Five Questions with Ted Chapin

Theodore S. Chapin’s far-reaching role in the Broadway community isn’t easy to wrangle into a few sentences. During working hours, Ted (he’s known by only his first name in theater circles, even to those who have never shaken his hand) is President and Executive Director of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company. Anytime else, he’s a prime motivator behind institutions like the American Theatre Wing, the Tony Awards and New York City Center’s Encores!, a concert series that made it trendy to be seen at a script-in-hand show.

marin_jason_300x232.jpgOn Saturday, June 15, Chapin will moderate American Songbook at NJPAC, which brings together some of the greatest voices emanating from the musical theater stage and Manhattan nightlife. The performance-conversations will be taped in two sessions for broadcast on WNET and NJTV in the Fall and will showcase such artists as Tom Wopat, Maude Maggart and Marin Mazzie & Jason Danieley, pictured at right. (Fans pay a hefty price to catch any one of these vocalists in Gotham; at NJPAC, however, either of the two, triple-concert shows can be seen for $29.)

These names are typical of the company Chapin keeps and he’s happy to share his guests’ insights about “the biz” with NJPAC audiences. When we posed Five Questions, his love of the arts shimmered in each reply.

1. The guest performers of American Songbook at NJPAC represent a range of musical styles: Broadway star Rebecca Luker, jazz greats Sandy Stewart & Bill Charlap and cabaret artist Maude Maggart, for example. What are some of the things you’re curious to find out?

The great songs from the American Songbook respond to different performances. Artists of the caliber we have been able to attract are each one unique, with a unique view of interpretation. We will get to see how these performers find their personal ways into this repertoire. I can’t wait.

2. As President and Executive Director of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company, you’re the gatekeeper of masterworks by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. What does your job entail?

There has never been a job description, so for many years it has been up to me and the people I work for to figure out exactly what the job is! I have looked at the overall task as encouraging the uses of the extraordinary copyrights that we represent, in as many ways as we can conjure up. Over the years that has meant a wide variety of projects, ranging today, for example, from the current, first-time-on-Broadway version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (which began with a casual conversation between me and producer Robyn Goodman – in Israel!) to next December’s live TV broadcast of The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood, which will be the first live TV production of a stage musical since Mary Martin did Peter Pan in the 1950s.

3. Your father, Schuyler Chapin, was a giant in New York's cultural landscape in the last century. In which ways did he influence you and your work?

I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. Growing up in New York with a father who was involved in the arts in several fascinating jobs ΜΆ head of Masterworks at Columbia Records, the first Vice President of Programming for Lincoln Center, General Manager at the Metropolitan Opera, etc. – gave me unbelievable opportunities to see wonderful performances of all kinds. Then when my interest in working in the theater became more focused, he was the first person I would go to with the question: “Could I work on that?” From then on, he was more of an advisor to me than anything – and it is what I miss most with him not around.

4. You’re also known as the author of Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical “Follies.” In addition to Stephen Sondheim and R&H, which songwriters are we likely to find on your iPod?

Funny about that. What you’ll find mostly are various projects that need my input – most recently the extraordinary cast album of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella –  and before that Pipe Dream from City Center. Also, because I am a Tony voter, at the moment you’ll find all the other cast albums from this season, a couple of which are very good. Listening is mostly on the subway, alas. Where is the time to sit back, kick off the shoes, and just listen to good music? I have found time for Audra McDonald’s new CD though … remarkable.

5. If you could travel back in time to attend one shining moment in American musical theater history, what would it be?

Probably the opening night of any of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. That tells you where I have been working for years, but what I mean is that I would love to have for myself the feelings that I read about when people first saw Oklahoma! or South Pacific. I did have those moments the first time I saw Company and A Chorus Line, but to have witnessed the moment that created the job I now have – that would have been thrilling.

(Note: On Monday, June 3, Chapin received the Outstanding Achievement in the Preservation of Musical Theatre award, a new honor presented at the 31st Annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, held at NYU's Skirball Center.)

American Songbook at NJPAC is co-produced with NJTV, New Jersey’s public television network, and benefits The Actors Fund. Performances by the artists, followed by a conversation with Chapin, will be taped before a live audience and will air this Fall on NJTV and WNET. Two sessions will be held on Saturday, June 15 in the Victoria Theater: At noon, featured artists are Tom Wopat, Valerie Simpson and Rebecca Luker. Scheduled for 6pm are Marin Mazzie & Jason Danieley, Sandy Stewart & Bill Charlap and Maude Maggart. This program is made possible through the support of the Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation. Click here for tickets.

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