When kids get to hear live music, something magical happens. Twice a year, Inside Broadway brings children from various New York public schools to a Broadway production where they are given a once-in-a-lifetime experience – a behind-the-scenes peek at the inner workings of a Broadway show. The program is called “Creating the Magic,” and I recently had the great pleasure of attending the latest production.
Inside Broadway is a not-for-profit organization whose self-stated mission is to “pass down the rich legacy of America’s musical theatre to future generations so that the magic, music, and universal themes of the genre are not lost, but rediscovered and made relevant for today’s youth.” Creating the Magic is one of the many Inside Broadway programs designed to educate schoolchildren about the importance and marvel of live performance on the Great White Way. Executive Director Michael Presser acts as the M.C. for the shows, which are produced by Nick Sala, associate producer and company manager.
The show chosen for this event was the current revival of “Annie” at the Palace Theatre. The show appeals to kids of all ages, with larger-than-life characters and classic songs like “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
Close to 3,000 children from 25 public schools filled the theatre for both morning and afternoon shows. The excitement was palpable. When Michael Presser came out on stage to introduce the production, the roar of applause was deafening. But once the kids settled down, they were glued to their seats with rapt attention as they watched each demonstration and musical number.
The presentation was a seamless, tightly-produced 75 minutes of performances and fun-filled information that began with a brief history of the Palace Theatre. Throughout the show, representatives of the various Broadway unions were invited on stage to speak to the kids about their particular relationship to the show’s production. Presser, as well as the entire staff at Inside Broadway, are staunch union supporters. It is an important component of all their presentations – educating the next generation of children about the role of the theatrical unions, which help create the magic of live theatre.
Local 802 was proudly represented by Recording Vice President John O’Connor, who spoke at the morning show, and Financial Vice President Tom Olcott at the afternoon performance. Each addressed the audience about the importance of Local 802 and keeping the music live, as well as the wonderful efforts of Inside Broadway. They were perfect ambassadors for Local 802.
Cast members Ashley Blanchet (Lily), Jeremy Davis (Rooster), Merwin Foard (Daddy Warbucks), Liz McCartney (Miss Hannigan), Taylor Richardson (Annie) – plus “Sandy,” played by Mickey, a ten-year-old rescue dog – performed four numbers from the show. Michael Presser interviewed the actors (and of course the dog trainer, Dustin Harder) about their theatre backgrounds, allowing the audience an intimate glimpse into the lives of these thespians. At the end of the show, the kids asked questions directly to the actors, musicians and technicians – a priceless opportunity.
Peter Lawrence, the show’s production supervisor, demonstrated the innovative technology behind the sets and lighting as well as the sound and props. It was quite fascinating.
For both programs, the regular orchestra of 17 musicians was pared down to a rhythm section of Aaron Jodoin (piano), Dave Kuhn (bass) and Eric Poland (drums). The band was led by Associate Conductor Joey Chancey, who came on stage and addressed the kids directly. This was something that had been done only once before in the history of these programs, and it was much appreciated. It was refreshing to see the otherwise unknown and unseen conductor of a Broadway pit up on stage sharing the spotlight with the actors.
Chancey introduced the band as each musician played a few bars on their instrument. He then spoke briefly about the important role of the music director and described the missing orchestra instrument by instrument. It was short, to-the-point and informative and Chancey said he was thrilled to contribute to the event. “It was so exciting to be a part of what I know will be such a profound experience in so many kids’ lives,” he told Allegro.
The Creating the Magic events allow these children a rare opportunity to learn about the complexity of producing a Broadway show from the people who create it night after night. For many of these kids, this is their first time in a Broadway theatre. That alone is a powerful experience.
Michael Presser and the creative staff of Inside Broadway work hard to ensure the children have an enjoyable as well as educational experience where they learn about the organic process of live theatre. Like the moment in “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy courageously reveals the man behind the curtain, these children learn that Broadway is about individual people – with their union behind them – working together to create the magic.
This story first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). For more information, see www.Local802afm.org and www.Facebook.com/Local802AFM