"UP IN THE CHEAP SEATS"

Theatre yesterday and today

 

 

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MAKING JERRY HERMAN LAUGH

Though I never met him, I did have the joy of providing the late Jerry Herman with something that from everything I’ve been told (and with proof to back it up) made him laugh until it hurt. You know the kind of laughing I mean, right? When your belly or your sides ache? Of course you do. The fact I was able to give him the gift of laughter after his having given me (and millions of others) the gift of music that he composed for the theatre over many decades, was a small measure of payback. But satisfying, nonetheless. What was it that made him laugh that hard? Was it really all that funny? And how did it happen? Read on for the answers (and the payoff is worth the buildup, I promise). Jerry

SO LONG, JERRY

“Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out. Strut down the street and have your picture took. Dressed like a dream, your spirits seem to turn about. That Sunday shine is a certain sign that you feel as fine as you look.” Simple, yet elegant—an accurate summation of the words and music of Jerry Herman, who died yesterday at the age of eighty-eight. As a child of the sixties, I was first introduced to his songs when they were spanking brand new. And throughout that turbulent decade, Herman’s bright and beautiful tunes (so optimistic!) broke through the noise to become a force to be reckoned with. When radio still influenced the way people came to be familiar with popular music,

IN CELEBRATION OF HAROLD PRINCE

As a consistent theatregoer for more than fifty years, I consider myself deeply blessed for many reasons. One of the most meaningful is that I got to witness and be part of the prolific legacy the producer/director Harold Prince has provided audiences the world over. When he passed away in July at the age of ninety-one, it was a sudden and sad blow to all of those whose lives he touched. I didn’t know him personally and only spoke with him a few times in my life, but over his near seventy-year career and the many productions he either produced or directed (or did simultaneously), he passed on to me a love for theatre—especially musicals—that will endure until the day I die. Joining more than

HAPPY 90TH CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER

Christopher Plummer, one of the greatest actors in the English-speaking world, turns ninety today. And the fact that he is currently in a hit film, Knives Out, is probably as good a present as he might wish for. Having been nominated only two years ago for his third Academy Award as a frightening J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World, and winning in 2012 for his marvelous performance as a septuagenarian who comes out of the closet in Beginners, there are few actors who have been at it longer, or been as consistently good. Though he has given over two hundred performances on the big and small screen, beginning with a small role in a 1953 version of Othello for Canadian television, Plumm

LION MAN

The actor Ron Leibman died on Friday at the age of eighty-two. Though a stage veteran throughout a more than fifty-year career, the headlines of many obituaries — like this one from People Magazine —have led with: “Actor Who Played Rachel Green’s Dad on ‘Friends’ Dies.” For a theatre animal like Leibman, someone who devoted many days and nights to “getting it right” eight times a week, this would not at all be kosher. In fact, years ago in an interview (with People, as irony would have it), he said, “It’s amazing, the power of the tube. I’ve done all this body of work, and they say, ‘Oh yes, Rachel’s father.’ I go, ‘Give me a break.” Ron Leibman as Roy Cohn in Angels in America (1993). Havin

STREETCAR AT SEVENTY-TWO

Today marks the anniversary of the opening night, when on December 3, 1947, Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. To cite this as “a landmark” doesn’t begin to describe the shock and awe it presented audiences in its original Broadway production, nor how the power of its prose and poetry rendered by the raw emotional truth of its acting ensemble brought the American theatre to new heights. If all that sounds like hyperbole, no one has come along to swipe that judgment to the side, even with the benefit of seventy years hindsight. Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Yes, it has been more than seventy

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