Theatre yesterday and today



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Yesterday I wrote about how the current Republican occupants of the White House were marking their first hundred days and how it started me thinking about my first hundred days of theatre going as an eleven year-old kid. It was on February 1 1969 that I came into Manhattan for the first time without adult supervision to see a Broadway show—and thus began a journey that would wind up encompassing 200 shows in four years. And now fifty years later, I’ve put these stories in a book. Coming in every Saturday afternoon, my first hundred days covered ten weeks and ten shows — alphabetically from Cop-Out (playwright John Guare’s Broadway debut) to Zorba (John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joseph Stein’s mus


When I was eleven years old, I sat “up in the cheap seats” for the very first time. On that day, I spontaneously hatched a plan that would utilize the proceeds of my paper route to fund a way for me to see as many Broadway shows as I could possibly schedule. It was doable, considering the average ticket price for the last row in a Broadway house back then was around $3. What I didn’t know at the time was that this would begin a journey that came to encompass 200 shows in four years, or that nearly fifty years later, I would put it in a book.With all the talk this week about the current Republican occupants of the White House and their first hundred days, I started to think about my first hun


Last night’s opening of Lucas Hnath’s new play A Doll’s House, Part 2, was the final play of the 2016–17 Broadway season. All shows that opened between April 28th of last year and April 27th of this year, are in consideration for the Tony Awards, with nominations forthcoming on Tuesday May 2nd, and the annual broadcast June 11th on CBS June. The top winners at the 1963 Tonys: Zero Mostel (Forum), Vivien Leigh (Tovarich) and Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Prior to 1967, the first year the Tonys were telecast on national television, the awards were very small events held in a hotel ballroom in New York City. And it was on this date April 28, 1963, when one such af


Albert James Pacino was born on this day, seventy-seven years ago. Wow. I mean… that wasn’t supposed to happen. To me, he will always be thirty-two or thirty-four, looking the way he did as Michael Corleone in Godfather’s I & II. Pacino loves being an actor and constantly works, sometimes taking film projects that I would imagine don’t exactly turn out as well as he might have hoped. He continues to seek out every opportunity in the theatre as well, having just finished a run as a late-in-life Tennessee Williams in God Looked Away at the Pasadena Playhouse in Southern California. But today, to celebrate his birthday, I would like to concentrate on his earliest days as an actor in the New Yor


I can’t let today go by without acknowledging that it is the birthdate of the most produced playwright of the past four hundred plus years: William Shakespeare, born on this date in 1564. His plays are still done the world over, even with the potential to sell out, especially when they are star-studded, such as the recent Othello that played Off-Broadway last year with David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig. Coming up this summer, Oscar Isaac will take on the title role in Hamlet at the Public Theatre, and you can bet that will be a tough ticket as well. It’s kind of astounding, since the plays still need to more to attract audiences for more than their built-in familiar titles and popular stories o


For those who only knew of his work on the 170 episodes of the 1960s sitcom Green Acres, Eddie Albert was actually an actor of wide versatility and accomplishments. He created the leads in numerous Broadway plays and musicals and was nominated twice for the Academy Award (Roman Holiday in 1953 and The Heartbreak Kid in 1972). He was also a humanitarian, social rights activist and environmentalist, deeply committed in word and deed to a host of important causes. Born on this day in 1906, it’s both coincidence and providence that today is Earth Day. Among his many accomplishments, Albert founded City Children’s Farms in the 1970s, bringing gardens to inner cities throughout the United States.


When I was a kid growing up on Long Island, WOR-TV Channel 9 played a movie every day throughout the 1960s under the impressive banner of something they called Million Dollar Movie. Forget the fact that most films were butchered to fit the 90-minute slot (including commercials). Forget that some of these classics were often missing the key scenes which made them classics. No, the thing that was most memorable was that Million Dollar Movie played one movie a week, Monday-Friday — twice a day! This meant that long before the VCR or streaming allowed you to watch a movie over and over again, anyone who loved Gunga Din or King Kong, could see them for a solid week, even in these bastardized form


On this date forty-five years ago, I attended a Broadway show which provided me with a first-time experience that I have never forgotten. It was the 169th of the 200 plays I saw over a four-year period (yes, I kept meticulous track of all that), at a time when I obsessively saw everything I could as a young teenager. Most of this is covered in my new book Up in the Cheap Seats, only this particular story didn’t wind up in the final draft. Given I stumbled upon the fact that today marks its anniversary, I’m taking the opportunity to tell it. Brock Peters in Lost in the Stars (1972) It was on this night back in 1972 that I saw a Broadway revival of the musical Lost in the Stars, starring Brock


So an actor named Barry Nelson was born a hundred years ago today… ancient history, right? But growing up as I did wanting to be an actor (and carefully watching actors in the 200 Broadway shows that I attended over a four-year period in the late 1960s and early ‘70s), I have always been fascinated by the careers of those like Nelson — one of Broadway’s most prodigious leading men. In 1968, when I began going to the theatre on a regular basis, Nelson was one of the most in-demand actors of the day. Solid and reliable in both drama and comedy; handsome, with a deft flair; he could also hold his own against a host of powerful leading ladies, none of whom looked upon him as a threat to steal th


