Miller Auditorium on a show night is a fascinating orchestra of staff. Backstage, they are preparing lighting, sound, sets and the cast. The Ticket Office is selling tickets and working with will call pick ups. The front of house staff is preparing concession stands, the bar and the seating area. One of the essential parts of Miller’s event staff can be found in our Usher Corps. Founded in 1967 with only a handful of people, the Usher Corps has grown to be 250 members strong and consists of a dedicated team of students and community members.
Ushers arrive approximately 60 minutes before the posted curtain time for a particular show. They are informed of the specifics for that evening’s event, any emergency policies and are notified of any schedule changes. They also stuff programs, help with concessions, assist with the bar and tend to any other pre-show needs. The ushers stay until 10:30 or 11 p.m. (depending on the length of the performance) to help clean the seating area. In addition to meeting new friends and catching up with long-time friends, ushers often get to enjoy the show they are volunteering for.
Does that sound fun? Well, you’re in luck–anyone is welcome to be a part of the Miller Auditorium Usher Corps. To be an usher, you must be at least 18 years of age or a student at Western Michigan University. You will also need to complete an on-line application. All ushers need to attend a training session before their first ushering assignment. During this training we will go over customer service, auditorium and university policies/procedures, and take a tour of the building. This training is in addition to the organizational meetings held each semester, where ushers are updated on policies/procedures and receive a schedule of events that need ushers.
If you are interested in joining the Usher Corps or would like more information, you can contact Shannon Rininger, Patron Services Manager, by email.
On a Tuesday morning, bright and bleary eyed, Lauren, my fellow marketing assistant, and I left in our matching Miller shirts for summer distribution. After spending the better part of this week in the Miller van – even getting lost a few times, we can safely say that summer distribution is underway. We hit the road and started distributing our 2017-18 Miller season brochures all around the greater Kalamazoo area. We have gone to Portage, Battle Creek and, of course, visited many local Kalamazoo businesses along the way. Now this may sound like a lot of driving, but we passed the time with dramatic sing-a-longs to the radio, so don’t worry.
Lauren and I had a great time traveling around southwest Michigan and meeting many different business owners. We came across a lot of people excited for the upcoming season, especially our Zhang Financial Broadway in West Michigan series. The 2017-18 Broadway lineup includes great shows such as Kinky Boots, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and Disney’s THE LION KING. Others were excited for our Lake Michigan Mailer Spotlight series, which includes big names such as Trevor Noah, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live! and STOMP. We braved the heat of the dog days of summer, so please pick up a brochure when you spot them at local businesses and hotels. We plan on visiting more businesses as the season progresses with updates on upcoming shows and new show posters, so keep an eye out!
In addition to providing great entertainment, Broadway productions commit their time and resources to giving back to those in need. Since 1987, Broadway has been actively fighting HIV/AIDS by providing financial support for lifesaving medications, healthcare, nutritious meals and much more. In 1992, two foundations combined to create Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This new organization was established as a not-for-profit fundraising organization that upheld the ideals of the two previous groups. Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS raises every dollar given; this, in turn, provides many services to those affected by HIV/ AIDS. Their mission statement not only includes the mitigation of HIV/AIDS, but also to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS uses its unique position in the entertainment industry to benefit those affected; this includes efforts nation-wide as well as international.
Though familiar to many theatre-goers, Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS use more than just red donation buckets to raise money. One of their most popular events is Broadway Bares, an annual burlesque show fundraiser. This fundraising event has occurred since 1992 and has continued to raise more funds for HIV/ AIDS. Broadway Bares has become highly choreographed and produced since its humble beginnings with eight dancers in rotation. Since then, it has been presented two performances every June in front of sold out crowds in some of the largest clubs in Manhattan.
On June 18, 2017, in the Hammerstein Ballroom, just two performances raised $1,586,114. This year’s event featured a collegiate theme. Bearing the cheeky name ‘Strip U,’ the freshmen were shown the ropes in featured classes, such as chemistry, fine arts, feminist studies and a Pavlovian psychology lesson. The burlesque revue also featured other aspects of the Strip U student experience, including a pep rally, a shirts and skins Lacrosse game and a toga party.
