Gershons Wall St. Journal’s Donors of the Day

May 31st, 2013

Webmaster’s Note: This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 23 May 2013, naming Myrna and Freddie Gershon as the paper’s “Donors of the Day.” See end of article for links on this blog to related stories.

By MELANIE GRAYCE WEST

As executives in the entertainment industry, Myrna and Freddie Gershon had seen it all. But a theatrical performance put on by students of P 94 middle school in Manhattan, a special education school, changed their perspective on theater and has inspired a philanthropic legacy.

The couple—both in their 70s—made their careers, and a lot of their wealth, in the entertainment industry during the 1970s. Mrs. Gershon was a motion-picture executive who created merchandise and licensing deals. Her greatest hits include Flintstones vitamins, the Pebbles breakfast cereals and a deal with J.C. Penney to exclusively sell a white polyester suit inspired by “Saturday Night Fever.” That film also spawned a cologne that “smelled like Bay Ridge, Brooklyn,” quips Mr. Gershon.

By trade, Mr. Gershon is a lawyer who worked for Robert Stigwood Group, with clients that included the Bee Gees, Eric Clapton and film soundtracks for “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever.” Later in life, he became chairman and chief executive of Music Theatre International (MTI), a licensing company. Nearly 20 years ago, Mr. Gershon came up with the idea to create shortened versions of major musicals that could be performed in schools. His “Broadway Junior Collection” shows have been performed some 300,000 times, he says.

A few years ago and with the Shubert Foundation, MTI began a program with the New York City Department of Education to bring musical theater education to underserved middle schools. A middle school of P 94, which primarily serves children on the autism spectrum, was one of the included schools.

The Gershons attended a performance at the school and “saw what music and theater and dance could do to a nonverbal child,” recalls Mrs. Gershon. “It was mind-boggling.” Parents and members of the audience cried. “We cried,” she says.

P 94 only had a three-year commitment from the Department of Education to put on the musical theater program. On the fourth year, Mr. Gershon says he was approached by the school’s principal, Ronnie Shuster, to continue the program.

“I said, ‘How much?’” recalls Mr. Gershon. The estimated cost was $75,000 and Mrs. Gershon said, “Just give it to them.” They funneled the gift through ArtsConnection, a New York nonprofit.

After another successful year, the Gershons asked Ms. Shuster her wish. She wanted to bring musical theater education to all five locations of her primary and middle schools. Mr. Gershon said he wanted to see such a program evaluated by an expert and documented with research.

The new program began this spring with a $250,000 gift from the Gershons. All P 94 schools now have a musical theater program and performances were held this month.

Anecdotally, the musical-theater program has encouraged collaboration between students. The shows have helped children to develop language, as some children are able to sing, but not speak. Reading has improved. The performances inspire courage in the children and helped them with their attention span.

“It’s like a magic wand was placed over them,” says Mr. Gershon.

The performances have allowed parents and families the universal pleasure of seeing their child perform on stage. It’s also given the Gershons a focus in their giving; they want to learn from this program, make it better and see it grow.

“We are in the homestretch of our life,” says Mr. Gershon. “Why not just have fun and do good things?”

Click here to see a previous post about this program.

Click here to see a previous post that links to a Huffington Post blog Freddie wrote about the program.

Click here to see ArtsConnection contribution page. This provides the following info on how to make special inquires: If you have any questions or would like to make a gift of stock, please contact our Development Department at 212-302-7433 ext. 470, or email us at Email HendershotK

Eight Lucky Theater Teachers Enjoy Broadway Workshop Weekend — on Freddie & Myrna!

August 22nd, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: This is an excerpt of Freddie’s 25th blog for the Huffington Post, entitled Broadway’s Biggest Hit, which appeared there on 21 August 2012. There is a link to the entire HuffPost at the bottom of this summary. Freddie especially appreciates it when comments are left at Huffington Post about his pieces there. The number of comments makes a difference in readership. To comment, you can log in using your Facebook, Twitter and several other social network accounts. Or create a HuffPost account. See links in upper right of any HuffPo page.

