Theatre yesterday and today



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The title of this column is misleading. I'm not asking for a break, I'm taking one. And I don't have to ask anyone's permission, which may be what I like best about blogging. There's no penalty if I don't meet any of my self-appointed deadlines. I'm not even sure anyone would notice, although the single time I skipped one in the sixteen weeks since I began, one friend (and faithful reader) did actually write and ask, "Hey! No blog today?" I started this effort on June 12th and today marks my 96th post. Writing a one-thousand word essay six days a week has proven challenging and rewarding. I have loved the process as well as the comments and discussions they have engendered. The challenge of


If you are unfamiliar with Brian Friel, it is a situation that needs to be remedied. This master Irish playwright, born in 1929 in a town called Knockmoyle, and who died on October 2nd of last year, was the author of more than thirty plays. He was considered by many to be one of the world's leading dramatists in his lifetime, and his work will endure as long as there are stages for them to be performed. Brian Friel photographed near his home in Ireland by Bobby Hanvey. We are lucky at the moment to have one of his plays that New York has never seen before. Afterplay, written by Friel in 2002, is in previews at the Irish Repertory Theatre on West 22nd Street in Manhattan. It is surprising it


On September 28, 1959, Edward Albee’s one-act play The Zoo Story had its premiere production in Berlin. Not only was it the first production of the play, it was the first produced play that the thirty-year-old Albee had written. But why did the All-American Albee have to go all the way to Berlin in order for his play to see the light of day? Here’s how it came about in Albee’s own words in a preface he wrote to one of the editions for the play: "Shortly after The Zoo Story was completed, while it was being read and politely refused by a number of New York producers […], a young composer friend of mine, William Flanagan by name, looked at the play, liked it, and sent it to several friends of


With the Broadhurst Theatre's current marquee boasting its newest tenant, the all-star revival of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's glorious The Front Page, it's time to celebrate the anniversary of this beautiful theatre's opening. On this date in 1927, the George Broadhurst (as it was officially christened) hosted its first show, George Bernard Shaw's comedy Misalliance in its the New York premiere. Who was George Broadhurst? Folks, even I had to look him up. He was a Brit born in 1866 who became wealthy in America as a playwright, producer and director. He built the theatre with the Shuberts and co-owned it until his death in 1952. He had his name associated with close to forty Broadway s


The St. James Theatre opened its doors (originally as the Erlanger's Theatre) for the very first time in the year 1928. One of its earliest productions was George M. Cohan's The Merry Malones (love this title, since I know and adore a family very much the "Merry Malones"). What I've gleaned almost exclusively about this musical comes from its opening night Playbill, available on line at Playbill.com via their "Vault" section for one and all to read: In the "first time for everything" department, I'm still wrapping my mind around the choreography credit that was given using the term "foot work." Perhaps there wasn't much dancing and the thought of giving Jack Mason a "choreography by" credit


While looking up notable events that occurred on this date in show business history, I stumbled upon the death of Frank Fay in 1961. Now unless you're in your eighties or nineties this name will mean nothing, as Fay's major accomplishments were mostly on the vaudeville stage, and therefore rarely recorded. Though he began to find a footing in early 1930s "talkies," any further stardom was halted when he squandered the good will afforded him with misbehaviors of the most unforgiving kind. Bitter and hopelessly drunk, the last fifteen years of his life were spent friendless, abandoned by all he once knew. He was at one time, however, considered the comedian's comedian. In fact, he is credited


Is there anyone that doesn't get a thrill from standing in the Lincoln Center Plaza and luxuriating in its three main buildings and the fountain at its center? The pair of Chagalls that hang in the windows of the Metropolitan Opera House? The newly designed section where the Vivian Beaumont Theatre and the Library are situated, with its planted trees that provide some shade and where visitors can sit and relax in the tranquility of the environment? It's one of my favorite places in New York City, so much so, that during the thirty years I lived in Los Angeles, my favorite hotel to stay was at the Empire, directly across the street. It was always such a treat to walk out in the morning and be


Today is the date the Music Box Theatre at 239 West 45th Street opened its doors for the very first time back in 1921. The appropriately titled Music Box Revue of 1921 was its first tenant and inaugurated a series of editions that opened at the start of each fall season on Broadway over the next four years. There aren't many shows that premiered in a theatre designed specifically for it to play in, but such was the case when Irving Berlin, farsighted (and rich enough), decided he wanted to own his own theatre. Together with the producer Sam H. Harris, they built the Music Box, intended as an intimate theatre for Broadway musicals. The Music Box Theatre (circa 1957) In the lobby there is a pe


Though I offer my opinions via this blog, I have tried to make clear that I don't consider myself a critic. It's a profession I never had any interest in, though the lure of being paid to travel across the country (or the globe sometimes) in pursuit of seeing essential theatre is an attractive one. But at what price? Is it akin to the selling of one's soul to the devil in the name of journalism? Who am I to tell writers, far more talented than I could ever hope to be, that on some particular occasion they didn't pass muster? According to whom? After all, isn't it audiences that always have the final say? Certainly there have been shows that critics toss bouquets in the direction of, only to


In 1950, the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa helmed and co-wrote (with Shinobu Hashimoto) the film Rashomon, which featured a device involving its main characters' telling different versions of the plot's inciting incident. The alternately self-serving and contradictory stories they tell have made the term "the Rashomon effect" commonplace to this day. With Edward Albee's recent passing, it brought to mind over the last few days a symposium sponsored by the Dramatists Guild of America many years ago, which gave proof to this adage. Edward Albee (2009) Having forever changed the American theatre (not hyperbole; it's a fact), a group representing the forces behind Albee's Who's Afraid o


