American Musicals A Gift To World Theater

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Opera Music Theater International, under the direction of James K. McCully, commemorates the 100th Anniversary of Broadway and Hollywood musicals with Grammy Award Winner William Warfield of SHOW BOAT, PORGY & BESS; Emmy Award Winner Marni Nixon of MY FAIR LADY, WEST SIDE STORY, THE KING & I, THE SOUND OF MUSIC; National Endowment for the Arts Theater & Musical Theater director Gigi Bolt; National Theatre president Dr. Donn B. Murphy; and National Portrait Gallery cultural historian Amy Henderson, creator of the exhibition and book, RED, HOT & BLUE: A Smithsonian Salute To The American Musical.

Opera Music Theater International (OMTI), under the direction of James K. McCully, commemorates the 100th Anniversary of Hollywood and Broadway musicals with American Musical Legends from SHOW BOAT, PORGY & BESS, MY FAIR LADY, WEST SIDE STORY, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE KING & I, and a panel of American Musical experts.

AMY HENDERSON, cultural historian
National Portrait Gallery

I would like to thank James McCully, and Opera Music Theater International for allowing us to do this. Today, because we think so many young opera singers, Thomas Hampson, Dawn Upshaw, Jerry Hadley, are crossing over, doing Broadway musicals at least on CDs, we think this is kind of a new thing. But in fact, it's been with us from the very beginning. We did an exhibition at the Smithsonian which I curated, it was called "RED, HOT & BLUE", and it was a salute to the American musical, Broadway and Hollywood. And we stole the title from Cole Porter's 1936 show, but it really fit the theme. I, as a cultural historian, not as a music person, was really interested in how America reinvented itself in this twentieth-century from a kind of pastoral America that's basically WASP in New England, to after the 1880s and 90s when 23 million immigrants hit Ellis Island between 1890 and 1920 and literally changed the face of America. America became industrial and urban. I was intrigued at how the American musical was invented to really give the words and the music to the American dream in this American century. So that was the premise, and in "RED, HOT & BLUE" the Cole Porter show, fit that. No, we didn't do Andrew Lloyd Webber, and that was on purpose. When I saw the revival of CHICAGO this summer, the energy that you get with the American musical is what gets me. So we did this exhibition, it was record breaking: people of all generations came in record numbers, and it is going on the road.

I was delighted to come here today. The crossover thing from today's singers, one of the things we learned when we did "RED, HOT & BLUE" was that from the very beginning, people like Geraldine Ferrar, the great soprano at the MET in the early twentieth-century. She went to Hollywood in 1915 to do the silent version for Cecil B. DeMille of CARMEN, and it's terrific. You can watch the silent of Geraldine and watch the essence of her personality. Certainly in the 1930s, you get people like Grace Moore, Lawrence Tibbet, Rise Stevens doing things, and later Mario Lanza. One of the rediscoveries we made with "RED, HOT & BLUE" was in the 1890s, there was an African American opera singer named Sissieretta Jones. There was no place for her to perform opera, so she formed this incredible vaudeville troupe and for 20 years, was incredibly successful. She was known as The Black Patti Troubadours. When we took Gregory Peck and his wife through the exhibition, Mr. Peck said, "I know Sissierrate Jones - my daughter did her master's thesis on her." I would like to see it made into a play, and I hope that we can do a reading of it and I know who I would like to see read it. I don't want to talk anymore, because this incredible cast around me deserves to talk.

MARNI NIXON, Emmy Award Winner

It's funny, I think I am a product of crossover, because I was singing many operas, and recording works of Stravinsky, Webern and Schönberg. By the time I was 21, I had sung 22 operas with many opera companies. But the dubbing that I had done, suddenly put me on the map. Everybody realizes that those movies have been around for 40 years now. So I have gotten to be very famous as a dubber. I have tried to use that to my benefit, and I have become the link between the classical and the music theater world. I see now that music theater has to take note of the music and singing, and the opera has to take use of the theatrical elements. I find one of the problems is, even though we talk a good show, there is still a great division between music theater and opera. Sometimes there is a reason for that. "They haven't been properly taught."

DR. DONN B. MURPHY, president
National Theatre

I also teach at Georgetown University, and I have a playwriting class. So I taught a course in acting for social change and my partner in that class was a psychiatrist who is involved with health education. We did improvisation around AIDS, date rape, and racial problems. It was a really marvelous coming together. I think that's happening a lot in the world. We are breaking down the divisions and I think that opera companies will do more. Perhaps put in a very commercial, musical act to help balance the budget. I have been on the boards of theater companies and I have always said, let's do the most experimental production we can do and let's balance it with something commercial. Maybe balance is an important thing. And I look to things, like what's happening with the Disney organization. Hiring Julie Taymor, known for her brilliant opera design, and bringing her to do the Lion King which does great things for Broadway and it lifts Disney up. So perhaps one day, we'll go to Disney's Magic Kingdom and see opera done there.

