Taking Motown to the Schools

By: Thom Cooper

Music is timeless and crosses all ages. Never is that more true than with the music of Motown. This spring, Miller was able to bring a deeper level of appreciation of Motown to the three Kalamazoo Public Schools high schools.

With the help of Motown legends Bertha McNeal and Cal Street of The Velvelettes, we were able to work with choir directors, Theresa Williams-Johnson of Kalamazoo Central, Julie Pelligrino of Loy Norrix and Phoenix High, to educate a group of approximately 50 high school students on the history of the Motor City’s famous music powerhouse. I had the chance to follow along on the once-in-a-lifetime experience that started in the classroom, but took to the road.

Ms. McNeal and Ms. Street went to the high schools and conducted mini history lessons on how The Velvelettes were formed right here on the campus of Western Michigan University for a student talent show. They also gave background on the group and where they’ve been and how they still perform today with the original lineup. The ladies provided each group with a behind the scenes look at what it was like to be a part of the Motown Cavalcade.

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Students learned about the etiquette and finishing school classes that all stars were required to attend, under the tutelage of Miss Maxine Powell. In fact, Motown was the only in-house finishing school at any American record label. The artists were taught how to sit, stand, walk and talk. They may have come to Hitsville U.S.A. as voices in the rough, but they went out on stage polished to meet kings and queens.

One of the activities the students enjoyed was learning a Motown hit and choreographing a number themselves. Each school had one group of young ladies do a number of The Velvelettes or The Supremes and one group of gentlemen do a Temptations piece. Watching the groups perform was very entertaining.

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As part of the educational journey, the groups went to the Motown Museum in Detroit to see where it all started. We toured the house that Berry Gordy bought with an $800 loan from his family and recorded some of the most famous songs in the world. We saw the second-story area where Berry and his family lived, the attic where they ran mixes to create the reverb that is so much a part of the Motown Sound and the first floor office area that was where it all happened.

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Finally, we were able to attend opening night of MOTOWN THE MUSICAL at Miller Auditorium. We were able to see and hear the story, as told by Berry Gordy himself. After the show, we participated in a Q & A with ten cast members. They were kind enough to stay, chat and even take photos with us. What more can I say? For the past month, we have had a great time immersing ourselves in everything Motown. Hopefully, you got a chance to come see MOTOWN THE MUSICAL at Miller and were dancing in your seat!

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2017 Tony Nominations

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By: Jimmy Brand

There are precious few things on this planet that will get me out of bed early, but the Tony Awards® nominations are one of the events that compel me to do so. The 2017 nominations did not disappoint this year

Personally, the first thing I do when reviewing the total list of nominations is to see which show raked in the most. Leading the pack this year is Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, which took home 12 nominations with Hello, Dolly! and Dear Evan Hansen coming in second and third with 10 and 9 noms respectively.

Also of note were the numbers of Best Musical nominees! In a Broadway season with so many wonderful shows, many wondered if the nominators would choose to honor a fifth show with a Best Musical nom, as they did last year. Comet, Hansen, Groundhog Day and Come From Away were the lucky four this year. These four represent a highly eclectic range of shows and unlike last year’s Hamilton runaway, this year looks like it may be a photo finish.

The Hello, Dolly! nominations likely resulted in a very happy Bette Midler, as this is marks The Divine Miss M’s first ever Tony nomination.

Also this year, all four playwrights in best play slots, Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, J.T. Rogers and Lucas Hnath, were making their Broadway Debuts—an almost unheard of feat.

The full list of nominees can be found here: https://www.tonyawards.com/index.html

The 71st Annual Tony Awards® air live on Sunday, June 11, 2017 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS, so grab a popcorn and unwrap your hard candy. It is awards season. Don’t forget to turn off your cell phones, Patti LuPone is nominated for War Paint and you don’t want her to catch you with a phone.

