THE BLUTHNER PIANO AND THE RAY BOLGER MUSICAL THEATER PROGRAM
Bolger Himself preferred These Storied German Instruments
Last autumn, the Department of Theater presented a Cabaret with undergraduate Theater students from the Ray Bolger Musical Theater program directed by legendary cabaret performer Lainie Kazan. This successful and exciting production, LAINIE'S CABARET AT UCLA, focused on music from the 1920s to the 1950s. At Lainie Kazan's request, Professor Rich Rose built a classic cabaret performance space on the stage of the Freud Playhouse—The audience joined the singers in a club atmosphere with small tables and chairs grouped around a 1930s style stage. Lights were designed by MFA student Johnny Garofalo (MFA); costumes by Adjunct Professor Raquel Barreto; and sound by undergraduate Michael Ritchey.
Adding to this experience was the very beautiful Bluthner piano which was a reproduction of an Art Deco instrument. The use of this piano was made possible by the KASIMOFF family and the special friendship of the Department of Theater and Helga Kasimoff.
The Bluthner Company, formally Julius Bluthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH, is a piano-manufacturing company founded by Julius Bluthner in 1853 in Leipzig, Germany. The pianoforte legend has been kept alive in America by the Kasimoff Piano Company in Los Angeles, the oldest Bluthner representative in the United States. The full story of how Helga Kasimoff and her family have kept the Bluthner tradition alive in America through difficult times can be found at http://www.atlantic-times.com/archive_detail.php?recordID=2148.
Bluthner pianos have been owned by many prestigious artists such as Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Johann Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Jerome Kern. The UCLA Department of Theater was thrilled to learn from Helga Kasimoff that Ray Bolger, the benefactor of the UCLA Musical Theater program, also owned a Bluthner. On July 6, 1938, Mr. Bolger wrote in the Kasimoff guest book that when he played a Bluthner in the showroom, the "Bluthner made me cry and I loved it." On that same day, his signature in the guest book was accompanied by Carmen Bolger, Chico and Betty Marx, and Lelia Simone (wife of composer Franz Waxman).
We have learned that, as of 2006, Ray Bolger's Bluthner is now in Texas and is owned by his sister-in-law. It is a small grand piano with ivory colored finish and decoupaged over the entire surface.
Many thanks to the Kasimoff family for their generous support of the Ray Bolger Musical Theater program.
The Kasimoff Bluthner Piano Company can be found at http://www.kasimoffpianoslosangeles.com/.