Category Archives: Musical Theater

Movies that Began on Broadway 

In this age of Marvel movie crossovers and watching characters from one superhero film show up in another one, we have become accustomed to the idea of crossovers. But did you know that Broadway theater shows have been making the leap from the stage to movies for years before it was “in?” 

As a child growing up in the ‘80s, I had lots of musicals that would come spinning out of my mouth as I played with friends or concentrated on my homework. After seeing Annie on stage, I was a “hard knock kid” for months and months. I knew the lines and characters arguably better than the actual actors. 

Fast forward a few decades and I brought my sons to Annie at the local movie theater. My kids loved it as much as I did but boy was it a culture shock to see how they adapted it to our modern, tech-savvy lives of today. The songs and the premise were the same, but the cultural and social aspects were completely different… not bad, just different. 

Lots of Broadway shows have been adapted for movies in our society today. Two of my favorites are Grease and Mamma Mia! Again, the songs were the same but each was shifted just enough that you could tell that Hollywood had put their stamp on it. 

Depending upon your generation you may remember different Broadway shows before they became screen hits. For example, my mom’s generation remembers West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and Les Misérables before they were adapted. Who knows, younger generations may someday remember Hamilton on stage if it ever gets sent to Hollywood. 

What is your favorite Broadway show that was remade in Hollywood? Tell us in the comments and tell us whether you liked the remake or not. 

 

Theater Traditions 

Baseball players use the same lucky bat, football players don’t change their game day socks, and for years I have not stepped on sidewalk cracks for fear of breaking my mother’s back. Superstitions run deep in some people, but none more than theater people who have a long list of unique theater traditions. 

Theater folk are a fiercely superstitious breed and they follow certain traditions to ward off bad luck and make each production go smoothly. Some traditions are rooted in historic theater lore, while others actually seem to make pretty good sense. Check out some of our favorite theater traditions. 

 

Break A Leg 

One of my favorite theater traditions that has made its way into mainstream American life is the phrase “Break a leg.” This means good luck even though it sounds horrible. In Shakespeare’s time, ‘break’ meant ‘bend’, so to ask someone to ‘Bend the Leg’ meant to take lots of bows at the end of a performance. Then there are the die-hard thespians who believe that there are theater ghosts or fairies who like to cause mischief by or wreak havoc on your production. So saying the opposite is better luck than wishing someone good luck. Go figure! 

 

Flowers Before a Performance

You should never give a reward before the event has occurred, therefore giving flowers before a performance is another no-no in the lore of theater traditions. To give a bouquet of flowers to the actors, director, or producer before the end of the show would, again, tempt the fates. 

 

Terrible Dress Rehearsal Means a Great Performance

For this superstitious belief, I really think it is a way of chasing away the night before performance anxiety and nerves. Many actors really believe that all the things that go wrong (and there are usually a lot of things that go awry) during the last dress rehearsal are a good omen of the opening night. Most likely, this lore came from tired cast members who are nervous about the upcoming show and need that adrenaline boost of the opening night to shoo the worries away! 

 

The Ghost Light 

For decades crew members have been leaving on one light – the ghost light – to ward off bad spirits after each performance. Many believe this superstition came from too many people tripping over props and other items left behind the curtain. Others believe it is the ghost of the first actor, Thespis, who is haunting the stage at night. 

Does your theater group have any unique traditions? Share them with us and let us know where the traditions came from. We love to hear all the great superstitions. 

 

Eccentric Dance

(Certain portions of the following were taken from an article written in the LA Times by Susan King on 8/3/19)

Think of rubber-legged Ray Bolger in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” and 1952’s “Where’s Charley?”; long-limbed Charlotte Greenwood, whose trademark high kicks entertained audiences in such musicals as 1940’s “Young People” and 1955’s “Oklahoma!”; and the gravity-defying Nicholas Brothers — Fayard and Harold — whose leaps and astonishing splits were the high points of numerous musicals including 1940’s “Down Argentine Way” and 1941’s “Sun Valley Serenade.”

It was wacky and wild, dazzling to watch, funny and fearless. It wasn’t modern dance, and it certainly wasn’t ballet. The only word for it was “eccentric.”

On 8/5/19 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shined a spotlight on eccentric dancing and how the art form has also played an important role in animation.

