Theatre yesterday and today



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June 7, 2010: Theatre Yesterday and Today, by Ron Fassler

In my previous column last week on Laurence Olivier’s appearance with the Old Vic in May of 1946, many readers commented how entranced they were by the ABC’s I posted — the New York Times listings of the shows then currently on Broadway. What with there being no ABC’s at all in the Times these days (so depressing), just looking at the overwhelming variety of choices back then was astounding, what with everything from dramas, comedies, musicals, revues… even an ice show!

As impressive as the ’46 season was with the original productions of The Glass Menagerie, Annie Get Your Gun, and so many more, the 1948–49 season was REALLY something. I mean, the competition was so tough that A Streetcar Named Desire didn’t even win the ’48 Best Play Tony.* Just take a look at these classic titles in addition to Streetcar that were then listed in the ABC’s: Anne of the Thousand Days, Born Yesterday, Death of a Salesman, Detective Story, High Button Shoes, Kiss Me, Kate, Mister Roberts, South Pacific, The Madwoman of Chaillot and Where’s Charley?

June 7, 1949 Broadway ABC’s in the New York Times.

And, just in case, you were wondering, Death of a Salesman was indeed the recipient of the Tony Award for Best Play in April of 1949.

And as for the actors? Well, even if Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy had already left Streetcar by this time, their replacements weren’t too shabby with Uta Hagen as Blanche and Anthony Quinn as Stanley (they had been the first to play the roles in the national tour). But these listings glow with the likes of Ralph Bellamy, Shirley Booth, Ray Bolger, Carol Channing, Bobby Clark, Lee J. Cobb, Melvyn Douglas, Mildred Dunnock, Nanette Fabray, Henry Fonda, Jackie Gleason, Lee Grant, Rex Harrison, Arthur Kennedy, Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza and Phil Silvers on the boards.

I mean, just imagine being able to see Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate at a top ticket price of $5. The cheap seats? $1.20.

The prices are a bit hard to read but magnifying them reveals that it would only have cost $2.40 for the TOP ticket price of Howdy, Mr. Ice of 1950! And may I say, I would have gone if only for the exclamation point alone! Well, that and its claim (in CAPS, no less) to be AMERICA’S ONLY ICE THEATRE. Actually, the real reason I would have wanted to see Mr. Ice would have been to get a glimpse inside the Century Theatre. Located across the street from the Radio City Music Hall on Sixth Avenue, it was the more “intimate” of the two with a mere 3,500 seats, as opposed to the Music Hall’s 6,000. Completed in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression, it never had an easy time of it, and by the time of Howdy, Mr. Ice of 1950!, it had been producing ice shows exclusively for ten years. Demolished in 1954, the theatre bares the distinction today of being the only building among the original architecture of the Rockefeller Center complex to have been destroyed.

The Center Theatre at 50th Street and Avenue of the Americas.

Also while researching this week in June via the New York Times on line, I discovered an interesting item of Broadway gossip that caught my eye:

From Louis Calta’s Broadway column.

Ethel Merman as Miss Adelaide? The mind boggles. Though