Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beyond the Stage: PHANTOM Phashion You Can't Live Without

Christine Daaé's Don Juan Triumphant Dress
Tomorrow, Friday September 12th, the Orpheum will open an exclusive, limited time exhibit of original costumes from The Phantom of the Opera at Carriage Crossing in Collierville, TN.  Not only is this exhibit FREE, it features original costumes and sketches by the late, great, Tony Winning designer Maria Bjornson

Her exquisite costumes arrived at the Orpheum last Friday, and we don't mind admitting that the entire staff was stunned!  These costumes beg to be seen up close.  Björnson's thoughtful designs are bursting with small details that you most likely won't be able to fully appreciate from the audience when you come to see the show.

If you've never heard of Maria Björnson, then you're most likely familiar with her credits.  Her work has been seen worldwide in shows like The Cherry Orchard, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, numerous Shakespeare productions, Hedda Gabler, and of course The Phantom of the Opera.  She's also designed extensively for opera and ballet in titles such as Sleeping Beauty, Carmen, and Don Giovanni.  As if that wasn't enough, Björnson's designs have been seen in some of the industry's most acclaimed theatres: Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre, Her Majesty's Theatre, Shaftesbury, The Globe, Prince of Wales Theatre, and the Royal Opera House, to name a few.

Impressed?  If not, it's ok because no matter how many notable credits or renowned venues she had under her belt, Björnson's work speaks for itself.  For example, pictured above is Christine Daaé's "Don Juan Triumphant" costume, which was inspired by Spanish folklore.  The elegant embroidery and brocade stomacher offer great contrast to the peach silk taffeta.  Also amazing are Björnson's sketches, which will be featured in the exhibit.  It's easy to tell that even in the early stages of her concepts, she was considering how the costumes needed to move, what they needed to say about the characters, and how they should compliment one another.

The Phantom's Suit
So whether you're a budding costumer, a Phantom fan, a Project Runway addict, or just plain curious, we invite you to stop by Carriage Crossing to experience this incredible limited time exhibit.  We look forward to seeing you there!

The Phantom of the Opera Costume Exhibit
Dates: September 12 - 21
Times: Monday - Saturday 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM, Sunday 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: Carriage Crossing
                 4674 Merchants Park Cir., Suite 555
                 Collierville TN 38017
Admission: FREE

The Phantom of the Opera plays at the Orpheum Theatre September 24 - October 5.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

President's Page: Bringing PHANTOM to Memphis

"Music of the Night" Cooper Grodin as The Phantom and Julia Udine as Christine Daaé in
The Phantom of the Opera, US Tour.
The Phantom of the Opera always brings back wonderful memories.  I remember when I went to see Phantom when it first opened in New York back in 1988.  As I sat in the audience watching this brilliant show, I thought there was no way on earth Phantom would ever fit on the Orpheum stage and, therefore, would never be seen in Memphis.  I'm so glad I was wrong.

I was so proud to have been involved in the 1983 renovation that restored the Orpheum to its 1928 beauty, but this was another story entirely.  Watching Phantom, I had to ask myself: how do we stay relevant for the next generation of Broadway shows?  At the time, there was already talk of something called Miss Saigon and a stage adaptation of Sunset Boulevard.  So I came back to Memphis and started thinking about how I was going to explain to our Board of Directors that we needed to consider an expansion.  The cost would be incredible and would far exceed the capital campaign of the ’83 renovation by millions of dollars.  Fortunately, but the Board said yes (it must have been my charismatic ways).  If we needed an expansion to stay in the game, then it had to be done. 

So the planning and designing began... and so did the challenges.  Acoustic experts had to be brought in to determine how the theatre seats and the bigger stage would effect sound.  Engineers and contractors had to blow out the back wall to make way for a larger stage, more dressing rooms, a bigger orchestra pit and so on.  This was the scariest thing for me.  Really – what happens when you cut off one of the legs of a chair?  The chair falls over.  I envisioned the whole Orpheum just falling to the ground, reduced to a pile of historic rubble.  

