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Read It On Broadway

A new book goes behind the scenes of Disney's Broadway productions

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

From the moment I stepped into Thomas Schumacher's toy filled office and was greeted with his big smile, I clearly understood how he produces the magic in Disney's Broadway musicals. I recently sat down with Shumacher, whose official title is President of Disney Theatrical Productions Worldwide, and Henry Hodges, who plays Michael Banks in Disney's Mary Poppins. We discussed their careers and Schumacher's new book, How Does the Show Go On? An Introduction to the Theater.

This colorful, imaginative, and intriguing book, which is co-authored by Jeff Kurtti, gives children an overview of all parts of the theater, and a realistic explanation of the hard work that goes into making Disney's theatrical productions.
Schumacher started his long, successful career in the theater as an actor, when he was a child. Since then, he has worked in almost every single job in the theater. In fact, he put himself through college by being a puppeteer.

Schumacher says that his preparation for How Does the Show Go On? came from his childhood acting experiences.

"For every page in the book I had two thoughts in mind: what I wanted to say, and I had to then put myself back to when I was a kid and think, what would I have wanted to read?" he said.

From my perspective, I believe that Schumacher achieved his goal because I wanted to read every page!

His book includes information in many creative forms. For example, Schumacher included part of the script for Tarzan, copies of costume designs, part of a Playbill from The Lion King, and a Broadway ticket envelope. He explained that these items were not only added to make the book more enjoyable, they were included to make children feel more comfortable the first time they go to the theater.

"The hardest thing for someone to do is something for the first time, something you don't know about," he said. So, for example, he included a ticket envelope, a photograph of a ticket, and a diagram of the New Amsterdam Theater, so that if kids stepped into a Broadway show, they would know what to expect.

Like the Mary Poppins song, this book is "practically perfect in every way." However, Schumacher plans to make a second edition to add sections about The Little Mermaid and High School Musical, which is currently the most produced play in America. He also has thoughts about publishing How Does the Show Go On? in other languages, but he feels that he would have to change the book a lot because it is "so American."

I thought one of the most interesting sections of the book was "A Day in the Life of a Child Performer," written by Henry Hodges. Henry, who had created this section for another project, is proud to be included in Schumacher's wonderful book. He described being on stage as "exhilarating and amazing!" Henry also clearly stated that he feels it is a "huge honor" to be in a Broadway production, especially Disney's Mary Poppins. But he says the best part of being a member of a Broadway cast is that you all become like a big family.

In the book, Henry explains that his life is very different from the life of an average child in America. Instead of attending school, like most kids, he attends classes at the theater or at home. His friends consist mostly of actors in Mary Poppins and the other shows he has performed in, and many of these friends are adults, not children.

Henry and the other kids in Mary Poppins share their roles and perform on a rotating basis. They are each other's understudies and spend a lot of time at the theater. On his days off, Henry, whose favorite way to travel around Manhattan is on a wave board, tries to see other plays and relax with his family. He and his parents now all live in New York. His life is very different now from his life growing up in Bethesda, Maryland.

"It has been an amazing adventure for me!" Henry said.

Thomas Schumacher's best advice for children who want to pursue a career in the theater is to keep trying the different jobs that How Does the Show Go On? highlights. He suggests that kids should explore the many aspects of the theater until they find the job that suits them. However, to be successful in a theater career, he stresses, kids must work hard and be dedicated.

I encourage anyone who enjoys the theater to read How Does the Show Go On? for a wonderful, "behind-the-scenes" look at the magic of Broadway productions!



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