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Miller Auditorium’s Golden Anniversary Season: Broadway lineup announced

By: Amelia Manley

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Many shows have have graced the Miller stage in 50 years and this year there are four great Broadway shows to celebrate Miller Auditorium’s golden anniversary season. Our upcoming Zhang Financial Broadway series shows are: Kinky Boots (Oct. 20–22), The Wizard of OZ (Jan. 5–7, 2018), The Sound of Music (Feb. 9–11, 2018), and Disney’s The Lion King (April 4–15, 2018).

This upcoming season features a wide variety of shows from the modern Kinky Boots to classics Like The Wizard of Oz, and The Sound of Music. Each show brings something new to the stage. Disney’s The Lion King will make its west Michigan debut by closing our our 2017-18 Broadway season.

Tickets to all these shows are now available as part of a Miller Auditorium Broadway subscription. Learn more here and view our order form. And there’s more to come! Stay tuned for more additions to our 50th Anniversary season in the coming weeks at www.millerauditorium.com. We hope to see you at the shows!

Learn more about our Zhang Financial Broadway shows:

KINKY BOOTS: Oct. 20–22, 2017

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KINKY BOOTS is Broadway’s huge-hearted, high-heeled hit! With songs by Grammy® and Tony® winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper, this joyous musical celebration is about the friendships we discover, and the belief that you can change the world when you change your mind. Inspired by true events, KINKY BOOTS takes you from a gentlemen’s shoe factory in Northampton to the glamorous catwalks of Milan

Charlie Price is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations and continue the family business of Price & Son. With the factory’s future hanging in the balance, help arrives in the unlikely but spectacular form of Lola, a fabulous performer in need of some sturdy new stilettos

THE WIZARD OF OZ: Jan. 5–7 2018

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There truly is no place like home as the greatest family musical of all time, the wonderful WIZARD OF OZ, twists its way into Kalamazoo! The entire family will be captivated as they travel down the Yellow Brick Road and beyond with Dorothy, Toto and their friends the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow in this lavish production, featuring breathtaking special effects, dazzling choreography and classic songs. A spectacular celebration of the iconic 1939 MGM film, THE WIZARD OF OZ will blow you away from the moment the tornado touches down and transports you to a dazzling Oz, complete with munchkins and flying monkeys. Don’t miss the chance to travel Over the Rainbow and experience this national treasure on stage.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Feb. 9–11, 2018

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The beloved musical story of Maria and the von Trapp Family will once again thrill audiences with its Tony®, Grammy® and Academy Award® winning Best Score, including “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss” and the title song. THE SOUND OF MUSIC features music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp.

DISNEY’S THE LION KING: April 4–15, 2018

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More than 90 million people around the world have experienced the phenomenon of Disney’s THE LION KING, and now you can, too, when this best-loved musical comes to Miller Auditorium. Winner of six Tony Awards®, including Best Musical, this landmark musical event brings together one of the most imaginative creative teams on Broadway. Tony Award®-winning director Julie Taymor brings to life a story filled with hope and adventure set against an amazing backdrop of stunning visuals. THE LION KING also features some of Broadway’s most recognizable music, crafted by Tony Award®-winning artists Elton John and Tim Rice. There is simply nothing else like THE LION KING.

Magical Cinderella weekend at Miller

By: Jimmy Brand

Magic was in the building with Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The show graced the stage of Miller Auditorium for four performances from March 24-26, 2017.

The show, originally written for the famous 1957 television performance starting Julie Andrews, made its Broadway revival debut in 2013. The Broadway show features a new book by Douglas Carter Beane along with the music & lyrics of the Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein that we have all come to love. With a new book comes some twists on the well-known story we all have come to love.

Most notably, the new book has a few changes to Cinderella’s personality. The titular character presents as a strong willed, intelligent and soulful. If you are looking for a cookie cutter damsel in distress, you will not find her here.

The show contains so many important messages for young people, especially young woman, and Miller Auditorium was lucky to be able to share that message with nearly 100 Girl Scouts, troop leaders and parents from the greater Kalamazoo area. The Girl Scouts joined us for the opening night performance of the show and then stayed for a visit by the Cinderella cast and a Miller Sleepover!