 

 

Here are excerpts from Freddie’s latest Huffington Post blog:

The class of 2012 arrived this summer in New York after being flown from different states, being whisked off to their hotel in the center of Times Square. Everything is paid for. It’s not just a fancy trip to see shows and have a good time. It’s a combination of having a good time and eight people getting to know each other and learning more skills. Myrna and I attend. We all gathered and sat with Ken Billington (one of the great lighting designers of New York), who gave of himself (the greatest gift he could give). Ninety seven Broadway musicals to his name, Ken knows his business. He concluded a virtuoso teaching seminar knowing the financial limitations of schools and explained how to make it work with Billington secrets imparted to them. He ended by saying “If I’ve done my job right, you are never aware of my lighting. It just serves the work.” That says everything about collaboration and the essence of creating any show.

That also set the tone for a weekend of master classes with musical directors, composer/lyricists, set designers, choreographers, a director — all of whom are of fine Broadway quality and great credentials, young, energetic, bombastic, dynamic, loving what they do, theatre craft, a whole new world for all of those kids who can’t get in the show, don’t want to be in a show or are embarrassed to be in a show, can’t keep a tune, have two left feet, can’t dance, but can they do all sorts of other things that make a show work… and have fun and be part of the experience.

So much was packed into the first day that by late afternoon, the teachers needed a break and got a chance to see the first Legally Blonde JR (a 60-minute cut down version of Legally Blonde, the monumentally successful tour with over 4,000 requests to MTI for licensing to schools) performed by 75 kids. The children got scripts on Monday of that week. By Friday, we saw the performance! Two of the three authors were there: the composer and lyricist, Larry O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. We all were riveted. Kids only wearing tee-shirts and slacks on a barren black stage with an electric piano driven by a wisp of a girl who has a 30-piece orchestra in her two hands and ten fingers and a percussionist to support her. There were no falling chandeliers, hydraulics or fog machines. It was just pure magic on a bare stage. From a Monday to a Friday, they made it (molded by loving, skilled mentor/teachers)!

Click here to see the entire blog at the Huffington Post site.

Moving Tributes to Marvin Hamlisch, One from a Props Master on Stage, One from Freddie & Myrna in the NY Times.

August 14th, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: The day after Marvin Hamlisch died on 6 August 2012, Props Master R. Jay Duckworth of New Yorks Public Theater put up on their Facebook page a photo of a single lit candle he had placed on the stage of the Newman Theater, where Hamlisch’s legendary “A Chorus Line” musical was first performed. Freddie, a longtime friend of Marvin’s (see photo), was very moved by Mr. Duckworth’s tribute; so we are reprinting it here, with some text about the tribute from the props master himself and then Freddie’s email to Mr. Duckworth in response. Below that is Freddie and Myrna’s “letter to heaven” to their friend, Marvin, which they had printed in the New York Times on 14 August.

Some people requested this picture and I thought I would pass it on.
The night that Marvin Hamlisch passed I stayed after work and at half hour (7:30) set up the column and candle on center of the Newman stage where A Chorus Line started. I brought my computer out and set it on the house next to my seat cued up to the cast album of A Chorus Line. At places call (8:00) I lit the candle and pressed play. I thought it would be nice to share on The Publics Facebook page that Mr. Hamlisch was being remembered and honored so I snapped a picture and posted it. Like I said in the post I wanted to put up more candles but One seemed the appropriate number.

R. Jay Duckworth
Props Master
The Public Theater

 

Dear Mr. Duckworth –

I saw the photograph that you took in honor of Marvin Hamlisch.

It was elegant.

Just thinking about hearing a cast album on an empty stage with a candle is theatre and brought tears to my eyes.

I don’t use Facebook, but I’m glad that someone in my office forwarded it on to me. It brought back Proustian memories of the days when I went with Marvin as his friend/attorney down to meet with Joe Papp and Bernie Gersten at the Public Theatre to work on this project that his parents were not happy about.

