Theatre yesterday and today



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This is a repeat of a column I first posted on July 27th of last year. But with yesterday marking Bob Hope’s birthdate of May 29, 1903, I reread it and thought it was worth reposting, as the history of this one-of-a-kind entertainer is worth remembering. When he passed away just two months past his 100th birthday, Hope was still known to millions. But by 2003, a generation of young people read his obit with little awareness of the tremendous impact he had on American culture. Not only did Hope single-handedly invent the notion of a “stand-up” comic on television, but he came to embody what it meant to elegantly and wittily host an awards program on television, something that today is conside


I told myself when I moved back to New York City nearly two years ago, that I would no longer act like a tourist once I settled in. For the thirty years I lived in Los Angeles, whenever I would visit my home town (I was born in Brooklyn), I behaved as if I was someplace like London. I always found myself cramming in shows so I would hit the maximum number without missing a 2:00, 3:00, 7:00, 7:30 or 8:00 o'clock curtain. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. But this is the merry month of May, when catching up with all the shows you missed in April (Broadway's busiest month) catches up to you. And if you're of a mind (as I am) to see most of the Tony nominated plays and musicals prior to t


“High Ticket Prices Are Fueling a Broadway Boom” read this morning’s headline in the New York Times, hitting me hard over my ritual cup of coffee. Nearly a year ago, a similar Times piece about the end of the 2015–16 season, led me to write an article I titled “Who’s Broadway Is It, Anyway?” In it, I asked whether we are now past the point where ordinary souls can purchase an advance ticket (not a rush or lottery one) without having to take out a bank loan? It is no longer on a human scale when Broadway box office personnel, and not a scalper, offers to sell you an $895 ticket with a smile on their face. And I’ll mention it only once that I had the luxury to attend the theatre on a regular b


Yesterday I wrote of the actor Jimmy Stewart's only two appearances on Broadway between the years 1947 and 1970—both of them in the same play: Mary Chase's Harvey. The first was when he filled in for the vacationing Frank Fay, the actor who created the part of the more-often-than-not ossified gentleman who befriends a 6' 2" rabbit that only he can see. The second, with a decidedly more mature Stewart (then nearly sixty-two), was twenty-five years later. "I'm nervous," he told the New York Times in an interview before the show opened. "When you haven't been on stage in 20 years, it's a pretty hard thing to get back into. Especially the voice projection. But my wife, Gloria, and I kind of welc


It did my heart good as I scrolled through Facebook yesterday, to see that a number of people posted photos of Jimmy Stewart in remembrance of his 109th birthday. True, a good many of those who post regularly in my feed are in the entertainment business, but I would hope that everyone remembers this beloved actor. Even though he died twenty years ago and his last performance on film was eleven years before that, he almost always seemed to represent what was good about the American spirit, be it in larger-than-life westerns or as some humble resident of a small town, such as Bedford Falls. Or by way of his playing fictionalized versions of modest and heroic men like the band leader Glen Mille


When I leaped to my feet early this morning at the curtain call of A Doll's House, Part 2, currently playing at the John Golden Theatre, I couldn't help but glance at my watch. It was 1:40 a.m. To make things clear, the show hadn't started at the usual time of 8:00 p.m. It began at midnight, the first time I have ever seen a Broadway play at the dawn of a new day. The last time this phenomenon occurred was in 2001 with the revival of The Rocky Horror Show, which scheduled a special midnight performance to raise money for the Actors Fund, a charity that assists performers. Now A Doll’s House, Part 2 has done the same, and I for one, knew I couldn't miss it— even if I had to pay to see it all


No, not this guy (Robert Preston): This guy (Meredith Willson): For it was the composer-lyricist Meredith Willson who gave Robert Preston his signature role, creating the character of “The Music Man,” an ironic title if there ever was one, considering that a rival salesman at the top of show declares, “He don’t know one damn note — from another!” Born on this date in 1902, Willson was fifty-five years old when his new musical opened at the Majestic Theatre to some of the best reviews of the 1950s (now known as Broadway’s Golden Age). It was his first time at bat in the theatre (and would prove his one and only home run), but was enough to cement his place in the proverbial Hall of Fame. Admi


When asked his definition of "satire," the playwright George S. Kaufman stated "it's what closes on Saturday night." And he wasn't far off the mark, even though he himself had a huge hit in 1931 with Of Thee I Sing, as funny and stinging a political satire as Broadway's ever produced. It was decidedly light-hearted with nothing more than entertainment on its mind and such a success, that two years later, Kaufman and his fellow collaborators, Morrie Ryskind (book) and George and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics), dipped back into the well for a sequel they called Let "Em Eat Cake. With a run of just 90 performances to Of Thee I Sing's 441 (a very long run for 1931), it might have been the show


