"UP IN THE CHEAP SEATS"

Theatre yesterday and today

 

 

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AT THIS PERFORMANCE THE ROLE OF...

As famous theatre stories go, the one about the night Shirley MacLaine (as understudy for Carol Haney) went on with a moment's notice in The Pajama Game is pretty much up at the top of the list. Although there have been certain particulars added over time—after all, it happened sixty-three years ago—the underlying facts are 100% true. Having first posted a column on this subject exactly a year ago, I thought that a few new interesting tidbits I discovered since might prove enjoyable. This tiny slip of paper fell out of a June, 1954 Playbill that I bought at a thrift shop about 10 years ago. Of course it carries with it a scene as old as when films first began to talk and sing—the understudy

THE SWEETEST SOUNDS

If pressed, when anyone asks who my favorite Broadway composer is (or was), my answer has always been Richard Rodgers. Was anyone better at composing such romantically lush music that pierces the heart? The melodies that poured out of him over a career that spanned from the early 1920s to the late 1970s influenced every writer for the musical theatre ever since. Rodgers wrote more than 900 published songs and over 40 Broadway musicals. First in partnership for twenty-three years with Lorenz (Larry Hart), then for another seventeen with Oscar Hammerstein II. And the shows that bear all three of those names are the definition of class and distinction. Among the titles are On Your Toes, Babes i

FINDING THE FUNNY

If a laugh riot is your idea of a good time at the theatre, but like me you find such experiences few and far between, then there are two shows playing in New York I can recommend to you. One is currently enjoying a run that began when it opened on Broadway last April Fools Day (appropriately enough); the other closed off-Broadway on Saturday night, but had such a successful limited run that it is reopening at a different theatre in a week’s time. They are respectively the British import The Play That Goes Wrong and the Russian comedy classic The Government Inspector. It doesn’t get much better than these two plays in terms of finding the funny. Let’s start with The Government Inspector. Nik

WHAT IS IT ABOUT JUNE 22nd?

As a starting point for many of these columns, I often do a search for what happened on this date in theatre history as inspiration. The results vary — feast or famine — mostly in between. But today is a feast; a veritable smorgasbord of talent. Take a look at some of the these people born on June 22nd, so uniquely individual (and brilliant) in their achievements, that the listing of their names is enough: Gower Champion Katherine Dunham Cindi Lauper Joseph Papp Meryl Streep Mike Todd Billy Wilder With theatre being the main focus of my writings, I could easily write about the infinite influence Joseph Papp had on the New York theatre scene (which resonated as loudly as ever with Oskar

FOR LOVE OF MAUREEN STAPLETON

On December 15th, 1981 the Hudson Valley Community College in the city of Troy, New York (population approximately 50,000) dedicated its new student theatre, naming it for the actress Maureen Stapleton. Born there on this date, June 25, 1925, the fifty-six-year-old was (not so coincidentally) receiving some of the best reviews of her career as the radical Russian Jewish immigrant Emma Goldman in Warren Beatty’s epic motion picture Reds. Apart from Stapleton and Dave Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize winning-sports columnist for the New York Times, Troy isn’t exactly known for turning out people who went on to set the world afire. Yet a few months after the theatre was christened, the woman for whom

WHO REMEMBERS RALPH BELLAMY?

The answer to the question posed by the title of this column can easily be answered by anyone who fell for the hilarious film comedies of the late 1970s and early 80s (the era from which Animal House sprang). Late in life, Ralph Bellamy turned in arguably his most memorable performance in the 1983 Eddie Murphy-Dan Ackroyd smash hit Trading Places, which had him ideally cast as one of the Duke brothers, playing opposite an actor in every way his equal in terms of experience on stage and screen, the great Don Ameche. At the film's finish, Bellamy might have been responsible for one of the only heart attacks ever scripted that made audiences scream with laughter. Especially when the President o

STRANGE AND POWERFUL

One of the highlights (if not the highlight) of Sunday evening's Tony Awards, was Ben Platt's acceptance for his pitch-perfect performance in Dear Evan Hansen, beautifully conveying all he was feeling in that exhilarating moment. This twenty-three year old's spirit soared, and he delivered his speech at such an intense and breakneck pace, it felt as if at any moment he might levitate—defying gravity. Ben Platt in the title role of Dear Evan Hansen (2016) It reflected his joy, but also his commitment to those young people he represents through his portrayal of the musical's title role: outsiders looking in, waving through a window. It's no wonder that the play connects in profound ways; speak

