Theater critic J. Wynn “Judy” Rousuck gave the insider scoop on the productions coming to the Hippodrome Theatre this season in the latest “Broadway 101” brown bag lunch series talk for members of the UMB community Sept. 27.
“The Hippodrome has really been a gateway to Broadway,” said Rousuck, a former theater critic for The Baltimore Sun who is with WYPR radio, where she can be heard every Thursday on Midday.
She told the group of 15 sitting in the historic theater near the UMB campus that all of the Hippodrome productions this season are musicals. Five of the seven shows are adaptations from movies and two are by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The first production of the season, Love Never Dies, is a sequel to Phantom of the Opera and has never been seen in the United States, she said. It was first produced in London, where it did not do well, but later met with success in Australia. Baltimore is its first U.S. stop.
“People who see the show here will be way ahead of the curve,” Rousuck said.
After spending 23 years at The Sun, Rousuck has a wealth of dramatic stories. While discussing Love Never Dies, she recounted the time she interviewed Webber years ago, long before he “became a composing superstar but was still a very big deal,” she explained.
She had her tape recorder going, and Webber pulled out his own tape recorder at one point and told her he wanted to play her a song from a new show he was working on. The show was Cats and the song was “Memory,” sung by Barbra Streisand accompanied by the London Philharmonic.
“I came back to The Sun, and I was playing it for everybody,” she said. “I said, ‘You are going to hear this song everywhere. You are going to hear it in elevators. You are going to hear it in shopping malls.’ Little did I know.”
Other shows at the Hippodrome this season include:
- The Color Purple, which won a Tony Award in 2016 for best revival of a musical and has a “lovely score,” according to Rousuck.
- Disney’s The Lion King, which was a hugely successful animated movie and continues to be a popular show, she said.
- Waitress, which is about a small-town waitress who specializes in pies and is given the opportunity to compete in a baking contest.
- School of Rock, which is based on the movie starring Jack Black and is about a fifth-grade substitute teacher who turns his class into a rock band.
- An American in Paris, which was a 1951 Oscar-winning movie and is supposed to have “breathtaking” choreography, she said.
- On Your Feet, which is the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. “It should be a real uplifting way to end the season,” Rousuck said.
Rousuck was the guest speaker at UMB’s first “Broadway 101” brown bag lunch in November 2014. The series, sponsored by UMB’s Council for the Arts & Culture, continues a relationship that dates to UMB’s donation of the Hippodrome before its rebuilding, renovation, and 2004 reopening.
The Hippodrome Foundation, which partners with the Council for the Arts & Culture on the UMB series, also is familiar to Rousuck. She works with the foundation to help introduce schoolchildren to live theater. She leads foundation programs for students, teachers, and senior citizens.
Her curriculum this year will be based on The Lion King, which is one of her favorite shows to teach, particularly because the theme is so closely connected to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and because of the ornate masks in the production.
“It’s a great show to teach in classrooms,” she said.
Her elementary school students will write a puppet show, design the puppets, and stage the show. Middle school students will write their own book that will be published, she said.
Clearly, Rousuck is passionate about turning area children on to the theater. She recounted a story of when schoolchildren filled the Hippodrome for a production of Beauty and the Beast several years ago. The students were fully engaged in the show, and when the teacup character “Chip” was transformed back into a boy and ran across the stage, the theater erupted in cheers, applause, and screams.
“It was really something different, like I have never heard in a theater anywhere. It was remarkable,” she told the UMB group. “I’ve seen a lot of things in three decades, but this was really something new.”
She said she later told her husband, “If anyone doubts the impact that theater, that art, can have on kids’ lives, they should have been there.”
Rousuck encouraged the faculty and staff in attendance to attend the shows and bring their children.
“Truly theater can change lives in all sorts of different ways, but on the most basic level it can awaken a spirit of wonder in children,” she said. “A spirit of wonder for me, as an adult, is rekindled every time the curtain rises, and I hope some of you will share that experience.”
The University offers discounted tickets to Hippodrome productions. For details, visit the Council for the Arts & Culture website.
— Betsy Stein