“What eccentric dance is, by definition, is very broad,” said dance historian Betsy Baytos, the curator and host of the evening, who is also an animator and eccentric dancer and choreographer. “It’s loose-limbed. It’s a pantomimic kind of movement, and it’s usually comic by nature. It’s essentially wrapped around the character.”  Since animated characters can have unique features and movements, choreographers must come up with over exaggerated steps that regular humans don’t make.

“We’re trying to convince you that there’re certain things our characters can do that you find illogical but look completely believable,” says animator Eric Goldberg.  “You have to animate a character with a certain amount of weight and intent and all the things that actually make it completely believable for an audience.”  Think of trying to incorporate the movement of a tail or the long neck of a giraffe.

The famous Nicholas brothers will be featured as well. Tony Nicholas, the son of Fayard, was excited to show Nicholas Brothers home movies that evening because they are “something to behold.” He screened some “exciting new footage we have discovered that no one has ever seen.”

So while Hollywood has honored more traditional styles of dance like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly to the John Travolta disco and Fame and Flashdance to Footloose and High School Musical, it’s nice to see the art of the eccentric dance get it’s due.

Can Theater Effect Change? 

Every revolutionary idea began somewhere. A small flicker, a spark really, that can set the world ablaze. Musicals and theater productions can be that spark, that initial light that can start a revolution. That revolution can change the world. 

Theater has been motivated by the change that writers and directors need and want to see in the world: whether it is racial inequality, poverty, diversity, homelessness, marriage equality, women’s rights, human rights, or a whole host of other social issues. Part of telling a story on the stage is entertaining the audience, another part is enlightening the audience or teaching the audience about what is happening around them. Whether they choose to see it or not is their choice. But for some, the story starts a change in them that sparks action. 

Theater can change the world one performance at a time. For as long as theater has existed, since the time of the Greeks and Romans, the stage has been used to express opinions and gather public opinion. Theatergoers can gain empathy for the characters that are on stage and understand how “the other half” lives. For example, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Sound of Music probably gave the audience a point of view that they had never considered before, that of a family being hunted by the Nazis or wooed by the Nazis to join the Third Reich military machine. 

Theater productions can pose questions about the role of our government such as in Hamilton. Racial divides, immigration, and the underbelly of politics are just a couple of the topics that can open the eyes of theatergoers. Add in the music, fully developed characters, and a script that can touch the soul, and a theater production can most certainly spark a revolution in mind and spirit in the people who attend and later talk about the production. 

What products have you seen that have touched you or changed your thought process? I can remember seeing Annie as a young child and realizing that not all children have an easy life and that there will always be people richer than me and poorer than me. Tell us about your experience in theater and how it changed you. 

 

The Perfect Setting for Your Show

When it is important to set the stage or the mood, backdrops are the perfect item. From the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, theater has been a way to express ideas and emotions. Theatrical renditions range from tackling the most controversial issues and historical events to depicting real life drama, fantasy or romance. The creativity involved in these endeavors is unrivaled. Great care is taken to create the most lifelike of scenes or to evoke a particular emotional response. The backdrop and the scenery are the canvas on which the drama occurs. This essential element transports the viewer to another place and time as the events unfold. Backdrop rentals can help to accentuate many functions.

Backdrops come in a variety of forms. This can range from a basic curtain to elaborate theatrical scenery. Backdrop rentals can be used for stage shows, weddings, photo shoots, and other special events. Muslin backdrops come in a variety of colors and shades. These can be hand painted or reversible for a variety of options.

The sky is the limit when it comes to choosing the best backdrop rentals for an occasion. Beautiful scenic backdrops of locations from the US to Europe to Asia to Africa are available. Exotic scenes from the jungle, the pyramids or an enchanted forest can also be had. Backdrops from a Broadway musical or scenes simulating a dance club are also popular. Religious backdrops can enhance the depth of any religious function, lending a more spiritual energy to the occasion. There are also holiday specific backdrops that can make any day special. You can even design your own custom backdrop, but these you would have to purchase.

Backdrop rentals are just a Google search away. Many options are available online with a vast array of choices that will suit any occasion. When confirming the booking, we may require a deposit with payment in full due prior to shipping. It is possible to hold your choice until you make a final decision. Backdrops are the responsibility of the customer from the time that they are rented until they are returned. Care should be taken with backdrop rentals. A clean dry surface is required for handling. Sharp objects can rip or tear the backdrops, resulting in costly repairs, so be careful when opening the box the backdrop arrives in. The backdrop of your dreams can make your special occasional a day to remember.