THE YEAR IN REVIEW

It wasn't by accident that I began writing these "Theatre Yesterday and Today" posts on June 12th of last year. I picked the date as I knew it would stick in my mind as an appropriate starting point since it's my daughter Charlotte's birthday. For that first column, I wrote about the legendary actress Uta Hagen, who shares the same birthdate she does. Hagen also performed the title role in a play called Charlotte on Broadway in 1980 that closed over a weekend, for whatever that's worth. I'm proud (and somewhat surprised) that in the course of this past year I have written over 200 1,000-word essays. That's more than one every other day, and it's been nothing but a pleasure. For a writer, the

TONYS FOR THE AGES (AND AGELESS)

Tonight's 71st annual Tony Awards ceremony differs from a number of those over the past few years, in that there are many heated contests with no clear front runners. Hamilton, still packing them in at the Richard Rodgers, was anointed as the obvious winner-take-all nearly a year before the June 2016 broadcast (it opened in August 2015). The musical ended up winning 11 of its 15 nominations, falling one shy of tying the record-breaking twelve Tonys awarded in 2001 to The Producers. It's highly unlikely there will be any runaway winners like those two shows this evening, as the wealth feels like it's going to be spread around a bit. Of course, time will tell. For me, keeping tabs on the Tonys

45 YEARS BETWEEN TONYS

If Kevin Kline (as it is being widely predicted) wins the Tony Sunday night for his performance this season in Noël Coward's Present Laughter, it would prove a thirty-six year pause between his second and third awards (his first Tony was for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for On the Twentieth Century). His second was as Best Actor in a Musical for his wickedly funny and overly-athletic re-invention of the Pirate King in Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 war horse The Pirates of Penzance. No actor's waited longer than Kline—the previous record-holder was when the late Alan Bates picked up his second Best Actor in a Play award for Turgenev's Fortune's Fool in 2002, after his first one exactly thir

99 YEARS AGO TODAY ...

Today marks the 99th birthday of Robert Preston, who has snuck his way into a number of the columns I've been writing for the past year, due to my intense admiration and affection for him. Since launching this blog on June 12th, this is the first time I get to celebrate his birthday. As I've already written in the Preface for my book Up in the Cheap Seats, it was his performance in the 1962 film of The Music Man that captivated me. As a five-year-old, his energy was such that I felt he leaped off the screen at me. And had his Professor Harold Hill come to my home town of Great Neck, Long Island to start a band, I surely would have followed him to the end of the earth. Robert Preston (at the

ON ANOTHER JUNE 7TH

I belong to a group on Facebook called "Vintage New York Stage," that posts items daily that seek to bring back the Broadway of old in story and photo. Today, an article appeared from the New York Times of exactly 68 years ago—June 7, 1949—featuring a run-down of what was being prepped for the upcoming fall season. But first, why not check out these classic titles listed in the ABC's, all still in their premier productions: A Streetcar Named Desire, Anne of the Thousand Days, Born Yesterday, Death of a Salesman, Detective Story, High Button Shoes, Kiss Me, Kate, Mister Roberts, South Pacific, The Madwoman of Chaillot and Where's Charley? Yes, you could see Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison,

CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE BROADWAY KIND

Last night, the 73rd annual Theatre World Awards were handed out at the Imperial Theatre. In a tradition stretching back to 1944, a dozen actors, chosen by a select committee were honored for their New York stage debuts over the course of a season. Now "debut" can be a flexible distinction, as sometimes the definition has proven a nebulous thing over the years. Situations where a genuine newcomer of twenty-one winds up sharing their honor with a veteran actor like Bryan Cranston or Tom Hanks is not uncommon. But so what? It's a lively party, with most of its charms stemming from it being all about the theatre, with no concessions to a television audience viewing the ceremony, and no time lim

PUT ON YOUR SUNDAY CLOTHES

There are many sumptuous treats awaiting anyone lucky enough to get a ticket for the current Broadway revival of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart's Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler, but for me, the highlight was the show's third song: the rhythmically pulsating and entirely satisfying "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." It's hard to come up with a song written for any other musical that exemplifies how to set up an audience's expectations better than this one. And oh ... how it delivers! When constructing a musical's opening number, great care goes into making sure to identify the tone and clarity of all that there is to come. Such milestones as "Wilkomen" in Cabaret, or "Comedy Tonight" in A F

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© 2016 Ron Fassler - All rights Reserved

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