Lights, Camera -- A Little Bit of Broadway Comes to Parker

Bill FiremanIn 1951, Bill Fireman’s parents took him to see the musical Guys and Dolls when it opened on Broadway. The show was a huge hit, ran for 1,200 performances and received a Pulitzer nomination.

Fireman was hooked.

“I was eight years old… and I absolutely loved it,” he recalled. “From that day on I’ve been crazy about musical theatre.”

Fireman brings that love of musicals to his position as a guest lecturer for a ten-week film and lecture series held at the Parker Home® in Highland Park. “From Broadway to Hollywood: Movies from Broadway Musicals” is sponsored by the Rutgers University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI-RU) and the Parker Center for Healthy Aging. It features Broadway musicals that have successfully made the transition from stage to screen.

The series opened with Kiss Me Kate, which debuted in 1953, and concludes on May 20 with the 1972 historical classic 1776. Other musicals covered along the way include Kismet, Bells are Ringing, Hello Dolly, Sweet Charity, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

This is Fireman’s second year as an OLLI-RU lecturer and his first year lecturing at Parker Home.

“Before I started lecturing, I attended some OLLI-RU classes and felt it was a wonderful program,” Fireman explained. “I love doing the lectures here at Parker,” he noted. “It’s a great group of people who appreciate movie musicals and enjoy discussing the films during the lecture.”

Fireman opens each screening with a brief lecture on the musical, going into the background of the original stage show, the actors, directors, lyricists and theatre reviews. After the film, he leads the participants in a lively Q and A, often sharing anecdotes from his repertoire of musical theatre trivia.

For Parker resident Edith Lehr, Guys and Dolls has been the highlight of the series so far.

“Guys and Dolls appealed to me much more than the others. It really held my attention.” she said. “Composer Frank Loesser was totally in control of that movie. He did a great job.”

Michael Wallach, another Parker resident attending the series, favors The Pajama Game’s rendition of the stage production.
“Pajama Game was the best, so far. It’s an excellent translation of the Broadway performance to the silver screen,” Wallach said. “George Abbott did an excellent job directing the script he co-wrote. The music and lyrics work well as an extension of the dialogue.”

For both Wallach and Fireman, their favorite film of the series will be 1776, a play and movie musical based upon the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

“I’m an American history buff and 1776 combines my love of history with movie musicals,” Fireman said. “It will be fun to discuss the historical accuracy of the show with our Parker audience.”

Wallach favors the lyrics by Sherman Edwards. “There are so many scenes in that show that are incredibly powerful and well-written,” said Wallach. “Especially where they debate the issue of slavery and the Declaration.”

New Brunswick resident Lorraine Levine has been attending OLLI-RU lectures for years. This lecture series is “very entertaining, with a good selection of musicals,” she said. “It’s a very relaxing way to spend your afternoon,” she added. Guys and Dolls is her favorite film to date.

Looking back over the history of Broadway musicals since he began attending as a child, Fireman said he misses the “great shows by composers like Richard Rodgers,” who wrote music for 43 Broadway musicals. But they still live on in his personal DVD collection and in the OLLI-RU lecture series.

Parker Home’s next OLLI-RU series begins on June 3rd. It is a 5-week series of courtroom dramas hosted by Rutgers film lecturer Bruce Tucker. For more information and to register for Parker Home events, visit www.FrancisEParker.com.

Posted on April 28, 2014
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