Future Of ‘Broadway Songbook’ Uncertain Following Rocco’s Announced Departure

Editor’s note: Co-creator Jeffrey Scott has said that Broadway Songbook will live on after Rocco’s departure. Per Scott, “James and I own the company that created the Songbooks. We have written and produced them at the Ordway’s request, but they have never belonged to the Ordway.” So be sure to look out for future shows! Follow Broadway Songbook online for more information.

As the Ordway’s 2016 – 2017 season comes to a close, several big changes are in the works.

Last week, amid the opening of the final show in the sixth season of James A. Rocco’s “Broadway Songbook” series, the Ordway Center announced Rocco’s impending departure.

Rocco, who writes the series with Jeffrey P. Scott, announced he has decided to step down as the Vice President of Programming and Producing Artistic Director to pursue a freelance career.

“I’m proud of our accomplishments and excited to get back to pursuing my own artistic life,” Rocco said in a press release announcing his decision. “After reviewing the board’s strategic plan, I know that musical theater has a future at the Ordway. That’s been my goal since the day I arrived.”

Rocco joined the Ordway in 2005. In his 12 years at the theater he has directed several shows, such as “The Sound of Music,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Pirates of Penzance.”

It is also where he developed the “Broadway Songbook” series.

In the series, Rocco and Scott, along with musical direction from Raymond Berg, explore the history and meaning of Broadway through different lenses. In its six year run, there have been more than 20 iterations that have covered topics such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, musicals of the 1920’s and the first 100 years of Broadway.

Last week, the series explored the symbiotic relationship between Broadway and Hollywood.

Rocco, Dieter Bierbrauer, Yolande Bruce, Kersten Rodau and Eric Schwab spent two hours delighting audiences with songs from “An American In Paris,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Grease,” Little Mermaid” and more.

Per usual, Rocco shared his wealth of knowledge about the relationship between the two mediums with audience, although it was a bit more scaled back than other songbook performances.

Rodau wowed audiences in several numbers where she was allowed to show over her range and power, such as “Over the Rainbow,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Xanadu.”

In every number she was in, Schwab lit up the stage. Her humor and brassy, bold voice stole the show, particularly in her duet with Bierbrauer: “You’re The One That I Want.”

The women also delighted audiences with a bubbly medley from “Legally Blonde,” complete with the bend and snap.

While the numbers were beautifully performed by all of the artists, the show was a bit more discombobulated than other songbook performances.

Perhaps this was due to the vastness of the topic – as both Broadway and Hollywood have been around for at least a century. With so much to cover, many things get left out. It was also unclear if the show was exclusively covering how Hollywood has borrowed from Broadway, or vice versa.

Nonetheless, as all songbook performances I have seen are, “Broadway in Hollywood” was an enlightening and entertaining evening.

The series truly has something for everyone – great performances of beautiful music paired with interesting historical facts about one of America’s greatest mediums.

The future of the series remains unclear, as the Ordway has not said if it will continue without Rocco.

But, if this was the finale, it’s fitting that as Rocco moves on to explore new creative endeavors his series ends by showing how music can live on in all forms.

More from Katie Fraser
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