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Exclusive: Read Jennifer Ashley Tepper's THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 4- Spotlight on The Minskoff Theatre

Did You Know: Bette Midler and King Kong made quite a splash at the Minskoff?

Exclusive: Read Jennifer Ashley Tepper's THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 4- Spotlight on The Minskoff Theatre Earlier this month, Dress Circle Publishing released THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 4, the latest in a series by acclaimed historian and producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper. This landmark multi-volume series tells the stories of all of the theaters on Broadway; the new addition includes the beloved houses the Imperial, Jacobs, Studio 54, Minskoff, Friedman, and Golden, as well as the five Broadway theaters that were destroyed in 1982, changing the course of New York City history.

These invaluable books illuminate Broadway through the eyes of the producers, actors, stage hands, writers, musicians, company managers, dressers, designers, directors, ushers, door people and more who bring the theater to life each night.

Can't wait to get your hands on it? While you're waiting for your copy, let BroadwayWorld hold you over with a special sneak peek from a chapter all about the Minskoff Theatre:


The Minskoff Theatre

Did You Know: Bette Midler and King Kong made quite a splash at the Minskoff?

1975: Bette Midler And King Kong

Tony Walton, Director/Scenic Designer/Costume Designer

I did the scenic and costume design for Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue. We were the fifth show to play a real engagement at the Minskoff.

Our first out-of-town performances for Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue went very well, so our producer-who was also Bette's manager-decided that our first preview at the Minskoff could also be our opening night. We had no time in the space, and no "dry tech." We just loaded in and opened! Because of that, we didn't know until the opening night performance was happening that all of the air conditioning for the whole theater, not just for the backstage, was coming from the back wall of the stage. So backdrops would be blown forward by the force of the air conditioners! To some degree, we solved that problem by having the backdrops raised off the floor a little bit and allowing space in the wings beside them.

Bette Midler had said to the creative team that she didn't want to feature any of the songs from her recordings unless someone came up with an idea that was irresistible to her. I had one of those four-o'clock-in-the-morning-ideas and I called her-much too early-and blurted out: "What if you were getting ready for bed in a window of some tacky Broadway hotel and singing a love song, like 'A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes' while getting undressed-and once you begin to slip off your teddy, you could pull down the window shade, which would simultaneously activate the whole hotel drop to descend, behind which the Chrysler Building, in exaggerated art deco, is revealed, with a ten-ton, purple King Kong on top?" She went, "Oh, God." I said, "You could wake up in its hand and sing to it!" "(The) Moon of Manakoora" lullaby was a song everyone wanted to hear her sing at the time, and it was perfect for that moment.

On opening night-which was, as I mentioned, also our first tech in the Minskoff-we got to this sequence, and the backdrop was descending and throbbing away from the gusts blowing from the air conditioners, and it blew forward right over the stage, over the orchestra pit, and into the audience.

The stagehands came out and desperately tried to pull it back, as it was radically interfering with the arrival of King Kong at the top of the Chrysler Building, and preventing his giant hand-in which Bette Midler appeared to be sleeping-from swinging to the forestage. The stagehands somehow pulled the drop back enough so that we could ultimately see Bette opening her eyes and standing up in the gorilla's hand as the audience started cheering and cheering. She said, "Oh my. That was extraordinary. My whole life flashed before my eyes. Actually, it was very quick, it was just the good bits." Then she looked up at King Kong and sang out: "Hello, Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein," which she would alternate throughout the run with surprise changes of name, like "Bella Abzug, Bella Abzug"-something different every night.

John Guillermin, the British film director, happened to be in the audience, and the reaction to the giant ape sequence was so extreme that he decided to remake King Kong! So we were somewhat blamed for that movie.

The Minskoff was spanking new at the time and when Bette first entered, and she was singing with her beautiful backup Harlettes, she went bopping over to Jerry Minskoff in the front row of the audience and said, "It's Jerry! Jerry Minskoff, everybody! Thanks so much for the use of the hall, Jerry. It has all the charm and tradition of a Ramada Inn." The audience went wild, and everyone around him screamed with laughter, so he did too. God knows what he actually thought.

Exclusive: Read Jennifer Ashley Tepper's THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 4- Spotlight on The Minskoff Theatre

Did You Know: Alan Jay Lerner always wore one glove?

1983: It Never Would've Worked

Glen Kelly, Musical Supervisor/Writer/Arranger

My second Broadway job was on Dance a Little Closer, which played the Minskoff. I got that job because of Billy Wilson, who had choreographed Little Prince and was now choreographing this new Alan Jay Lerner musical. I became friends with Billy and his boyfriend Chip Garnett, who both died of AIDS. Billy brought me onto the Dance a Little Closer team to create dance arrangements, and the show was another catastrophe.

Alan Jay Lerner always wore one glove. He was so nervous all of the time that he would tear his hands apart, so he took to wearing one glove to keep that from happening. At the beginning of Dance a Little Closer rehearsals, he wasn't wearing a glove and everyone whispered to each other, "That's a really good sign. He's feeling good about the show." Then the glove came out when we were in trouble.

Lerner didn't do bad work on the show, but he had too much on his plate and was so freaked out by everything. He wrote the book and lyrics, he directed the show, and he was married to Liz Robertson, who was the star. He was in over his head. He always felt like other people were ruining his shows and that if only he had control, they would be great. But even though he was the director, he wasn't in control.

