Broadway Musicals Yearbook

Martin Walters, 13th August 2015
Print

Len Power - producerEveryone has a favourite showtune. Sometimes we don’t even know a favourite song was originally a showtune! Len Power’s weekly program, ‘The Broadway Musicals Yearbook’ is full of surprises like that. Each week he plays songs from Broadway musicals that opened in a particular year – the hit shows and the flops. There are the songs you know and love and great songs you’ve never heard before. You’ll also be surprised to hear superb songs from shows that lasted only a few performances and would have disappeared if they had not been recorded. Each program focuses on a different year chosen at random – this week it could be 2005, next week it could be 1928 or maybe 1964. As Broadway music is a reflection of musical styles current at the time, you’ll always hear a rich, varied and entertaining program.

We caught up with Len to find out more.

How did you get started in community radio?

I first started in 2007 at ArtSound FM in Canberra as a sound engineer. ArtSound presenter, Bill Stephens, was looking for a sound engineer to help him produce ‘Red Velvet and Wild Boronia’ and overheard me at a lunch talking about my hobby of restoring old LP records to CD.  Bill and I worked together on ‘Red Velvet’ for 8 years, producing 140 programs. I also co-presented Bill’s showbiz program, ‘Dress Circle’, on air for a time. I wrote and produced ‘The Gershwin Project’, which has since been heard overseas and is currently broadcasting again on the Community Radio Network. I continue to be ArtSound’s on air theatre critic, presenting a weekly review, and I have presented classical musical programs and revamped and restored old programs from ArtSound’s archives. I WAS supposed to be retired!

How did you become an expert in Broadway?

I never went to the theatre as a child and only saw my first Broadway show, ‘Funny Girl’ in Adelaide by chance in the 1960s when I was 17. I was so overwhelmed by what I saw that I started collecting Broadway show LPs. I also read every book I could find on the history of Broadway and also joined a local theatre company where I had the opportunity as an actor to learn what it takes to put on a musical.

Tell us about your favourites.

My favourite Broadway show is 1997’s ‘Titanic: The Musical’. It has a fabulous operatic-style musical score which I got to know very well through performing in two productions of the show in Canberra in 2004 and 2012. My favourite Broadway composer is Stephen Sondheim. His work is challenging to perform and, as I keep hearing new things in his songs, I never tire of listening to them.

Broadway and cinema musicals have had a resurgence in popularity amongst younger audiences in recent years, especially following the success of Glee. How do you see musicals, and Broadway itself, evolving in the future?

I believe Broadway will always reflect current musicals styles in new shows as well as presenting new productions of older classic shows. Computer technology is now driving lighting, set and video projections to make even more thrilling effects possible. I expect there will be more live streaming of Broadway shows making them more accessible to people around the world. This can only make more people interested in theatre generally, which is a good thing.

How do you approach program production?

I choose a year at random which then creates the challenge of finding a sufficient variety of music numbers from the shows to create an interesting program. A year like 1984 was difficult as only two shows had any real success that year. I script my narrations to carefully complement the music. I’m aware that not everyone listening will be a rabid Broadway enthusiast so I keep my scripts pared back to essential information unless I have a good background story to share. If I over run the allocated time for the program when I put the show together, it’s the script that gets chopped, never the songs. The program is about presenting entertaining music for a wide audience first and foremost.

the cast of HairsprayIs there a lot of research required?

Yes, although I have a great knowledge of the shows, nearly every year I choose has lesser known shows that I am unfamiliar with and that means hitting the books and the internet to find out what I need for the program. Luckily I can source most of the music I need from the vast collection of theatre music I’ve built up over the years. I am averaging 6 hours production time for each show, of which 4 hours is taken up by research. It sounds a lot but doing the research is my favourite part of the task.

Has the program found success amongst the ArtSound FM audience?

The program has been well received. I often get comments from listeners who approach me in person when I’m at the theatre, too. There have been two complaints.  A man angrily phoned the station to complain that I had played a Liza Minnelli song from ‘The Rink’ called ‘Coloured Lights’ in the 1984 program. He didn’t have a problem with the song – it was Liza Minnelli he hated. Also, a friend complained that, although he enjoyed hearing ‘Yodel Blues’ from ‘Texas L’il Darlin’’ in the 1949 program, he then couldn’t get the song out of his head for hours afterwards!

Stations can now add the show to their own program grids via CRN. What makes it unique and a good selection?

The program has been designed as an easy listening show with a careful variety of songs – everything from American Songbook standards to comedy songs to rock numbers. For example, we may be looking at the year 1928, but I’ve included modern interpretations of some of the classic songs as well as early recordings. I guarantee you won’t ever have heard the classic ‘You Took Advantage Of Me’ from 1928 done quite like Elaine Stritch sang it in the 1960s.

The show isn’t a history lesson although I do set the scene and background for most songs and there are backstage anecdotes and gossip sprinkled here and there. I have included some good stories! Programs aren’t chronological by year – the first five programs go from 1962 to 1978, 1949, 1984 and 1928.  This is to ensure there is always variety in musical styles across the programs.

I believe more people like show tunes than are prepared to admit it. You hear some people say they don’t like musicals but they somehow know and like ‘Memory’ from ‘Cats’! Also, in my program, I’m sure people will be surprised by a number of popular songs that they didn’t even know were show tunes!

For CRN subscribers:

  • Broadway Musicals Yearbook is being broadcast/distributed by CRN on Mondays from 19:04 to 20:00 EST, beginning 7 September 2015, and will be available for DDN capture
  • Read synopses of the PDF icon first four program editions
  • Program website
  • For more information contact CRN staff on 02 9310 2999 or email crn@cbaa.org.au.

Not a CRN subscriber, but want to find out more about getting content like this for your station? Read more here.

---------

Pictured: the cast of the original 'Hairspray' production

Facebook comments

Related

Article

With a legacy that continues to inspire generations of musicians, it's difficult to dispute that music of the 1960s marked a pinnacle of the pop music era. Living in the 60s taps into this, rounding up songs that charted throughout the decade, some ever-popular, others at risk of being forgotten.

Article

George Gershwin was one of the most significant American composers of the 20th century. From Canberra's ArtSound FM, and available for local syndication through the Community Radio Network, comes this 26-part series celebrating his life and music.

Article

How often do we contemplate the rich personal lives behind some of the most popular voices and songwriters across the last 50 years of music? Launched in 2006 on Geelong’s The Pulse, Behind The Music is a new addition to the Community Radio Network that chronicles the people and personalities behind some of our favourite acts traversing rock, blues, pop, theatre, contemporary classical, and much more.