A Reimagined Ragtime Comes to The 5th

By KWAPI VENGESAYI, Community Engagement Specialist

On December 8, 1996, Ragtime, a musical based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, had its world premiere at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Fourteen months later, it would make its Broadway debut. Staged in the newly opened Ford Center for the Performing Arts, January 18, 1998 marked the beginning of what would be a two year run: 27 previews, 834 performances, 13 Tony Award nominations and 4 wins, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Score.

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Project Reprise: Searching for New Intersections Between Musical Theater and Dementia

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach and JEN KULIK, Project Reprise Artist Project Manager

UW students after their recent performance of an original music revue created for people with dementia.

How can musical theater play a role in enhancing the quality of life for people with dementia?

This past season, The 5th Avenue Theatre partnered with the University of Washington’s Musical Theater Program and Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine to answer this question. This joint effort came to be known as “Project Reprise” and culminated in a unique opportunity for UW undergraduate students.

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The 5th and the National Endowment for the Arts

Located in Seattle, The 5th Avenue Theatre is one of the nation’s leading musical theater companies with a deep commitment to creating Broadway-caliber productions and developing the nation’s new musical theater. Since 2011, The 5th has premiered 17 new musicals, nine of which have gone on to Broadway including Best Musical Tony Award-winners Hairspray and Memphis. Creating live theater that serves our community is expensive, and like most theaters in the country, cannot be funded through ticket sales alone. We are proud to say that the NEA has been with us, supporting us along the way. Their financial support has been invaluable, allowing us to engage and entertain an audience of over 300,000 each year. Over 11 years, the NEA has provided us with 11 unique grants totaling $435,000 that support our projects. Some of these include our 2011 commission, Rosie the Riveter, which traveled to elementary and middle schools across Washington; our 2016 “revisal” of Paint Your Wagon that featured a brand new book; and our 2017 reimagining of The Secret Garden, currently poised for a Broadway revival.

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Fifteen Years, Friendly Giants and Footloose: A Recap of the 2017 5th Avenue Awards

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach

On June 12, The 5th was thrilled to host the 15th annual 5th Avenue Awards: Honoring High School Musical Theater.

The evening was the culmination of months of dedication and passion. Beginning October of last year, a team of evaluators traveled thousands of miles to see productions at schools all over Washington—a record 122 productions performed by 100 schools—as near as Capitol Hill and as far away as Blaine, Vancouver, Spokane and Sequim. From large urban areas, to small rural communities the mission has always been the same: to recognize the work, talent and commitment that students, faculty and parents devote to their school’s musical theater productions. Through these efforts, we hope to emphasize how high school theater programs are invaluable to our communities.

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The 2017 5th Avenue Award Recipients Are…

Congratulations to all! This year, our evaluators saw 122 productions, each and every one of which was worthy of our applause.

Here are the nominees and recipients for the 2017 5th Avenue Awards. Recipients are bolded in each category.

Continue reading “The 2017 5th Avenue Award Recipients Are…”

The 5th Avenue Awards: High School Musical Reunion

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach

Since its launch in 2003, The 5th Ave Awards program has sought to recognize and celebrate the amazing work that is being done across the state in the world of high school musical theater. Each season, dozens of evaluators see hundreds of performances in every corner of Washington and in June, thousands of students come together for the culminating 5th Ave Awards ceremony.

Over the years, countless students have taken part in this educational program—and as a high school reunion (Romy and Michele’s!) is taking place on The 5th Ave mainstage, we’re taking the opportunity to also throw a 5th Ave Awards Reunion.

Recently, a handful of 5th Ave Awards alumni came together to share memories, updates, and advice for the Class of 2017.

MACARONI AND CHEESE, I DID IT!

On the night of the awards, many students are invited to receive recognition, but also to perform for their peers. Many memorable moments are made when they step onto the stage for the Awards ceremony the first time.

Justin recalls being a bit anxious: “Oh man, I remember being in the stairwell backstage with the other Lead Actor nominees waiting to perform our medley…And I was a nervous wreck. A couple of the nominees had been nominated before and performed before, but I had never performed on that stage in front of that many people. I just remember trying to absorb all of that confident energy and trying not to sweat off my fake mustache.”

“I remember saying to the girl next to me, ‘I’m gonna pee my pants!’” remembers Kirsten. “I didn’t pee my pants. Instead I walked out there, stood amongst my peers and sang my heart out to a full house of students and parents and teachers. I’d never felt anything like that before.”

Sarah remembers the moment she received her award. “When I got up there the only thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Macaroni and cheese, I did it!’  I was so shocked when I got up there—it was the first time I really thought I could do theater as a career.”

