Rebecca Luker: The Real Angel of Music. 1961-2020.

I was disappointed.
 
In 1988, I listened to the original cast recording of Phantom of the Opera over and over and over. And with each “repeat all” I fell more in love with the show, the characters and the voices of the actors I heard on that CD.
 
And then, after eight months of waiting, we got tickets to see the musical live on Broadway.
 
It would be my first Broadway musical. 
 
I didn’t know what to expect. But I remember saying, “I can’t wait to see those actors from the CD that I’ve been listening to!”
 
I had no idea how Broadway worked. I had no idea that the original cast had long since left by the time I pulled up to the Majestic Theater.
 
So when I opened my playbill and saw the woman playing Christine was someone name . . . Rebecca Luker . . . well, I was disappointed.
 
And then . . . she sang.
 
It was a voice unlike anything I had ever heard. And I wasn’t hearing it on a CD. Or on TV. It was live. Granted, that voice was a little far away, because I was in the 2nd to last row in the balcony . . . but I couldn’t take my plastic opera glasses off her. 
 
I read her bio over and over (God how I wish I had Google back then), wondering who she was . . . and knew I had to see her perform again.
 
I saved my Domino’s pizza delivery money for the next few months, earning enough for “scalper seats” to go back to see Phantom . . . praying this time NOT for the original cast . . . but that Ms. Luker would still be there.
 
She was.
 
Years later, I saw her in The Secret Garden . . . first in this appearance on The Tony Awards, and then, after saving up some more delivery dollars, live.
 
Then I started working in the business. My first job on Broadway was Hal Prince’s Show Boat.  Unfortunately, my stint in the show started just after she finished her term as Magnolia, so our interactions were few.  But I remember every one.
 
I saw her in everything. Fanboying from a far. Meeting her at a few events. And then finally, just a couple of years ago, when she was cast in a workshop I was involved in, I was able to gush. And I’ll tell you what I told her.
 
Rebecca Luker is one of the most glorious leading ladies Broadway has ever, ever, EVER had . . . and ever will have.
 
And we lost her, in this year that won’t quit, at the tender age of 59.
 
She took my gushing that day like she had never heard it before. Gave me a hug. We talked about our mutual friends and how it was surprising we hadn’t worked together before.
 
And I walked away from the encounter like I did after seeing her in Phantom in 1989.  Because she was as much of a star offstage as on.
 
To her family, especially her husband Danny, who is one of the most inspiring humans I’ve ever met: you’re all in my prayers.  Losing her is one of those things that make you look up at the sky and say, “Really?!?!  Why?”
 
If you don’t know who Rebecca Luker is . . . well . . . lucky you, we have Google today.
 
But I’ll post the video from The Secret Garden to get you started.  In this musical, she plays a woman . . . who her husband and the world lost too soon.
 

 

3 Reasons Why The Ratatouille Musical will forever change how we create musicals.

2020 is not the year of disruption.
 
It’s the year of interruption.
 
Everything we’ve hung our sequined hats on over the past decade (or five) is up for a new take. And one of the things that keeps me going is the opportunity for new ways of doing things when we return.
 
And leave it to Gen Z to teach us that the very process we use to create shows could be reinvented as well.
If you’re just joining us, and don’t know what I’m bloggin’ about, let me catch you up.
  • A TikTok user made up a song for a hypothetical musical based on the Disney flick, Ratatouille. (Not unlike the same exercise every BMI student has done since the days of Lehman Engel – and kudos to this TikToker for NOT needing a teacher to tell her to try it.)
  • Another user added orchestrations.
  • The thing went viral.  (I even contributed an idea for a tagline – that was seen almost 2 million (!) times).

And last week, it was announced that this viral sensation would make it to Broadway in a concert version for The Actors Fund.

So, if you’re keeping score, that’s Gen Z for the win!!!

This is an earthquake of news that will forever change how new musicals are written and how they get to Broadway.  Here are three ways it will affect what musical theater TheaterMakers do.