The Emmy Awards were doled out last night, 9/18. Twelve years ago on 9/19, HBO's Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, adapted by playwright Tony Kushner from his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning plays, took home 11 trophies (then a record). I recently watched the entire mini-series again for the third time and it's hard to believe that a dozen years have gone by. The actors in it all look the same today and it almost goes without saying that the resonance of the writing continues to deepen and glow. The real angel: Emma Stebbins' 8-foot tall bronze statue at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park Kushner's achievement was unique. Not only did he write two plays, ambitious in


Edward Albee's death Friday night has left me thinking about this great man and the work he leaves behind, but particularly of the man himself. I've studied his biography over the years ever since I first became acquainted with his plays. Delving into his life, I have been slightly obsessed by the nightmare of Albee’s adoption. It has always haunted me. Young Edward (1960s) I think it’s natural for all of us to feel, even if raised by the best of parents, that somewhere along the way a mistake could have been made. A feeling of possibility that we could have been raised by the wrong family.In Albee’s case, the nightmare was real. Having been adopted, he was picked up and dropped into the exa


In writing these columns and looking into theatrical events on a given date, it's always fun to find things I never knew existed. Such is the case when I Googled September 17th to find that a play called Hamilton opened 99 years ago tonight in 1917. And yes, it was about that Hamilton. It was co-written (along with Mary P. Hamlin) by the British actor George Arliss, who also starred in the play. A renowned stage actor in his time, Arliss also made a number of films and was the third actor to win an Academy Award as Best Actor in 1930 for his portrayal of the title role in Disraeli. He had created the part on Broadway where his credits total two dozen over a twenty-six year period. He was som


The latest adaptation of Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, by the newest Tony Award winning playwright Stephen Karam (The Humans), began previews last night at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre. It will be, if I can trust my online sources, roughly the 30th production of the play in New York, on Broadway or Off, over the last ninety-three years. The first New York production was in 1923, and if a time machine was available, what student of theatre would not want to be in attendance? It was an import from Russia’s Moscow Art Theatre with Olga Knipper-Tchekhova (widow of Chekhov) as Madame Ranevskaya, and none other than Konstantin Stanislavsky, the father of modern acting technique,


I did a lot of plays in high school. I mean, a lot. Back in the mid-1970s, when budgets weren’t as tight as they are today, Great Neck South Senior High School on Long Island was ambitiousness personified. We put on a fall play, producing such overreaching dramas as Archibald MacLeish’s J.B., a modern retelling of the Book of Job and Marat/Sade, and Peter Weiss’s rumination on the Marquis de Sade and Jean-Paul Marat when both were inmates in an insane asylum. Not exactly fluffy stuff. We then did a Christmas choral concert, often performing a short musical such as Peter and the Wolf. Come February we did children’s theatre like The Wizard of Oz or Peter Pan, in their musical versions of cour


Fiorello H. LaGuardia, for whom a New York City airport is named, was also one of two mayors of the city to have a Broadway musical based on their life story. The other was Jimmy, which I reported on a few weeks ago, and told the story of James J. Walker, who resigned his office in disgrace. Besides the two styles of politicians they were, one a crusader for social causes and the other a corrupt glad hander, the two musicals couldn't have been more different as well. Besides one being good and the other being bad, Jimmy ran for ten weeks and Fiorello! for two years, winning the Tony for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Fiorello H. LaGuardia LaGuardia was a beloved figure in his


To demonstrate just how far back my theatre knowledge goes (and without unduly showing off), today I offer up a little history about The Black Crook, which opened in New York exactly 150 years ago today. I love to drop this title into conversation among theatre folk from time to time, usually as the punch line to a joke: “He’s so old … he was at the invited dress of The Black Crook!” But more often than not, the joke is on me, since the reference is so dated it only ends up showing off how old I am! For those with no idea to what I’m referring, The Black Crook is generally considered to be the first musical, or to be more specific, the forerunner of what we know as a Broadway “book musical.”


There will always be an inherent sadness whenever the date 9/11 comes around. Not to suggest any measure of equivalency to the horrors of the terrorist acting forever associated with it, but when I looked up theatre history for today, I was surprised to see we lost three extraordinary theatre artists on this same date within a fifteen-year span: Fred Ebb, Larry Gelbart and Jessica Tandy. Larry Gelbart (top); Jessica Tandy and Fred Ebb How much did I love and admire these three? Let me count the ways. First, I had the good fortune to meet all of them, each occasion as good as the next, beginning with Ms. Tandy, when I impulsively waited for her by the stage door after I saw her with Hume Cron


"In general, musicals bring happiness to people.” This quote from Gabby Cohen, the senior vice president for brand strategy at SoulCycle in the New York Times last week, made my heart sing. She was referring to the recent uptick in the trend of boisterous Broadway show music at exercise classes all over the city. To that I say: what took them so long? I've been listening to show music at the gym since the 1970s, protected by earbuds, of course. Such personal taste in music is something I've had to defend my whole life and, having lived in Los Angeles for much of the last thirty years, it was close to a love that dared not speak its name. Spending as much time as I did driving, I always neede


Thirty-nine years ago today I was driving in a car on a beautiful September day with Larry Horowitz, my college roommate. SUNY Purchase, where we both attended (he as a visual artist and I as an actor), had a later-than-usual start than other schools and we were on a ten-day trip through New England. We had just spent time with a friend of mine in Maine, who had a cottage on a lake and encouraged people to drop by. One of the guests while Larry and I visited was Doreen Wesker, whose husband, the acclaimed British playwright Arnold Wesker, was busy at work in Philadelphia on his newest play, The Merchant. It was trying out there before its scheduled opening on Broadway in a few weeks' time. T

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