Theatre yesterday and today



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When the original stage production of On the Town opened on December 28, 1944, its biggest financial backer was MGM. So it should be no surprise that the studio would make a film of it, utilizing their sizable stable of talents such as Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Ann Miller. It wasn’t released until 1949, five years after the show’s opening night on Broadway. And with it set four years after the war ended, it was far less moving, particularly at its finish. When the men have to return to their ship, gone was the knowledge that they were going back to war, leaving behind the women they’ve fallen in love with. The fears of never seeing each other again was palpable; not so muc


"It was very hard for any of us on opening night to have a clear idea of what our show was really like. World War II was on, and the theme of young people caught in it, and the urgency of their desperately trying to cram a lifetime of adventure and romance into a moment, seemed to move the audience, and give the show an underlying poignancy, while never having to ask for sympathy." Those words from Betty Comden and Adolph Green give some idea of what it was like when On the Town opened seventy-three years ago tonight on December 28, 1944. Yesterday, I covered a bit about the show’s genesis, though I realized later I’d left out one significant item from along its route to Broadway: the show—w


It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to have been in the audience of the now-demolished Adelphi Theatre on December 28, 1944: the opening night of On the Town —the show that introduced Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green to Broadway. With World War II still raging (and no end in sight), every theatregoer had highly personal experiences with which to relate to everything that transpired on stage. First-nighters who approached the Adelphi on opening night, did so without benefit of an illuminated marquee, due to the lights of Broadway perpetually dimmed throughout the war years. Yet here was a show that dared to distract, by shining a light on its conte


No, this isn’t an article about The Sound of Music. It’s about a wonderful musical called Do Re Mi, which opened on this date (the day after Christmas), in 1960 at the St. James Theatre, a collaboration of composer Jule Styne, lyricists Betty Comden & Adolph Green and author/director Garson Kanin. The show was based on a 1955 novella by Kanin, which explains why Comden & Green didn’t write the book for it; something they often did when taking on a lyric writing assignment. Beyond this starry group, Phil Silvers signed on for the lead in Do Re Mi, the “Top Banana” himself. One of the most beloved musical theatre stars, Silvers was hot off his four-year television run (1955–59) as the inimitab


I couldn’t let today go by without acknowledging that on this date 60 years ago, Meredith Willson’s The Music Man opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre (I wrote about it last year on its 59th anniversary, and I’ll probably do it again on its 61st — so sue me). Though by no means the greatest musical ever written, it does count as my all-time favorite. How so? Let me count the ways. I readily admit that its charms are not universal. There are many who think it’s cornball and silly (which it is). But it’s also deep and true, which is why it has endured for so long as such a popular title in schools and regional theatre. Willson based it on the people he knew from his home town of Mason Ci


A Tribute to Barbara Cook took place earlier tonight at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at 5 p.m. She passed away at the age of eighty-nine last August, but it took awhile to pull this evening together. It was well worth the wait. I have been fortunate to attend gatherings such as these in Broadway theatres over the years. I was present when Jessica Tandy memorably performed one of Blanche's monologues at the memorial for Tennessee Williams at the Shubert in 1983. And it was only a year ago that I sat through speech after articulate speech at the August Wilson, when honor was paid to Edward Albee. Today's tribute was different, as it was done mostly in music, as music was at the heart of Barbara


George Grizzard (1928-2007) gave a half-century's worth of memorable stage performances, among them Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which he created the role of Nick. In an interview conducted when he was sixty-five, the elder Grizzard looked back upon his thirty-four year-old self with insight and clarity: “Virginia Woolf was a very painful part because I played Nick as if I were Nick. When they started sticking knives in me and the audience started laughing, and the more knives the heartier the audience laughed, it was painful because I was Nick ... But acting is also a great hiding place. If you're going through a bad time in your life, Doctor Theater is wonderful becau


The illustrious Christopher Plummer was born eighty-eight years ago today in Toronto, Canada. And on Monday, he received an early birthday present by way of a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for the yet unreleased All the Money in the World. He only committed to playing J. Paul Getty a few short weeks ago, when director Ridley Scott made the decision to film emergency reshoots to replace the disgraced Kevin Spacey. There's little doubt Plummer will be superb in it, as there are few actors who have been at it longer, or been as consistently good. Having given over two hundred performances on the big and small screen, beginning with a small role in a 1953


