As neighbors located across from each other on East Main Street, UConn Waterbury and the Palace Theater have found ways to collaborate through programs and activities, including internships for students and classes on the performing arts offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Over the past four years, another collaborative effort was with Stuart Brown, the campus director of student services, whose avocation as the creator of the online radio broadcast “Sounds of Broadway” and longtime theater critic included appearing as a guest on “Your Palace Your Place,” the bimonthly radio program produced by the Palace on WATR in Waterbury.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down stage performances across the nation, it also halted the Palace’s radio program, causing host Sheree Marcucci – the theater’s marketing and public relations officer – to consider how to keep the Palace Theater’s audience engaged until performances can resume, which is likely to be in the fall.
“We decided podcasting was the way to pivot,” Marcucci says. “I suggested Stu as a host because he is a font of knowledge of the Broadway catalogue. He is passionate about his topic and offers listeners lots of back story information you wouldn’t necessarily know, or be privy to, which gives it a sense of exclusivity.”
Broadway Buzz features music, trivia and anecdotes about theater, and interviews with theater notables. Episodes are 30 minutes in length and premiere every other Tuesday, sponsored by Webster Bank, a longtime supporter of the Palace. Broadway Buzz alternates with Concert Conversations, hosted by Tom “The Suit” Forst, a podcast that focuses on Connecticut-based concert musicians discussing their music.
“The Broadway Buzz podcast offers an alternative platform to offer relevant content to keep our Broadway patrons engaged with the Palace brand while the industry shutdown continues,” says Frank Tavera, chief executive officer of the Palace Theater. “Once the industry resumes, interviews with cast and creative team members of the national touring Broadway shows scheduled for the Palace will be an added feature.”
Brown’s theater experiences began with his family’s annual Christmas Eve trips to see Broadway shows in New York City, and deepened after seeing the 1972 musical “Grease.” As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, he started doing a weekly radio show playing Broadway show music. After starting his administrative career in Connecticut, he became a volunteer disc jockey at Trinity College’s WRTC-FM, with a program called “On Broadway.”
Concurrent with his immersion into Broadway musicals, Brown also began reviewing theatrical productions. He serves as president of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is a member of The Dramatist Guild, Outer Critics Circle, and American Theater Critics Association, and attends more than 60 performances a year.
Two years ago, Brown moved online by launching SoundsofBroadway.com. The online station has a worldwide audience of 80,000 listeners per month. A one-hour version of the program can be heard on several college stations, including UConn’s WHUS, where it airs Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m.
Brown’s programming for “Sounds of Broadway” is a reflection of his encyclopedic knowledge of the catalog of music in the Broadway musical canon, along with his creativity in developing themed set lists that might focus on a composer, a production, a subject, or an individual performer. He also takes requests via email and writes back to his listeners, which he feels is important.
“How many times do you email someone, or you go to a website and you fill out a web form? You never hear from them,” Brown says. “You hear from me usually within 24 hours. That engagement to me is so key.”
In addition to playing tracks from long-established, popular productions, Brown also seeks out recordings from shows that were not long-running hits, and more obscure Broadway-influenced performances.
“There’s some cast albums that just totally bombed,” he says. “A lot of times this is really good music and for whatever reason the show didn’t do well, or it closed quickly or might have done just okay. I like to introduce a lot of that, and I’m always on the lookout for it.”
Another source for show music is the obscure genre of “industrial musicals,” or productions developed and performed by Broadway talent for corporate sales meetings, a staple of the mid-to late 20th century. Brown learned of a former member of David Letterman’s “Late Show” staff who starting collecting the souvenir recordings of such performances. He was preparing to visit a used record store in Florida that is known to have many of these recordings when the pandemic began.
Brown says he believes that hosting Broadway Buzz with the Palace Theater, and the continued growing listenership for SoundsofBroadway.com, will help return audiences to theaters once crowd limitations during the pandemic end.
“I’m hoping by people listening to the podcast, listening to the radio station, they’re going to say, wow, I miss that. I can’t wait to go back so I can be enveloped in that music live,” he says.