By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
If music is the language of the soul, then The Musical Theater Project speaks to the heart of Northeast Ohio.
The mission of The Musical Theater Project, founded in 2000, is to foster a deep appreciation of the classic American musical, and the social and cultural history surrounding it, by creating programs that educate as well as entertain people of all ages. The Musical Theater Project performs in a variety of theaters and concert halls throughout Northeast Ohio. It delivers programming to schools and community organizations, and its recordings and radio programs are circulated nationally.
Bill Rudman, founder and artistic director of The Musical Theater Project, said that it grew out of his weekly radio show, “Footlight Parade,” which has aired on WCLV since 1983. “The program had just become nationally syndicated and I felt there was much more that I could do to celebrate this glorious American art form that we call musical theater. And, there was and is! The radio show is heard on Sirius and on 100 public stations around the country. We do a concert and cabaret series called, ‘The Song is You!’ all over town. We have our own Grammy Award-winning record label. And, we have an acclaimed school program called, ‘Kids Love Musicals’,” he noted.
A native of Willoughby and a graduate of Hiram College, Rudman directed the education program for both youngsters and adults at the Great Lakes Theater for many years. “But, ever since I was six years old, my first love and my calling has been musical theater, and I suppose you could say I’m an expert. Forming The Musical Theater Project was a dream come true,” Rudman added.
“Kids Love Musicals,” established in 2007, shows how powerful the combination of dance, music and theater can be in the classroom, according to Heather Meeker, executive director of The Musical Theater project. “We serve 15 schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, as well as schools in the inner ring suburbs and in rural areas like Lake, Wayne and Holmes counties,” she said. The program currently reaches 88 schools with a total of 129 residencies and 9,000 students. Many of Broadway’s finest songwriters created musicals to delight kids and grownups alike. The school program features musicals like, “The Wizard of Oz,” “Cinderella” and “Peter Pan.” “All of our plays are classic American musicals based in literature,” Meeker said. “Ultimately, our biggest priority is engaging everyone in singing, dancing and acting. We treat the classroom as an ensemble. Everyone is in it. We are also connecting the students to talking about the stories and the characters and how they connect to their own lives.”
“We are currently looking into a creative aging program where we work with an older population similar to the way we work with the children in the classroom. Older adults connect so beautifully with the music,” Meeker added.
Visit Nighttown to see “Bill Rudman’s Christmas Cabaret” on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16. The Musical Theater Project concert series continues with a performance at the First Baptist Church of Cleveland on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. and at the Hanna Theatre in Playhouse Square on Jan. 26 at 3 p.m. Visit www.musicaltheaterproject.org for ticket information.
Harbinger Records, a subsidiary of The Musical Theater Project, was founded in 1983 by Ken Bloom and Bill Rudman and specializes in songs of stage, screen and cabaret.
“We consider all of our programs to be of equal importance to the organization in fulfilling our mission of promoting musical theater,” Rudman noted.
For more information, visit musicaltheaterproject.org.