Broadway's Unsung, and Non-Singing, Performers

For every nominee at the Tonys, there are dozens of "behind-the-scenes" people who make the stars on Broadway shine even brighter. Reporter Andrea Shea has their stories — and explains why some of them could be the last of their kind.

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For every nominee at the Tonys, there are dozens of people behind the scenes who make the stars on Broadway shine brighter. Reporter Andrea Shea has their story and explains why some of them could be the last of their kind.

ANDREA SHEA reporting:

The Drama Book Shop is filled with actors of all ages. Some stand, others sit on wooden benches while they flip through paperbacks hunting for material.

(Soundbite of telephone ringing; being picked up)

Unidentified Woman #1: Drama Book Shop. How can I help you? Oh, yeah, we do. I should see if we have it in. That's one of my favorite plays.

SHEA: This store has been selling plays, monologues and books on theater for 88 years.

Ms. ROZANNE SEELEN (Owner, Drama Book Shop): In fact, we've been around long enough to have been the answer to a question recently on "Jeopardy!"

SHEA: Rozanne Seelen runs the Drama Book Shop. Her husband Arthur bought it from the original owner in 1956. Arthur passed away five years ago, and today Rozanne works with her nephew, Allen Hubby. Their store is famous for a staff that seems to know everything about theater, people like Jessica Avalone(ph).

Ms. JESSICA AVALONE (Drama Book Shop): We're all just incredible dorks.

SHEA: The Drama Book Shop is also known for a selection that could include over a dozen editions of Chekhov's "Cherry Orchard."

Ms. SEELEN: Well, let's say that there are 15, and we have 14, but we don't have the 15th one that the actor needs. The other 14 won't do because it's the 15th one that the director is using for that production, and they have to have that one. So this keeps us on our toes.

SHEA: Seelen says that while the staff's ability to come up with that 15th edition keeps customers coming back, it wasn't enough to keep the Drama Book Shop afloat in its former location closer to Times Square.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's a musical comedy. Just come, please.

SHEA: The store is one of those included in the book "On Broadway Men Still Wear Hats: Unusual Lives Led On the Edges of Broadway." In it, Playbill.com editor Robert Simonson profiles some of the old-time merchants who've been forced to move by the revitalization of Times Square.

Mr. ROBERT SIMONSON (Editor, Playbill.com): I can't say that Times Square and the Theater District--newly renovated, the newly costly--is very kind to these people, who are basically surrendering their entire lives and all their time to the service of the theater just because they love it.

SHEA: Among those are the members of the Rubin family, who've been running Arnold Hatters for three generations. Since they were displaced from Times Square, Mark Rubin says they're getting less street traffic and have come to depend more on Broadway costumers. Their hats have been featured in "Kiss Me, Kate," "Guys And Dolls," "Chicago" and pretty much any show that needs straw boaters, bowlers and fedoras.

Mr. MARK RUBIN (Arnold Hatters): We sell a hat to the Broadway show "The Producers" called the Eleganza. It's a silk-finished fur felt. By silk finish, I mean, that it has a short-hair texture that's lightly oiled, so it reflects light beautifully. It looks great on stage. Because of that sheen, William Ivey Long fell in love with it.

SHEA: That would be Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long.

Mr. WILLIAM IVEY LONG (Costume Designer): We picked it by putting them on Mel Brooks' head one after another after another. He says, `Now this is the producer's hat.'

SHEA: And Long says he could only find it at Arnold Hatters.

(Soundbite of storeroom being unlocked)

SHEA: A little closer to Times Square, George Fenmore unlocks his storeroom and takes stock of the tools of his trade.

Mr. GEORGE FENMORE: Well, I'd say I have at least 200 different telephones, various styles, various models. And right now I have about 10 phones on Broadway stage. I have some old television sets here. I have...

SHEA: Fenmore makes a little money renting small props to Broadway shows. But the activity that brings him the most satisfaction brings him no money. Sometimes shows seek him out; sometimes Fenmore goes to them.

Mr. FENMORE: Now the one show that I just worked on called "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"--for that particular show, I've got them some Gummi Bears from Harrebow(ph), which they toss around on stage; Apple & Eve apple juice, which they give out as a consolation prize to the losers in the spelling bee. All of this is something they would have to buy.

SHEA: But they don't because Fenmore convinces manufacturers to provide goods for free in return for a credit in the production's playbill. Fenmore gets one, too, plus free theater tickets, but that's it. Fenmore is the only one who does this, and he says he's been doing it since the 1940s for the challenge and for the love of Broadway. That's also what drives Rozanne Seelen, owner of the Drama Book Shop.

Ms. SEELEN: The young people that come in here, they're so full of dreams and hopes and ambition. You see them sitting around reading the plays, and you want every one of them to succeed. You want them all to be stars.

SHEA: And while would-be actors fill the shop every day, Seelen and her nephew Allen Hubby still worry about the future. He says they have no idea who will take over when they're gone.

Mr. ALLEN HUBBY (Drama Book Shop): Maybe the person's already working upstairs right now and I just don't know yet or they don't know it yet. And so that's sort of my dream--is that some person will come in someday who has a real love for it and who has the right kind of mind for it who would like to carry it on.

SHEA: But odd prop man and merchandiser George Fenmore doesn't even bother worrying about the future of his business.

Mr. FENMORE: There's nobody to replace me. I have no heirs, no children, no relatives, no friends really who are stupid enough to follow in my footsteps. And it'll be gone forever, and it'll just be history.

SHEA: But for now George Fenmore's contributions can be seen on stage in the form of telephones, assault rifles and Gummi Bears. For NPR News, this is Andrea Shea.

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