Of course, that didn’t happen.  All the experts came through, and we were finally ready for Phantom!  In November of 1997 the show opened in Memphis to a very appreciative audience.  In fact, we had over 90,000 people see the first engagement, which lasted 5 weeks and 40 performances.  It was so successful the producers decided to return in 2001 for 32 performances. 

It has been over 13 years since The Phantom of the Opera has been to Memphis, and it will finally return to the Orpheum on September 24th for only 16 performances.  Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular new production features the same powerful orchestration, fabulous costumes, and iconic chandelier that has made the show such a classic but it also incorporates new technology, staging, and choreography that will keep you in awe from beginning to end. 

I know I can’t wait.  Will I see you there?  

Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Wild Ride From Broadway to Beale: The Press Agent, Part 2

Every now and then we give you the inside scoop on how a Broadway show makes its way to Beale Street.  Last time, we began talking about the role of the press agent and the many, many hats that he or she wears when playing the middle man between the producers, the production, and the venue.  Now that the show is booked, the marketing materials are perfected, and the producers are happy, we'll go a step further and explore all the duties the press agent has during the weeks leading up to production and the week of the engagement. 

About 4-6 weeks before the musical arrives in town, the press agent will schedule a press call with the venue.  Let's just use The Orpheum Theatre as an example, shall we?  They'll chat with us about advance press (articles and interviews that will run before the show arrives), in-town press (television, radio and promotional appearances that may occur while the actors are in town), press night (when members of the reviewing press come to see the show), and other incidental events such as cast parties, unique press opportunities, and education workshops that the cast can accommodate.  In our case, the Orpheum brings a press "wish list" to the meeting, and then the press agent will counsel us on which items can be accomplished based on the availability of the cast.

We get all of the information, we break, and we get to work!  Once the Orpheum gets the go-ahead from members of the press regarding print and television interviews, we submit formal requests to the press agents.  The agency usually has a designated form for interview requests that allows them to collect as much information as possible about the interview.  For example, regarding advance interviews, the press agent will need to know which cast member the reporter wants to interview, what publication the reporter represents, when the reporter is available for interviews, and what the angle of the story will be.

Then the press agent will contact the actor or actress and get their availability for an interview.  If the actor is available, the interview is confirmed, and we're good to go.  If not, it's back to the drawing board for everyone until we can successfully connect the actor and the reporter, usually over the phone.  Of course, don't forget that the press agent is juggling multiple engagements: he or she is scheduling cast interviews for cities such as New Orleans, Oklahoma City, and Chicago in addition to Memphis.

When it comes to in-town press, things can get a little complicated.  Some shows will schedule rehearsals while they are in town, especially if the tour is still fresh out of the gate.  In this case, it's the press agent's job not only to make sure that the actors are helping with in-town press so that the community can learn more about the show, but also to ensure that there is a healthy balance between press, rehearsals (if there are any), and the actual performances.  At the end of the day, everyone wants to see a fantastic production, so the press agent works with the Company Manager to keep the actors well-rested on top of everything else. 

After plenty of forms, lots of calls and emails, and possibly a few changes in appointments, the Orpheum will put together an in-town press "run sheet" that details every pick-up time and location, every on-air time, every necessary Orpheum staff contact, and every other special event for the entire week (or weeks, depending on the show).  We pass that along to the press agent for a final review, but since we've been working together so closely for so long, the run sheet is basically a formality that allows everyone to see our collaborations summarized in a single-page document.

After that, the press agent will check in with both the actors and the Orpheum after each day of press just to make sure that things are running smoothly.  He or she will also ask the Orpheum to collect links to local articles, videos, and blogs for their press archives.  Once the Orpheum engagement is complete, the job is done and it's on to the next city.

As you can see, the press agent has an essential job.  We at the Orpheum are forever grateful to all of the press agents that we work with each and every day: thank you for all that you do to help make our Broadway Season so enjoyable for Memphis' theatre fans!

For our next entry of A Wild Ride From Broadway to Beale, we'll tell you all about the Orpheum's role as a presenting venue for Touring Broadway.  Stay tuned!

Friday, August 22, 2014

President's Page: The Orpheum's 20th Annual Art Sale

The Orpheum Theatre is proud to bring Memphis’ greatest artists together for our 20th Annual Art Sale.  Tomorrow, Saturday, August 23rd from 1:00 to 4:00 PM, over 40 local artists will be on stage at the famous Orpheum selling their original artwork directly to attendees.

About 400 pieces of art starting at just $30 will be on display.  But this event is more than a great opportunity to experience incredible art.  You will have a chance to meet and directly negotiate with artists for the best price on your favorite works.  You'll be able to get the story behind the piece and learn more about the artist's aesthetic and point of view. 
Even if you're not sure whether you're in the market for art, the $10 admission fee includes a wine tasting provided by Hidden Crush and heavy hors d'oeuvres from Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar.  Best of all, you'll be supporting local artists as well as the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education.  75% of each sale will go to the artist with the remaining 25% being donated to the Orpheum Centre.

It all happens tomorrow starting at 1:00 PM.  I encourage you to drop by in support of our Memphis art community and take a peek at the progress we're making on the Centre while you're here.  Check out our ad in the Commercial Appeal for a complete list of artists.  Tickets to the 20th Annual Art Sale are available at the door or online.

Oh yes: we have the air conditioning going full blast.  So if you're looking for a fun way to beat the heat this weekend, the Art Sale is the perfect event!
Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO

Thursday, August 14, 2014

President's Page: Broadway Recommendations for Your Fall Travels

Jessie Mueller as Carole King.  Photo by Joan Marcus.
There are two times a year when theatre lovers begin to think about heading to New York to check out what’s happening on Broadway.

The first is the summer time when most people are using their sacred vacation days.  The second is during the fall and winter when NYC is bustling with decorations, holiday shoppers, and family togetherness. 

Since fall is closing in, I would like to give some shows to consider for those planning an upcoming trip.  This time, I'll recommend shows that you won't see on the Orpheum’s schedule this year, since of course you'll be visiting the Orpheum to see the musicals on our season schedule!

First, I'd definitely encourage you to see Beautiful: The Carole King Story.  I wrote about this show several times leading up to this year's Tony Awards, but even after all this time, I still cannot forget the incredible Tony winning performance by Jessie Mueller as Carole.  She is unbelievable in this role, and you will want to make sure to catch her on Broadway while you can. 

The other musical that deserves consideration is A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder.  You might recall that this title won the Tony Award for Best Musical this year, and it deserved it.  The show is an original in every regard: the concept, the story line, the music and the humor all tied together making, it one of those shows that when the curtain falls you find yourself thinking, "It went so fast!  Has it really been an entire 2 and ½ hours?"  So for those who are looking for something completely different, this is the show you need to see.

Official Poster Art for The Elephant Man
Additionally, there are two new shows opening soon that are on the top of my list.  The first is a revival of the classic play The Elephant Man, starring the famous Bradley Cooper who I'm sure needs no introduction.  It doesn’t officially open until December 7th for a limited 14-week engagement, but it will be in previews beginning November 7th.

The second is The Last Ship which opens on October 26th.  The musical's entire score was composed by Sting.  It is always fascinating to me that so many rock stars want to bridge over to Broadway.  Some are very successful, like Cyndi Lauper who won the Tony for Kinky Boots or David Bryan of Bon Jovi who is dear to Memphis' heart for his Tony Award winning music for Memphis the Musical.  Others, like Bono and the infamous Spiderman fiasco, did not fare as well.  It will be interesting to see how Sting compares to his rocker-turned-composer peers.  
To those of you who will be visiting New York in the coming months, I hope you enjoy Broadway - I know I will!
Pat Halloran
President and CEO

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Beyond the Stage: Masterpiece Theatre

Tonight at 6:00PM the Orpheum Theatre kicks off its inaugural Backstage Bash!  This event includes local eats, live music, and a chance to experience the "star's view" of the Orpheum theatre through exclusive backstage access.  In many theatres backstage might not seem very exciting.  If you've seen one you've seen 'em all, right?  Not quite.  The Orpheum has a little secret that our Backstage Bash-ers are going to see it first-hand: our backstage murals.

Our halls are absolutely covered in original artwork.  These masterpieces are painted and autographed by all of the Touring Broadway casts that make a stop in Memphis, Tennessee.  These murals date back to the mid-1990s, but the tradition itself dates way, way, way back... to the 80s.

After the Orpheum was renovated in 1983, the theatre became home to the local opera in addition to touring productions.  Members of the Orpheum's crew allowed starring sopranos to autograph the walls, which was eventually (and lovingly) termed the "diva door."  Many other notable stars, like Cary Grant, followed suit, and soon the tradition grew into a wonderful and colorful array of murals.

Then in 1996, the Orpheum underwent a massive renovation and stage expansion in order to accommodate blockbuster Broadway shows like The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon.  Of course architects had to demolish the walls in order to add depth to the stage, putting the murals in jeopardy.  Every process imaginable was considered in hopes of maintaining the priceless collection of paintings and autographs, but in the end the combination of concrete blocks and mortar made for a weak canvas.  Tragically, there was no way to keep the murals together, and they were lost.

But as we say in theatre, "The show must go on."  And on it did!  For nearly 20 years we have carried on the tradition of allowing each and every cast to leave their mark on our walls.  Our collection has since surpassed the one we were unable to save.  In fact, the halls are so full that our technical director is having to get creative with space, letting casts paint on the stage doors and in the stairwells.

So if you get the chance, stop by the Backstage Bash this evening and see our incredible collection of Broadway masterpieces along with great food, great music, and great company.  Tickets are still available here, or you can buy at the door.  See you backstage!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Acting Out: The Orpheum's Musical Theatre Intensive

Director/Choreographer Jeff Whiting teaches Broadway
choreography to Musical Theatre Intensive students.
You might have noticed that construction is well-underway for the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts and Education.  Once completed, the Centre will provide much-needed space to expand our Education programs.  But while we wait patiently for the Orpheum's new facility, our programs are going strong!

Yesterday at Collage Dance Collective, a student group of Broadway hopefuls wrapped up three full days of training from Broadway professionals as part of the Orpheum's Musical Theatre Intensive.

Offered each year as one of the Orpheum Theatre's celebrated summer camps, the Musical Theatre Intensive is a three-day workshop that gives students a taste of what a career in musical theatre is really like.  This year students focused on the art of the audition.  Broadway actors and directors taught students actual Broadway choreography, shared NYC trade secrets regarding agents and acting unions, and coached them on how to sharpen their musical audition techniques. 

In true Orpheum fashion, students learned from highly experienced teaching artists: Jeff Whiting, Jake Speck, and Teddy Eck, who curated the workshop.  These three theatre professionals collaborated to give students all the tools they need to prepare themselves to make that first step into the biz.

Among his many Broadway credits Jeff Whiting, who focused on teaching students audition choreography, was the Associate Director for this year's Tony nominated production Bullets Over Broadway.  Not only that, he's directed and choreographed for a long list of your favorite Broadway shows and national tours.  Little shows like, oh I don't know, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, and the fifth anniversary production of Wicked.  Yes, Wicked!

Musical Theatre Intensive students practice their
song selections with coaching from actor Jake Speck.
Students also got to work with Jake Speck, whom most of us would recognize from Broadway's Jersey Boys and a few episodes of our own Tennessee TV hit "Nashville."  Not to mention that he's worked with some of the most famous Tony Award winners in the biz, such as Susan Stroman.  Jake taught students how to perfect their 16-bar song selections and gave them the do's and don'ts of preparing for an audition.

The intensive was curated by actor/director Teddy Eck, who has over a decade of NYC acting experience including Off-Broadway's Richard III and the award-winning Steven Spielberg hit Lincoln as well as an extensive local resume of directorial creditsTeddy worked in collaboration with the team to teach students about acting unions (which one you need and when you need one) and agents (what they do and how to get their attention).

This hands-on workshop culminated in a mock audition where a panel of local arts professionals and educators gave students a chance to exercise their new skills in front of a fresh audience.  Armed with finely tuned song and dance audition pieces, these students are one step closer to taking Broadway by storm!