Theatre yesterday and today



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This final day of March offers many distinctive birthdates of men and women of the theatre. Among them the two-time Tony winning actor Richard Kiley — Broadway’s original Don Quixote de la Mancha; Israel Horowitz, whose many works include the one-act play The Indian Wants the Bronx, which opened Off-Broadway in 1968 and won Obie Awards for himself and its two breakout stars, Al Pacino and John Cazale; Nikolas Gogol, the Russian dramatist, born just after the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century and whose play The Inspector General is one of the most renowned international comedies in all of world theatre; Shirley Jones, who will always have a special place in my heart due to her Marian the Librari


In looking over some of these columns which I’ve been writing for three-quarters of the past year, I realized that I’ve given a lot of love to character actors — perhaps without enough spread around for character actresses. With the piece I wrote for Dianne Wiest two days ago, I felt motivated today to write another about an actress whose career is right for reassessment or reclamation. Then it dawned on me: what about someone who’s ripe for recognition, especially considering she first received acknowledgement of her talents back in the mid-1950s? This would be Lois Smith, who is having somewhat of a revival of late (or a late revival), since turning eighty-six a few months ago. In Michael


March birthdays continue with today’s being that of Diane Wiest. Who doesn’t remember her two brilliant turns in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Bullets Over Broadway (1994)? Not only was she completely different in those roles (introvert/extrovert) but for each one she received Academy Awards, directed in both by the same person (Woody Allen), making her the only actress ever to have done so. But Wiest distinguishes herself in almost everything she does, which includes dozens of movies and television shows, like her Emmy winning role in HBO’s In Treatment and a two-year stint on the mothership Law & Order series. However, her roots are in the theatre which is where her career began. And t


“Let’s not waste time on its ifs, buts and maybes. Enter Laughing is marvelously funny, and so is Alan Arkin in the principal role.” This is what Howard Taubman, then the chief theatre critic of the New York Times wrote in his review of Joseph Stein’s adaptation of Carl Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel when it opened on March 13, 1963. “The major complaint about the new play that pranced into Henry Miller’s Theater Wednesday night is that it doesn’t provide enough rest periods between side-splitting laughs. Even an uproarious farce ought to be more considerate of the customer’s staying powers.” With a review like this (eventually winning him a Tony Award), Alan Arkin had much to celebrat


The theatre of yesterday (1930 to be exact) returned to Broadway for the first time in 87 years the other night, when I attended the opening night of The New Yorkers at Encores! This production was perhaps one of the truest to the original mission statement of City Center’s ongoing plan for the past twenty-four years, devoting itself to presenting three American musicals in concert every year, all dedicated to performing rarely heard shows, usually with their original orchestrations. Kevin Chamberlin, Tam Mutu, Scarlett Strallen, Byron Jennings & Arnie Burton in “The New Yorkers” (2017) That last part is one of the main reasons for attending any Encores! To hear some of these forgotten shows


Lately it feels like every day I wake up and think about writing this column, I find out that it’s the birthday of one of my favorite theatre artists. March is also my birthday month, and I seem to be in the company of some extraordinary fellow members of the Pisces persuasion. Since the month began, I’ve already written about the actors John Cullum and John Garfield, the composer John Kander and the producer Robert Whitehead. Two days ago on March 20th, it was the birthdays of six theatre veterans: The British actor Michael Redgrave (1908), who last played Broadway in 1961 (a bit before my time); Carl Reiner (1922), who appeared as performer on Broadway in two post-war revues (WWII, that is


Today is the 90th birthday of the legendary composer John Kander. And on Wednesday evening just three days prior, I attended his latest musical Kid Victory, in collaboration with Greg Pierce as his co-author and lyricist. Considering I saw the original Cabaret late in its run back in 1969, it’s hard to believe that I’m seeing new work from this composer, whose Broadway credits (beginning as a dance arranger) date back to the original production of Gypsy in 1959. If anyone has had a longer run in the American musical theatre with as much success as John Kander, I am hard pressed to name them. John Kander With his writing partner of forty years, Fred Ebb, Kander has been the recipient of three


