"UP IN THE CHEAP SEATS"

Theatre yesterday and today

 

 

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A LION IN WINTER

Over the weekend, I was in Boston and took a T train to Cambridge to go to the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, where I have had the pleasure to see some terrific plays over the years, and Friday night was no exception. My interest was aroused when a few months ago it was announced that Tennessee Williams’s 1961 drama The Night of the Iguana was being revived there, and that none other than James Earl Jones had signed on for the small, but significant role of the 97-year-old poet, Nonno. Amanda Plummer and James Earl Jones in The Night of the Iguana at ART. This is the actor who will always be something of a talisman for me ever since I saw him star in the first play I saw on Broadway,

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH JAKE

A new production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George opened last night at the newly renovated Hudson Theatre. It’s been 49 years since a show was produced there. And what a show this is. A bare-bones revival, a touch more lavishly produced than it was this past July in its four-day run at City Center as part of the Encores! summer series, this production manages the impossible: with no scenery it still appears lavish. Ravishing, really. Beautifully cast and sung, under the direction of Sarna Lapine (the playwright’s niece), it honors his and Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize winning collaboration in new and exciting ways. Delving deep, Ms. Lapine has deconstructed a

MOOSE MEMORIES

Somehow I let yesterday’s anniversary slip by that marked the historic opening of Moose Murders, the one-performance comedy/mystery which overnight was enshrined for all eternity; its title synonymous with the word “flop.” As Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote in one of his most memorable reviews: “Those of us who have witnessed the play that opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theater last night will undoubtedly hold periodic reunions, in the noble tradition of survivors of the Titanic.” I was not one of those survivors. I threw away my shot at seeing the show even though I had caught wind of what was transpiring (soon to be expiring) on West 49th Street as the rumors drifted their way uptown

HERE’S ROSE

I first began posting these columns in June of 2016, and over time I’ve been asked where I get my ideas from. In thinking it over, it certainly begins with an idea, but more often than not, things then morph into something born out of inspiration. I wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, and start to free associate on what hits me about either some history of the day’s date in question, or something that’s on my mind that I think might be worth sharing having to do with the world of the theatre. This morning was no different than any other. Coffee in hand, I began poking around for an idea and settled on today being the first opening night of the John Golden Theatre on 45th Street, on

TO SIR WITH LOVE

Today is Sidney Poitier’s 90th birthday. And while researching a few facts I, for one, had no idea that he had been knighted forty-three years ago by the British government — and not an honorary knighthood, either. This was in 1974 and it was only seven years prior that To Sir With Love, in which he starred, was the unexpected box office hit of 1967. That was the extraordinary year where Poitier starred in not one, but two of the Best Picture nominees (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night — which won the award), properly establishing his status as the undisputed biggest star in Hollywood. Sidney Poitier awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 (with Barak Obama)

THE ART OF COLLABORATION

When the esteemed lyricist Fred Ebb died in 2004, his composing partner, John Kander, was set adrift. At the age of seventy-seven, losing the man he worked with side by side for forty-two years, writing such musicals together as Cabaret, The Kiss of the Spider Woman and Chicago, had to have been devastating for Kander. Theirs was a partnership for the ages and no one would have begrudged he man if thirteen years ago, while mourning the loss of his friend and partner, Kander decided that from then on he would play the piano for himself, rather than share his tunes with the rest of the world anymore. But John Kander did no such thing. With a driving curiosity and the need to keep telling stori

SLY FOXY

For the most far-out out of town engagement of a show, could anything ever top the Yukon? But believe it or not, a musical entitled Foxy, starring no less of a comedic genius than Bert Lahr, did just that, trudging 3,000 miles away from the lights of Broadway. This was in 1964 before it headed for the now defunct Ziegfeld Theatre, where it opened on this date fifty-three years ago. Based on Ben Johnson's centuries-old Volpone. I, for one, am very sorry I missed it. And that's not just because I would love to have seen a show at the Ziegfeld. * Original artwork for the Broadway poster of Foxy. The reason for this historic first was that Foxy set its story took in the Yukon during the gold rus

THE CANTOR'S SON

Today is the birthday of Harold Arlen, one of the most influential composers among the contributors of what has come to be known as the Great American Songbook. A cantor’s son, born Hyman Arluck in Buffalo, New York in 1905, he played piano from a young age before dropping out of high school to become a songwriter. He headed for New York City and the creative atmosphere of Harlem, specifically the music coming out of the Cotton Club. By age twenty-five, after being an accompanist mostly in vaudeville, he was writing his own songs and struck it big with “Get Happy,” an instant popular hit. The young Hyman Arluck (ne: Harold Arlen) Arlen would go on to great success in film (he composed the so

BENNY KUBELSKY DAY

Benjamin Kubelsky was born today in 1894; the son of Meyer Kubelsky and Emma Sachs, Jewish immigrants who had immigrated to America from Poland and Lithuania respectively, who first arrived in Chicago, then later settled in Waukegan, Illinois. There was no way young Benny could ever have known while a small boy growing up in this relatively small town, that one day a Middle School would bear his name there. Well, not the name Kubelsky… but his old first name, Benny — now his last name. When christened the Jack Benny Middle School in 1961, the former Benny Kubelsky was sixty-five and one of the most beloved men in show business, with a career at that point that spanned almost fifty years. Ren

MAGIC TO "DON'T!"

“The thing about Doug Henning was that he could make the audience disappear, too!” — Nathan Lane Merlin was the infamous 1983 Broadway musical that opened 34 years ago today at the Mark Hellinger Theatre and starred the internationally acclaimed magician, Doug Henning. Having totaled 69 preview performances —that’s two months — the longest preview period in Broadway history, many critics decided it was time to open the show all by themselves, without benefit of having been invited. As Nathan Lane again succinctly put it: “When we opened they thought it was a revival.” Nope. No cast recording was ever recorded, but optimism is everything in the theatre. The producers were running a bit of a s

AMBASSADOR OF BROADWAY

The Ambassador Theatre at 215 West 49th Street is one of forty-one current Broadway theatres in operation (though the Hudson is reopening today after being dormant close to 49 years, and with the Helen Hayes undergoing renovations, that number will grow to forty-two in short order).When I first began my weekly attendance of Broadway shows as a teenager, it was right around the time the Hudson closed down. I felt bad that I’d just missed out on getting in there and I made it my goal to find my way into every single theatre, not only to complete the list, but because I was (and still am) fascinated by their architecture. No part of a Broadway house escapes my attention. I even find the guard r

COMPANY IN TROUBLED TIMES

With the upcoming publication of my book Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, I’ve begun doing interviews to promote it, and questions are being asked that are bringing up more memories than my four-years-plus of writing have conjured. Especially due to much of the book’s past taking place at a time of great social unrest in America. I began my weekly visits into Times Square from my Long Island home just before I turned twelve in February 1969, about a month into the brand new presidency of Richard Nixon. Having run on a campaign slogan of “Bring Us Together,” that optimism hadn’t yet spread to most of America’s major inner cities, which were anything but congenial, espec

WHAT’S IN A NAME?… or a signature?

As I wrote last week, the Hudson Theatre, built in 1901, will be re-opening its doors as a legitimate Broadway theatre for the first time in 49 years this coming weekend when a revival of Sunday in the Park With George begins previewing. It’s only through sheer luck that the theatre wasn’t bought by developers and that an office building isn’t marking the spot today. With its last production mounted in 1968, and having begun my weekly theatregoing a year later, I never saw a show at the Hudson. However, I was fortunate as a teenager to have seen a show at the George Abbott Theatre, which was destroyed in 1970. First opened as the Craig, later the Adelphi, then even later as the 54th Street,

BACKSTAGE BOLDNESS

I went to the theatre twice this weekend and knew actors that were in both of the shows I attended. One didn’t know I was coming, the other did. As far as going backstage following a performance is concerned, it’s my general feeling that if you have something really positive to say (as I happily did in both cases), no actor on earth will feel put upon if you offer your congratulations on a job well done. The actor who had my name on “the list” greeted me in the alley beside the theatre. I wasn’t expecting a genuine backstage visit like it was in the old days when I was a kid. No, the days of being invited into dressing rooms all up and down Broadway are long gone. We live in different times

WILDER THINGS

On February 4, 1938, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town opened on Broadway and middle schools and high schools across America haven’t been the same ever since. I don’t say that to be funny, but even without statistics to back it up, at one time or another in the ensuing eighty years, surely most every school has done this play. It’s an attractive property, not only due to many of its roles being age-appropriate, but also for its not needing any scenery or little in the way of costumes. Hopefully, the drama teachers that choose it recognize that those reasons are all secondary to the strength of the play and what it has to say about the human condition. Consider that it was written when the world was

UPCOMING BROADWAY COMEBACK

In three weeks, the Hudson Theatre, after an extensive makeover and having not housed a Broadway show since 1968, will reopen with a limited engagement of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George. When that happens, the Hudson will officially reclaim its place as the oldest theatre on Broadway (the New Amsterdam and the Lyceum were built at the same time, each opening within a month of the Hudson). As Ethel Barrymore starred in the first show at the Hudson, this photo could have indeed been taken in1903 when it opened. That the Hudson has remained standing is something of a miracle. Save for one theatre still waiting to be refurbished, it is the last remnant of the

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© 2016 Ron Fassler - All rights Reserved

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