His mother made sandwiches for Marvin (tunafish with a lot of mayonnaise (with the traditional grease stain) outside of his brown paper bag). It smelled. Mrs. Hamlisch was convinced that Greenwich Village was a dirty place with Bohemian people and not where he should be. He was a classical musician who should be writing motion picture scores or serious works.

So I was blessed by watching some of the development of what we now know as A CHORUS LINE and then remaining friends with Marvin to the very end.

He and I shared a piano teacher at Juilliard where I was a piano player and he was a pianist. I was an ordinary student struggling to stay in and Marvin really was a whiz kid.

And I was five years older than Marvin, but we bonded – mostly because he had a great sense of humor, great attitude and intellectual curiosity about everything.

When our piano teacher died many years later, we both sat at her hospital bedside talking about the old days with her when we went to Juilliard.

He was officially a “mensch”. A CHORUS LINE, THE STING, THE WAY WE WERE, all of the awards that accompanied them and the accolades and the television shows proved to come too soon and early in his career. He told me they created false expectations for what was to come, but he never stopped laughing and straddling the different worlds of the classics and pop music and film and theatre.

The simple gesture upon which you embarked and which you memorialized in such a loving fashion is a tribute to you, the theatre community, Oscar Eustis, The Public Theatre, the memory of Joe Papp, the memory of Ed Kleban, the memory of Michael Bennett, Jimmy Kirkwood and the other book writers and original cast who worked on this show – and to the very dear Marvin Hamlisch.

Thank you, Mr. Duckworth. If Marvin saw this picture (and I hope that he’s looked at it), I know that he would find it very gratifying.

Appreciatively,
Freddie Gershon

 

Dear Marvin:

We’re writing this letter to Heaven to tell you how much Myrna and I miss you.

From our first meeting in the early 1950’s at the Juilliard School (when we shared Frances Goldstein as our piano teacher), through all of the adventures that followed and then again, through Ann-Margret and the irony of your coming to me as “your attorney” to guide you in so many matters as your friend to talk about so many other matters:  our trips on the IRT to see Joseph Papp and Michael Bennett and work on CHORUS LINE as you carried with you the brown paper bag from your mother with the tuna fish sandwich and the mayonnaise stains on the outside of the bag to the dramas and traumas which led up to THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG and the meeting of the “mothers” at The Bottom Line to the fun of THE STING and THE WAY WE WERE to the not-so-smiling-but-frowning “SMILE” with the gifted Howard Ashman and then running to see JEAN in London and then your wonderful work on THE SWEET SMELL, which was not a sweet success and turned out to be a not-so-sweet disappointment – only to be reversed in a very private fashion, not to be shared because the redemption of the entire experience which drove you back to the theatre once again, to the disappointments of THE GOODBYE GIRL to which we all said bye-bye – and all the other baddies and goodies and the all-time giggling and our trips to Georgetown for the white pizza parties and our time at the Reagan White House, your spirit, energy, charm and warmth, your never-ending charitable endeavors, always rushing to take care of everyone’s medical and emotional problems, always maintaining a moral compass of decency, always focused on your commitment to music and keeping live music in concert halls and preserving the experience by bringing a great sense of theatricality and a generosity of spirit; those wonderful shared weekends in Southampton and then in Westhampton, in Connecticut and in Beverly Hills, at Hilhaven Lodge, in Benedict Canyon, on Park Avenue, the surprise 25th anniversary party you gave to us (gimme a break, Marvin!  You really blindfolded the string players!), all of the shared confidences, the intimacies, the true friendship, the camaraderie that can only come about when you know someone for about 60 years.

We bid you adieu.  And Marvin, old friend, nobody ever did so much for so many, and Marvin – nobody did it better.

Myrna and Freddie Gershon

Leave No Teacher Behind

August 13th, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: This is an excerpt of Freddie’s 24th blog for the Huffington Post, which appeared there on 13 August 2012. There is a link to the entire HuffPost at the bottom of this summary. Freddie especially appreciates it when comments are left at Huffington Post about his pieces there. The number of comments makes a difference in readership. To comment, you can log in using your Facebook, Twitter and several other social network accounts. Or create a HuffPost account. See links in upper right of any HuffPo page.

 
 

Here are excerpts from Freddie’s latest Huffington Post blog:

Raising the awareness of America and its local communities to the role of the teacher is the Gershon family’s little way of stepping forward and up to the plate to tap into our greatest resource, viz.: teachers who have not been beaten down by the system; teachers who have not been made to feel that they are part of a society which pays you more only because you’ve “lasted longer” through seniority or keeps you employed because your kids score better on tests through cramming and jamming info into their memory banks… (at least just long enough to take the test!) That is not what teaching is all about. That is not learning.

This past month was the Freddie “G” Weekend. (An annual Gershons-sponsored all-expenses-paid weekend of theater workshops for eight outstanding teachers. See photo above.) The tear-provoking moment for me was to hear teachers thank me just for asking them what they thought and for listening to what they have to say and for creating programs and materials that address their needs and by being responsive to what they see, touch and feel. Their sensibilities on the pulse of America’s youth are more important than anyone sitting in an ivory towered university or on some committee in Washington. Teachers work within the system that America utilizes to educate its young people. Who listens to them… to their observations?

Myrna and I will not live to see the results of what we have initiated. We will leave it as a direction to go and because this is still the land of the free, we’re free to do what we want to do without navigating the bureaucracy of school boards or community boards. This is also the home of the brave… and teachers are brave. This land is your land. This land is your kids’ land. Let’s not leave it scorched land. Renew the promise of America. Keep the melting pot going… The streets were never paved with gold, but with golden opportunities. Mining it through stimulating kids and nurturing them is not a quick fix. Politicians want “quick.” The gold is in our kids and the teachers who mentor them.

Leave no teacher behind.

 

Click here to see the entire blog at the Huffington Post site.

Freddie and Myrna announce “Courage In Theatre Award.”

June 30th, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: The Spectrum School, a Manhattan school dedicated to special-needs students, has been given the Courage In Theatre Award by Music Theatre International.

This honor (established in 2007), says Freddie, recognizes organizations and individuals who “confronted challenges that threaten their ability to explore or express their artistic vision in positive ways.”

The students and faculty of The Spectrum School, (a.k.a., P94M), are being honored by Freddie and his wife, Myrna, for creating an original musical that documents their experiences with autism.

In recent years Spectrum School students participated in the Shubert Foundation/Music Theatre International Broadway Jr. program.”This award acknowledges the Spectrum School’s courage, talent and dedication in creating and performing a brand new musical (called A Powerful Day) about a difficult subject matter,” Freddie says.

For more information on the award, see these links.

Click here to see Playbill.com’s article on the award to Spectrum.

Click here to see a previous post about two of the special educators as Spectrum.

Click here to see a previous post that links to a Huffington Post blog Freddie wrote about the school.

Freddie’s Tony Honors Acceptance on YouTube.

June 27th, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: As previously noted in two earlier blog entries, Freddie was scheduled to receive a 2012 Tony Award Honor for Excellence on June 9th, the night before the Tony Awards. Below is a link to the YouTube video of Freddie’s acceptance speech, along with links to two earlier posts about the Tony Honors.

 

Click here to see Freddie’s acceptance speech on YouTube.

Click here to see a previous post that relates to the Tony Honor and links to a Huffington Post blog Freddie wrote about it.

Click here to see a previous post that explains how Tony Honors differ from Tony Awards and how Freddie earned his for MTI’s Broadway Junior Collection.

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.

June 5th, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: This is an excerpt of Freddie’s 23rd blog for the Huffington Post, which appeared there on 4 June 2012. There is a link to the entire HuffPost at the bottom of this summary. Freddie especially appreciates it when comments are left at Huffington Post about his pieces there. The number of comments makes a difference in readership. To comment, you can log in using your Facebook, Twitter and several other social network accounts. Or create a HuffPost account. See links in upper right of any HuffPo page.

 

 

The specific occasions which inspired this blog were the May 29th, 2012, 7th Annual Shubert Foundation/MTI Broadway JR. Student Share presentation and the Mayor of New York’s proclamation declaring that same day as “Music Theatre International Day,” in honor of MTI’s 60th Anniversary.

As Freddie noted in his Huffington Post blog:

This [MTI Broadway JR. Student Share] program takes schools without any arts in their curriculum, introduces musical theatre as a way of straddling music, visual arts, theatre, dance and theater crafts into the New York City schools in all five boroughs and prepares the schools with teacher workshops, parent education, community involvement and evolves into self-sustaining theatre programs, weaning the support team away from the school. All the schools that started have continued. There are 1,200 schools in the city of New York, so there is more work to do.

Fifty states utilize Broadway JR. to perform the same function. Four million U.S. students have heretofore participated in 70,000 separate productions of JR. musicals over the last 17 years. Those grade school students represent households with over eleven million Americans. This program makes the world a better place and makes the children better prepared to be good citizens working collaboratively and collegially, utilizing their imagination, creativity and inventiveness as well as doing an awful lot of hard work … and enjoying the hard-work ethic.

That very same day was “Music Theatre International Day,” officially proclaimed by the mayor of New York City on the 60th anniversary of the founding of our company. This was particularly validating to me. I was simultaneously immersed with all of these children in the Shubert Theatre and knowing I conceptualized the JR. program in 1994 … Dreaming comes true with hard work and good partners and a mayor’s proclamation. Wow!
 

Click here to see the blog at the Huffington Post site.

Click here to see a related story in Playbill.

Some People Tweet; Some People Peep.

May 7th, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: This is a full-text copy of Freddie’s 22nd blog for the Huffington Post, which appeared there on 4 May 2012. (Feel free to leave a comment here. There is also a link to the HuffPost original at the bottom of this version, in case you wish to leave a comment there.)

In the late 1950′s, William S. Paley (who was founder and CEO of CBS) wanted to broadcast Young People’s Concerts with America’s “glam” emerging star, conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein.  Columbia Records (a division of CBS) recorded Maestro Bernstein as well as the New York Philharmonic.  Maestro Bernstein, along with his buddy, Roger Englander (they had known each other for over a decade) were juxtaposed on the project.  Roger and Lenny met originally at Tanglewood and studied with Serge Koussevitzky.  Roger (a highly trained musician) was self-effacing and fascinated with traditional music from theatre, opera and the serious classics.  He was also intrigued by new media and new forms of technology and their potential impact on communication and media.  Lenny was fascinated by all things as well as being flamboyant, theatrical, photogenic, oozing star power and charm.  Their collaboration became historic.

There had already been Young People’s Concerts with assistant conductors conducting them, but television was rapidly changing the world.  Bill Paley wanted the Young People’s Concerts to be televised on CBS’s network from the great Carnegie Hall.

Charlie Dubin was named director and Englander producer.  Englander’s right arm was Mary Rodgers, an imaginative, gifted woman and writer of children’s stories raised in a house of music as the daughter of Richard Rodgers.

The briefing format from CBS was:  “Here’s Carnegie Hall.  Here’s the Philharmonic.  Here’s Lenny.  Let him talk and conduct.  Go make a show.”

Lenny created the format.  Roger collaborated.  Lenny loved being a teacher.  His premise was:  “Tell them what you’re going to do.  Go do it.  After you do it, explain it.”

No script writers were hired.  Lenny wrote it.  A bright team of production whiz-kids gave feed-back and suggestions.  Lenny spoke to the audience (both live and at home) as though extemporaneously.

Roger’s job as a musician and as a producer interacting with Lenny was to make it a visual experience which would not be boring, trying to make the audience comfortable and familiar with this new experience.  At the same time, he and the team had to teach cameramen the physical layout of an orchestra; how to call shots:  “Camera 1, get the horns, dissolve, count of three, go to the strings, he’s getting ready to point baton to the timpani, 3-2-1… now!…” all new experiences and techniques that cameramen never had before for a fast-moving, live television experience to work within Carnegie Hall and also resonate in homes across America.

Politics intervened.  Director Charles Dubin was blacklisted.  Roger Englander became director of the show and thereafter for 15 years, he directed and produced it.

Being a producer/director is a monumental responsibility.

Englander read each score.  He says he would then try to think of how a choreographer would meld with the conductor and the instruments and choreograph the camerawork and the musical experiences as though he were blocking actors on the stage.  He listened to prior recordings of the music over and over again and then discussed everything with Bernstein as a two-man collaboration.  Then, again with the team.  Once Bernstein felt comfortable and was satisfied and Roger and he were in synch, it allowed him to trust the television aspects of the show to Roger while he did magic with his baton, his personality, his intellect and his musicianship.

The same crew had to be used regularly even though the shows were months apart because only they had the special experience, understanding and knowledge which came from their prior education.  Cameramen had to be taught what the instruments in the orchestra looked like, viz.:  differences between the violin and viola, the flute and piccolo, the oboe and bassoon, etc.

The concerts became popular.

Ultimately, global events.

They changed the world.  It changed the way new technology (television) embraced and amplified the popularity of serious music and opened the television community’s eyes to new possibilities for the future.

Because the shows were so good, because Lenny was so bombastically charismatic, because Lenny and Roger worked so intimately and collaboratively – exchanging ideas and anticipating each others’ moves and needs – a television style was invented that never had before existed.

Bothering Roger, as they prepared, lurked a fallacy in the entire premise.

Concertgoers sitting in the auditorium may only see the back of the conductor waving his hands, keeping rhythm and pulling dynamics out of the orchestra.  Not necessarily visually exciting from the seats of an audience’s P.O.V.

Cameras were set up in different locations on different levels of Carnegie Hall.

However, absent was the ability of the audience to see what Roger knew was the most exciting visual aspect seen only by members of the orchestra who were driven and led by this young, maniacally energetic, passionate conductor dancing and jumping as he conducted.  Lenny’s body and facial expressions were a show all to themselves as well as highly effective in galvanizing the orchestra and infusing them with an adrenaline rush to keep up with his demands from the podium.

Roger said:  “I didn’t want this show to be sterile.  By the time an audience sees it at home, it’s in a little box with a little screen and little speakers in black and white.  I don’t want the viewers’ eyes to leave the screen or their ears to stop listening.  I don’t want them to leave the room.”

His solution:  A peep hole large enough to accommodate a TV camera of the day!

On May 7, 2012, at Carnegie Hall a brass plaque will be dedicated – In Honor Of Roger Englander whose visionary “peep hole” (created in 1960) opened the eyes of children and music lovers worldwide to the magic behind the music – a simple hole which allowed for a bulky, cumbersome camera to look through and reveal an entire orchestra and the musical showman directing it and integrating himself with the orchestra and the music, as one.  Behind the orchestra and conductor, the audience sees tiers of seats and the elegance of Carnegie Hall filled with young people and parents, all of them mesmerized.  Balance that with perfectly paced live intercutting close-ups of instruments responding to motions by the conductor, different angles and points of view that different audience groups could see and how they would see from the side, the center, from above or from behind was all a new style, a new flavor, a new way to make serious music, education and teaching exciting, more exciting and dynamic for the audience at home than anything they had ever seen.  It was a cinematic intimacy and revelation precipitated by imagination and creativity.

Roger won four Emmy’s for the Young People’s Concerts.  He and Lenny sustained a great relationship.

The “peep hole”* has now become common, if not de rigueur in concert halls throughout the world and all the result of the inventively astute Roger Englander and his remarkable collaboration with a stimulating and exciting conductor who had enough pizzazz to drive sounds out of the Philharmonic and keep kids discovering music and an audience at home watching in a way that made them feel they were immersed in that world.

I’m so proud of Roger.

I’m so proud that he’s our friend.  I congratulate him as one of the unsung heroes who helps make the world a better place.

* The Roger Englander “peep hole” and plaque was initiated by a grant from Myrna and Freddie Gershon.

