Theatre yesterday and today



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It wasn't by accident that I began writing these "Theatre Yesterday and Today" posts on June 12th of last year. I picked the date as I knew it would stick in my mind as an appropriate starting point since it's my daughter Charlotte's birthday. For that first column, I wrote about the legendary actress Uta Hagen, who shares the same birthdate she does. Hagen also performed the title role in a play called Charlotte on Broadway in 1980 that closed over a weekend, for whatever that's worth.

I'm proud (and somewhat surprised) that in the course of this past year I have written over 200 1,000-word essays. That's more than one every other day, and it's been nothing but a pleasure. For a writer, the blank page can be thought of as a scary thing, but not so when you strongly commit to it. I have found that a 1,000 words can be accomplished in a few hours, if you treat the time it takes with tenacity and discipline. Since the writing for Up in the Cheap Seats was essentially finished a year ago, the cumulative result of these exercises have made me a better writer; enough so that I am chomping at the bit to embark on my next book.

In writing these columns, I've enjoyed numerous interactions with readers via and Facebook, as well as my website. Recently, I formed a friendship with a mother-daughter team from New Jersey, who write a blog they call "Says Me Says Mom." I've also rekindled relationships with old friends from as far back as elementary school and have even heard from some of the people who I wrangled into seeing shows with me during the teenage years that Up in the Cheap Seats covers.

At Amazon, there are now 61 published reviews giving it a five-star rating. Many make reference to these posts as a means to extend their connection to my writing. My favorite compliment is when people write how they didn't want the book to end. And why should it? There are so many more stories to tell. In the words of the great Jimmy Durante, "I've got a million of 'em!"

Here's a story partially covered in the book, but not in any columns over this past year. It's about an outer space musical from 1972 called Via Galactica, one of those shows that adorn the wall of Joe Allen, the restaurant with its famous collection of flop posters.

The original poster art for Via Galactica by Mark Shap (1972)

Composed by Galt MacDermot, who created the music to the wonderful score of Hair, it was the second musical in the span of a month he brought to Broadway. The other—Dude—was a spectacular bomb, with little to redeem it; a dud I cover extensively in Up in the Cheap Seats. Compared with Dude, Via Galactica, had a lot more going for it, with a terrific pedigree. Not only was it directed by Sir Peter Hall of the Royal Shakespeare Company (trumpets, please), but it starred Raul Julia, Virginia Vestoff and Keene Curtis, three singing actors of the highest caliber. Of course in the end, none of that mattered, as the show made no sense.

The best way to describe the plot is by way of a note from the producers that had to be inserted into the program late in previews, since no one knew what the hell was going on:

Get this: in in order to simulate weightlessness, the theatre had trampolines installed on the stage, which unfortunately only added a larger degree of ridiculous to the proceedings. The character Keene Curtis played was a head in a box. In my review (written when I was fifteen), I wrote: "Impressive? Somewhat. Expensive? No doubt. Good? Not really."

Virginia Vestoff and the body-less Keene Curtis in Via Galactica.

I managed to find via the New York Times on line the initial two-page ad that boldly announced ticket sales for Via Galactica, optimistically proclaiming it as “the most wondrous musical of our time.” Boasting that MacDermot’s score would offer “his most melodious music to date,” the ad proudly reproduced the Playbill covers for his two previous hits, Hair and Two Gentlemen of Verona to help hammer home his credentials. I'm glad I saw Via Galactica as it had to be seen to be believed. Of course, I couldn’t believe I was seeing it only two months after sitting through Dude.

Famous story: Having opened at the brand new Uris Theatre, Via Galactica was originally titled Up, though it has been said, it changed its title so the marquee wouldn't read “UP URIS!”which would have been the least of the show’s problems.

The Times ad continues to make for great reading when it states how “The new Uris could revolutionize theatregoing. You can park your car in the same building, eat here too (at Stouffer’s Pub Theatrical), and on top of that, pay less for your tickets than you are used to paying.”

By “pay less,” the ad referred to the top ticket price of $12.75. I paid $5 for my seat you-know-where.

Thanks for reading... and, as always, there's more to come. And feel free to email me at with any comments or questions.

Ron Fassler’s Up in the Cheap Seats: a Historical Memoir of Broadway, is now available at Amazon: