Tony Award-winner Victoria Clark, of The Light in the Piazza, plus Sweeney Todd's Alexander Gemignani, Wonderful Town's Nancy Anderson, Jersey Boys' Daniel Reichard, Swing!'s Michael Gruber and recent University of Michigan graduate will sing the songs of Tony Award-winning composer Charles Strouse in a March 27 gala benefit at the New-York Historical Society.
The 6:30 PM cocktail and concert event will benefit the American Musicals Project (AMP), a teacher-training program that uses musical theatre to enhance lessons in seventh and eighth grade social studies units.
In addition to history coming alive, and the resources of the Historical Society being used by teachers and students, the "stealth agenda" of the program, AMP founder and chair Alan Levenstein told Playbill.com, is that students in New York City schools get exposed to musical theatre.
The Strouse evening — with Strouse participating — will begin at 6:30 PM with cocktail and hors d'ouvres. The performance will follow at 7:30 PM.
Charles Strouse won Best Score Tony Awards for Annie (with lyricist Martin Charnin) and Applause (with Lee Adams). His other musicals include the in-development Marty, a song from which will be presented; plus Bye Bye Birdie, Applause, "It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!", Bring Back Birdie, Annie Warbucks, Golden Boy, A Broadway Musical, I and Albert, Charlie and Algernon, Rags, Dance a Little Closer and All American. He and Adams have also been working on a musical version of Dreiser's "An American Tragedy." Scott Alan Evans directs, Shelly Tseng is stage manager, Ben Whiteley is music consultant and Grant Wenaus is music director.
The songlist for the evening includes "Put On a Happy Face," "Our Children," "Kids," "Little Girls," "What's a Nice Kid Like You," "Maybe," "Smashing New York Times," "Dance a Little Closer," "There's Always One You Can't Forget," "You've Got Possibilities," "Once Upon a Time," "Lorna's Here," "I Wanna Be With You," "She Sees Who I Am" (from Marty), "The Woman for the Man Who Has Everything," "Blame It On the Summer Night," "Children of the Wind" and "Applause."
The New-York Historical Society is located in Manhattan at 170 Central Park West. Tickets, priced $75, $250 and $500, can be purchased by calling at (212) 485-9276.
The education initiative known as American Musicals Project (AMP) was founded and is chaired by Alan Levenstein, a native New Yorker, lifelong theatregoer and former advertising executive. AMP represents a sort of second career for Levenstein, a trustee of the Historical Society.
The Strouse concert is that last show in a spring series that represents AMP's public performance component. The 2006 spring concerts boasted the songs of Arthur Schwartz, Burton Lane and living writers (Adam Guettel, Jeanine Tesori and others) in a Generation of Genius: The Future of Broadway evening.
The Strouse benefit concert (and the earlier concerts) support AMP, the curriculum program mixing musical theatre with Social Studies and English Language Arts lessons in New York City public schools. AMP trains teachers to use scenes from musical theatre to illustrate lessons.
For example, a section from Oklahoma! may introduce students to the American frontier land rush and settlement; a song from Annie may evoke the soul-grinding Depression era; Paint Your Wagon may paint a picture of The Gold Rush era; sections of 1776 may open a window on the Declaration of Independence. Documents, artifacts, art and more form the society's holdings are used to further enhance the lessons.
What's the genesis of AMP? Whose idea was it?
"Mine," Levenstein told Playbill.com. "I started the American Musicals Project before I became a trustee. I had the idea, I took it to Betsy Gotbaum, who was then the president of the Historical Society, and who was an acquaintance, and she invited me to do it at the Historical Society. I was funding it almost entirely at the start. Since then we've been able to attract lots of other funding. She understood the potential that lay in the program for the education department of the Historical Society."
As it solidified under the umbrella of the Historical Society, "Scott Alan Evans joined the operation as the artistic director and the education staff of the Historical Society was on board," Levenstein said.
In 1999, Dr. Sharon Dunn, then head of Project Arts in the New York City Board of Education, introduced AMP to three schools that would function as pilot schools.
Levenstein said there has been national interest in AMP, but "our top priority is the New York City public schools, and particularly the culturally-deprived inner-city schools that are in disadvantaged neighborhoods. That's where we've had tremendous success. The teachers and students have been very responsive. We're now in 400 schools."
Who determines the content of the lessons?
"The seventh and eighth grade course of study for social studies is mandated by the New York State Board of Regents," Levenstein said. "There is a set sequence in 12 units starting in September in the seventh grade, ending in June of the eighth grade — covering American history from pre-colonial times to the present day. For each semester there are three units adding up to 12. We use those as our guide; we were determined to be useful to the curriculum. That was really our objective. So we created 10 curriculum resource guides to correspond to 10 of the 12 units."
What's included in the guides?
"They're very handsome books and teachers love using them," Levenstein said. "They have guides for anywhere from 5-7 lessons for the teacher to use in the class when she's teaching The Great Depression, or Reconstruction Era in the South, or Slavery in Pre-Civil War South, or World War II. For each of those 10 units we have a book, an accompanying edited videotape or DVD. In the book is a great deal of primary source material from the New York Historical Society's archives."
AMP is a teacher-training program.
"The teachers need to be trained in using the materials, and the kind of training we do helps them in understanding how to use multiple sources — not just ours, but in other parts of their work," Levenstein said. "So it's a useful process for them to go through."
For more information on AMP, visit www.americanmusicalsproject.org.