From Broadway to the Battery
The Daniel Island Speakers Series has featured a bevy of fascinating presenters in its now five-year history, but until this past Wednesday, the series’ goal of giving attendees a true “behind the curtain” look at some of the Holy City’s most influential movers and shakers has always been metaphor. On the evening of September 14 however, the concept of looking behind the curtain became quite literal, as members of the Daniel Island Club were treated to a presentation from lifelong theatre professionals Brad and Jennifer Moranz.
The Moranz’ regaled a crowd of over a hundred at last Wednesday’s Speakers Series event with tales from the stage and screen, offering perspectives from both behind the scenes and from in front of them. The storytelling session took the audience from Broadway and the set of “Singing in the Rain,” where the two, who were both performing in the show, met and fell in love, to Charleston where just over two decades ago the couple settled down and began their work on a production that has become synonymous with Christmas in the Holy City, “The Charleston Christmas Special.”
Both Brad and Jennifer Moranz’ respective journeys began in small towns in the South only to end up where all promising theatrical careers in this country end up, the mecca of theatre in America, the Big Apple of New York City.
Brad’s story began with an admission of the difficulties presented by the fact that as a youth in Texas, he was drawn to dance. His career in New York took the young Moranz to places he hadn’t dreamed of, he said. From doing Groucho Marx on Broadway to serving as the understudy for three parts in a production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” his was a career both varied and fascinating.
And while Brad Moranz exodus to the big city and early life in New York was a tale that drew a lot of laughs from the audience, Jennifer’s journey to the big city brought down the house.
“I’d never been on a plane or a train for that matter when, after attending East Carolina where I took dance, I boarded a train bound for New York.
“When the man announced our destination, and mind you I’m a small town North Carolina gal, I didn’t understand his accent. He said ‘Newark,’ but I heard ‘New York,” recalled Jennifer, who would go on soon after to spend four years kicking high as a member of the Radio City Rockettes.
“Here we are with our suitcases, pulling them off and there were all these people everywhere… and there we were in Newark, New Jersey,” said Jennie Moranz to a crowd laughing in unison.
Another story about being stranded 48 blocks from home in her “candies,” leggings donned by Rockette dancers, after not realizing one needed two subway tokens for a round-trip journey, also drew a raucous response from all in the ballroom Wednesday evening.
For theatre fans in the audience, their early history and collaborative careers were fascinating points of discussion, and for a few minutes the two humbly divulged some of the projects they’d been fortunate to work on. As actors, producers, directors, and choreographers, the couple has quite the list of credits.
After falling in love and working their respective careers dancing, acting, and singing on Broadway, the two began working together. As a duo, the two directed and choreographed a number of important productions including “Annie,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Guys and Dolls,” and of course, the aforementioned “Singin’ in the Rain.” They worked too on feature films and on TV, choreographing “The Road to Wellville,” “Radioland Murders” and “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.”
And while their careers were interesting to all in attendance, and their respective journeys from small-town obscurity to big city success captivated the room, it was that their journeys ended in one another that unlocked the collective heart of the audience just as they’ve unlocked the hearts of theatre-going audiences for decades with their performances and productions.
“We’re the luckiest people in the world. We’re lucky on so many levels,” said Brad Morantz. “We’re lucky because we have each other, and that’s the best, but most people in theatre leave the theatre to make a living. We’ve been able to stay in theatre, which is a blessing.”
Tender heart strings pulled, the bulk of the latter part of the event was dedicated to discussion about the Moranz’ hometown hit, their adopted home of Charleston that is. Everyone wanted to know the ins and outs of the Special after all.
Evidence of that fact was on full display Wednesday, in the form of a room full of hands that shot up when Brad Moranz asked if any in attendance had been to see one of their shows. Indeed, the audience was a captive one.
The Charleston Christmas Special is now in its 21st year of production and is one of the best-attended Christmas events of the Holy City holiday season. The creative power couple write, produce, choreograph, direct, and cast not only that show each and every December, but also two other musical revues as well, a retro rock ‘n roll show each March, followed by a variety show every July.
“Christmas in our house starts in July,” began Brad Moranz before being corrected by Jennifer. “June-July, it starts in June-July,” Brad laughed.
“Christmas music is blaring in our house constantly. We listen to everything under the sun, and then try to imaging and re-imagine how to put it all back together again in a way that we’ve never done it before.
“And now here we are twenty-one years later. It’s challenging and it’s amazing, but we’re really grateful, and that’s the truth,” Brad Moranz continued with a smile.
Asked how they ended up in Charleston, the couple gave an answer that seemed to ring true to many in the audience, as it would be to many Charleston residents here and now in 2016. “We found Charleston and just fell in love with it,” said Brad Moranz.
“And we are so grateful that we found it. When we first came here,” continued the Moranz’, who make their home these days in Mt. Pleasant, “we said to each other ‘what are we going to do?’ We didn’t know the answer but we said ‘what better place to find out than Charleston.’”
In the Christmas spirit, the Moranz’ parted ways with the attendees at the Daniel Island Club with one final gift: they announced that their Spring musical revue following this year’s Christmas Special would be a Frank Sinatra-themed revue. As they’re undoubtedly accustomed to, that announcement provoked the end of the evening to be accompanied by the sound of unbridled applause.
The September event marked the fifth year of the Daniel Island Speakers Series, which since its inception has been sponsored by the Rotary Club of Daniel Island, the Daniel Island Community Fund, the Daniel Island Business Association, and the Daniel Island Club.
For more information about the Daniel Island Speakers Series, please contact Mary Wessner by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Register you and your guests for future speakers series events online at http://tiny.cc/dispeakersseries.
For more information about Brad and Jennifer Moranz, or their productions, see www.bradandjennifermoranz.com.