Benefits of Being in a School Play 

Being part of a performance in high school can be amazing and provide memories for a lifetime. It can also build on a skill set that will be needed later in life. Being in the theater industry here at Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart, we may be completely biased, but here are some pretty compelling benefits of being involved in theater during your formative years. 

As a theater kid myself, I know the biggest takeaway from my years acting and, later, directing high school plays and musicals is the lifelong friendships that I made. There is nothing like the long, sometimes stressful hours blocking out a scene and reworking the lighting a million times to bond a group together. Some of my closest friendships have come from my days creating costumes at all hours of the night or painting sets days before the opening show. 

Aside from the friendships, I can tell you that I also learned (and then honed) skills that I used in college, finding a job, and now in my career. Here are just a few of them. 

 

Public Speaking

As a young child, I never wanted to speak in front of a group. I especially had trouble conveying my opinion in class in front of peers. After years in theater and practicing endless hours of productions, monologues, and lines galore, I learned the art of speaking in public. I learned how to deliver a line and use body language to emphasize my point. In short, I mastered the art of selling myself and whatever idea lay before me. 

 

Organization and Time Management

Growing up I was not exactly self-aware or cognizant of the passage of time. That meant that school projects, homework, and assignments were often late or never passed in. After becoming involved in theater, I suddenly was able to practice charting out a schedule such as a rehearsal schedule. The entire production crew was painfully aware of how many days and practices until the big opening night. We learned to do homework before practice and plan for long-term assignments. 

 

Increased Self-Esteem and Confidence

Not many middle school and high school students can claim that they are confident and have high self-esteem. After years in the theater, I was definitely more confident in who I was as a person and I had a really good grip on what my strengths and weaknesses were. I also had acquired the ability to advocate for myself and speak up when needed. 

As you can see, being part of a theater group may have ended when I graduated high school but it certainly left me with some amazing skills and even more amazing memories. 

Are you Planning Your HS Fall Production?

The school year may be over and the classrooms all empty, but your mind is reeling about a potential fall production at your school. You sing show tunes in the shower and choreography is never far from your mind. You show all the signs of being a drama coach or theater teacher!

Now that the stage lights are off and the props have been cleared, drama teachers are already in full swing even though most of us are spending our days at the beach. A die-hard drama fan will be plotting and planning what might work for a fall production at your school. Here are some of the questions they will be sorting through.

What Show?

The biggest question on the minds of theater teachers is what production can we do? Choosing a script is not an easy thing to do. One needs to take into account how many students there will be in the program, especially now that the seniors have flown the coop. It is also a time to evaluate what skills and talents the potential future cast may have.

Picking a musical that’s right for your program can depend on many factors, including the size of your cast, the interest of your students and, of course, availability of performance rights. In addition, you will want to consider what the school’s current budget is and the size of the venue for the production you are considering. Also, keep in mind your access to sets, props, and costumes. Weighing each of these things can help you in determining which show will be the right fit this fall.

What is Your Population of Actors?

As we mentioned previously, how many actors are in your program can help determine whether you can have a performance with a large cast, medium-sized cast, or small cast. You should also consider who are your actors not just how many. Do you have more girls than boys? Do you have a handful of serious talent or just one or two brilliant actors in your group? If you are considering a musical, what is the range of voices that you will be dealing with?

 

What is Your Budget?

Before you choose your play, consider your budget. A straight play vs. a musical is more budget friendly. Consider what costumes, scenery, and backdrops you will need. Do you need to buy the royalties to the play or will you choose one in the public domain?

 

What About the Space?

What does your theater look like? Can you handle a larger production or will you need to relocate to a community theater? Will you have access to practice times or will that impact your budget as well?

These are all great questions to consider as you dream of your next production. If you are searching for inspiration, check out Theater World’s list of High School Musicals. When it comes time to consider backdrops, check out our wide assortment of options here at Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart.

 

Summer Planning for your Theater Loving Family

Does your family love the theater? Is Playbill one of your favorite bookmarked pages? Is your name constantly in the daily raffle for front row seats for Broadway musicals? Well, summer is here and that means time to catch all the shows you can!

Massachusetts is the birthplace of summer stock theater and there is no shortage of great playhouses all over New England. That’s why it comes as no surprise that if you want a summer filled with musicals and thespians, our region is the place to be!

