Suffolk Broadway producer pens theatrical children’s book
- Credit: Archant
Russell Miller has spent his life working in theatre. The Felixstowe-born producer started work as a teenager at the Spa Pavilion, worked in the West End and has ended up on Broadway. Now, he has become the author of a colourfully theatrical children’s book
Russell Miller is a man who loves theatre – he lives and breathes the live experience – and, although, he has risen to the very top of his profession, he has never harboured any desire to be a star trapped in the spotlight.
Instead, he has relished every opportunity to immerse himself in a rich, colourful backstage life starting as an assistant stage manager for Apollo Theatres at the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe, rising through the ranks until he ended up running seven American theatres on Broadway for the Ambassador Theatres Group. Prior to his departure for the USA, he ran two West End Theatres (the Phoenix and the Piccadilly) before becoming divisional general manager for the Ambassadors Group in London overseeing nine theatres in the capital before moving to Lords Cricket Ground to deliver the archery competition for the 2012 Olympics.
Now Felixstowe-born Russell lives in New York and has co-founded his own entertainment consultancy Freedom Theatricals, offering support and advice for those wanting to produce shows on the Great White Way. He has more than 25 years of frontline experience to share for those wanting to make their way in that most thrilling and risky of professions… the theatre.
Russell is also diversifying writing a theatrical-themed children’s book Broadway Baby in conjunction with publisher and editor Judith A. Proffer and artist Yoko Matsuoka. He is a producer on a forthcoming film Defying Gravity, which will celebrate the life and career of composer and theatre legend Stephen Schwartz, the man who wrote Wicked, Pippin and Godspell as well as the Disney classics Pocohontas and Enchanted.
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But, for the moment, Broadway Baby is the project he is most excited about, simply it’s the one about to be released into the world.
Russell admits that he’s rather chuffed (a good old British expression that he’s been unable to shake) that he’s got his name attached to a book. He says that his venture into the world of children’s literature came about more by accident than design.
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“Broadway Baby was born of necessity. I was looking for a theatrical gift for the daughter of my producing partner Corey Brunish and I was stumped. Corey is a Tony Award-winning producer for shows like Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and the brilliant Come From Away, the Canadian 9/11 musical and I wanted something theatre-centric for his daughter Olivia but I couldn’t find anything suitable.
“I felt there was a real need to create something authentically theatrical that would resonate with theatre lovers and children of all ages, something unique and sincere that serves as a special VIP invitation to join our magical world of theatre-land.”
Artfully illustrated by the award-winning artist Yoko Matsuoka, Russell, with the help of publisher Judith A Proffer, has created a little gem of a story that celebrates the importance of theatre and creativity; encourages children and theatre lovers of all ages to create and be whatever you want to be, whoever you are, wherever you are; and reminds readers that even the loftiest of dreams can come true.
“Our cheeky little Broadway Baby dreams of becoming a Broadway star. Those dreams take the reader on a truly theatrical journey from his crib to the playground to the heart of New York City, with nods to many elements that make live theatre so special.”
A special, limited edition hardback version of the book has now been released in the UK and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book are being donated to the Theatre Artists Fund, a charity set up to provide emergency support for UK theatre workers and freelancers who are in need of financial support due to the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the theatre sector.
Theatre is deeply embedded in his DNA. His father Roger was stage manager at the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe while Mum Ruth was part of the team that staged Felixstowe Drama Festival each year – one of the oldest and most revered amateur theatre events in the country.
Russell’s first job was as assistant theatre manager for the Spa Pavilion when it was run by Apollo Leisure. He then became a deputy manager with SFX Entertainment and Clear Channel Entertainment before moving into the West End, taking control of the Phoenix and Piccadilly Theatres, managing the extended run of Blood Brothers, one of the most successful shows in West End history, before looking after Guys and Dolls with Ewan McGregor and Jane Krakowski, with Patrick Swayze taking over the role after McGregor’s limited run was over.
In 2006 he was promoted to divisional general manager, London Theatres which meant that he had nine top West End theatre under his watchful eye.
It was a huge responsibility for someone so young, someone who had landed his first assistant manager job at a small seaside theatre just 12 years earlier. But, it was Russell’s grass roots experience, it was his experience as a hands-on, meet and greet, theatre manager, a stager of shows that made him perfect for such an high-flying post. He was a theatre man rather than just a businessman.
“It’s all about engaging the audience. It’s about giving them a good time, value for money and making them want to come back and do it all again.”
If running some of the top West End theatre’s wasn’t demanding enough the prospect of London hosting the 2012 Olympics gave him a desire to cross from the theatre to the world of sport.
In 2011, Russell transferred his talents to preparing for the 2012 Olympics by taking over the management of Lords Cricket ground on behalf of the Olympic organising committee. Then in January 2014, his former employers Ambassadors Group offered him a new challenge to fly to New York and bring their seven Broadway theatres together in the same way that Russell had achieved in London. “It was the ultimate challenge – also it’s every theatre producer’s dream to get to work on Broadway.”
Now, Russell is a freelance producer once again, operating in New York. In 2017 he teamed up with Tony-award-winning producer Cory Brunish and formed Freedom Theatricals and are now working in film, music and TV as well as theatre.
Russell said: “In terms of the film stuff, I’m one of three producers on the Defying Gravity film, which is telling the story of Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz. He is a major figure in the theatre world and we are working very closely with him on the film.
“I’m also consulting producer on films featuring the work of Don McLean, producer Eddie Kramer and songwriter Lamont Dozier, as they will all become theatrical productions after the film release, which my partners and I will all lead produce together. They will each be unique music centred productions, that speak to the music and messages within the music, more than just about the artists themselves necessarily. These are all part of a joint venture with my producing partner Spencer Proffer at LA based Meteor 17.
“So it’s all go at the moment – even with the lockdown! But, I hope everyone enjoys the book. A lot of love has gone into it.”
Broadway Baby by Russell Miller and Judith A Proffer is exclusively available at the book’s UK website.