“I will never forget stepping onto The 5th Avenue stage for rehearsal that day,” says Lauren.  “It was the first of what would become many, many times. Since then, my new favorite moment comes every year when I get to stand backstage and listen to the roar of thousands of high school students supporting each other. The theater is never more alive than on the night of the Awards.”

LASTING EFFECTS

For many alumni, it is hard to believe that one night can have such a lasting impact on their lives.

“I was pretty dead set on pursuing a career in Opera—Classical Baritone,” says Jordan. “But the experience at these Awards is what started me down the path to choosing musical theater—which is one of the better decisions I have made in my short life. My experience being on that stage drove me to work until I could get back on it as a professional…It absolutely affected who I am today!”

It fueled my passion to celebrate weirdos,” says Justin with a laugh. “Of the Lead Actor nominees that year, I was definitely one of the weirdest.  But the support of the crowd—full of teachers and peers—made me feel welcome and encouraged me to lean into the weirdness. I think it’s safe to say that I haven’t stopped since.”

Brandon adds: “The 5th Ave Awards was truly my ‘in’ to The 5th Avenue Theatre where I would later intern during college, assistant direct, become the Executive Assistant to David Armstrong, then move up to Casting Director and Artistic Projects Manager… And then eventually—I’ve directed three shows on the mainstage. I participated in The Awards and less than 10 years later I was directing on the mainstage. I feel pretty lucky about that.”

“After The Awards I knew that a career in the arts was what I wanted to pursue,” says Kirsten. “After graduating from PLU, I moved to Seattle and immediately auditioned for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! I went on to play Ado Annie in that production, performed with their Adventure Musical Theater program, interned, worked in casting, helped with many education programs, participated in the New Works department in both administrative and performance roles and continued to perform in productions over the course of six years. For me, I know it started with The Awards, and feeling like this was a community to which I belonged and could grow from.”

WE NEED YOU

Allison is one of a handful of 5th Ave Awards alumni who are now 5th Ave Awards teachers with students of their own. She, like many of the alumni present, are constantly reminded of the value of musical theater in one’s life.

“Musical theater allows us to explore our own identities and step into the shoes of others. It’s a place where anyone can show up and hear ‘we need you.’ It’s a place where we can tell important stories as an ensemble and have conversations with people we might not have otherwise.”

Jared agrees: “To absorb someone else’s story, to see someone else’s craftsmanship, to ‘escape’ one’s life for a minute or two… It helps with the pain and sorrow of this world and teaches us that there are others aside from ourselves.”

Jordan appreciates how musical theater bridges generations: “It can touch on issues and it can reach audiences of all ages.  Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of me watching some musical with my grandmother. And I find that it brings a feeling of nostalgia to a lot of people I know.”

“Musical theater also teaches the art of collaboration,” Lauren adds.  “Whether students remain in musical theater or not, they have gained the insight that an incredible product takes the efforts of all types of individuals – each contributing their own talents and expertise.”

YOU ARE NOT WEIRD

At one point, the group begins to imagine what they would say if they could go back in time and offer advice to their former high school selves.

“Keep embracing who you are and what you love,” Brandon declares.  “And find the people that love it as much as you do.”

Kirsten adds, “You are not weird. You are gifted. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that the joy you find in theater is silly. It is hard, absolutely. It is a hustle. But if you love it, if it brings you joy, do it. Work hard, never stop learning, never stop teaching.”

“Trust your work and never stray from what you find to be meaningful in this business,” says Jared.

“I think I would tell myself to have lots of fun, keep asking questions, and continue to explore as many sides of theater as possible,” says Allison.  “Going backstage at The 5th during the Awards was such a cool eye-opener…In college, I tried stage managing, directing, wardrobe, stage crew, and discovered applied theater—using theater for education, social justice, reminiscence work…My world opened up and theater became something so much bigger than I’d ever imagined.”


Heartfelt thanks to our title sponsor WELLS FARGO and to THE BOEING COMPANY and ALASKA AIRLINES for their additional support of this program.

Click here to learn more about The 5th Ave Awards and for a list of this year’s nominees.

An Evolving Friendship: An Interview with Robin Schiff and Barry Kemp

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Education and Outreach

“The Blonde Leading the Blonde.”

This was the original tagline of the 1997 blockbuster film on which the musical Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is based. Since its premiere 20 years ago, countless fans and audience members (regardless of generation, gender or hair color) have inevitably asked themselves which of the two iconic blondes they identify with more.

Are you a Romy or are you a Michele?

When this question is posed to the bookwriter of the film and the musical, Robin Schiff, her immediate answer isn’t surprising.

“I’m both!” Schiff exclaims with a laugh. It is delightfully surprising when she begins to introduce a Freudian analysis of her two well-known characters. “They’re such naked representations of…” Schiff pauses momentarily. “Now, is it ego… or id?”