  1.  Musicals will be written by more than one author. Convention wisdom says you need one voice.  One vision.  One author to write each element of a musical – the music, the lyrics, or the score.   Maybe two if you’re careful.  What the Ratatouille movement proves is that if that vision is clear, if the source material is strong, and if the creators are truly collaborative, then a show can be written by a lot more than one person.And maybe, it’ll mean even higher quality musicals in the future?  Hollywood has used the multiple writer approach since it started turning out its art.  Why not Broadway? I’ve been a fan of the “Group Think” idea of creating for years.  My first show was created that way, as was this one.  As long as there is a unifying voice (the Director should fill this post), it can work and work well.Oh, and when you’ve got more than one author, musicals get written much, much faster. 🙂
  2.  Social Media Can Get Musicals Made. 10 Years ago, if a group of next gen composers/lyricists approached Disney about doing a musical based on Ratatouille, even if only in concert, they would have been politely told to go eat cheese.  And now, they are giving their silent blessing to a concert version of this viral phenomenon (I have to believe the incredibly foresighted Tom Schumacher is the one who stumped for this).  And who knows, like Newsies surprised them (they never expected it to go to Broadway), maybe this concert version will too.  And TikTokers could be up for Tonys in a few years. We saw how social media could get a musical to Broadway with Be More Chill. Now we’ve seen how it can get rights!  Expect more hypothetical musicals on TikTok and other platforms.  And expect the ones that go viral to be granted permission to move ahead.
  3. Taking chances on unknowns is less risky than you think.One of the first blogs I ever wrote was about the success of the producing team of Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum – a duo responsible for Rent, Avenue Q and In The Heights.  You know what those three musicals have in common, besides that they all won the Tony Award for best musical?  Each one was the Broadway debut for the Composer, Lyricist, Bookwriter and Director. Ratatouille once again proves that there is something passionate about those who haven’t yet been given a big stage.  And it suggests that work by the names you don’t know may be what you should invest in.

I have always been a fan of people who create just for the sake of creating.  Good things always come from it in the long run, no matter what happens in the short run.  And the creators of Ratatouille have not only changed their own lives (even if they can’t see it just yet), they have changed our industry for the better.

 I’ve started posting TheaterTips on the TikTok.  Watch me figure out this new social network (and be really awkward about it!) here.

10 Ways To Help TheaterMakers on Broadway and off Broadway This Giving Tuesday.

The bad news . . .
 
No other industry is suffering as much as the theater during this pandemic.
 
And as I wrote about here . . . who I worry about most are the TheaterMakers on the bubble. Those artists who are still emerging. Who haven’t had time for their art to take root. Especially those from marginalized communities who haven’t had the same chances as others. Those creators who are putting in the effort, but whose number hasn’t come up. Yet. But it will. If they can keep creating.
 
The good news . . .
 
More people have stepped forward to help TheaterMakers get through this difficult time. Because people know that art not only inspires, but art heals. And boy are we going to need some great theater when this is all said and done.
 
Today is Giving Tuesday. The Black Friday deals are over. (By the way – have you noticed that Black Friday is a month now?). The sun has fallen on Cyber Monday. (By the way, have you noticed that every day is Cyber day? A quick peek at Amazon’s stock price will prove that!)
 
And now we give back.
 
If you’re in the position to help today . . . I’d encourage you to help a TheaterMaker. (And if you’re in a position to buy yourself a Starbucks, you can help – because every few bucks count.)
 
Here is a list of 10 Ways to give to TheaterMakers on this Giving Tuesday. And if you can’t decide which one? Divide whatever the total you want to give up amongst them. $100/10 = $10 each. It all helps. And PS – giving always has a way of coming back.
 
Thank you, in advance.
The Actors Fund fosters stability and resiliency, and provides a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals over their lifespan.
The Broadway Advocacy Coalition builds the capacity of individuals, organizations, and communities to dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism through the power of storytelling and the leadership of people directly affected.
 
