Theatre yesterday and today



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With my last two columns focusing on Guys and Dolls, today felt like a good time to write about another show from its master composer-lyricist, Frank Loesser. Born 108 years ago today, Loesser sadly left this world way too young (fifty-nine), and it's hard to imagine how much richer the American songbook might be today if he had lived longer. A chronic smoker, he played Russian roulette with his health, evident by nearly every photo of him. You will almost always see a cigarette either in his hand or between his lips, such as the one below, where an ashtray lies on his chest. Frank Loesser (1910-1969). The scores Loesser composed for Broadway included Where's Charley?, Guys and Dolls, How To


In Friday's column, I explored what has made Guys and Dolls such a perennial, and why it is still considered (after nearly seventy years) to be close to the top of the list of the greatest Broadway musicals ever written for the stage. It's a combination of factors, for sure: a winning score and extremely funny book, with juicy roles for four co-leads, who all wind up married in lovable love stories. But how did the first actors to play such iconic parts as Miss Adelaide, Nathan Detroit, Sky Masterson and Miss Sarah Brown find themselves cast back in 1950? Well, see ... it sort of went like this: Finding actors who could easily pull off the patois of Damon Runyon’s blend of low and high class


Whenever discussions crop up over which Broadway musicals can be determined as the greatest of this most American of art forms, Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows' Guys and Dolls is always right at the top. Not only is its tone, in both song and speech, perfectly suited to its source material; that of the lives and loves of Damon Runyon's low-life (and yet comically well-spoken) gamblers, but it's one of the funniest books ever written. Dubbed "A Musical Fable," it succeeds in creating a world that is fanciful and believable—no easy trick. Productions continue to crop up ceaselessly since it first premiered in 1950, performed in elementary schools from Maine to Alaska, as well as by top theatre c


It's now been two years since I began writing these columns. I'm at #332 (and counting), which is roughly one every other day. That's a lot of stories and subjects, so allow me today instead of offering something new to mark the occasion, by rerunning my very first entry; one which celebrated the actress, author and teacher, Uta Hagen. I've rewritten it, since I feel I'm now more proficient at these 1,000-word essays then when I started. The sheer practice every day is something I recommend to anyone in pursuit of how to improve at any given task, be it writing, or anything else you can dream up. Uta Hagen (1919-2004). Uta Thyra Hagen was born June 12th, 1919, ninety-nine years ago, in Götti


"A day late and a dollar short," here are my thoughts on the Tony Awards from my orchestra seat in at the Radio City Music Hall Sunday night (many dollars short, actually. I did NOT sit in the cheap seats). Yours truly waiting for the show to start. First, I have to report that it's very exciting to be there, especially to check out everyone's style (or in a few cases, the lack of). I was amazed that the guy heading in ahead of me was dressed in a checkered shirt and no jacket, as if he was going to a movie on a warm June night. The invitation specifically states "Black Tie," which gives anyone with a sense of fashion some wiggle room, so long as some thought is put into the task at hand. Th


Yeah, if you read my stuff regularly, you all know pretty much know to whom I refer as my favorite actor. But first this: When it comes to certain individuals in the arts, celebrations of their centenaries can sometimes take up the entire year of their birth. For example, 2018 has seen museum exhibits all over the country deservedly devoted to Leonard Bernstein, who was born August 25th, 1918. As a composer and conductor, he not only broadened an appreciation for classical music, he changed the way it was heard. His accomplishments were awesome, particularly to me when, as a child, I would watch his televised Young People's Concerts, which were groundbreaking. Bernstein was a great teacher,


Charles Strouse, born on this date in 1928, turns ninety years old today. His more than 30 stage musicals, including 14 for Broadway, contain some of my personal favorite songs written for the theatre. A salute to his talents on this special birthday is surely in order. I clearly remember when I first discovered his music. Not only did I love the film of Bye Bye Birdie from the time it came out in 1963 (I was six), but the hit number from that show, "Put On a Happy Face" was the theme song for The Hollywood Palace, a TV variety show that I was glued to every Saturday night from the time it premiered in 1964 (and still go to YouTube to listen to its orchestral arrangement that opened and clos


If the name John Van Druten doesn't mean much to today's theatregoers, it's mainly due to his date of birth being 117 years ago (June 1, 1901), and having died 60 years ago (December 19, 1957). But in his day, he was an eminent writer and director on both the British and American stages. He directed the original Broadway production of The King and I, and his name has been in every program for Cabaret since it premiered in 1966, as Joe Masteroff's book of that musical was based on I Am a Camera, Van Druten's stage adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. He adapted and directed I Remember Mama from Kathryn Forbes's book Mama's Bank Account, which was a major hit in 1944 (and feat

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