"UP IN THE CHEAP SEATS"

Theatre yesterday and today

 

 

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A LIFE IN THE THEATRE

Five years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hal Linden for my book Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway. He endeared himself to me immediately, ordering lox and cream cheese on a bagel at a deli in Marina del Rey, the spot he'd picked for our meeting. Primarily, our talk was to discuss his version of events about the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, the show that, as if by the rub of a genie's lamp, granted him new life as an actor. When the opening night reviews came in for his portrayal of Mayer Rothschild, Linden's career was forever changed. He became that rare thing: an overnight star —even though it arrived after seventeen long, hard years in the business. Today i

ALL IN THE TIMING

Perhaps the greatest example of a show finding better timing the second time around is that of John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse's Chicago. Though it managed a two-year run, its initial 1975 production starring the remarkable triumvirate of Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach, was very much overshadowed that season by A Chorus Line, with its cast of Broadway gypsies and Donna McKechnie. Opening just two months prior to A Chorus Line, it might surprise you that Chicago got mixed reviews. Steven Suskin, in his book More Opening Nights on Broadway, cites six top critics broken down as 2 favorable, 2 mixed, and two unfavorable. Clive Barnes probably summed it up for most when he wrote "

DAVY

The legendary character actor David Burns left this earth on this date forty-seven years ago tonight. He exited in grand fashion — an actor’s death — dying immediately following his big number in an out of down musical in Philadelphia. There have been many versions of how this story played out, but I have what I believe are the full facts (based on recent conversations I had with his best friend, the actor Jim Brochu). But more than just highlighting his departure, here are some stories about his long and durable career. David Burns as Uncle Max in A Hole in the Head (1957). Born on June 22, 1902, David Burns (or Davy, to all who knew him) grew up on Mott Street in Chinatown and became an ac

3PO

Tomorrow marks the 64th anniversary of the opening night in Greenwich Village of Threepenny Opera at the Theatre De Lys (now named for its longtime owner Lucille Lortel, who also happened to be the producer of this production). In 1954, it gave audiences a chance for a revisit (or claim a first time) to this Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical, twenty-one years after it was last done in New York. This production also came to be Off-Broadway's first mega-hit. How it happened makes for a fascinating story, especially by way of what the American composer, Marc Blitzstein contributed to its place in the pantheon. In any event, here's as much of it as I can fit into a 1,000 words (actually 1,200, b

HELLO, DOLLYS!

Three Tony-Award winning actresses have now taken on the title role in last season's triumphant revival of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart's Hello, Dolly!, and I have been fortunate to see all three. This production, built around Bette Midler, marked her return to Broadway in a book musical fifty-one years after her debut as a replacement in the original production of Fiddler on the Roof. As Dolly, Midler's small stature and natural clownish ways were used to perfect effect under the confident direction of Jerry Zaks. Donna Murphy, who played Tuesday night performances throughout Midler's contracted run, rightly attempted not to copy what Midler was doing. Totally making it her own, Murphy

THE ART OF COLLABORATION

Reading the obituaries last week for the theatre composer Harvey Schmidt, I was struck by the longevity of his collaboration with his writing partner, Tom Jones. They first met at the University of Texas in the spring of 1950, when they both worked on an original musical revue (Jones was a grad student). At the time, funnily enough, neither wanted to be writers. Jones had his eye on directing and Schmidt was an art major. But once they started writing together, a relationship forged when they were young men continued happily into old age. Now with Schmidt's death at eighty-eight, one of the most enduring of theatrical partnerships has ended. Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones at the recording sess

MORE HOT PIES!

With yesterday the 39th anniversary of the opening of Sweeney Todd on Broadway, and my titling this column, “More Hot Pies!,” you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical to be my subject. Instead, I’m referring to the hit musical Waitress, which until very recently, employed the two-time Tony Award winner John Cullum in the featured role of Joe. From this past October to just last month, this legendary actor had been giving eight performances a week at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre — singing, acting and eating slices of pie at every one of them. Funnily enough, Cullum actually missed out sampling some of Mrs. Lovett’s hot pies in the original production of Swe

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© 2016 Ron Fassler - All rights Reserved

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