Jeff Lunden

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.

Lunden contributed several segments to the Peabody Award-winning series The NPR 100, and was producer of the NPR Music series Discoveries at Walt Disney Concert Hall, hosted by Renee Montagne. He has produced more than a dozen documentaries on musical theater and Tin Pan Alley for NPR — most recently A Place for Us: Fifty Years of West Side Story.

Other documentaries have profiled George and Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Harold Arlen and Jule Styne. Lunden has won several awards, including the Gold Medal from the New York Festival International Radio Broadcasting Awards and a CPB Award.

Lunden is also a theater composer. He wrote the score for the musical adaptation of Arthur Kopit's Wings (book and lyrics by Arthur Perlman), which won the 1994 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. Other works include Another Midsummer Night, Once on a Summer's Day and adaptations of The Little Prince and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for Theatreworks/USA.

Lunden is currently working with Perlman on an adaptation of Swift as Desire, a novel of magic realism from Like Water for Chocolate author Laura Esquivel. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

You might not know Marni Nixon's name, but you've probably heard her. The singer dubbed the voices for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady — three of Hollywood's biggest movie musicals.

Nixon died Sunday at 86 from complications from breast cancer.

One of the first people you meet when you walk through the door of the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City is Elizabeth Reed. She's part of a battalion of part-time workers who meet, greet and seat audience members at Broadway's 40 theaters.

"What we really try and do is enhance the patron's experience, from the moment that they walk in the door, to the end of that performance," Reed says.

Playwright Dominique Morisseau is kind of the unofficial poet laureate of Detroit. She has written three plays about her hometown and her latest, Skeleton Crew, looks at four African-American automobile workers struggling with the economic downturn in 2008. The play is currently running off-Broadway, where it's gotten rave reviews.

April 23 is a big day in England: It's St. George's Day, a national holiday named for the country's patron saint, and it's also the day William Shakespeare is said to have been born and died. This April 23 marks the 400th anniversary of his death.

You often don't think of opera at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. Tonight that changes: Charlie Parker's Yardbird gets its New York premiere there. It's an opera about the jazz saxophonist on the very stage where Parker played in his lifetime.

The opera's Swiss-born composer Daniel Schnyder is a jazz saxophone player himself, who is also classically trained. He wants to combine his two favorite kinds of music.

Danai Gurira often calls herself a "Zimerican." The actress and playwright — who you may know best as Michonne, the samurai sword-wielding zombie slayer on The Walking Dead -- was born in Iowa, to Zimbabwean parents, and the family moved back to Harare when she was just five. She returned to the U.S. for college and has stayed ever since.

"I was always in a hodgepodge of culture — there's no other identity I know, really," she says.

On the surface, the setting for the new Broadway play The Humans couldn't be more ordinary: A young woman and her boyfriend have moved into a basement apartment in New York's Chinatown and invited her family for Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember being 14 years old and standing out in the cold at the stage door of Pippin, waiting to get actor Ben Vereen's autograph on my Playbill. More than 40 years later, I still have that program, and I thought about it a lot last weekend as I watched crowds of young people — many in elaborate costumes — geeking out over their shared love of theater.

The Glory of the World is a new play that celebrates author and Catholic monk Thomas Merton — but it isn't really about Merton. "Everybody is far more complicated than that one simple line about being a great mystic, a great Buddhist, a great activist, whatever," says playwright Charles Mee. And that's exactly what Mee's characters discuss.

Every January, as temperatures plummet, New York's Public Theater opens its doors to Under the Radar, a festival that features cutting-edge theater from around the world. Occasionally, these shows have moved onto the radar — like Gatz, an eight-hour adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which eventually had several runs at theaters across the country.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Ten years ago, Griffin Matthews was singing in a church choir when his pastor found out he was gay and kicked him out. Feeling depressed, he booked a ticket to Uganda for mission work. What happened next is the subject of Invisible Thread, a new off-Broadway musical co-written by Matthews and his life partner, Matt Gould.

Matthews, a working New York actor, says he was quickly disillusioned after he arrived in Uganda and found out the man leading his volunteer organization was corrupt.