Today marks the birthdate of the playwrights Anthony and Peter Shaffer. Not only were they twin brothers, but they shared the unique distinction of having each won Tonys for Best Play (Peter did so twice). Anthony got there first with his inventive and smash hit mystery Sleuth (1970). Peter won for Equus in 1975 and for Amadeus in 1981, each running more than 1,000 performances. Peter went on to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay when Amadeus was made into a 1984 film that also won Best Picture, in addition to six other Oscars. I've always been fascinated by the interaction between twins and how their lives intertwine (or dissect), as I have a twin brother and sister. Sometime


I saw Kevin Kline in Present Laughter last night—and that's the only way to say it. Not, "I saw Present Laughter ... but "I saw Kevin Kline in Present Laughter." And by that I don't mean he's the whole show, for there are other terrific things in it. But was there any other reason to revive Noël Coward's exceedingly light-comedy (first written in 1939) other than to give this gifted actor a chance to show us how good he still can be? Every inch a star—Kevin Kline as Garry Essendine in Present Laughter (2017). Coward’s frothy three-act has almost certainly somewhere along the way been called “a soufflé of a play,” which is both sweet and appropriate. After all, what do we think of when a souf


In 1959, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the authors of Inherit the Wind, wrote The Gang's All Here, loosely based on Warren Harding and his inept White House cronies who produced the Teapot Dome Scandal. With all that's happening in the current White House, I thought it was time to revisit this play by way of reading it. Yeah, I just happen to own a copy of something that ran 132 performances nearly sixty years ago. I first read it when I was a teenager from an edition I borrowed from my local library. I was fascinated with politics at the time (I still am), and with Watergate raging, I even tried to write my own political drama. I called it The Web We Weave (yes, by way of the Walter Sc


As is my wont, I read the obituaries every day in the New York Times, as well as other publications. I even read the Death Notices, stories of people’s lives that may not merit a full article, but that I often find fascinating; mini-biographies of lives mostly well-spent (Sadly, those with misspent lives probably don’t have family members willing to pay to tell their stories).In yesterday’s Sunday Times obit section, I couldn’t help but notice a rather prominent headline that sang out to me: “Richard Basciano Dies at 91; Times Square Sultan of Smut.” I mean, that’s a grabber, right? It turns out that Mr. Basciano was responsible for much of the porn that populated the area at the time I was


Stories of theatrical lore often slip into legend, and many come with an extra dollop of “un-truthiness” that make for a better tale. But the one that occurred on this date at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre on the night of May 7th, 1953, happened exactly as reported. After all, the opening night critics were there (those were the days), witnessing it with their own eyes (and pens). To set the full scene, the show was an original musical entitled Can-Can. The opening night Playbill for Can-Can (1953) It had words and music by the inimitable Cole Porter; book by Abe Burrows (hot off Guys and Dolls) and dances by Michael Kidd, who had won the first of his five Tony Awards as Best Choreographer for


So the 2017 Tony Award nominations were announced this week, and much like everyone else interested in these sorts of things, an eyebrow (or sometimes both) were raised in reaction to a few of the choices as well as the non-choices — those tough decisions resulting in those who failed to make the final cut. It has to be mentioned that for every good season (like this one), there are inevitably shows and performances left out of a tight race. Conversely, there have also been weak seasons when certain shows and performances have been included that were less than deserving; nominated merely to fill out a category. It’s just the way the ball bounces. In a year such as this one, with four very we


On this date in 1958, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne opened in a play that what would turn out to be the grand finale of their thirty-five year run as the premier acting team of the American stage. And how fitting that this illustrious couple, genuine theatre royalty, went out with a bang and not a whimper. Their final Broadway visit was The Visit, by Swiss playwright and author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and they each received the reviews of their careers. I’ve often been asked, “What play I might like to go back in time to see?” and either the opening or the closing night of The Visit is as high up on my list as when Richard Burbage picked up Yorick’s skull for the the first time as Hamlet back


The terrific Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park With George may have closed, but if anyone still needs a Stephen Sondheim fix, there is no shortage of productions of his work Off-Broadway. The Classic Stage Company on 13th Street in the East Village is doing the seldom-seen Pacific Overtures, and the Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village has the Tooting Arts Club’s London import of Sweeney Todd. I saw them back-to-back the past two nights and both are well worth seeing. As someone who has been going to the theatre since the age of eleven, it’s been my good fortune to have seen the original incarnations of some of the most exciting shows of the past fifty years. Pacific Overtures and

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