Remembering Mark Bramble

Portrait of Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart co-writers of the book for musical 42nd Street
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “(L-R) Bookwriters Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble during a rehearsal for the Broadway musical “42nd Street.” (New York)” . Copyright The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Mark Bramble, who has died on 20 February aged 68 after complications with cardiovascular hypertension , was best known for his work as a writer, collaborating on or originating the books for shows including the huge hits 42nd STREET and BARNUM.

You can find plenty of CV- obituaries of the man, but I wanted to mention a couple of things about my experience of the man and his work. One might say that 42nd STREET was his most successful and most- revived project. The last major success of legendary producer David Merrick, 42nd STREET opened in New York 1980 and ran for 9 years, and in London it opened in 1984 and ran for 5 years. In both countries it went out on national tours for three more years. Bramble co-wrote the book with Michael Stewart and, I believe, with contributions from Bradford Ropes (the original story writer from the very early 30s).

Production photography courtesy of Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Later, Bramble stepped up to revise and then direct the Broadway revival, winning the Drama Desk and the Tony Awards for Best Musical Revival in 2001. He directed many subsequent worldwide revivals of 42nd STREET, the last closing in London in January 2019 after a run of almost two years. The London run, retooled and fine-tuned, was the best and most coherent, with a big budget to do the show full justice as previous smaller-scale revivals just hadn’t had the power to do. Can you imagine a cast of 56 with over 650 costumes and an orchestra of 19? No wonder London audiences gasped at its bravura staging. I doubt that we shall ever see its like again.

Thankfully, the last of his projects, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane revival in London, has been committed to film so that future audiences can still enjoy the final fabulous flourish of the “money is no object” musical.

I was lucky enough to work with 42nd STREET in London in the 80s, and although I occasionally saw Mark Bramble flitting around the theatre, never really had time to get to know him. However, my sharpest memory is of the 1984 Olivier Awards in London, staged at Drury Lane (then the new home of 42nd STREET), when the Best Musical was announced as….of course, 42nd STREET! Bramble scrambled up and literally shoved into the limelight the show’s original producer, the legendary David Merrick, who appeared less than happy at being brought into public view. But Bramble’s excitement was authentic, uncensored and rather touching, an ample demonstration of a man’s love for his work.

For all this, thank you Mark Bramble. We shall remember you.

Production photography courtesy of Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Listen to Mark Bramble talk about the birth of 42nd STREET in this TheatreVoice audio interview with Dominic Cavendish from 2017 here

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