The Girl Scouts also started their Saturday morning at Miller with a master class in waltzing from a Western Michigan University Dance student.

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With the always important message of being kind and generous, we hope Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella helped inspire and pass along a little magic to our friends with the Girl Scouts.

One Night of Queen Returns to Miller

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By: Thom Cooper

In two weeks we are having one of my favorite shows back for one night of great music.  One Night of Queen is coming Friday, March 17.  Gary Mullen and The Works put on a two-hour long tribute show full of stage theatrics, lights and of course, the music. I had the chance to see them when they were at Miller a few years ago.  They are incredible.  The lead singer, Gary Mullen, does a fantastic impersonation from clothes, to mustache, to voice, to movements.  He really embodies Freddie Mercury.

 For two solid hours, they will rock you!  They hit all the classics from “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “Killer Queen,” “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Another One Bites the Dust.”  The guys really get the crowd involved also.  They told the audience to get on their feet and dance, and dance we all did.  I am looking forward to another night of exciting showmanship!

 Join the fun at One Night of Queen performed by Gary Mullen & The Works at Miller on Friday, March 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets available now online and by calling our Ticket Office at (269) 387-2300.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet Master Class

By: Clayton Dusendang

Our Miller marketing team had the opportunity to attend a master dance class with Jillian Davis at Western Michigan University’s Department of Dance. Davis is a company member of Complexions Contemporary Dance, a group that visited Miller Auditorium as part of the 2016-17 Lake Michigan Mailers Spotlight Series. Davis has been dancing since the age of 3 and with Complexions since 2014.

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The class was eager to absorb and learn from Davis as she led them through a choreographed routine. She offered great insight to the WMU students who will soon be pursuing their careers in the field of dance.

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As part of our Miller Auditorium mission to enlighten, entertain and educate, we strive to offer outreach activities like community master classes as often as we are able.

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There was an in house percussionist for the master class so Davis and the students had live music to dance to.

Thanks to Jillian Davis and Complexions Contemporary Ballet for their time and expertise!


 

BroadwayCon 2017

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By: Jimmy Brand

Friends, it is that time again! No, I don’t mean tax season, I am referring to BroadwayCon wrapping up their second successful event.

BroadwayCon is the theatre’s answer to Comic-Con. This is a tailor-made experience for fans of theatre. BroadwayCon boasts a three-day expanse of performances, panels, workshops and so much more. Fans came out in droves to the now annual event.

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This gathering of self-labeled theatre nerds is enough to make this Kalamazoo kid immensely jealous he was not able to escape to New York City THIS year! Though I’d have to start planning my BroadwayCon cosplay now…

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In addition to the fun and lighthearted topics of Broadway, the convention served as a safe place for people to discuss the hard topics. Art has always has a way to touch upon the topics that make us uncomfortable. Featuring panels on activism and stories from Broadway stars about their concerns for the world and what their roles as actors and consumers of the arts should be in that conversation.

The highlight of the 3-day BroadwayCon was arguably the First Look Event. This event gave attendees a first look at upcoming new shows and revivals. These shows included some standouts such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Amélie, Bandstand, Miss Saigon, Significant Other, Sunday in the Park with George, The Play That Goes Wrong and Anastasia.

Broadway has big things planned for us this year and the only thing I can say is, how many days until BroadwayCon 2018?

Now on Broadway: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

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By: Tracey Lawie

I traveled to New York City for a long, cold weekend in January to attend the annual APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) conference. The conference where I speed date with dozens of show agencies to discuss and negotiate potential shows to grace the stage of Miller Auditorium for the upcoming season. I also get to take in shortened versions of the performances called “showcases” to sample the potential performances.  But, this year, one of my colleagues approached me after a large agency meeting to see if I would be interested in using the extra ticket she had to see Josh Groban starring on Broadway in the new musical offering Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. I was thrilled to see Josh Groban live on stage, and pair that with a new Broadway musical…needless to say, I gave her an enthusiastic “Yes!”

