BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
To Chicago musical theater fans, it will come as no surprise that two pint-sized packages of musical talent, Cabaret’s Joel Grey and Chicago’s 4’11” Elaine Cohen Rubin, are sharing the stage at the Ritz Hotel on March 23 for Porchlight Music Theatre.
Both Midwestern child stars (Joel hailing from Cleveland and Rubin, Kansas City), they will surely find time at the Porchlight’s 25th Anniversary ICONS Gala headed by Rick and Deann Bayless and Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra to talk about when they first put on their tap shoes.
Elaine Cohen Rubin and her husband, Arlen, will together receive the Luminary Award, established in 2018 to recognize an outstanding individual, family, or foundation with a history of philanthropic and volunteer leadership on behalf of Porchlight Music Theatre and music theatre in Chicago, and whose generosity inspires others to philanthropic action. Past recipients of the Luminary Award include Porchlight’s longtime Board Member Jim Jensen and donor/subscriber Jean Klingenstein. Joel Grey will be named this year’s ICON. Proceeds from the evening going to Porchlight’s artistic and youth education programs.
Although Rubin went on to focus her talents creating a highly successful business featuring live entertainment at trade shows where she was entertained as The Kellogg’s Kid, it was not before she appeared as Elly opposite Mickey Rooney’s Cap’n Andy in Showboat at the Kennedy Center in New York. Touring musicals arriving at Kansas City’s Starlight Theater cast Rubin as a child, then teenager, opposite Jeanette Macdonald, Gisele Mackenzie, Chita Rivera, Brenda Lee, and many more.
“I think I got the role of Elly because Rooney was so short—I was shorter,” she explains. “We had one week to rehearse and performed together for four weeks. When we took the show to Philly, you should have seen the old ladies lined up after the matinee to get his autograph.”
She says she loved working with Chita Rivera and Brenda Lee in Bye Bye Birdie: “I was the one who got to run up to Conrad Birdie, the heartthrob, and say, ‘Speak to us, our wonderful one!’ ”
She adds, “Jeanette Macdonald was particularly lovely to the children cast with her in The King and I. She gave us all gifts. Mine was a little bracelet with a wagon on it and the words ‘hitch your wagon to a star.’ I still have the bracelet.”
Already tapping at age three, Rubin recalled that her mother told her she had to be pulled off the stage in her first performance because she refused to quit dancing. One of her first performances was as a tapping toy soldier in Babes in Toyland—and she is still tapping.
It was her love of all things musical that grew her tremendously successful business Live Marketing, which she ran for 42 years before selling it.
“I was a trade show model. At that time all you did was stand at a booth and say: ‘Would you like a bag?’ One day, a group that worked at the Empire Room created a musical nightclub in a booth but when their performance was over, everyone left. They had spent all that money and nothing happened,” she remembers.
“One day I asked the gentleman who built the booth where I was to work for the Food Marketing Show what would happen if we put on a show that would be all about the product. At that point Kellogg had jingles for each of its cereals, and they gave us permission to use the songs,” she continues. “I had a girlfriend who was a very good writer and another friend who let us use his recording studio at no charge. I get some costumes, which I changed frequently, tapped a lot, and became known as The Kellogg’s Kid. We were launched.”
Rubin’s love for musicals embodies itself in her appreciation for Porchlight Music Theatre. For the third year, she will be underwriting the New Faces Sing Broadway series hosted by Cory Goodrich on February 24 at SPACE in Evanston and February 25 at the Arts Club of Chicago. Cast members making up of New Faces Sing Broadway NOW are Emily Agy, Alli Atkenson, Barry DeBois, Laz Estrada, Nina Jayashankar, Becky Keeshin, Christopher Kelley, Michael E. Martin, Sam Shankman, and Jayla Wlliams-Craig. Goodrich will star in Porchlight’s premiere of Disney’s Freaky Friday beginning April 10 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.
The series takes audiences on a musical journey from start to finish of an entire Broadway season, with photos and films of that theatrical year in an exciting multimedia presentation, and trivia games with prizes and sing-alongs. Host Goodrich introduces the audience to the next generation of Chicago musical theater artists while serving as a guide to the stars, songs, and stories of this current season on Broadway, including songs from Hadestown, Moulin Rouge, Jagged Little Pill, TINA: The Tina Turner Musical, and more.
“More than anything I want to help young talent,” Rubin says. “In the audience both nights will be agents who know that these are talents to book. One of our recent New Faces performers got an important role in Porchlight’s Sophisticated Ladies and on the national tour of Come From Away.”
As a performer, director, and producer, Rubin has loved all aspects of musical theater and puts Porchlight at the top of her list: “For five years in a row, Porchlight has won best midsized musical theater. To do that for one year is a big deal, but they have for five. I have known Musical Director Michael Weber for many years and his passion and talent in doing the type of works they accomplish in a small venue are magnificent. In their new space at Ruth Page, they are reaching the Gold Coast and marvelous things are happening.”
For more information, visit porchlightmusictheatre.org or call the box office at 773-777-9884.