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The Shubert, The Stagehands and Me!

February 26th, 2015 by admin

So…10 years ago, in 2005, when I was just a wee lass…

I walked onto the stage of the Shubert Theatre. I was a member of The Nebraska Theater Caravan’s A Christmas Carol.   I was the second Electrician and Follow Spot Operator, a year out of college and touring the states for the first time. Though not originally from New Haven, I had visited friends who worked at Long Wharf and Yale Repertory in previous years and learned about the Shubert Theater – its legendary shows and artists. Then the realization hit me: I was walking into one of my first Theatrical Union operated houses – The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, specifically Local 74, which has been associated with the Shubert Theatre since it’s inception in 1914.   At the end of my 3-day visit, I was lucky enough to be able to sign the basement halls of the Shubert, where many touring companies have signed their names before me. I traveled on home to Iowa, but quickly found myself back in New Haven working for Regional Theaters around Connecticut and found some familiar faces along my journey, those of the Members of Local 74.

Fast forward to 2015, when A Broken Umbrella Theater is scheduled to perform an original work onstage at the Shubert. I quickly jumped at the opportunity to design scenery for this world premiere production. Though various creation workshops and rehearsals a show quickly formed. We wanted to share the inner workings of what happens in the life of theater artists and technicians. And, it occurred to me that theater-goers never get the chance to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into each production. When the audience walks into the Shubert, or any other theater in the world, they are treated to a well-oiled and polished spectacle; actors flit in and out of light while scenery magically shifts from one location to another. There is a form of magic produced in front of their very eyes. The Shubert walls disappear and the audience is transported into the world of the show onstage. This magic performed at the Shubert is produced and perfected by the men and women backstage, the Stagehands of Local 74. I have had the pleasure to witness the endless talent of these folks backstage and my goal was to figure out a way to share what I see with the audiences of SEEN CHANGE!. I want to share the feeling I had when I first walked onto the stage at the Shubert. To see the walls of the Shubert Theater as it waits for the start of a performance. To share how the stage transforms into what audiences expects to see – a finished production filled with magic. To see the stage at the end of the night – put to sleep, waiting for it’s next group of weary travelers.

Through this production we have been able to pay homage to the work that goes into all aspects of the theatrical world. To share the lives of the Stagehands who have worked tirelessly to perfect their art along side the actors who perform nightly. I am lucky to have learned from them and look forward to learning more. I am amazed to be onstage at the Shubert, where so many great artists have come before me. I would like to say thank you to the Stagehands of Local 74 – without you we could not have performed our magic.

 

Janie Alexander, A Broken Umbrella Theatre

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A Confession from the lyricist of “Seen Change”

February 17th, 2015 by admin

I have a confession: I’ve never seen a show at the Shubert Theatre! In fact, I hadn’t been inside until a few weeks ago for a rehearsal.I am, however, reminded on a daily basis of the importance of the Shubert and the role it has played in the history of musical theater. You see, I’m a musical theatre writer, and also work for Rodgers & Hammerstein, the licensing and publishing company founded by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. And, on my way to the copy machine shubertseatsatR&Hthroughout the day, I pass four red-cushioned seats from the original Shubert Theatre, on display in our office. So, when I had the opportunity to write lyrics for A Broken Umbrella Theatre’s Scene Change! – a show inspired by and staged at the Shubert – well…”I cain’t say no.”

Scene Change! is a love letter to the Shubert Theatre and the history of musical theatre. The back-stage story involves a creative team in 2015 putting on a forgotten musical that was written in 1944. One of the fun challenges for me was to create lyrics that might have been written in the 1940s as well as present day. Since we also wanted to celebrate the Shubert, the majority of songs were designed to harken back to composers and lyricists who premiered shows in New Haven.

Songs by Rodgers and Hart, who made their Shubert debut in 1925 with Poor Little Rich Girl, inspired lyrics for our tap dance number. The structure of our ballad was based on a Rodgers and Hammerstein song from South Pacific, which had its world premiere at the Shubert in 1949. Other lyrics take inspiration from Cole Porter, Jerry Herman, Lerner and Loewe and Irving Berlin, to name a few. Will Aronson then composed the music, crafting his own blend of pastiche and modern musical styles. Hailing from Guilford, Will has had the good fortune to see many shows at the Shubert.