After the first preview, Lerner gathered everyone for notes and I was so excited. I thought: This is when I'm going to see how it works-he's going to say "Let's put this song here and do these things and the show will be fixed." I was thrilled. Then the notes began and it was things like, "On page 95, put this word at the end of this sentence." That's when I realized the show would not be a success. It wasn't working, and he was only instituting these very small changes.

Just before Dance a Little Closer opened, Lerner freaked out and said to cut every change he'd made since the beginning, and return to the exact show from the first preview. He just couldn't see the big picture. The show closed on opening night; my first two Broadway shows had a combined run of one performance.

At one point, I was in the Minskoff lobby during intermission of a preview of Dance a Little Closer and I heard one lady say to another, "This is even worse than Little Prince and the Aviator!" That was literally my only other show! I felt a little sad. I think I did an okay job on the dance arrangements, but what I remember mostly about the show is feeling scared a lot.

Dance a Little Closer was based on Idiot's Delight, a 1936 play by Robert E. Sherwood. It was about a group of disparate people from different countries stranded at a hotel in the Italian Alps together, just as a world war is breaking out. Alan's adaptation of it felt more pre-apocalypse than pre-world war.

The show had a big scene at a gay wedding. That was one oddly pressing thing, even though the show itself was terrible. Brent Barrett and Jeff Keller played two gay men getting married. The gay wedding took place on an ice-skating rink, so at the old Minskoff rehearsal studio we had a plastic floor that the actors could practice skating on. For three hours a day, Brent and Jeff would rehearse singing "Why Can't the World Go and Leave Us Alone", a pretty melody with a cumbersome lyric, while slowly pseudo-skating around on this fake rink.

Did You Know: Dance of the Vampires' makeup was largely custom-made?

2002: Custom-Made Vampire Makeup

Angelina Avallone, Makeup Designer

For Dance of the Vampires, I was asked to interview for the makeup designer job, so I read the script, which I thought was interesting and wild. The cast attached was amazing: Michael Crawford, Mandy Gonzalez, René Auberjonois. Getting that big job so early in my career felt like a fairy tale. I love a vampire story-who doesn't? And here we had sexy vampires and dancing vampires and neon vampires. The whole thing was epic, fun, and over the top-a huge makeup show. I was thrilled to have the challenge to create such a big new musical. I loved how hard of a job it was and how much creativity was required. We had prosthetics, and tons of makeup changes, and custom makeup, and blood...

Not often do you have the opportunity to mix your own makeup for a show, but on Dance of the Vampires, we got to make everything customized with Ben Nye. The entire ensemble went from peasant to vampire and back again, so everyone was painted in a very specific style. We shaded muscles and had tones with highlights. The makeup was so specific that it was decided we would really get to craft it all from scratch. We used swatches and samples to have everything custom-made, even the glitter. Everything was premixed and pre-made and put in little containers for specific scenes, in baskets placed strategically all over the backstage area. And then every makeup change was timed out and choreographed to make sure it could go perfectly at every performance.

At one point there was a hallucinatory dream sequence under blacklights. We had to come up with a whole pallet of mutant makeup, and paint each actor with a layer of UV paint. And there was a whole process with fangs. The actors had to take their fangs off, sing as Transylvanian peasants, run to the other side of the stage, put their fangs back on, and get back onstage. So, someone backstage always had to be in charge of collecting fangs in different spots. At one point I was nicknamed "the dentures lady"! On opening night, I got so many fangs as gifts.

I had two makeup artists on the Dance of the Vampires staff, plus myself. We divided the show in three and each had our own track. It was a very complicated show; you couldn't miss a cue or be in a slightly wrong spot or the whole show would be thrown off. If you were on the wrong side, a piece of scenery would block you in and then there would be no way for you to facilitate your next five makeup changes. Everybody had to be really on.

Exclusive: Read Jennifer Ashley Tepper's THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 4- Spotlight on The Minskoff Theatre


To pre-order THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, visit www.dresscirclepublishing.com.

Exclusive: Read Jennifer Ashley Tepper's THE UNTOLD STORIES OF BROADWAY, VOLUME 4- Spotlight on The Minskoff Theatre Jennifer Ashley Tepper is producer of the musicals Be More Chill, Broadway Bounty Hunter, and Love in Hate Nation, recent projects that are part of a decade-long collaboration with the group known as Joe Iconis & Family. From producing small concerts in basements to producing a show on Broadway, Tepper has cultivated the theatrical collective which The New York Times called "the future of musical theatre." She is also the Creative and Programming Director at Feinstein's/54 Below, where she has curated or produced over 3,000 shows, including musicals in concert, original solo acts, theatrical reunions, songwriter celebrations, and more. Tepper's leadership at the venue has gained praise from publications including The New York Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Playbill, Newsday, New York Post, and more.

On Broadway, Tepper has worked on [title of show], The Performers, Godspell, Macbeth, and The Parisian Woman, and off-Broadway Smokey Joe's Café and Boys' Life. Tepper is the conceiver and director of The Jonathan Larson Project which premiered in fall 2018 and received an original cast recording from Ghostlight Records. She is historian consultant on the upcoming tick, tick... BOOM! movie and co-creator of the Bistro Award-winning concert series, "If It Only Even Runs A Minute," now in its 11th year. Tepper recently received a 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award. She was named one of the 10 professionals on Backstage's first annual "Broadway Future Power List," which stated: "Proving herself both a zeitgeist predictor and theatrical historian with her eclectic programming, Tepper is leading the conversation on contemporary musical theatre."

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Jennifer Ashley Tepper is producer of the musicals Be More Chill, Broadway Bounty Hunter, and Love In Hate Nation. She is ... (read more about this author)


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