"UP IN THE CHEAP SEATS"

Theatre yesterday and today

 

 

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YOUNG SHELDON

Today is Sheldon Harnick's 94th birthday. One of the theatre's most outstanding lyricists, his contributions to the American musical are beyond beautiful and profound. He made his Broadway debut, writing both words and music, to the hilarious song "The Boston Beguine," for a revue called New Faces of 1952 (introduced by new face Alice Ghostley). For Harnick, the song didn't bring him "A Star is Born" moment, but it did made people aware that his was a fresh talent to be reckoned with. So he plugged along, finally reaching a bit of fame and fortune, when in 1959, he won the Tony and Pulitzer Prize for Fiorello! In the decades that followed, he worked tirelessly with a broad spectrum of collab

GIELGOODIES!

Sir John Gielgud (1904-2000) was an actor of irrefutable gifts, who in a career that spanned nearly 80 years of continuous employment, gave countless performances as rich and original as the man himself. He was born into the Terry lineage—one of most esteemed theatrical families of all time—best exemplified by his great aunt, Ellen Terry, who in the late 1800s, was considered the world's eminent English-speaking actress. As a child, Gielgud was fortunate to see many of his famous relatives perform in London's West End, as well other legends of the day, such as Sarah Bernhardt. And though as a teenager he acted in school plays, it was hardly a fait accompli he would go into the profession, as

INHERIT THE WIND

"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind," Proverbs: Chapter 11, verse 9. How apt that the playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee would go to The Bible for the title of their 1955 play, Inherit the Wind, a fictional telling of the notorious "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925. For it is the Good Book itself that is the third pivotal character in the play, which pits two mighty legal minds engaged in a courtroom battle over "doing the right thing:" a near impossible argument, as each vehemently disagree on what constitutes right or wrong in the first place. The 1955 Random House edition of Inherit the Wind. When John T. Scopes, a twenty-five year-old school teacher in Dayton,

JASON ROBARDS: ACT III

When Jason Robards was first offered the role of Ben Bradlee in All the President's Men, he didn't want to do it. "I’m not going to play this," he told his agent Clifford Stevens. "I never played a part this small in my life!" Stevens, who passed away earlier this year, gave me his exclusive take on the story in a 2013 interview: "The part of Ben Bradlee had been turned down by Henry Fonda, by ten different actors. Finally, we got Alan [Pakula] to sit with Jason, have a drink, and he said, 'OK, we’ll use him…' Then I had Jason read it and he didn't get what a good part it was. I told him, 'Jason, you have been making B movies, and sometimes less than B movies for years … this is Redford, th

JASON ROBARDS: ACT II

On Monday, I wrote of the early life and career of Jason Robards Jr., pausing after his 1956 Broadway debut in the American premiere of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. As James Tyrone Jr., he played the alcoholic and eldest son to an actor-father. Room enough to make comparisons in real life, as Robards, too, bared the same name as his actor-father, and sadly struggled with alcohol for much of his life. But therein the similarities end. James O'Neill Jr., on whom O'Neill based the play's wastrel elder brother, never amounted to anything. Robards became one of the leading actors of his generation. And as for his namesake, he got along with his old man, who was nothing like the

JASON ROBARDS: ACT ONE

For the first time in writing an appreciation of an actor, I'm somewhat intimidated by fear of falling short, devoted as it is to Jason Robards Jr. This is not only due to how much I admired him as an actor, but because of how much I respected his commitment to the stage. Though prolific in film and television (IMDB puts the number at 132), Robards continually returned to the theatre on a regular basis with credits for 29 shows on-and-off-Broadway, spanning a 42-year stage career. It's a remarkable output, especially when you put it like this: Here was an actor who skyrocketed to theatrical fame after his second off-Broadway credit (as Hickey in 1956's fabled revival of Eugene O'Neill's The

THE DAY THEY TOOK BIRDIE AWAY

Tomorrow on April 14th, it will be 58 years since Bye Bye Birdie opened at the Martin Beck Theatre (now the Al Hirschfeld). It’s possible that in 1960 its producer, Edward Padula, worried whether Broadway audiences would cough up the top ticket price of $8.60 to see the show he’d put together. Leading a team of novices, Padula himself had never tried on his “producer’s hat” before, though he had a number of Broadway shows to his credit as stage manager. The librettist, Michael Stewart, had been part of the now legendary writers’ room in the mid-1950s on Caesar’s Hour (Sid, that is), perfecting the art of comedy sketch writing alongside the likes of Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and

ON YOUR TOES

On Your Toes, a new musical, opened on April 11, 1936 at the the Imperial Theatre with music by Richard Rodgers. Tomorrow evening, a revival of another Rodgers musical (Carousel), opens at the Imperial. The latter was the second show he wrote in collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein II; the former was the 19th written with Lorenz Hart. Yes, many of those titles were revues and not full book musicals (which generally took longer in those days to write and craft), but nonetheless, Rodgers and Hart's output was extraordinary, their names eventually on 28 shows in 17 years, and the writing of more than 500 songs. Original souvenir program from On Your Toes (1936). On Your Toes was somewhat differ

A SPRINKLING OF SUGAR

​In 1959, director-screenwriter Billy Wilder, along with his long-time partner I.A.L. (“Izzy”) Diamond, brought their screenplay Some Like It Hot to life in glorious black and white. The film, which starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe became an instant classic, earning six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. In June, 2000, nearly fifty years after it premiered, it was named number one on the list of America’s Funniest Movies by the American Film Institute’s panel “of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community." Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in their female guises in Some Like It Hot (1959). David Merrick, a producer with an enviable track record, as

THE FIRST TONYS

Not too many are left to tell the story, but seventy-one years ago, on the evening of Easter Sunday April 6, 1947, in the Grant Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria (and as the ticket below clearly displays) the "1st Annual Presentation of the Antoinette Perry Awards 1946–47" were handed out. Take a close look: Supper $5. Not bad. The creation of the American Theatre Wing (to this day a co-sponsor of the Tonys), was founded in a far different spirit and intent from the awards show for which it is now known. Originally born out on the eve of America’s entry into the first World War, it was called the Stage Women’s War Relief, formed by seven prominent New York City women devoted to charitable caus

OKLAHOMA! OKAY!

This past weekend marked the 75th anniversary of the opening night at the St. James Theatre of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! A musical classic of the first order, it's hard today to measure the impact it had on audiences back in 1943—what with American deeply immersed in World War II. It's honest depiction of a simpler time, and its characters deep-seated love of home and hearth, were exactly what was needed while people were dealing with the heartbreak of loved ones dying halfway around the world, seemingly on a daily basis. The original cast of Oklahoma!: Lee Dixon (Will Parker), Celeste Holm (Ado Annie), Alfred Drake (Curly), Joan Roberts (Laurey)—unknown actor in hat—Betty Garde (Aun

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