If you are looking for musicals or performances that are kid friendly or will entertain, there is a long list of Boston Theaters that will deliver! For example, Boston theaters are currently performing Pete the Cat, The Lion King, Cirque Du Soleil, and the ever-popular Blue Man Group. If you are looking for showtimes or tickets, then check out this site to start your summer planning. Think of the fun you could have in Boston for the weekends.

If you are looking to get out of the greater Boston area, there are tons of summer stock theaters from Maine to Vermont and Connecticut to Cape Cod. In a recent blog, we examined all the summer theaters that you could make a road trip out of this summer. Check out the options for your family and make it a summer you won’t soon forget.

For more serious theater lovers or children who have a flair for the arts, some of these shows may be of interest this summer. Check out Dear Evan Hansen, Hello Dolly, Cats, the 20th Anniversary of Rent, Mean Girls, Miss Saigon, or Fiddler on the Roof. Depending upon the style of musical you like, you could catch a few shows before the end of the summer.

Looking for a list of theaters that can help you plan your summer vacation? Check out MassHome for theaters with family-friendly productions, musicals, community theaters, and even campus theaters.

Social Issues and Broadway

Since the dawn of theatrical performances in ancient Greece, social issues have been a major theme. Theater lovers would be quick to note that musicals have never been removed from the world in which it exists. Why would we expect it to be in a time when social issues such as racism, human rights, and homophobia are still being debated. Let’s take a quick look at how Broadway has used the stage as a mirror to reflect the changing times and the issues that need attention in our society.

Hamilton: An American Musical

Since its first performance in February 2015, Hamilton: An American Musical has been inspiring conversations about the broad range of people who get to call this American founding narrative our own. This political musical attempts to reframe the way we envision partisan politics in America. In a time when American citizens are being put in travel bans and equal rights are being stripped away – sometimes slowly other times in large open ways – Hamilton is part of the dialogue of what it means to be American.

 

Rent

Rent opened in 1996 and, while it was never as popular as Hamilton, it still tackled issues such as the HIV/AIDS crisis in the U.S. Rent was the hottest, most groundbreaking musical in town in the 1990s. With a slew of Tony Awards and the elusive Pulitzer Prize, it was a cultural phenomenon of its time. Not only were we singing the songs but also discussing love, loss, and equality. Rent took the audience along for a ride through the struggles of those living under the threat of impending death and shows that love, respect, and friendship are the only things that matter.

In an article published by the Huffington Post, author Katherine Brooks points out that there are so many musicals that broach social issues in a way that gets theatergoers thinking and talking. She states that, “There are countless other, even more obviously politically charged plays and musicals worth discussing: “Assassins” (the hedonism of political culture in America), “An Enemy of the People” (whistleblowers), “The Crucible” (witch hunts), and, more recently, “Eclipsed” (civil war in Liberia) and “Allegiance” (Japanese prison camps). And those are just some of my favorites, cherry-picked from a long, long, long list of historically relevant titles.”

 

Maintaining an Organized Prop Space

In our last blog, we discussed creating a safe rehearsal space for all members of your theater group. This week we are discussing something related – organizing and maintaining your prop area. Not only can a well-ordered prop space add to safety, but it can keep your production on track.

Prop Masters or Mistresses have a hugely important job. Think about all of the props, both large and small that need to be used throughout the production. These items need to appear on stage seamlessly in between acts while actors scurry around to either change costumes or switch stage entrances. Here are some ideas on how to maintain an organized prop space for your spring or summer play.

Create a Master Prop List

One of the best ways for keeping track of what is needed (and when) is to create a prop list. Draft a list that names each item and for which act or scene it is needed on stage. This will not only give you a good sense of how long the item should be out on the stage but from what side (stage right or left) it will need to enter or exit.

 

Arrange the Props

This is, by far, the most challenging part of maintaining the items that are needed on stage, especially given that there is little light backstage to guide the crew. Whether you use a locker system, a prop table, or another method, arrange the props in a way that makes sense and still allows for movement to and from the stage. Take into account the size of each item, where they will be entering, and how long they will be out on the stage.

Small Props

Small props such as rings, coins, or anything smaller than a hand should be kept separate from the other props. These items are notoriously known for going missing right before they are needed on stage. Don’t be caught scurrying around searching for the items at the last second. Instead, keep them in a resealable, zipper bag pinned up right near the stage entrance.

Do you have any tricks that you use to keep your props organized? We’d love to hear from prop masters and mistresses. Tell us in the comments below what you do to keep things organized.