There’s something magical about a favorite show-tune heard over the airwaves! Fortunately for any fan of terrific Broadway songs there’s Sirius XM Radio’s “On Broadway”–a station completely devoted to the music from the Great White Way and Show-tunes from all over. Located on Channel 72 on their satellite receiver, a regular feature is an insightful program titled “On The Aisle”, hosted by Bill Rudman.
Produced by a remarkable organization known as “The Musical theater Project” located in Cleveland Ohio, each hour-long episode is dedicated to a specific theme–often by year–exploring the best musicals have to offer. “We believe musical theater expresses who and what we Americans can be at our best,” proclaims Bill; “From the beginning, musical theater was determined to be a pro-joy, pro-love force in our country. It’s our very own art form, and audiences respond to the idealism, hope and optimism that are at the heart of great musicals and the artists who create and perform them.“
Gifted with a smooth, mellifluous voice, Rudman, who also produces each and every installment, serves as the radiocast’s narrator, setting up and guiding listeners through all of the songs and selections chosen each week. Along with his duties in front of the microphone, Bill also serves as Artistic Director, continuing to create concerts, cabarets and stage presentations all celebrating the performing arts. In 1983 he joined Author Ken Bloom in co-founding Harbinger Records, a label that is similarly dedicated to albums focusing on the American Musical theater and the Great American Songbook. In 2000, he became the first recipient of the “Robert Bergman Award” for his work in arts education. Happily too, as any regular listener to “On The Aisle” will attest, he is a well-spring of information about Broadway and its related subjects.
“Bill’s knowledge and passion for the American musical theater canon runs so deep, and he knew there was potential to bring people of all ages and backgrounds closer to the art,” TMTP Executive Director, Heather Meeker attests. The Radio Personality’s love for the musical theater hearkens back to when he was just five years old and was allowed to stay up to see the iconic Televised version of “Peter Pan” starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. “I was hooked,” he smiles; “ when the show ended I somehow knew I had been on an emotional journey that only musical theater can provide.” little wonder then, that he reports they’ve used this idea (which they call “A Peter Pan “ story”,) to invite listeners to send in their stories of how they were introduced to the theater.
In Heather’s case, she too, recalls her initial exposure to this most unique of art forms when she was six and her parents introduced her to the cast albums of “Grease” and “A Chorus Line”. “I’m not sure they fully understood what they were exposing their 6-year-old to,” she laughs, “but I connected with both shows and I consider them the beginning of my musical theater education.”Before “On The Aisle” ever found its way into the stratosphere, it had already gained a following as “Footlight Parade”–the name it still retains when it’s heard on numerous ‘terrestrial’ radio stations across the country. Having just celebrated its thirty year anniversary, “Footlight Parade” itself was originally called “Broadway Melody”, beginning in 1983 when Rudman approached Cleveland’s WCLV 104.9 FM President, Robert Conrad about creating a theme-based weekly show celebrating the finest numbers culled from Broadway and films. His instincts paid off and “Broadway Melody” quickly became a staple on the city’s airwaves. “After changing its name, in short order the show was nationally syndicated and is presently heard on 100 public stations,” Meeker details; “Now as ‘On the Aisle’ too, it’s been airing for six years on Sirius XM Satellite Radio!” Bill likewise divulges that while the two versions are comparable, “Footlight“ is slightly longer with the inclusion of four additional minutes. Another difference lies in the way “On The Aisle” is delivered to Sirius XM approximately 2 ½ months before airing.
Shortly after syndication, in 2000, Rudman founded “The Musical Theater Project” with the goals of expanding the show’s success into education and public service. Currently, the organization produces 52 editions of their weekly offering every year, to which, Heather exclaims, “That’s a lot of programming! So we can’t talk radio without giving a huge shout-out to our engineer, Mark Logies who brings his own skill, taste and musicianship to the final product.” Again, her associate fully concurs, noting how he and Logies work, together and separately, to make each individual episode the very best it can be.
“I come into a recording session with a script, song list and the CDs and LPs; most songs come from CDs, but many are from LPs and need to be “cleaned up” in digital format,” he explains; “Mark records my commentary and puts the music tracks into the computer, then we work to create the ‘flow’ we want.” Yet there’s so much more to TMTP than simple entertainment. As Meeker further clarifies, a good part of the reason for their longevity and success can be attributed to the thorough scope and methodology they bring to every aspect of the work they do. “We explore the American musical—on both stage and screen—as well as the social and cultural history that surrounds it,” she declares; “our approach is entertaining, professional and educational at once, and includes radio broadcasts, concerts, cabarets, school and community outreach programs and CD recordings.” Her colleague couldn’t agree more “Each year, we hear from more listeners, audience members and students who tell us how much our work means to them—and that means a lot to us” Bill emphasizes; “While we know our work brings back memories for many, our aim is to provide new memories, new perspectives–and for all of us to reconnect with why we connect with this form.”
Moreover, Heather proudly points to the academic aspects of the work they’re doing to promote arts education, most notably their concert series titled “The Song Is You”, as well as an in-school artists residency program, “Kids Love Musicals”, which provides children–Kindergarten through third grade–a ’voices on’ chance to use their imaginations and explore characters through songs from such popular vehicles as “Cinderella” and “The Wizard Of Oz”. “Musical theater has a special ability to encourage group social interaction and self-confidence–and our program taps into its strengths to make personal connections,“ she beams.“I love all the pieces and parts of what I do–and what my two colleagues do,” Rudman follows; “We’ve made it add up to something very exciting locally and nationally. Our quest is to expose audiences young and old to the rich legacy of this art form!” “On the Aisle” airs Saturdays from 3PM-4PM (Eastern Time) then again Tuesday evenings from 9-10 PM (Eastern Time) For more information log onto: http://www.siriusxm.com/onbroadway ; “Footlight Parade” can be heard across the country on public radio stations. For a complete listing of the stations it airs on–including the one nearest you, check out: http://jrabold.net/radio/4foo300.shtml or the Public Radio Exchange at: www. prx.org ; For more on The Musical Theater Project, its line-up and events, log onto :http://www.musicaltheaterproject.org .
Photos Courtesy of Heather Meeker at “The Musical Theater Project”; Special Thanks To Bill Rudman, Heather Meeker & Mark Logies For Their Gracious Assistance & Insights In Making The Story Possible.