Bill Rudman, Artistic Director of the Musical Theater Project who hosts the radio show “Footlight Parade” and often co-hosts the MTP live performances, has had an interest in musical theater since he was five and his parents let him stay up late to watch Mary Martin in Peter Pan on television. As Rudman said in a recent interview, “That did it!”
How did Rudman, who is noted as one of the country’s most knowledgeable theater buffs, gain his encyclopedic knowledge of the field? He “started to read about musicals when he was ten, and he’s been reading/listening/attending ever since.” He shared, “that makes 55 years of study.” He has not only sponged up the material, but, when he was a student at Hiram College, he “taught a full-credit course in musical theater history.”
Rudman’s interest became a profession when he decided to “follow my bliss.” He had been affiliated with Great Lakes Theater. He left in 1996 with the intent of creating a nonprofit organization that would “house a radio show, a concert series, a school program, and eventually a record label.” Obviously, his “bliss” has been accomplished as his dream has become a nationally recognized accomplishment.
Besides being a knowledgeable expert in theater, he acted and sang as a college student. He still sings in MTP concerts. But, he admits, “performing and directing were never part of the plan.” He thinks of himself as a writer/historian/commentator, writing scripts for and hosting the radio show and concerts.
As for the concerts themselves, they are already tentatively planned through the 2017-2018 season. Where do the subjects come from? “There are thousands and thousands of songs written for musicals. I, myself, make new discoveries all the time.” It appears that Rudman will never run out of possible program ideas.
The concerts were originally co-hosted by Rudman and jazz pianist Joe Hunter and were presented by the Tri-C JazzFest. “Joe is still featured in the more jazz-oriented shows, such as January’s salute to Broadway composer, Cy Coleman, which we’re doing in partnership with Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.” Presently, Rudman partners with Nancy Maier. “I can’t remember how we [he and Maier] met, but we first worked on a show at Cain Park about 12 years ago, and one thing led to another. She’s a marvel and is now associate artistic director of The Musical Theater Project.”
The radio show, “Footlight Parade,” went on the air on WCLV in 1983, is heard on 100 public stations around the country, and was “picked-up by Sirius XM eight years ago,” which brought national attention to Rudman.
How does Rudman find “hidden treasures” that are included in the concerts and radio shows? Rudman stated, ‘It’s just part of who I am. I’m plugged into a collectors’ network in NY and I’m constantly learning new things. One of the greatest joys in my life — and this goes back to my childhood — is sharing what I find. I think of everything we do at TMTP as acts of giving. In a country that increasingly spews hate, we celebrate an art form that has always been about hope and love.”
As for the famous musical theatre personalities and how he makes arrangements for their appearances, he told the story that “last year we brought in the Tony Award-winning Karen Ziemba to co-host a John Kander concert with me. I had gotten to know him [Kander] through a 2-CD set we produced of his works, and he promised to attend but said he was too shy to co-host. So I thought of Karen, who has done more Kander work than anyone except Liza [Minnelli]. Karen and I had a blast!”
As for inside scoops, a favorite story is about Lerner and Loewe, who are the subject of MTP’s next concert. “Oh, it’s how they met! But I’m not going to tell you— come see the show and you’ll hear it.” He did state, “I think of them as the last of the Great Romantics — not just about love, but about life. Artistically they were meant for each other. So their musicals all come from a deep place of shared sensibilities.”
If Rudman had the opportunity to go to any musical production, past or present, what would it be? “Probably Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro (1947), their only truly experimental musical. It took risks like crazy, and moves me deeply.
What are his favorite three musicals? He stated, “I’m not ranking them: R&H’s Carousel and Sondheim’s Follies and Sunday in the Park with George. They all make me weep unashamedly.” The greatest musical ever conceived? “Probably Follies and the way it plays with time and space while telling a powerful story about the death of at least part of the American dream.”
So, that’s a little of history of Bill Rudman, the Musical Theater Project, and “Footlight Parade.”
Next up for MTP? “Almost Like Being in Love: The Songs of Lerner and Loewe” on November 20 at the 2 PM at the Hanna Theatre. Join Bill Rudman, Nancy Maier, singer Benjamin Czarnota, Clare Eisentrout, with violin and cello arrangements by Cleveland composer Ty Alan Emerson. Some of the songs to be included are: “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “They Call the Wind Maria,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “The Night They Invented Champagne.” And, of course, you’ll learn how Lerner and Loewe met.
In January, 2017, MTP offers “Hey Big Spender! The Cy Coleman Songbook” on Saturday, January 28 (8 PM) and Sunday, January 29 (2 PM) at the Hanna Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.
For tickets to either of these concerts call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org/