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.

Ignorance is Strength, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Big Brother is Watching: 1984 has come to Broadway. George Orwell's dystopian novel tells the story of a man who works at the Ministry of Truth creating fake news for a totalitarian regime. The stage adaptation opens in New York on Friday.

After a recent performance of 1984, Dorit Friedman, a doctor from Great Neck, N.Y., says she was stuck by how contemporary the story feels. "Big Brother is watching us, that's for sure ..." she says. "Little did we know that that was going to be reality."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On Sunday night the spotlight will be on Broadway stars at the 71st annual Tony Awards. The evening also includes honors for some people behind the scenes — writers, directors and designers, for example — but there are many more, working backstage, who aren't eligible for Broadway's highest honor.

If you peek into the wings at a Broadway show, you're likely to find a stage manager, sitting at a desk with video monitors and lots of buttons and switches. He or she will be wearing a headset — sometimes called "the God mic" — to communicate with the cast and crew.

It all started when a director and producer from a tiny theater in Portland, Ore., posted a message on Facebook; he was outraged that the Edward Albee estate wouldn't grant him rights to produce Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because he'd cast a black actor in one of the roles. His post went viral, and a firestorm ensued.

Creating a hit musical which appeals to family audiences is kind of Broadway's holy grail — think current long-running shows, like The Lion King and Wicked, which have run for decades, or earlier shows like Cats and Annie. Critics don't always give these shows good reviews, but that doesn't seem to matter much. Now, two new musicals are aiming to get the kid stamp of approval.

Lillian Hellman's 1939 melodrama The Little Foxes has two great roles for actresses over the age of 40. Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon fill those roles in a new revival on Broadway ... but with one big twist: Linney and Nixon play both roles and switch off at different performances.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A recent lawsuit brought by a blind theatergoer against the producers of the hit musical Hamilton has highlighted Broadway's spotty track record in serving audiences with disabilities.

For lovers of traditional circus shows, the announcement that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was closing may have come as a shock. But the nonprofit Circus Now wants you to know that the circus is more than ringmasters, elephants and lion tamers.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For decades, there have been exactly 40 Broadway theaters all between 41st and 65th Streets in Manhattan. Tonight, a new theater opens that also happens to be the oldest. Are you confused? No one better than Jeff Lunden to clear it up.

The movie Fences is in theaters across the U.S. right now and is a leading contender in the Academy Awards. It's based on a play by August Wilson — a play that got its start at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Conn. This season, Yale Rep, as its known, marks its 50th anniversary as an incubator for not only Wilson, but also Athol Fugard, Christopher Durang, Sarah Ruhl and many of the leading playwrights working today.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A theater company in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently decided to do a social experiment: Put seven cops and seven civilians in a rehearsal room once a week to really get to know one another. Then, after 10 weeks, ask them to put on a show.

In the world of ballet, The Nutcracker is sort of a gateway drug. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon danced his first Nutcracker when he was 11, with London's Royal Ballet. After he moved to the U.S., he danced the Balanchine production with the New York City Ballet.

Christmas is coming, and soon TV screens everywhere will light up with that 1946 holiday classic, It's a Wonderful Life. But the same story is coming a little early to the stage of the Houston Grand Opera. That's right: An operatic version of George Bailey's struggle with life and death opens this Friday.

Librettist Gene Scheer admits that adapting such a beloved movie has sometimes felt like a fool's errand. "It's almost secular scripture, this piece," he says. "Everyone knows all the lines."

Decades before he became a best-selling children's book author, Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Geisel, created a series of sculptures he called his "Unorthodox Taxidermy." Using real horns, beaks and antlers, he fashioned whimsical creatures which look like they jumped right out of his books.

A traveling show of replicas, called "If I Ran the Zoo", has landed at a gallery in Long Island. Today we bring you that story (how else?) in verse:

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There are few living theater directors who can convince audiences to stay up all night watching the staging of a Sanskrit poem. But 30 years ago, director Peter Brook did just that. He put on what came to be known as one of the great theater events of the 20th century: The Mahabharata. It was nine hours long, and it was epic.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The best way to enjoy this next story is if you listen through headphones. It's about "The Encounter," a new Broadway show. It uses three-dimensional sound effects to take the audience deep into the Amazon. Jeff Lunden reports.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Edward Albee, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? among many others, died Friday at the age of 88 following a short illness, according to his longtime personal assistant.

In September 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn. It was an iconic moment — two mortal enemies had come to terms on a historic peace agreement.

That agreement was forged during months of secret back-channel talks in Norway. A new off-Broadway play, OSLO, looks at this little-known part of the peace process.

Avant garde theater director Rachel Chavkin's career is exploding. Sitting in one of her shows might mean sitting in silence or knocking back shots of vodka, while an actor sings from War and Peace right next to you. Chavkin has two shows running off-Broadway now and a show opening on Broadway this fall.

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.

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.

Pages