AMY HENDERSON, cultural historian
National Portrait Gallery

What Donn was saying is really quite true. One of the things with the Smithsonian exhibition on Broadway and Hollywood musicals is to look at how the musical has been both a mirror and a window to American culture in this century. We begin in the lower East Side of New York, the melting pot for culture, we chronicled the journey of America to the current day, the multiculturalism, fragmentation, and disfunctionalism, but we ended the show with Hal Prince's revival of SHOW BOAT. I wanted to do that because we found that it is an epic. You can still find it in musicals today, the echoes of all of our origins and the mix and match of what we have shaped together.

I know that you didn't get to see "RED, HOT & BLUE", but one of the great rediscoveries was that Florenz Ziegfeld was the producer for the original SHOW BOAT. That means he put the money in. One of the great things we found was the telegram from Ziegfeld to Jerome Kern, who was very well established in 1927. Kern's lyricist was Oscar Hammerstein II, who was not terribly well know, and Ziegfeld writes to Kern, "I'm not sure that this Hammerstein guy is going to work." But then Ziegfeld was incredibly smart, and did what no one else did; he filmed the musical production numbers of the original SHOW BOAT. So what we were able to use it in the exhibition, you can see the original Joe. To see and hear them from 1928, when it was filmed.

WILLIAM WARFIELD, Grammy Award Winner

I never saw the original production of SHOW BOAT, but I do have records of the first Joe, and then Paul Robeson took it over afterwards. A friend of mine sent me four different versions of "Old Man River" that Robeson had actually made in London and including the movie version.

One of my favorite stories, quite a few years ago MET soprano Dorothy Kirsten did TOSCA onstage and when she jumped off, missed the mattress and got a sprained ankle. It was all over the papers the next morning. Supposedly there was a cocktail party which another MET soprano Zinka Milanov was at, and someone came up to her and said, "Madame Milanov, did you hear what happened to Dorothy Kirsten last night? She jumped off and sprained her ankle." And Milanov said, "I've been saying this for years. This woman has a gorgeous voice, but she can't act."

GIGI BOLT, director of Theater & Musical Theater
National Endowment for the Arts

Actually to sit on a panel with William Warfield and Marni Nixon, and repositories in all the fields, I was considering my role on this panel. When I was at the New York State Council on the Arts, as Director of the Theater program, I was working with Kitty Carlisle Hart, the widow of Moss Hart and Dorothy Rodgers, Richard Rogers' wife, and I saw wonderful work all over the state -straight plays and musicals. There are a few moments in my memory, and one of those was a night over at Dorothy Rodgers' apartment for a meeting. I was standing at the far end of the living room, and sitting there at the other side of the room at the piano was Richard Rodgers, playing away at a tune, working something out. I couldn't believe that I was seeing it, and I have felt that way ever since.

There have been so many moments that I treasure in the musical theater, from the excitement of the opening night of CHORUS LINE on Broadway, or the revivals of SHOW BOAT and CAROUSEL, SHE LOVES ME, and GUYS & DOLLS, to the new music explorations of Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthall. Julie had done so much work in the small theaters off of Broadway for the last twenty years before being given the opportunity like this, that so many of our magnificent artists have not yet received, people like Polly Penn, Jonathan Larson, Martha Clarke, and so many others. It was this sweep in evolution and this sense of cultural historical development that was, for those of you who have not seen the exhibition that was so absolutely stunning. Thrilling! All of the joy, and hope, and genius, and shared spirit and energy were right there, and I'm so glad "RED, HOT & BLUE" is touring the country. I salute you Amy. It was wonderful.

The book, RED, HOT & BLUE: A Smithsonian Salute To The American Musical, was published to coincide with the Washington, DC, exhibition of the same name at the National Portrait Gallery, which co-created both exhibition and book with the National Museum of American History.

RED, HOT & BLUE: A Smithsonian Salute To The American Musical


On 13th of August 1991, James K. McCully founded Opera Music Theater International (OMTI) as a nonprofit organization to help international emerging singers bridge the opera and music theater gap through international competitions, international performances, international master classes, international conferences, international symposia, and international forums.

Opera Music Theater International (OMTI) positioned itself at the monumental International Trade Center at the prestigious address 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue across from "The Theatre of the Presidents", The National Theatre, on the "Avenue of the Presidents" at Federal Triangle, directly in the center of a triangle connecting The White House, The Capitol, and The Washington Monument.

Opera Music Theater International (OMTI) was the host of the 43rd National Opera Association Convention in Washington DC sponsored by Musical America with a Welcome by Placido Domingo at Kennedy Center; and the Marjorie Lawrence International Vocal Competition with International Honorary Chairs Maestro Richard Bonynge and Dame Joan Sutherland at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

World Leader of Contemporary Opera Honored in Washington DC

American Contemporary Opera Composers Honored in Washington DC

Concert Memorializes the Ghost of the National Theatre in Washington DC

The Belmont Mansion Grand Ball Great Performances

International Singers Forum

International Arts Management Awards

Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Master Class

Ryan Edwards Master Class

Marjorie Lawrence International Vocal Competition Was Clearly A Success

Marjorie Lawrence Centennial Celebration Commission Memorializes 100th Anniversary of Metropolitan Opera Star in 2007

National Endowment for the Arts director of former Opera-Musical Theater Program elected President of Opera Music Theater International Board of Trustees in Washington DC

Governor's Awards for the Arts Honors Nominee James K. McCully


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