Theatre yesterday and today



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For most people in the arts, it’s often impossible to site the moment when a creative endeavor begins: a concrete date, secured by an event that marks a true beginning. But when I decided to write a book about my theatre exploits as a little kid going to the theatre, I also knew I was going to interview as many famous artists of the period as I could and interpolate their own stories into my narrative. Thus the hybrid that has become Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway was born, which I’m finally happy to announce will be available in January from Griffith Moon Publishing. The very first conversation (of the more than one hundred I would eventually conduct for the book), t


The actor Fritz Weaver passed away this weekend at the age of ninety. If you don’t know his name, his face is certainly familiar. With a career that spanned sixty years as a working actor, and more than a hundred film and television credits, he was one of those types who always treated the theatre as his true calling. I consider myself fortunate that I had not only the pleasure of seeing his work on stage many times over the decades, but to have had a wonderfully informative and entertaining two-part conversation with him for my book Up in the Cheap Seats two years ago. I cherish that I had the opportunity to speak with an actor who had always been one of my favorites. Fritz Weaver (1926–201


Today is the birthday of David Merrick, born in 1911, a producer of once great renown. And with the days of one lone producer’s name above the title of a Broadway show a thing of the past, it’s important not to forget his contributions. Especially that nowadays it’s become acceptable for the principle backers of a show, once known collectively as “angels,” to assume producer credit on posters and in Playbill, and therefore receive a nearly equal position alongside the person that does all the work. The credit comes with the potential of sharing in a Tony Award, hopefully luring wealthy investors to part with what is some seriously considerable cash in the high-risk gambler’s stakes involved,


Happy Thanksgiving … and happy anniversary to Guys and Dolls, which opened fifty-six years ago tonight on Broadway in a production that it is safe to say has stood the test of time. Its 1955 Frank Sinatra-Marlon Brando movie version appeared on my black & white TV when I was a kid in the 1960s and I was instantly captivated by its winning score by composer-lyricist Frank Loesser. I saw it live for the first time on Broadway in a 1977 revival (with an all-black cast); then in London in 1984, and on Broadway again in the 1992 Jerry Zaks-Nathan Lane-Faith Prince production (which was so successful it ran longer than the original). The strength of its construction and pitch-perfect score has nev


What the director Lonny Price has accomplished with his documentary The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, is something close to a miracle. Not only that it took Price nine years to gather footage, clear rights, film interviews and cull financing, but that he managed to do it all while staying true to his subject (and subjects) with overwhelming care and sensitivity. It is a deeply personal rumination on youth, thwarted ambition, the joy of memory (and holding on to it), and does it all while rarely veering into sentimentality. Combining equal parts of the free abandon of what it means to be young with the wisdom of what comes with growing old, the film specifically tells the st


This being the birthdate of Bert Williams, I am reposting (in a fashion) a column from June 20th, which was a date in his career (and in theatre history) that had great significance for African-Americans: Bert Williams in his prime (circa 1915) Born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1875, Egbert Austin Williams lived in New York, then California with his family as a boy. A self-taught musician, he possessed a comic mimicry that were only part of his special gifts. He managed to go to Stanford, but had to cut his studies short to earn a living, which is when he entered show business. It was on many a rough road outside Los Angeles that saw him as a barker for medicine shows, almost exclusively selling fa


This being Veterans Day (memories of war dead on our minds), and it coming shortly after an incendiary presidential election, how appropriate that seventy-nine years ago today the fabled Mercury Theatre's revolutionary production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar opened on Broadway.The brainchild of its director Orson Welles (who also produced this modern-dress version alongside John Houseman), with its conspirators dressed in suits and ties, the game of backstabbing (and frontstabbing) was a first for audiences caught up at the time in an international game of intrigue that portended an encroaching menace on our own soil. Sound familiar? Orson Welles (at age 20) as Brutus in Julius Caesar (193


My shortest blog post. Officially taking the day off in honor of it being Election Day, I'm posting this image and wondering who knows what film (based on a famous Broadway show) it's from? That is all. Ron Fassler's Up in the Cheap Seats: a Historical Memoir of Broadway, is coming soon from Griffith Moon Publishing: https://griffithmoon.com/cheapseats/


On this date sixty years ago, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night premiered at the now defunct Helen Hayes Theatre on West 46th Street. Directed by Jose Quintero, and starring the quartet of Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, Jason Robards and Bradford Dillman, it received every award possible and had an impact on the American theatre in ways that reverberate to this day. In conversation with Harold Prince in 2013, he told me that he saw the play five times in the first ten days. Unlike Prince, I've never seen any single production of it more than once, but in my nearly fifty years of theatregoing I have seen it on six separate occasions, as well as in three filmed or taped versio


"The thing I love most about movies and that I love most about other people’s work is the small things. You think about your favorite thing in a movie or in a play or in a performance … it’s always something very small, it’s so small that you can barely tell other people about, but it just makes you gasp, because it’s like a little pebble of something true. And harvesting them—because, after all, the acting is done by other people—is still something that I think is so thrilling. I think the thing is just to keep doing it because with luck you can catch that wind, it can still be done." And in a nutshell, the late film director Mike Nichols summed up why he directed plays and films for so lon


Sell/Buy/Date. I'll never look at another container at the grocery store the same way again. And that's not because Sarah Jones's new play of that title has anything to do with expired food. No, it's because it's given me so much food for thought since I saw at a Wednesday matinee a few days ago. That the show's subject takes on, what one critic called, "the next 100 years of the world's oldest profession," isn't what makes it a meal of an evening at the theatre. Its greater virtue has to do with the insights Ms. Jones shares of where she thinks we are today as a nation and where we may be heading. The wide range of topics unfurled in this whirlwind of a ninety-minute futuristic monologue is

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