 

Click here to see the blog at the Huffington Post site.

Freddie’s 21st Huffington Post blog

March 23rd, 2012

In this, his 21st blog for the Huffington Post, entitled: “And the Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theater Goes To… “, Freddie explains the genesis and the significance of the Tony Honor he will receive June 9th, the night before the 2012 Tony Awards ceremony. (Tony Honors are given annually for theater accomplishments not eligible in established Tony Award categories.)

See link below for the Huff Post blog and see Freddie’s post below this one here for more about the honor and the reasons for it, including links to other coverage. If you feel like it, leave a comment at Huff Post … or here … or both!

Click here to see the blog at the Huffington Post site.

Freddie Awarded One of Three 2012 Tony Honors

March 16th, 2012

Webmaster’s Note: Tony Honors were established in 1990 and are awarded annually to institutions, individuals and/or organizations that have demonstrated extraordinary achievement and excellence in theater, but are not eligible in any of the established Tony Award categories.

Freddie was honored for creating the Broadway Junior Collection of Music Theater International, his licensing agency. Broadway Junior provides 30- and 60-minute versions of Broadway musicals for elementary and middle schools to produce. (Freddie’s fellow honorees are: Artie Siccardi, a production supervisor since 1977 with over 200 Broadway show to his credit; and TDF Open Doors, a program that introduces New York City public high school students to theatre through mentorships with theatre professionals.)

 

I’m appreciative of the recognition by the theatre community and my colleagues and feel honored and humbled at the same time. However, it is impossible to create something new without the collaboration of many people with different talents. The same is true when a musical has to be transformed three dimensionally for its actual performance. In developing the MTI Broadway Junior Collection of musicals, I am blessed with the MTI family of talents who have served as my collaborators in helping to implement it, along with young incubation companies that evolved from MTI and have continued to re-conceive the student materials with invaluable feedback and are indispensable collegial collaborators.

MTI’s Broadway Junior Collection is an answer to a challenge presented to me by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim. They identified with visionary prescience the contracting world of young people in the audience and the general lack of opportunity for exposure to the arts and musical theatre in particular. The challenge was to engage kids and let them discover the magic of theatre for themselves, so that it stays vibrant and robust for multiple generations by being insinuated into the culture of our country.

The Broadway Junior Collection that resulted changed the world for the better and enhances young people’s lives by encouraging them to become better citizens and ultimately more well-rounded, happily walking away from the musical theatre experience with at least three critical elements:

  • The first is tasting the magic of music, dance, theatre by putting on a show that is a composite of several arts as well as theater crafts which produce joy, fun and the excitement of immersing oneself in the world of imagination.
  • The second is stimulating that part of the brain that allows for them to dream, open their minds and perhaps develop a love for this art form as participants or audience members and utilize those visions and dreams in different fields of their choosing as they mature and grow with a fresh willingness to dream and imagine in math, medicine, digital worlds or any field for which they have passion and inclination.
  • Lastly, it is a lesson in how life works and serves as a microcosm of an interactive civilized society where different people perform different roles in a collaborative fashion for a common goal and finding emotional rewards, personal bonding, and unique satisfaction and delight along the way.

Knowing that the MTI Broadway Junior Collection has been embraced by so many and that they learn through experiencing is most gratifying to me. The recognition of a Tony is a validating “cherry on top.” I am grateful to Arthur and Steve for ‘tweaking’ me…and to the many people who then gave of themselves (and continue to give) to make this new approach to arts and education an American institution that I believe has implications far beyond the arts.

 

 

Click here to see Freddie’s favorite congratulations on his honor… from a five-time Tony Award winner.

Click here to see a video of Freddie discussing the genesis of Broadway Junior.

To read the announcement from the Tony Awards Committee and coverage by other media outlets …

Click here for Tony Awards.

Click here for Broadway.com.

Click here for Playbill.com.

Click here for Broadwayworld.com.

Click here for New York Times.

Click here for Theatermania.com.

Click here for WNYC.com.

Click here for Variety.com.

Click here for Backstage.com.