout the holidays and celebrations every year, theatrical productions have been the best way thus far for schools to incorporate information and fun lessons into something interactive. Beyond educationally, being a part of a theater community teaches kids to branch out, make one-of-a-kind connections, and be themselves in a world of individuality. 

When a student is in theater in elementary school, middle school, and high school, they have a choice when it comes to college. Do you pursue a career in your passion: music, and theater? Or do you choose something different due to former opinions of ‘practicality’?

college students working together around computer

Boston University student, Chris Kuiken, explains this in a Boston Globe Theater article written by Kaya Williams. He says, “I was at sort of a crossroads, where I was like: What do I want to do with my life?” he says. “I was going back and forth every day between these two worlds, and trying to figure it out.”

Kuiken graduated from BU in 2017 with experience in theater, both starring in plays and admin work. The article explains, “He chose the “practical” major partly for, well, its practicality and a minor in arts administration.”

“I was at sort of a crossroads, where I was like: What do I want to do with my life?”

Why do you think it’s common for theater to be perceived as an impractical profession? In reality, theater can be more rewarding than most jobs. Creative expression is healthy, and it’s important for everyone to have an outlet. When you love what you do, and you know it’s your passion, sometimes the best thing for us is to follow that. When your outlet can become your profession, we think that’s the ultimate success.

high school theater auditorium seats

The article continues to explain that, “Despite the lucrative jobs that could come with careers in S.T.E.M. fields and business, some students — like Kuiken — are shifting their gaze from Wall Street to Broadway, from laboratory fluorescents to footlights.”

What do you think about this? Do you support the shift of young adults from big business jobs to the arts? How common are theater majors in your school or university? Let us know. We want to hear from you!

Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart has been your leading edge scenic design and backdrop rental company for over 120 years! Come to us with your theatrical needs to enhance your production with well over 1,500 backdrops, drapes, lames, and scrims to choose from in our inventory. We are here to serve all your backdrop and scenic design needs.

What Did You Think Of Rent LIVE?

On January 27, FOX aired Rent Live, a live production of the 1996 Tony Award-winning musical Rent. When the production was live, the musical was a theatrical sensation for fans across the globe. It was a story of speaking out in a world that inhibits you.

When the live production aired on FOX,  some fans were slightly disappointed. Due to an injury to one of the actors during rehearsal, the performance that was aired was a dress performance. The last 15 minutes of the production were live, and this didn’t go over too well with fans.

Check out this article written by the New York Times. “The solution? Much of what viewers would see would be Saturday’s recorded performance, the cast noted in a statement during an early commercial break. The final 15 minutes or so were live; [the injured actor] was at a table, his foot in a cast and propped on a chair. (Hashtags like #RentNotLive and #RentKindaLive trended during the broadcast.)”

“It feels a bit weird to critique what was almost entirely a recorded dress rehearsal. How do you measure three hours of chaotic visuals and middling audio most of us were never meant to see and hear? Mostly in disappointment, I guess, though this is what Fox gave us.”

For Fox to tackle this production was a decision in and of itself. It’s not as colorful of a production as most. Do you think this was the right choice for Fox, given the circumstances?

Live theater means anything can happen, and this is why actors have such important roles. They have much responsibility, but accidents still do happen. For live shows like these, there are no understudies for when actors get injured.

Check out this video of the live performance of “Seasons of Love.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLQO1vT4Lf4

What did you think about the closing scene? Moving and emotional? Everything you’d expect? Let us know what you think. We want to hear from you!

October Means: All Things Tim Burton

Tim Burton

For the month of October, we thought we’d highlight the most renowned horror directors and producers. Known most commonly for his dark and eccentric fantasy films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd, and so many more, this writer and animator has dominated the arts with all things spooky.

You guessed it, ladies and gentlemen. We give you, Mr. Tim Burton! Let’s highlight two of his most beloved productions.

Edward Scissorhands
This was one of the spookiest yet most creative and popular works of Tim Burton in 1990. He co-wrote and directed this with Caroline Thompson, as he did with The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. It was about Edward, half human, half an unfinished product as a creation of an inventor.

Shot in Lakeland, Florida, the film tells much of Burton’s life and childhood in Burbank. Edward Scissorhands aired as a ballet in 2005, and toured the U.S, Canada, Australia, and Europe.

edward scissorhands

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Burton produced this in 1993 for Disney, and was originally meant to be a children’s story. The film was directed by Henry Selick and written by Burton along with Caroline Thompson.

This production was one of the most popular in the box offices with revenues of over $50 million. It was most popular for its animation, and remains recognized for its unique style.

Horror and fantasy shows make for great theatrical productions. Many people love to see the spookiness, especially right on stage. Burton has gone down in horror production history, and we can’t help but think of him during this season.

Have you seen any of these productions as plays? Which one was your favorite? Were you cast or did you watch from the audience? Versions of Tim Burton pieces are often chosen for theatrical productions and musicals. Comment and share, as we want to hear from you!

Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart has been your leading edge scenic design and backdrop rental company for over 120 years! Come to us with your theatrical needs to enhance your production with well over 1,500 backdrops, drapes, lames and scrims to choose from. Call us at (978) 682-5757 today!

Musicals Making Their Way to the Big Screen

Les Mis Poster

Musicals are one of the oldest, most loved, and renowned forms of theatre in existence. Characterized by singsong dialogue and a show tune structure throughout the production, musicals have greatly made their mark on the social sphere of entertainment.

pitch perfect cast

The genre exploded in the 1930s when the Great Depression was weighing heavily upon the U.S. Most musicals highlighted the lives of the upper echelons of society, and weren’t as realistic as they could have been. Times have changed, and of course, musical theatre greatly reflected this. Now, by just looking at theatre, we can see how we’ve progressed through history. Musical theatre has been recognized as something we truly love for entertainment.

Into the Woods

Today, we see movies and television shows that have flourished from the rudiments of musical theatre. Musical to film adaptations are very common today. At first glance, we may not realize how much we really enjoy the musical elements in our entertainment.

Movies like Pitch Perfect, Into the Woods, Hairspray, La La Land, Les Miserables, and shows like Glee were all once musicals that were adapted to the big screen. They represent our love for the melodic tunes and show tune structure.

Glee cast

Musical to film adaptations are undoubtedly a great way to extend a timeless or older story into something relatable in present day. Adaptations are taking a classic storyline, revamping, extending characters, changing up the plot, and putting out a new piece of art. The director has much to work with. The principal characters and everything about the musical generally remain, but there is definitely room to be creative with the visuals and all other movie elements.

But why has musical theatre made its way to the big screen? What caused this change? The answer lies within the true elements of musical theatre that have stuck with us. Show tune structure, repetition and reprisal of songs, as well as the sung dialogue are all elements we still see in movies today.

Hairspray

Musicals create a cohesive feel and bring you in more than a movie does. They include tons of human elements, moments of recognition, missions, realizations, and problem solving. This paired with music and very little spoken dialogue is what we want to see. The catchy tunes get stuck in our head, and the stories take us on a ride. We invest, we get enveloped, and it works. Now in 2018, it’s safe to say that musical theatre is here to stay.

Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart has been your leading-edge scenic design and backdrop and rental company for over 100 years. If you’re hosting a production soon, check out our catalog for all of our offerings. We can answer all of your questions about your design needs for your next production. Reach out to us at (978) 682-5757 today! We want to hear from you.