It would have been virtually impossible for me to have ever seen the actor Edward G. Robinson on the Broadway stage, as his last appearance, in Paddy Chayefsky's Middle of the Night, was in 1957—the year I was born. Renowned as a film actor, it's important to note, that like so many greats who first burst on the scene with the advent of talking pictures, Robinson was a major stage actor before he came to Hollywood in 1929. At that point, he had twenty-nine Broadway plays to his credit in the years between 1916 and 1930, nearly two per season. How's that for a statistic? Always one of my personal favorites, Eddie G was the first actor I ever took to impersonating—at the age of five. Edward G


I’ve never much taken to the term “best,” especially as it pertains to the arts. It’s silly, right? Can you imagine citing a Best Painting of the Year? Yet, “best” is still the thing you see at year’s end in endless entries for film, television and theatre. Critics seem hell-bent on constructing these “Ten Best Lists” before December 31st, though when you come right down to it, these aren’t “bests,” but “favorites.” I’ve never in my life put one together before, but I felt compelled to do so now since I’ve been reporting a good deal on what I’ve been seeing this past year. It all seems up for grabs, and as the Great Durante used to say, “Everybody wants to get into the act!” Here then, in al


One year ago tonight, The Band's Visit opened at the Atlantic Theatre Company's Linda Gross Theatre on West 20th Street. The musical, based on the screenplay by Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin's 2007 film of the same name, features a book by Itamar Moses and a score by David Yazbeck. Directed by David Cromer, rave reviews made it a difficult ticket to score, especially as the Gross is a small playhouse and the Atlantic has a well-attended subscription audience. But when a two-week extension was announced, I quickly obtained two tickets for the last performance on January 8th, and was rewarded with a truly memorable theatre experience; one I felt necessary to duplicate a year later when


The actor Joseph Buloff, who was born on this day in 1899, provided me with one of the most remarkable afternoons I have ever spent in the theatre. It was in 1979 at the Harold Clurman Theatre on 42nd Street in a revival of Arthur Miller's 1968 drama The Price. Buloff was playing the juicy role of Gregory Solomon, the old furniture dealer. I had never seen Buloff in a play, even though by that point, he had been on the New York stage for the better part of fifty years. Of course, many of those stages were on the Lower East Side, where as a mainstay of the Yiddish Theatre, Buloff appeared in over 225 Yiddish plays between 1926 and 1936, the year he made his Broadway debut. Amazing, right? And


"Don't musicalize works that don't need music," wrote Ken Mandelbaum in his wonderful 1991 book Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. Dissecting what went wrong with dozens of Broadway shows (some of which closed out of town), this particular section of the book includes a number of musicals that had no business being written in the first place, particularly when you take the source material into consideration.Gone With the Wind? Harold Rome, the gifted composer/lyricist of Fanny and I Can Get It For You Wholesale was responsible for the score, but even expensive runs in three different countries and changing the title along the way to Scarlett couldn't get the show to th


Today marks the anniversary of the opening night, when on December 3, 1947, Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. To cite this as “a landmark” doesn’t begin to describe the shock and awe it presented audiences in its original Broadway production, nor how the power of its prose and poetry rendered by the raw emotional truth of its acting ensemble brought the American theatre to new heights. If all that sounds like hyperbole, no one has come along to swipe that judgment to the side, even with the benefit of seventy years hindsight. Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Yes, it has been seventy years sin


Henry Jaynes Fonda was born in Grand Island, Nebraska on May 16th, 1905. Within the year, his father and mother moved the infant Hank (as he was called) along with his two sisters, two hours east to Omaha, where he would grow up. Omaha was the perfect setting for a man who would go on to become the quintessential American actor over the course of a long and distinguished career on stage and screen. And it wasn't a profession he sought out at first. He fell into it, as the Omaha Playhouse was one of the best non-professional theatres in the country. Brought in by his neighbor, an amateur actress named Dorothy Brando (yes, Marlon's mother), he began by working behind the scenes and quickly bec

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