What better way to learn about putting on a Broadway-style production than to learn from someone who's won awards for his musicals?
Ken Ludwig, a Broadway playwright whose repitoire includes "Moon Over Buffalo, "Crazy for You," and the upcoming remake of "An American in Paris," recently invited some West Springfield High School students to his Georgetown home after meeting them at a performance of one of his plays in Washington.
“A couple of years ago, we went to see a premiere of ‘Shakespeare in Hollywood’ at the Arena Stage theater in Washington,” said Mary Levesque, a drama teacher at West Springfield. Following the play, Ludwig, a Georgetown resident, was joined by some of the performers for a question and answer session with the students.
Levesque and her students were in the midst of rehearsing for their production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which had influenced Ludwig in the creation of ‘Shakespeare in Hollywood.’
“The kids were so excited over his show and asked him so many questions, he gave my student director his address and phone number,” Levesque said.
Inspired by their meeting with Ludwig, Levesque and her students performed ‘Crazy for You,’ a musical Ludwig had been commissioned to revamp by the Gershwin estate. They decided to invite Ludwig to see a performance, but due to “his incredibly busy schedule,” he wasn’t able to make it, she said.
“We didn’t realize at the time what a big name he is in Broadway theater,” Levesque said. “He’s one of the best and most prolific writers currently.”
To make up for not being able to see the play, Ludwig invited the students and Levesque to visit his home in Georgetown, where they met with his family.
“He was much more personable than we expected,” said Jack Powers, one of the students who visited Ludwig.
“There were just so many extraordinary things in his home,” said Jesse Lambert. “In this one room of his house, he has three walls covered in playbills, set designs and costume designs for his plays. The other wall is covered with Shakespeare.”
When the students met with Ludwig in November, he still seemed to be “in awe that we had performed his show,” said Helen McCarthy, one of the student directors in Levesque’s drama program.
Ludwig and the students talked about their upcoming production of "Les Miserable," and his current work on an adaptation of "An American in Paris," another Gershwin project.
“It was fascinating for the kids to hear him talk about how he got his start in theater,” Levesque said. From his first performance, in the role of Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady,’ Ludwig admitted to being bit by the acting bug.
He also told the students that his parents made sure he studied to become a lawyer at Harvard, in case the theater life didn’t work out.
“That was probably one of the biggest things we talked about, following our dreams,” Lambert said. “He loved to write and act, so he continued to do that while he worked as a lawyer until he got his break.”
Ludwig talked with the students about “what a true life of a writer can be,” said Cameron Albert. “He gave us a good idea what to shoot for and what can happen.”
Sitting on a white marble coffee table in Ludwig’s den were two reminders of his success: a Helen Hayes award and the Olivier, which Powers described as the “British equivalent of a Tony award, but much more difficult to win.”
As a technical director, Ian Tumbore said he enjoyed working with a model stage set Ludwig used to plot out stage direction and dialogue.
“You could tell it was based on a drawing. One of the sets had these posts coming down to support the theater ceiling,” he said of the accuracy of Ludwig’s stage.
The students were most impressed with the way Ludwig interacted with them.
“I think we expected him to think way too much of himself,” Lambert said. “But he was more like a young version of the grandfather everyone wants to have.”