It is wonderfully strange to think that the first show I see at the Shubert will be my own. I hope that Scene Change! pays tribute to this theater’s brilliant legacy and honors all the artists who inspired me to become one.

Blog Post: Rob Shapiro

Lyricist, SEEN CHANGE!

www.thatrobshapiro.com

Rob Shapiro Head Shot

 

 

 

A Night to Remember (It Was All About The Beige)

February 9th, 2015 by admin

One of the most memorable and hilarious evenings I have ever spent was with “Dame Edna” at the famous Shubert Theatre in New Haven. Dame Edna, a cross-dresser coming out of Great Britain, is a fabulous comic. I call the experience “All About the Beige!”

“She” picked me from the audience, asking me questions about my home – inside and outside – walls, furnishings, my entire lifestyle. She cleverly turned everything into the color Beige. She was hilarious, and so clever. Halfway through the performance she called me, and two or three others up on stage (the thrill of a life-time!). I was “center stage” as she continued to poke fun at me. She dressed us up with hats; but I can’t remember what else. It was so much fun and I loved every minute. She gave me lotion with a purple flower on top. I have not used it. I enjoy looking at it and remembering the funniest evening I have ever spent. I was cleverly made fun of, and loved it.

I have enjoyed all my evenings at the beautiful Shubert Theatre; but this was truly a night to remember, and I always shall.

Bonnie Heidler, Shubert patron and supporter

The Opening Night of My Fair Lady – That Almost Didn’t Happen!

February 3rd, 2015 by admin

As we celebrate our 100th Anniversary this Season, we are sharing stories from Edith Goodmaster. Edith worked at the Shubert for 25 years, as the private secretary of Maurice Bailey. Mr. Bailey operated the theatre during its Golden Era, and is credited with coining the phrase “Birthplace of the Nation’s Greatest Hits”.Edith_NEW2

As you can imagine, Edith has wonderful memories that she has been generous to share with us.

Please enjoy this series of stories, excerpted from a presentation Edith gave at the Annual Meeting of the Jewish Historical Society of New Haven.

THE OPENING NIGHT OF MY FAIR LADY – THAT ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN

This story is one that I have often been asked about. Others have told it on television and in print – even Rex Harrison had his version, but I believe I have the true story as Mr. Bailey told it to me immediately after it occurred.

MY FAIR LADY was to open with the usual Saturday night preview performance. This was a full opening night performance but the critics were not present. They came to the official opening on Monday night. Saturday morning, Mr. Bailey received a call at the Woodbridge Country Club from Ben Witken, the theatre manager, telling him that the had better get to the theatre in a hurry, Rex Harrison refuses to open.

Mr. Bailey dropped his bridge hand, rushed to the theatre, and went into a huddle with Harrison’s personal manager, the company manager, the producer, etc. It seemed that, being the first time he had been in a musical and not being a singer, Mr. Harrison did not feel that he was ready and wanted to hold off until Monday so he could have more rehearsal time. They assured him that there would be no critics present, explained that the theatre was virtually sold out, it was only a few hours until curtain time – nothing helped. He was adamant and they could not change his mind. Finally, Mr. Bailey said, “O.K., we will have to cancel the performance” and told Ben to notify the radio stations, get people to call the season ticket holders, and we would just have to tell anyone who came to the theatre that the performance was cancelled.

Harrison’s manager asked him what he was going to have announced on the radio. Now, the customary thing was to say that the scenery wasn’t ready or all of the costumes hadn’t come in, but Mr. Bailey said, “we will tell them the truth. Mr. Harrison is unprepared and afraid to go on.” The manager paled, realizing that such an announcement could ruin Harrison’s career, and suggested that he have another try with him. He came back shortly and told Mr. Bailey that Harrison had agreed to go on – the performance would not have to be cancelled.

He went on, gave a magnificent performance, and in spite of running a good half an hour longer than it should have, not a single person left their seat. Any remaining tickets for the entire run were sold out during the intermission, and the rest, of course, as they say, is history. When Ben Witken later asked Mr. Bailey if he would really have made that announcement, he just grinned, flicked his cigar, and said “of course not – but with a producer, you have to hit him in the pocket, with an actor you have to him in the ego”