The Great Comet of 1812 is a pop opera, adapted from a section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  Think it sounds like a bizarre combination? You would be right, but somehow, it works. As The New York Times states, it looks “at a historical period through a contemporary lens,” and they do it well.

The first musical number made me an immediate fan. It is a rousing number that introduces the characters, with a nod to the fact that it may not be all that easy:

This is all in your program

You are at the opera

Gonna have to study up a little bit

If you wanna keep with the plot

Cuz it’s a complicated Russian novel

Everyone’s got nine different names

So look it up in your program

We’d appreciate it, thanks a lot

They then take you on a whirlwind cycle introducing each principal character and I swear I knew every line by the end of the song.

The other thing I should mention is the staging. They rebuilt the interior of the theatre so the cast was immersed with the audience throughout. The chorus was often dancing or playing an instrument directly in front of me.  Characters would collapse in chairs next to audience members on stage and at one point, they handed out egg shaped maracas for the audience to play along during a song.

CBS did a great story on Josh Groban and the show. You can catch it here and get more insight to the staging and songs:

Not sure if this show will tour, but if you find yourself in New York, or it does show up in a theatre near you, do yourself a favor and see it!

The two songs that have been earworms for me every day since seeing the show can be listened to here:

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Staff Profile: Bethany Gauthier

Name: Bethany Gauthier  12662477_10103655287731002_167728813853410912_n

Title: Marketing Specialist, Sr.

Years at Miller Auditorium: 15

Hobbies: Reading, writing, seeing movies, napping, tap dancing (but not very well) and going for walks with my husband, kids and our dog, Cletus.

Favorite Miller Shows: RENT, Once, Les Miserables, David Sedaris, Wicked, American Idiot, Spring Awakening, The Scarlet Pimpernel and many, many others.

One of the craziest experiences you’ve had while at Miller: Back when The Soup Kettle was still on the downtown Kalamazoo Mall, we had Larry Thomas at Miller while he was in the cast of The Odd Couple. If you know your Seinfeld trivia, you know that Larry Thomas played the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, so we had him make a guest appearance in character at The Soup Kettle. People loved it and he was really fun to meet in person. Plus, as I drove him back to Miller, I got to ask him many Seinfeld-related questions. 

One of your favorite experiences while working at Miller: When David Sedaris was at Miller in 2014, I was right next to him for three hours while he had a conversation with every person in line for his post-show meet and greet. He’s just as hilarious in person as he is in print. He was eating his dinner as he chatted with everyone. He even shared his dinner with some of the people in line—and he gave one person a bone to take home to their dog.

-Compiled by Clayton Dusendang

2016 Highlights at Miller

By: Jimmy Brand

Welcome to 2017!

We wanted to take a moment to look back on some of our favorite Miller Moments from 2016. It was a season of firsts at Miller Auditorium this year. We had many shows cross our stage for the first time–including The Book of Mormon’s week-long Miller debut in October.

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The Book of Mormon in Kalamazoo: Oct. 18-23, 2016                

American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson wowed a packed house and showed us that geek is the new chic back in March of 2016.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson visited Miller Auditorium on March 22, 2016

My personal favorite, Alton Brown, brought his one man show “Eat Your Science” to Miller in May. While in Kalamazoo, he enjoyed Sweetwater’s donuts and Black Owl Cafe coffee.

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Alton Brown’s tour stopped at Miller on May 5, 2016. 

We also debuted Miller’s Tavern on the Plaza. Patrons enjoyed live music, sun and cocktails on the Miller Plaza this past summer. Another reason to look forward to warmer weather in 2017!

Last, but certainly not least, we began Kzoo Sings, a monthly gathering of people who get together and sing popular songs in three-part harmony. The first Kzoo Sings of 2017 takes place on Jan. 19 and we will be singing Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” For more information and to RSVP now, see our Facebook event.

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2016 treated us well, but we are ready to continue to wow you in 2017… and don’t look now, but Miller is about to turn 50! Lots of exciting things planned for our 50th Anniversary Season, including Disney’s The Lion King scheduled as part of the 2017-18 Broadway season. Here’s to a great year ahead!