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With most theatres still shuttered and everyone missing live performances, there’s no better time for a book like Broadway Baby – which captures the excitement of the stage and the spirit of the theatre community – to arrive.
We chatted with theatre stalwart Russell Miller, who created the delightful new children’s story. Having been involved in theatre operations and producing shows like Guys & Dolls, Blood Brothers, Paramour, On The Town and many more in the West End and on Broadway for over 25 years, Broadway Baby was his chance to highlight all the things that make live theatre so special. A true labour of love, he worked closely with publisher, writer and musical theatre buff Judith Proffer as well as award-winning illustrator Yoko Matsuoka to see the tome born.
Broadway Baby is being released just in time for Christmas, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Theatre Artists Fund to help theatre workers in need of financial support due to the impact of Covid-19 on the sector.
Where did the idea for Broadway Baby come from?
The book was conceived when I was looking for a unique theatrical gift for my business partner’s newborn baby girl. I knew exactly what I wanted to get as a gift for her – a beautifully illustrated, authentic and accessible theatrical children’s book, something that would be a wonderful first introduction to theatre for her. But it didn’t exist already, so I decided to write it myself and with that Broadway Baby was born.
What do you hope children will take away from the story?
The book has so many levels, I felt there was a real need to create something authentically theatrical that would resonate with theatre lovers and children of all ages, for both children and adults alike to enjoy. It has a unique and authentic view of the theatre from my professional perspective but also has some extra magic and sparkle added from Judith Proffer’s audience view as a huge Broadway theatre fan, so the two combined really create a special theatre introduction and experience.
My intention was always to write the book as an early introduction to theatre, something so important to me a crucial step towards getting our children involved in theatre and the arts from the earliest age.
As Baby started to come to life on the page, I wanted to make sure that the book was not only a VIP invitation to visit Theatreland, but it would also serve as a way to give confidence to children, showing them that they can do anything and be anything and anyone they want to be.
How do you think your personal career in and relationship to theatre has shaped the book and its story?
I have been involved in the theatre all my life. My family are all theatre people so I have truly been blessed.
I recognise how valuable this experience has been for me having performed on stage as an amateur and professionally as a youngster and having worked backstage, front of house, managed theatres, theatre groups and produced and consulted on all things “theatre” over the last 25 years.
What I have realised is that the absence of an accessible and inclusive theatre book for children was so significant. As a very young child, I was passionate about theatre, but there was nothing to attach to – no character, no brand for theatre for me to belong to – and I know I really wanted and needed that back then, so I really wanted to fill that void in creating Broadway Baby and I think we nailed it – it’s accessible, inclusive and fun, and is the very first pure “Theatre” character for children.
What have you loved most about your time working in theatre?
I’ve really loved meeting all the wonderful people along the way, from the superstars of stage and screen to the managers, the ushers and technicians, the cleaners and the audience members, so many people and fond memories over the last 25 years professionally.
Currently I’m loving creating again, from creating Broadway Baby, to producing shows for Broadway and film documentaries too now – if there’s a chance that any of the children who read the book grow up to love theatre and experience it first hand at any level, at any point, then the book has achieved real success.
Is there a moment or achievement that stands out among your many successes?
Writing a children’s book for theatre has to be up there certainly as an unexpected achievement! It certainly sits alongside the experiences of some of the big West End and Broadway shows that I’ve worked on including Blood Brothers, Guys And Dolls, Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour and On The Town.
My time spent working on the London Olympics as general manager was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime moment, the unforgettable summer of 2012.
How are you feeling looking towards the return of live theatre?
It has been such a challenging time for the theatre industry this year and we all desperately want and need live theatre to return, which it will of course as we know – hopefully soon and safely.
In this difficult time where we miss live theatre so very much, I really hope that Broadway Baby helps fill the void as a colourful and whimsical love letter to Broadway that reminds us of all things we know and love about theatre.
Discover what’s coming to the West End and beyond by visiting our theatre guide.
All images courtesy of BroadwayBabyBook.com