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BroadwayWorld Book Club Week Two Discussion Prompts: The Winter Garden Theatre

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Below are the discussion questions/prompts for the second chapter of The Untold Stories of Broadway: The Winter Garden Theatre! The author of The Untold Stories of Broadway, Jennifer Ashley Tepper, will be hosting a Facebook Live Q & A at 12pm ET today! Please post any questions here that you would like her to answer!

Discussion questions:

·       Which show that played at the Winter Garden would you most like to have seen?

·       There are many moments in this chapter where people discuss being able to see what was going on behind the scenes of a show while in the audience, i.e. catching sight of a quick change being made in the wings, or spotting  Peter Pan’s wire for the flying mechanism. Do you have a memory of when you first saw the “inner-workings” of a Broadway show?

·       If you’ve seen a show at the Winter Garden, which set of a show is your favorite? In general, what set of a Broadway show is most memorable to you?

·       Have you ever seen Cats? What were your first thoughts about the show when you saw it?

·       Harry Groener shared the story of when the staircase malfunctioned in Cats. Have you ever witnessed a moment when something did not go as planned on stage?

·       What is your favorite fun fact that you learned in this chapter?

·       Lynn Ahrens shared that she felt that theatre is all about telling stories, healing a heart, and putting something positive into the world. What does theatre mean to you?

Anton Spivack

The first show I saw at the Winter Garden was Cats. I was very young at the time, and didn't know what was going on. My favorite Winter Garden show is Beetlejuice.

I would most like to have seen Mame. I did a Jerry Herman tribute when I was younger, playing the young Patrick Dennis. I would also like to have seen Plain and Fancy, maybe that could go into If It Only Ever Runs a Minute. My third choice would be Pacific Overtures.

Did you see the 1975 Tonys? They were held at the Winter Garden and throughout the night they had performances from musicals that played the Winter Garden.

As for unplanned moments, I once attended a production of Spelling Bee where during "I Speak Six Languages" Marcy knocks over a table. During the epilogue she adds that she "developed an aversion to tables."

Updated On: 4/6/20 at 11:39 AM

I love the Winter Garden for several reasons. Even though I've only seen one show there, it was the first place I saw (and passed) as soon as I got off the subway to go to work, which was in the same office building as the Capezio store and Ellen's Stardust Diner. 

I think the Winter Garden has housed so many amazing shows through the years, that I truly would've liked to have seen so many that passed there, including Funny Girl  (with Barbra Streisand, obviously), West Side StoryCats (mainly just to see the renovations to the theater- especially the hole in the ceiling!), the Once on This Island benefit concert, and Mamma Mia!.

I'm not sure if I remember witnessing the "inner workings" of a Broadway show, but I do remember seeing Newsies for the first time at the Nederlander with the original Broadway cast. My sister and I almost walked through one of the wings! When we saw the show, a huge storm was passing through the city. At the end of the show, my mom texted telling us that we needed to leave because it was so bad out and they were waiting in a cab for us outside the theater (bows were about to happen, so we technically only missed those). We were seated in the mezzanine and basically running down the stairs in the dark when my sister opened one of the curtains that led to one of the wings backstage! Thankfully, one of the ushers stopped us and told us the exit was the other way. We almost made our Broadway debuts during the bows of Newsies!

Although School of Rock was the only show I've seen at the Winter Garden, because of my great seats (we were front row center, thanks to the lottery!), I was able to really see every detail of the set up close, which was really cool. I thought the way the Battle of the Bands scene at the end of the show was awesome. I truly felt like I was at a rock concert, especially when Justin Collette (who played Dewey Finn at the time) high-fived me! When I think of a memorable set of a show I've seen, I automatically think of two of my favorites, Wicked and Newsies, because those sets are such an integral part to the story. I've seen Wicked both on Broadway and on tour, and no matter what, the dragon above the stage immediately makes me feel like I'm in Oz. With Newsies, I just think the set is so cool with the boxes. It looks like a jungle gym (and a great workout!)! I've seen the show several times, and I always get emotional for some reason when the set moves forward during the Once and For All scene. I love moments that connect with you in musical theatre. 

I've never seen Cats, mostly because I was scared of the show as a child after seeing the trailer for the filmed on stage version! However, I would've loved to have toured the Winter Garden while the show was there. I loved hearing in the book how the theater was transformed, including the painted black walls/ceiling, the exterior with no promotional images, and especially learing about the hole in the ceiling! I love hearing when a theater is renovated to make the ambiance of the show more realistic. 

I don't believe I've ever seen anything not go as planned on stage, but the last show I saw on Broadway, Dear Evan Hansen, did have a casting change in the second act. Jordan Fisher, who played Evan in the first act, was replaced by his understudy, Zachary Noah Piser. The stage manager made the announcement right before the second act was about to begin. I had heard this happen before at other shows, but in my many years of seeing shows on Broadway, for me, this was a first! Both Jordan and Zachary gave amazing performances, and I actually thought it was cool to see two different actors play the same role in one performance! Broadway can have some interesting surprises at times. 

There were two fun facts that really stood out to me in this chapter. The first being Hawaii Kai. It sounded like it was a fun restaraunt to hang out at before or after a show at the Winter Garden! What really surprised me was that so many of the sounds from the restaraunt could be heard backstage at the theater. I guess there were no soundproof walls at the time!
I also thought it was incredible how both Fanny Brice and Gypsy Rose Lee had starred on the Winter Garden stage, and years later they would be portrayed on that exact same stage, as well. I think they would've felt honored and proud to have known that their legacies lived on! As a huge Barbra Streisand fan, I also really enjoyed learning that at the end of her last performance in Funny Girl, she sang "My Man," the same last song that Fanny herself sang on the Winter Garden stage. I wish there was some sort of recording of that historic moment. 

I loved hearing Lynn, Stephen Flaherty, and Michael Arden's stories about the Once on This Island benefit concert at the Winter Garden. Reading their stories brought me back to the first Broadway show I ever worked on, which actually happened to be the revival of Once on This Island, directed by Michael Arden himself! I was an intern at the time, but seeing the show and attending the Opening Night made me feel like I truly belonged in this community. Theatre has a way of connecting everyone, no matter where you are in life. It's gotten me through sad and happy times, even if I just listen to a cast recording. I've met some of my closest friends working in theatre and have learned about myself and my career working in theatre, and I wouldn't trade any of it. I have theatre to thank for making me the person I am today!


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