 A fund established in the name of my Dad who passed this March to encourage TheaterMakers like he encouraged me. He was a doctor who told his son to go into the theater. I mean, how could I not honor that. To see two examples of how The Fund has helped, click here. To read more about The Fund, click here. 
 
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS raises funds for AIDS-related causes across the United States, headquartered in New York City, and helmed by the theater industry.
 
 If giving to an organization isn’t your thing, find a TheaterMaker for a job you need done, and pay ’em directly! You get something and they do to. Click here for a list of TheaterMakers with side hustles looking for extra work right now.
 
The Dramatists Guild Foundation provides necessary funds to writers for the stage facing emergency circumstances, while providing a sense of community, educational support, rehearsal spaces, and more.
 
The Educational Theatre Association – the international association for school theatre.
 
The Drama League advances the American theater by providing a life-long artistic home for directors and a platform for dialogue with, and between, audiences.
The Indie Theater Fund is made up of a consortium of companies, venues and individuals contributing five cents per ticket sold to a pool of money for independent theater.
Co-founded by T. Oliver Reid and Warren Adams, the Black Theatre Coalition aims to remove the “Illusion of Inclusion” in the American Theatre, by building a sustainable ethical roadmap that will increase employment opportunities for Black theatre professionals.

Who I’m having over this Thanksgiving Weekend.

 I couldn’t ask for better guests.
 
They are sweet. They are funny.
 
They are going to sing for their supper.
 
And what’s cool is, they can come to your house too!
 
 
And, of course, it’s a livestream!
 
Mat and Savanna are YouTube superstars. Their videos have racked up 40mm views . . . in only seven months!
 
This daddy-daughter duo recorded a song at the beginning of the pandemic to share their message of hope and love with their friends.
 
Turns out, they have a LOT of friends. Or they do now!
 
But that’s what happens when you have an incredible message and TWO incredible voices.
 
I had them on my livestream last spring (and introduced them to Broadway star, Sierra Boggess, who is directing the concert). And, over the summer, I found myself listening to them all the time. And they always put a smile on my face.
 
Since we could all use a few more smiles these days, I called them and asked if I could have the honor of producing their first EVER concert, and they said yes!
 
And tomorrow night is the big day.
 
I hope you’ll join us. You’ll hear the classic covers that got them fans like Kelly Clarkson and got them on TV shows all over the country. And you’ll also hear some holiday tunes, and yep, some Broadway stuff as well.  (Savanna’s dream is to be on Broadway – and well, I think you’ll see that she’s well on her way.)
 
The concert is TOMORROW night, Saturday, November 28th at 8 PM Eastern. You can get your livestream ticket here.
 
You can’t ask for better socially distanced guests than these two.  🙂
 
Mat and Savannah Shaw
“What The World Needs Now”
Saturday, November 28th
8 PM Eastern
LIVE!
 
 

 

My Official 2020 Broadway Holiday Gift Guide for TheaterMakers and TheaterFans alike!

Usually, I publish my holiday gift guide on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

But since you probably have a little more time on your hands this Turkey Day, I thought you might want to start your e-shopping early.

As always, here are my top ten (pandemic-friendly) Broadway-themed gifts of 2020 that every TheaterMaker and Theater Fanatic will love. 

 

1) Broadway Face Masks

Masks are a thing.  And even with a vaccine coming, they’re going to be a thing.  Even years AFTER this pandemic has been crushed, they will STILL be a thing.  (If you have a cold, you’ll wear a mask – just like they do in other parts of the world.)  So, if you’re going to wear something, you might as well show your Broadway pride.  Here are some great places (including some TheaterMaker small business artisans on Etsy) to pick up a Broadway-themed mask.