Thirty years ago tonight, Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy opened Off-Broadway at the now demolished John Houseman Theatre. I saw it some six months later on a night so cold, that when I walked out into the bitter wind, the tears on my face froze. It was sensitively directed by Ron Largomarsino, and featured Dana Ivey as Miss Daisy, the feistily independent old woman, whose twenty-year relationship with her chauffeur Hoke, as played by Morgan Freeman, made for one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever spent in the theatre. Dana Ivey and Morgan Freeman as Miss Daisy and Hoke Coleburn (1987) Based on Uhry’s own grandmother, the character of Daisy Werthan is a “humdinger” as her son Boolie w


I have a thing for the music of Richard Rodgers and I know I’m not alone. Of all the musical giants of the 20th century that contributed to the Great American Songbook, Rodgers holds a special place. Not only was he prolific, but his career was separated into three succinct periods: the first were his collaborations with the lyricist Lorenz Hart, that covered the years 1925–1942. Between revues and book musicals they wrote 23 Broadway shows over that 17-year time span, something that will never be repeated again. Not ever. Richard Rodgers, in a rare moment of unposed spontaneity. Rodgers’ second period of innovation and unparalleled triumphs began in 1943 when he teamed with Oscar Hammerstei


On Monday, the small, select committee designated to present this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama announced their choice for 2017. It was given to Lynn Nottage for her play Sweat, which opened on Broadway just two weeks ago, though a previous production (virtually identical) premiered last fall Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre, where I first saw it. It was Nottage’s second Pulitzer, the only female playwright to achieve this distinction in the near 100 year history of the award. She won in 2009 for Ruined, which opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club Off-Broadway and ran for seven months, extension after extension. Anointed with a Pulitzer was one honor, but so was being cited by the Lucille


Last night, I attended the fourth preview of John Guare’s brilliant comedy, Six Degrees of Separation, starring Allison Janney and Jon Benjamin Hickey in the leading roles of Ouisa and Flan Kittredge. As the ninety-minute, intermission-less play unfolded, I found it hard to believe that twenty-seven years had gone by since I first saw it, shortly after it premiered at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre in 1990. Its ingenious construction moves briskly until it slows for a moment to creep up on you with a moving finish. Currently at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre But this column is not a review of this new production. First off, I’m not a critic and second, it hasn’t officially opened yet. But while sit


There’s no other polite way to put it: the Jukebox Musical is a split proposition in more ways that one. For as many theatre enthusiasts it fills with dread, it has undeniably given pleasure to millions of people (Mamma Mia, anybody?) At its worst, it’s a lazy conceit with scores strung together by a parade of previously released popular songs. For those who demand more from a Broadway musical, sometimes a haphazard plot is constructed (or merely inserted) to keep the songs from being rolled out one after the other. As one example, take Mamma Mia’s poor excuse for one, which was more than just tired — it was recycled. Nearly the exact same story had been musicalized by Alan Jay Lerner and Bu

"70, GIRLS (AND GUYS), 70"

When I was a kid in love with the theatre, the first airing of the Tony Awards ceremony on national television in 1967 marked a significant occasion for me. The hosts chosen for this historic event (of what this June will mark 50 years of broadcasts) were Mary Martin and Robert Preston, the stars of that season’s hit musical I Do! I Do!, a show with which I had become more than slightly obsessed. In order to compete with the Oscars and the Emmys, both highly rated broadcasts of the day, the Tonys would require enormous star power in order to bring in the required audience (and ratings) for this experiment. The theatrical producer Alexander H. Cohen was hired for the job, and what resulted wa


I wrote a column last August on the actor Melvyn Douglas. As my readership has grown, I thought I would offer an updated version of it today, the 116th anniversary of his birth.The title of a 1953 MGM musical, I Love Melvin, best sums up my feelings about Melvyn Douglas, a wonderful actor who excelled in all mediums. There was nothing he ever did that wasn’t first rate or allowed for imagining anyone else in a role for which he was cast. Unfortunately, I never got to see him on stage, as the last play he did on Broadway closed a year before I started going regularly as a teenager. So I doubled down and sought out films and television he did over the course of his long career since as long as


I probably listen to a couple of Broadway show tunes a day (at least). It’s always been hard for me to explain why, especially when most people’s tastes don’t naturally gravitate to this kind of music — and that’s putting it politely. For me, one of the main reasons is that behind each song is the story (or stories) it depicts, told from the character’s point of view in the show for which it was written, giving the song added meaning and resonance. Also there are memories that certain songs evoke from productions I’ve seen of the musical for which it was written, both in performance and staging. Then there is the power in a single phrase of music that can sometimes be overpowering, such as t


When the calendar page turns to April 1, the immediate thought for some is what sort of April Fool’s Day joke might they pull? For others, I imagine it’s a fear of being the victim of an April Fool’s joke put over on them. It’s all pretty sophomoric.But with my daily interests towards what a specific date might mean with regard to my adventures in the theatre with what goes on either offstage or onstage, I began to think about what the biggest April Fool’s joke was pulled on me as an audience member? It didn’t take long before the back bench of my memory aggressively pushed one show to the forefront: We Interrupt This Program … To set the scene: the year was 1975, and the legendary Broadway

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