This is only the second year on record that the online fundraising was the largest contributor to the grand total raised. All money raised is for HIV/ AIDS is not-for-profit and to date Broadway Bares has raised $17.4 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The creator of Broadway Bares, Paw Paw, Michigan native Jerry Mitchell, wrapped up the performances reminding the audience that “We must take the power of our diverse communities and dedicate our energies to the importance of taking care of ourselves and each other.”
Miller Auditorium was happy to take part in Maranda’s Kalamazoo Park Party in Bronson Park last week. Maranda, the host of WOTV 4’s “Where You Live,” has hosted her Park Parties for the last 23 years, inviting families to enjoy some free summer fun and a free lunch for anyone under 18 provided by the Michigan Department of Education. Maranda’s Park Parties are recognized by the USDA as one of the nation’s largest summer feeding programs and she knows how to make it fun!
More than 4,000 people enjoyed the festivities at Bronson Park – it was PACKED! It was a day of fun acts on stage, big blow-up obstacle courses and a rock wall. Miller was there in full form, prize wheel spinning and a coloring table ready to go. Kids of all ages were having a blast spinning our wheel for candy, temporary tattoos, frisbees and more!
It was an amazing day! The sun was out and the sky was blue. Bronson Park was full of kids and parents alike just having fun – Miller staff included! Here’s our favorite selfie of the day featuring Miller’s Thom and Bethany along with the one-and-only Maranda!
Amelia and I were also there, testing out our ‘Millergram’ frame in advance of WMU’s Bronco Bash this fall.
To experience and learn about the excitement of live entertainment and Maranda’s Park Party was an awesome way to reach more kids and families to show them how much fun the theater can be!
The 71st Annual Tony Awards have come and gone, but here’s your recap of the highs, lows and more from theater’s biggest night of the year.
While you may never have wondered who would win in a fight, Bette Midler or and an entire orchestra playing her off stage, you now need to wonder no longer. The septuagenarian, winning on her first Tony nomination, continued her speech long past the play off attempt, at one point shouting, “Shut that crap off!” While her more than four-minute speech was the longest, it was by no means the best of the night.
Another notable speech of the night came from Best Featured Actress in a Musical winner, Rachel Bay Jones of Dear Evan Hansen. Jones told a heartwarming story of her Nana selling her engagement ring so that the young Jones could move to New York and become an actor. She also took time to thank her parents for “cursing me with a love of the theater.”
Honorable mention for the cutest speech of the night goes to Mr. Ben Platt. Platt was awarded the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical for his stunning performance as the titular character in Dear Evan Hansen. Platt, clearly emotional, addressed “all the young people watching at home” in his speech reminding everyone “Don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” Here’s Ben Platt and the cast of Dear Evan Hansen‘s Tony performance of Waving Through a Window: https://youtu.be/0vkTxakkho4
Photo from Getty images for Tony Award Productions
Broadway musical Side Show had an unexpected revival on the Tony Awards stage when Tom Sturridge and Olivia Wilde presented the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play. With their similar looks and close stance, you can almost hear the Side Show showstopper, “I Will Never Leave You,” playing.
The musical Bandstand is likely to draw considerable post-Tonys attention due to a heartfelt introduction from Former Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. She received a standing ovation as she walked on the Tony stage. Dr. Biden talked about the partnership with the organization Got Your 6 and the musical Bandstand to highlight the experiences of American veterans. Dr. Biden went on to say, “To our veterans, on behalf of Joe, myself, the company of Bandstand and everybody else here, we’ve got your six.”
Proving that good things do eventually come to those who wait, Jane Greenwood took home the 2017 Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play for Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. This nomination and subsequent win marks Ms. Greenwood’s 22nd Tony nomination. She did receive a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. Ms. Greenwood, who had been called the Susan Lucci of the Tonys, must be quite pleased to have her first competitive Tony.
