Theatre yesterday and today



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No, not that one ... another one. Let me explain: Last week I wrote about the 1958 play with music, Say, Darling,* which featured the breakout performance of the twenty-six year-old Robert Morse as Ted Snow, a very boyish theatre producer, very much based on the young Harold Prince (who with The Pajama Game had shot to fame as a twenty-five year-old wunderkind). Say, Darling was Morse’s second Broadway show, and the one that made critics stand up and take notice. As but one example, here’s what Walter Kerr wrote in the New York Times: “The determined satirists introduce us to a glossy young nincompoop who wears white shoes, paws everybody in the chummiest possible manner, flickers his indole


Having written about The Pajama Game last week, it seemed fitting to write about a show that came four years later, and owed its existence in full to that musical. So here goes: When in 1958, a new Broadway show offered "music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green," audiences would not have been wrong in assuming they were buying tickets to a musical. But with Say, Darling, what they were actually getting was something billed as "a comedy about a musical." Richard Bissell, one of its three writers, had four years earlier been part of the creative team that adapted his novel 7 1/2 Cents into The Pajama Game, a big, splashy Tony Award winner. It was a wild ride for Bissell,

7 1/2 CENTS

When the musical The Pajama Game opened at the St. James Theatre on May 13, 1954, its creative team (many of them novices) were supremely grateful for the participation, wisdom, and even a bit of financial backing, from the grand old man leading the company: George Abbott. As the show's co-librettist and co-director, Abbott had, by 1954, already been an experienced playwright, director and actor on the New York stage for forty-one years. He was the perfect choice to ably steer the first book musical for the songwriting team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (thirty-two and twenty-eight respectively), same as he had done ten ten years earlier for the trio of Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and


At 8:00 this past Saturday night, then at 3:00 the following day, in what amounted to less than a 24-hour period, I got two servings of Shaw: George Bernard Shaw, that is (as if I were referring to any other). One was splendidly mounted at the Samuel J. Friedman by the Manhattan Theatre Club, with their production of his 1923 play Saint Joan, and the other by Lincoln Center Theatre, gloriously sparing no expense, with a revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 musical My Fair Lady, based upon Shaw's 1913 comedy, Pygmalion. As with anything by Shaw, ideas are thrown up in the air and juggled like so many bowling pins. But when in the hands of directors like Dan Sullivan (Saint J


Anyone fairly intimate with the biography of Stephen Sondheim, may be familiar with the story of how at the beginning of his career, the young composer craved nothing more than simple employment as both a composer and lyricist on Broadway. Upon graduating from Williams College in 1950, he worked diligently on his musicianship, studying composition privately with the distinguished Milton Babbitt. By 1955, he had completed an original musical, writing both words and music for Saturday Night, with a book by Julius Epstein, one half of the team (alongside his twin brother Philip) who wrote the 1943 film Casablanca. While Saturday Night’s producer, Lem Ayers, was raising the money, he died, and s


Stories of theatrical lore often slip into legend, and many come with an extra dollop of “un-truthiness” that make for a better tale. But the one that occurred at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre on the opening night of Abe Burrows and Cole Porter’s Can-Can, sixty-five years ago this evening, happened as reported (save for a few of the smaller details). After all, the critics were all there (as they were in those days), witnessing it with their own eyes (and pens) on May 7, 1953. The opening night Playbill for Can-Can (1953) Can-Can was written and directed by Abe Burrows (a duel assignment he began, then never relinquished over the next twenty-five years, beginning two years prior in 1951 with th


Twenty-five years ago this evening, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches landed on Broadway in a triumphant burst of glory. It was only Part 1 of what Tony Kushner labeled his "Gay Fantasia on National Themes," with Part 2, Peristroika, following in November, six months later. Now both shows are running in Angels' first Broadway revival since then, in a production that just broke a Tony Awards record, when it received 11 nominations, the most ever for a play (for me, it could have easily gone to 12 or 13, had there been a bit more room in the Featured Actor category). How many it takes home on June 10th is anybody's guess, but this revival which came from England's National Theatre, is a


When the musical My One and Only started rehearsals in the late winter of 1983 with great fanfare, it was helmed by Peter Sellars, then a twenty-five year-old avant-garde director and fresh talent to the world of commercial theatre. The show's star (and "muscle") was Tommy Tune, returning to performing on Broadway for the first time in ten years, since winning the Tony Award for his performance in Seesaw. Between 1973 and 1983, Tune had become a star director and choreographer, whose recent triumph was the Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit musical Nine. So it really shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that Sellars, a novice to Broadway, and Tune, someone who really knew what it takes to sell a

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