When most people hear the words "regional theater," they think of stages all across the country, in places like Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. But one of the most successful nonprofit regional theaters is in New York on Broadway. The Roundabout Theatre has five stages and 30,000 subscribers and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season.

Annaleigh Ashford is down to earth. Very down to earth. Sitting in her Broadway dressing room, she talks about all of the people who've inhabited that same space – Denzel Washington, Ian McKellen and, most recently, Larry David, who left a sticker with his name by the toilet.

When the curtain rises on the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Verdi's Otello tonight, opera fans will quickly notice what's not there. For the first time since the opera was first staged at the Met in 1891, a white singer performing the title role will not be wearing makeup to darken his complexion to play the Moor at the center of the tragedy.

The list of its faculty and students is a who's who of 20th-century music: Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, John Adams, Augusta Read Thomas.

By now, you may have heard about the new Broadway musical Hamilton. When it opened off-Broadway in February, it earned almost unanimous raves and awards for blending history and hip-hop. Its sold-out run had A-list celebrities and politicians clamoring for tickets. Thursday night, the story of Alexander Hamilton, and the Founding Fathers and Mothers, opened on Broadway.

About eight years ago, as a grad student, Annie Holt was working in Columbia University's Rare Books and Manuscripts Library when she was assigned to catalogue the work of Harry Lawrence Freeman, a largely forgotten Harlem-based composer from the early 20th century.

"It was fabulous!" she says. "I had the honor of going through all the cardboard boxes that came right from his family's house and unearthing everything, and I, for myself, discovered how amazing his story was and how amazing his music is."

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Broadway has been having a boom. The past year has brought record attendance and the best ticket sales ever. That provided a nice backdrop for the Tony Awards last night. Reporter Jeff Lunden brings us all the big winners.

Broadway is New York's biggest tourist attraction and brought in $1.3 billion in ticket sales last season. But it's also a high-stakes gamble for producers, since only 1 in 4 Broadway shows turns a profit. This month, two of the fall's most highly anticipated musicals, a revival of Side Show and The Last Ship, with songs by Sting, have thrown in the towel — closing, having lost almost their entire investments.

New York is saying goodbye to another historic building. Steinway Hall, the main showroom for Steinway & Sons pianos, will be moving to a new location, leaving its home of almost 90 years on 57th Street near Carnegie Hall. The first floor has been designated a landmark and will be preserved, while the rest of the building will be torn down to build high-rise luxury condominiums.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Peter Brook is truly the grand old man of world theater. He became famous with his productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1960s; wrote the seminal theater text The Empty Space; and started the International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris, where he developed such plays as the nine-hour adaptation of the Sanskrit epic, The Mahabharata.

Now, at the age of 89, Brook has brought his company to Brooklyn with a new play all about the mysteries of the human brain.

Sometimes good things come in small packages. Nonesuch Records, which started as a tiny independent budget classical label in 1964, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with three weeks of concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The label became a force in the recording industry by pioneering electronic music and world music, launching the ragtime revival and becoming a place where contemporary classical composers had a home. Now an industry powerhouse, Nonesuch still operates like an independent record company.

A labor crisis threatening to shut down New York's Metropolitan Opera — the largest opera house in the world — appears to have been averted. Two of the major unions announced a tentative settlement this morning. While agreements with 10 additional unions need to be reached by Tuesday night, this represents a major turning point in a bitter dispute.

At the Metropolitan Opera, drama is usually onstage. But for the past several months, it's been in the newspapers.

Contract deadlines for 15 of the 16 unions at the Met in New York are set to expire at midnight tonight, and negotiations will likely go down to the wire. A lockout shutting down the world's largest opera house seems imminent.

Management wants concessions from the unions to offset dwindling ticket sales. Union employees think they're being asked to pay for unchecked spending.

When an opera company is in the midst of contentious labor negotiations, the results can be dramatic. This week, the war of words between unions and management at New York's Metropolitan Opera, the world's largest opera company, escalated. An Aug. 1 shut down now seems likely.

At the center of the debate is the ballooning Met budget, which stood at $200 million in 2006 but has since climbed to more than $325 million. Met General Manager Peter Gelb asserts that union salaries and benefits are his biggest costs, accounting for two-thirds of the operating budget.

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