Friday, September 27, 2019

Spotlight: What you always wanted to know about the Musical Theatre Project

Roy Berko

On October 12 at 8PM in the Ohio Theatre and October 13 at 3 PM at Fairmount Temple, The Musical Theater Project (TMTP) will present “BLUE SKIES—IRVING BERLIN AND THE AMERICAN DREAM” with Bill Rudman, Paul Ferguson, Trev Offult and Michael Shirtz, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and Joe Hunter Trio.  It is a tribute to Irving Berlin.

The program is part of “The Song Is You! Series,” which celebrates the songs and artists that give the musical theater art form its passion and significance.   It, as all of the series programs (“docu–concerts” or live documentaries), explores remarkable words and music that speak to our lives, create memories along the way.

“The Musical Theater Project was formed in 2000 to foster a deep appreciation of the American musical -- and the social and cultural history surrounding it -- by producing concerts, in-school residency programs, radio broadcasts and recordings that:
  • Create personal connections with the songs, characters and themes of the American musical.
  • Document the lives of important American musical theater artists.
  • Explore the connections between the musical and the rich diversity of the American experience.
  • Examine the relevance of musical theater in contemporary society.”
An on-line interview with Bill Rudman, the founder and artistic director of TMTP, revealed a great deal about Bill and the program. 

What was the basis for your idea to develop TMTP?
“I had been doing my radio show on WCLV, “Footlight Parade,” for 15 years. In 1998, I decided to try to syndicate it, but I knew that would mean forming a nonprofit to provide support. I also knew that there was plenty more I wanted to do: The radio show is educational, and I wanted to create more of that in other forms. I was trained as an English teacher!  So, I wanted to develop concerts and a school program and heaven knows what else.”

What roadblocks, if any, did you encounter in developing TMTP or the radio show?
“It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? I needed to develop a base of support, and the challenge was to build this brick by brick — first by forming a board of trustees, and then 11 years later, bringing on Heather Meeker as a partner and going through serious strategic planning, which we’ve been doing every year since then. We believe we’ve done all this in a very smart way. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have lasted.”

How did the radio show go from local to national?
“By my talking to my friend Bob Conrad at WCLV, which had carried the show since 1983. Once we had some funding in place, they syndicated the program to public stations; we’re now carried by about 100. And 10 years ago, we pitched the show under a different title — “On the Aisle” — to SiriusXM Satellite Radio. They’ve been carrying it ever since. It’s the only show on their Broadway Channel that’s not generated in New York.”

What in your training/education best equipped you to develop and carry forth TMTP?
“BA in English with a lot of theater at Hiram College, and I taught English in the Catskills.  So, first and foremost, I’m an educator. Plus, I worked for many years as the associator in charge of educational programming at Great Lakes Theater, and I’ve consulted for arts organizations all over the country. Plus, I’ve been teaching musical history in one form or another since the first full-credit course I offered as a student at Hiram in 1971. Plus, I fell in love with this art form when I was five and began studying it when I was 11. Plus, I’ve co-directed a national record label on musical theater since 1983. It’s now part of TMTP. Hope that’s enough! The point is, I’m a man obsessed. It’s a calling, pure and simple.”

You sing in some of the programs. Do you have any formal music training?
“Yes, all the way through high school and college. But I don’t consider myself a ‘singer.’ I’m an educator who uses singing as a teaching tool. I know what I can do and what I can’t. Let’s put it this way: You’ll never hear me attempt ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ But ‘Lydia, the Tattooed Lady?’ Sure!”

What are two of your favorite experiences regarding your work with TMTP and/or the radio show?
“Gotta do three! Watching the concert audience grow from 38 for the first one to hundreds these days. Seeing the school program grow by leaps and bounds. Winning a national audience for the radio show that puts our community on the map.”

Who was the subject of the best interview you have done?
“The composer John Kander (“CABARET,” “CHICAGO”). He told me he was shy and hated interviews, but our conversation became very warm and very personal. It was a three-part, three-hour documentary.”

What one thing you would like me to include in the article that is not listed here.
Just that when theater people talk about their “journeys” as artists, that’s been true in spades for me as educator and artist since teaching my first class and doing my first radio show in college nearly 50 years ago. I believe that my colleagues and I in this organization are constantly growing intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually in terms of the work we do in our community — and the nation. And in turn, what we’re getting from them through the human, often truly deep connections we make. It’s a real and exhilarating conversation. What could be more fun — or thrilling — than that?”

Want more than the live production?  The radio shows, “Footlight Parade” and “On the Aisle” pull back the curtain to reveal information about the songwriters and performers who create musical theatre, as well as the universal themes and historic productions that make it a social and cultural touchstone.  The shows are heard locally on WCLV 104.9 Saturdays at 6 and On Sirius, it’s heard on Channel 72 Saturdays at 3 PM and Tuesdays at 9 PM.

For tickets to productions and information about TMTP go to or call 216-529-9411.