I certainly couldn’t let today go by without a shout out to the anniversary of the opening night on Broadway of 1776, which was forty-eight years ago tonight. I had seen the show the day before at a Saturday matinee preview from my perch up in the cheap seats, only twelve days after my 12th birthday. It cost me $3.00. Today, a Saturday matinee at the same theatre (the Richard Rodgers) would cost $139 for Hamilton. And that’s if you can get a ticket!1776 is the show out of close to fifty years of theatre going that I paid admission to more than any other (13 times). I also stood in the wings watching the end of the show on countless occasions. I befriended the stage doorman, and for reasons I


On March 15, 1956, a new musical opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. It was adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which told the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who by way of a chance meeting with Professor Henry Higgins, a renowned phoneticist, is transformed from a “guttersnipe” (his words) to a radiant young woman, passed off at a ball as a princess. First titled Lady Liza, it has been better known these past sixty-one years as My Fair Lady, one of the most beautifully crafted musicals ever conceived. With Rex Harrison, perfectly cast as Higgins, and the incredibly young Julie Andrews (twenty-years-old when the it opened), the show’s run of 6 1/2 years would go o


With a large swath of the northeast bracing for a blizzard tomorrow, there are hourly headlines as to what’s being canceled here in New York City, where on any given day there are dozens of Broadway shows and hundreds of concerts for locals and tourists. But one cancelation caught my eye: the Robert Whitehead Award, presented this year to Mike Isaacson, a Broadway producer, will not be having its reception tomorrow and will be postponing to a later date. This award given annually by the Commercial Theater Institute for “outstanding achievement in commercial theatre producing,” is the only organization of its kind that serves as a training group for commercial producers. The name Robert White


William Inge’s Picnic, opened on Broadway sixty-four years ago last month. I caught a new production of it by the Transport Group that is currently in previews at the Judson Gym off Washington Square Park the other night. It was my first time seeing this play that has had a rich history since its premiere those many decades ago, when it brought to the landscape the work of a new post-war playwright, favorably compared to Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. These two contemporaries of Inge were, by 1950, well represented with All My Sons and Death of a Salesman (Miller), and A Streetcar Named Desire and The Rose Tattoo (Williams). William Inge, circa 1960s. Born Walter Gage in Independence,


When the British playwright Joe Orton was murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell in 1967, he left behind one completed and unproduced comedy, What the Butler Saw. Before being bludgeoned to death with a hammer, in his short theatrical career, Orton had been crowned a modern-day Oscar Wilde. After his shocking and tragic death, a year and a half later, Londoners were clamoring to see what unseen gem was left behind stemming from his brilliant comic mind. So it was on this date in 1969 that What the Butler Saw premiered at the Queen’s Theatre in the West End. It starred Coral Browne, a renowned Australian-American actress and Sir Ralph Richardson, theatrical royalty personified. Expectations


In writing these columns, I often try and tie them in a bit to what occurred on a given date in theatre history. So yesterday, while staring at the blank screen for awhile, I finally hit upon something to write about … and then the day got away from me. That’s because (historical or not) it was my birthday. I was born March 4, 1957 — exactly sixty years ago. And I am reveling in it. I feel like I’m a better person now than I was at twenty, thirty, forty or fifty, mostly because I’ve lived a long time by this point and have matured (somewhat) and learned from my mistakes (hopefully). 2017 is looking like it’s going to be one of my best years yet, even while living in fear that the country may


In September 1956, a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan opened at the Phoenix Theatre starring Siobhán McKenna, an Irish actress who sort of made a career out of playing the part. I’m not writing about McKenna, but of a young actor who took to the stage that night and made his Broadway debut. True, he was only part of the ensemble, and even at that, no more than a supernumerary—“enumerated among the regular components of a group,” as Meriam-Webster specifies that term. Meaning that the 26-year-old actor John Cullum’s appearance was more about filling space on the stage than anything else. Now, with a career that has spanned sixty-one years, why not take a moment to celebrate the


Honestly, I find it hard to believe that thirty-eight years ago tonight marks the opening of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler-Harold Prince production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. How is that possible? I saw it at one of its last previews in the final week of February heading into March and it feels like yesterday. This date also marks the move-in date of my first New York apartment when I was a twenty-two year old emboldened to begin my career as an actor. In the words of another character in a Sondheim show: “I was younger then.” At one of those last Sweeney previews I even got to hear sung a different second-to-last-line to the musical. According to Sondheim, a coup

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