Robin Schiff with Barry Kemp

Barry Kemp, who produced the film and is a producer on the musical, can’t help but interrupt his friend and longtime colleague.

“Robin just gave you a great example of why she’s both,” he says. “Romy and Michele would say something exactly like that. Which is it, ego or id? They would use the terms, but they wouldn’t know which one was which.”

Schiff adds, “Romy and Michele like to sit indoors on a sunny day and watch a movie with a best friend. I like to do that. But they are so matter of fact about their thoughts and their desires—they’re almost like kids in that regard—they’re guileless. That is id, actually.”

Romy and Michele represents just one bullet point on an astounding list of Hollywood writing, producing and directing credits accumulated by Schiff and Kemp over the years. Yet the characters also represent a phenomenon that continues to amaze both their creator and their early proponent, especially when reflecting upon the origin of the two friends.

“They were like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Ladies Room,” Schiff explains. Her aptly titled play—which takes place in the ladies room of a Mexican restaurant called the Green Enchilada—first introduced the two loveable misfits in 1988.

“They were recognizable,” Schiff continues. “Their life started because I could hear them. And it’s the only experience that I’ve had of that—where I just heard these two characters talking in my imagination and decided to put them in different situations. And from their first entrance, they got laughter and applause—more or less as typical girls who you might encounter at a club…But they’ve evolved so much since then.”

Producer Barry Kemp, Bookwriter Robin Schiff and Composer and Lyricist Gwendolyn Sanford

Kemp adds, “One of the jokes in the original piece, and how [Robin] originally conceived of the two characters in [Ladies Room]—was that they were almost the same person. Each thought that the other one was the funniest person. They always laughed at each other—when no one else around them was laughing—and the two ladies were almost a single character. When [Robin] did the movie, she started finding what made them different. When we got to the musical—those differences became clearer—and more emotional. Not only are they different, they each have an Achilles heel that [Robin] has discovered. Now, they both have a vulnerability that they did not have in either the play or the movie.”

“We really looked to the essence of who Romy was,” explains Schiff. “She is a very insecure person who wanted to fit in. And it became clear that this wasn’t important to Michele. Michele wants to go to the reunion for fun. She goes along with all this other stuff because Romy says that it’s important.”

“For Michele it sounds like a fun time, and for Romy it’s a wake-up call,” adds Kemp.

Schiff continues, “In the movie they’re just kind of shocked that they hadn’t accomplished anything in ten years. It’s momentary. There isn’t any real panic bubbling up. But now in the musical, we get to explore this more. There’s a song called ‘Ten Years’ where we are really able to dig into Romy’s deeper fears. As a bookwriter, I find that a musical pushes you to ask yourself, ‘What’s really going on in this moment? What is she really feeling—and does that mean we’ll have a song or just a few lines of a scene?’ And we felt that that moment especially was a potential song with a lot of depth and a reason for her to sing her inner thoughts.”

With Romy and Michele now in their third iteration, both Schiff and Kemp are thrilled by the opportunity to continue discovering more of their story.

“I’m beside myself with excitement,” says Schiff. “I just think it’s going to be so much fun to go in and have time to dig in deeper and I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with the audience.”

When asked to explain Romy and Michele’s continuing appeal, Kemp offers this thought: “Everybody has an innate longing to have a best friend. Sometimes that best friend is a platonic friend and sometimes that best friend is a lover—sometimes male, sometimes female—but the fact is it doesn’t really matter. Every person wants to have somebody who gets them on a level that is not judgmental, someone who accepts flaws as well as attributes… And who see attributes that others do not. That’s what is at the core of this story.”

Schiff adds, “I think the other part of it is… they’re different. They’re weird. They’re the weird people at school and I think that’s one of the reasons for their longevity. So many of us have felt like the other. And so I think we relate to Romy and Michele. And we’d like to see them triumph.”

Merchandise for Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

We are eager to present the world premiere of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion! In preparation, we have assembled an exciting collection of merchandise, available for purchase in our lobby when you attend a performance of the show! Scroll through the gallery below to see the options.

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Click here to find out more about Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.

Behind the Curtain: In Rehearsal with Romy and Michele

We are so excited to be presenting our eighteenth new musical in a couple short weeks! Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is based on the cult film of the same name, but puts a whole new spin on it: a musical! This show will remind musical theater fans of Legally Blonde with its pop-rock new songs and its important messages of acceptance and friendship.

Scroll through the gallery to see behind-the-scenes photos from a rehearsal of Romy and Michele!

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Don’t miss this world premiere musical, running June 8 to July 2 at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Find out more and purchase tickets here.

Special thanks to Jeff Carpenter Photography for these awesome rehearsal shots.