 

2) Working On A Song

Hadestown was one of the most exciting, successful new shows on Broadway last year, raking in eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Now you can hear from the creator herself (who also happens to be one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020) as she takes you along on the decade-long journey of bringing Hadestown to Broadway. Get your copy of Working on a Song: The Lyrics of HADESTOWN by Anaïs Mitchell today!

 

3) BE A BROADWAY STAR – The Board Game

Yes, yes, we created this game.  But for those of you who think we’re just stumping for our own stuff, click here and look at all the amazing reviews.  Be A Broadway Star is the ONLY Broadway board game.  It’s a mashup between charades and “Life” and is a ton of fun (and yes, adults, there is also a drinking version).  IMPORTANT:  We sell out of these EVERY holiday season.  And with board games all the rage during the pandemic, we predict we will sell out faster.  Get Broadway’s only board game on Amazon here.

 

4) CAST OF MENTORS: Short Sage Advice from 50 of Broadway’s Best 

Yep, this one is also mine, but it’s the type of gift that I would have wanted under my tree when I was coming up in this biz so I had to recommend it. 

Have you or your special TheaterMaker ever wanted advice from your favorite Broadway mentor? How about 50 Broadway mentors? In Cast of Mentors: Short Sage Advice from 50 Broadway Superpowers you’ll get more than you paid for in this collection of truths from high-achieving Tony winners, Oscar winners and Pulitzer Prize winners (!) including Terrence McNally, Dominique Morriseau, David Henry Hwang, Daryl Roth, Kathleen Marshall, Stephen C. Byrd and more.   Get your copy of Cast of Mentors for your favorite TheaterMaker here.

 

5)  “Will You Light My Candle?” candles and more. 

We can all use a little soothing scent from a sweet candle, not to mention a little ‘light’ to remind us there is light at the end of this tunnel!  A candle from this Etsy shop will transport you into the world of all your favorite shows!

 

6) The TheatreMakers Studio Membership

Know the site Masterclass.com?  TMS is like Masterclass.com but for theater.  It’s a a digital training program and community for TheaterMakers at all stages in the process.  If you’re a writer, producer, director, or actor and you want to get a show on a stage, find a producer, meet other writers, and more . . . this is the place for you.

As a member, you’ll have access to our certification courses, monthly group coaching calls with my team of experts, access to our Private Facebook Community, a literal treasure trove of resources, checklists, execution plans, and a ton more! This is a perfect way to show the TheaterMakers in your life that you’re invested in their careers and want to see them thrive.

Oh, and you also get me once a month on a coaching call, since I founded the place.

 

7) These Work-From-Home Pajamas You Deserve

Okay, be honest. How many days this year have you spent in your pajamas? Pajamas have become the new business casual as many of us have shifted to work from home during the pandemic. Why not bring the spirit of Broadway to your work from home with these festive pajamas from Playbill?

 

8) MY BROADWAY BINDER

With all the free time quarantine has given us, why not organize that Playbill collection like we’ve all been saying we would do for years? This is my personal favorite way to do that, and I’m sure any Broadway lover would feel the same. Start organizing your playbills and memories here.

 

9) A SUBSCRIPTION TO THESE STREAMING SITES

All the cool kids are streaming it. So shouldn’t you?  Check out BroadwayHD and BroadwayOnDemand to get great theater content right on your phone, desktop or big screen tv.  And there are free trials or free content on both!  (And make sure you watch Daddy Long Legs, while you’re there.)

 

10)  SINGULAR SENSATION by Michael Riedel

It’s a real battle between who writes better books about Broadway:  Jen Tepper and her “Untold Stories of Broadway Series” or Michael Riedel.  Michael follows up his first and fantastic book, Razzle Dazzle, with this new one, Singular Sensation, which has his usual flair of history, drenched in gossip.

 

If you’re looking for more gift ideas for the Broadway theater lover in your life, click here to see past years guides.

If you have someone in your life who dreams about being on Broadway or creating shows for Broadway, check out this specialty guide here.

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