Ending on a bright note, we have new friends to add to the EGOT watch list. EGOT of course referring to the short list of people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. After taking home a Tony Award for co-producing the revival of Jitney, John Legend is only one letter away from joining this select group of people. All he needs now is the E to add to his GOT.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won the Oscar for Best Original Song for City of Stars from La La Land earlier this year and the Tony for Dear Evan Hansen, and are now 50% of the way to the coveted EGOT. They could be potentially Emmy-bound for their special musical episode of The Flash, which aired in March. They could also be strong candidates for the 2018 Grammys where they would be eligible for their original music from both La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen. While a long shot, the two are well on their way to EGOT status with the chance to do the whole kit and caboodle in just around 12 months.
I’m happy to welcome all the new members of the Western Michigan University family to campus! New students started arriving last week for orientation and it’s been great to see them here on campus. Our WMU community is built of so many different people, experiences, and events and I want to introduce new students to Miller Auditorium.
As students here at Western, you have the ability to buy tickets to most Miller season events at 50% off regular prices thanks to a fund established by the President’s Office. Now, you are limited to one discounted ticket per event with a Bronco ID, but this discount includes most shows presented by Miller Auditorium–including both the Zhang Financial Broadway in West Michigan Series and the Lake Michigan Mailers Spotlight Series. Just make sure to visit or call our Ticket Office at (269) 387-2300 and have your Bronco ID handy.
This season is going to be filled with some absolutely amazing shows as we celebrate Miller Auditorium’s 50th Anniversary and I couldn’t be more excited about what is going to be going on around us. Kinky Boots, Trevor Noah, STOMP, Disney’s THE LION KING and so much more–and WMU students can use their 50% discount on all these shows!
I have loved being here at Western as a student and it has only become more exciting and fulfilling after I became involved with the amazing opportunities available on campus like being a member of the Bronco Marching Band and working events at Miller. The shows you get to see, the movies, the concerts, I promise you’ll love them all. Welcome to WMU, new Broncos!
Every spring, I hear the call of the Big Apple….the annual Broadway League conference where performing art centers from across the country converge in New York City to network, learn the latest trends in marketing and Broadway buying behaviors, take in the latest Broadway shows and get to interact with the creative teams and actors of various shows.
My week started off with bang – I got to see the revival of Miss Saigon on my first night. A young newcomer plays the lead, Kim, and hers is a special story. Eva Noblezada was a 2013 finalist for Best performance by an Actress at the Jimmy Awards (the National High School Musical Theatre Awards). There, she caught the eye of New York casting director Tara Rubin who was in the audience. She was so moved by Noblezada’s performance that she spoke with her afterwards and contacted theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh who was preparing of the West End production of Miss Saigon at the time. Long story short…Noblezada was cast in the role of Kim and made her debut in the West End in 2014 and now does 8 shows a week on Broadway.
Other shows I took in during the week include The School of Rock (my personal favorite), The Great Comet of 1812 (this show has the most interesting staging – the audience is on it and fully interactive throughout the show), A Bronx Tale (a lovely musical that reminded me a lot of Jersey Boys) and Beautiful: The Carole King Story (I dare you not to sing along with every song).
It was a fantastic week and I look forward to implementing some of the things I learned for our next season. And, hopefully, you all will get a chance to see these great shows too when they tour and come through Miller in the years to come.
On a personal note…one highlight of the week was getting to meet Josh Groban who is currently starring in The Great Comet. He is an amazingly nice person!
Many of you have been through the doors of Miller Auditorium, but our building holds many secrets. I would like to share one of those not so closely guarded secrets with you.
Construction began on Miller Auditorium in 1965 and came with a price tag of 5.5 million dollars.
The curtain rose for the first time on Jan. 12, 1968 to a sold out house. Since that time, millions have walked through our doors. However, few have seen some of the behind the scenes areas at Miller, one of which is Miller’s tunnels.
Like many theaters, tunnels run the width and breath of the auditorium providing access to necessary utilities (and occasional housing for the Phantom).
Photo taken from tunnels located just below the seating area.
Access tunnel located under the main seating area.
Admiral Ackbar would be proud of this tunnel tour guide self portrait.
Our backstage staff are the most frequent visitors to the tunnels. Sound and light cables can require a trip down, as does the occasional dropped cell phone.
Miller has many more hidden spaces to share with our readers–stay tuned for more looks at Miller’s hidden gems.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.