"UP IN THE CHEAP SEATS"

Theatre yesterday and today

 

 

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GOODBYE, RICK

While riding the subway yesterday afternoon, I checked Facebook on my phone to discover that Rick McKay, theatre historian and documentarian of all-things Broadway, had died. A personal friend (and friend to so many), it came as a total shock. My son texted me within minutes of my finding out the news. People posted for the rest of the day about how they had recently spoken to him, or emailed with him, just as I had done right after the memorial in December that I attended for Barbara Cook, one of his oldest and dearest friends. He wrote, "I thought I saw you in the bathroom at one point talking to Allan Gruet, but it turned out not to be you." Funnily enough, it WAS me talking to Allan Grue

SOMEONE SORT OF GRANDISH

If you don't know who the actor David Wayne is, this column might be of no interest to you. However, if you love the theatre (both plays and musicals), he is an actor you should want to know, even though he died nearly a quarter-of-a-century ago. For during his fifty-five year acting career, he created some of the most indelible roles in the theatre: Og the leprechaun in Finian's Rainbow (1947), Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts (1948) and Sakini in The Teahouse of the August Moon (1953). He was the very first winner of the Featured Actor in a Musical Tony (Finian's), and winning his second six years later, made him just the third actor to win two. Of course, with those shows all opening befo

THE PHANTOM THREAD

As anniversaries in the history of Broadway go, it would be unseemly if I let today's milestone pass without a column. On January 26, 1988, exactly thirty years ago this evening, The Phantom of the Opera opened at the Majestic Theatre. With eight shows a week over the last 1,560 weeks, that brings its performance total to just over 12,500 performances. Having played to 18 million people it has grossed more than $1.1 billion (in New York alone). Worldwide, the total is closer to $5.6 billion. Hello. The Majestic Theatre on W 44th Street, The Phantom’s home since 1986. The musical came out of the passion of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, who saw the possibilities in taking on Gaston Leroux's novel,

THE BODY BEAUTIFUL

Today is the 60th anniversary of the opening night of an original musical titled The Body Beautiful, which unfortunately for its creative team, cast and producers, ran just 60 performances. Its music was by a twenty-nine-old composer from Queens named Jerry Bock. Its lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, a thirty-three-year-old who had come to New York City nearly ten years earlier from his native Chicago to try his luck in the theatre. It was the first of seven Broadway musicals the two would go on to write together over the next eleven years before their partnership was put on hold for more than thirty (for that involved story, see my book Up in the Cheap Seats). And when reviews for The Body Beautif

YOUNG ARCHIE LEACH

Yesterday would have marked the 114th birthday of an actor who spent only thirty-four years in the movie business and yet, has never been forgotten. Over the course of seventy-seven films, he delighted us with his unique voice, exquisite physical comedy and exceptional good looks. And even though his hair went from jet black to peppered gray, it seemed as if he never really aged, forever retaining a genuine youthful swagger. His first film, released when he was twenty-eight in 1932, showed a callow young man; handsome, but unformed. But within a short time, this English actor from the tiny town of Horfield, Bristol, had transformed himself from poor Archibald Leach to the debonair soul of so

MOVIN' ON UP

I’ve been in Los Angeles this past week and, while driving around town, I kept seeing banners for an upcoming limited engagement of Candide at the L.A. Opera, starring Kelsey Grammer and Christine Ebersole. My first thought was, “Isn’t Christine Ebersole a little old for Cunegonde?” But of course, it only took a few seconds for me to realize that this ever-youthful actress would be playing the part of “Old Lady.” Yes, that is how the role has been billed since it was first created by Irra Petina in the 1956 original Broadway production (and for which she received a Tony nomination). Tony nominations also came to June Gable for a 1974 revival, as well as to Andrea Martin in 1997, proof positi

THE WIZ

Ah, The Wiz. A very significant show in the annals of Broadway history. Sadly, I never saw it. However, due to its unending popularity, I have encountered countless amateur productions over the years. Premiering forty-three years ago tonight on Broadway (to decidedly mixed reviews), The Wiz had a wild ride to seven Tony Awards and a run of more than 1,600 performances. It makes for a fantastic story. Stephanie Mills as Dorothy and Nancy as Toto in The Wiz (1975). It started as an idea of Ken Harper, who after serving in the Korean War, found employment as a DJ at radio station WPIX in New York City. He stayed there a decade, where he eventually became its Music and Public Affairs Director. A

THANKS TO JULE STYNE

Pal Joey, Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart's musical adaption of the novelist John O'Hara's stories of the fictional Joey Evans, a small-time hoofer with big dreams and a bad character, was an anomaly when it opened on Broadway in 1940. By that I mean, the most polite phrase critics used to describe Joey, was calling him "a heel." In truth, Joey was as dishonest as they come: a liar, a cheat and a bit corrupt. Yet audiences embraced him. This was undoubtedly helped by casting in the role a charming twenty-eight year-old actor on the rise named Gene Kelly. And with that—the anti-hero in the American musical was born. Gene Kelly and Vivienne Segal in Pal Joey (1940). O'Hara wrote Pal Joey as a s

HAPPY NEW YEAR

In the spirit of ringing in the new year, I thought I would report on the only Broadway show to have been titled Happy New Year, a musical version of Philip Barry's wonderful 1928 comedy Holiday. It opened April 27, 1980 and, like all shows, it started out with the best of intentions and more than a few good things going for it. Burt Shevelove, its writer/director, had ten years earlier taken 1927’s No, No Nanette out of mothballs and turned it into one of the biggest and most surprising musical hits of the 70s (thus beginning an obsession with revivals on Broadway that has gone unabated to this day). It had John McMartin in the cast, a grand actor and go-to musical theatre stalwart (and one

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© 2016 Ron Fassler - All rights Reserved

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