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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, August 2008.
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
The Season Should Have Closed on 31 May 2008: *
Why Are They Still Premiering Plays On & Off-Broadway? *
The Summer Bookshelf: *
Vintage Theatre-Images Illuminated with Insightful Texts! *
Aside from That, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? *
The Season Should Have Closed on 31 May 2008:
Why Are They Still Premiering Plays On & Off-Broadway?
The end of May has traditionally been the close of the New York Theatre Season, with the onslaught of new dramas & revivals pent-up until mid-September. Of course, way back when, theatres had no air-conditioning, so closure was advisable. Unless the playhouse also had a Roof-Garden…
If Manhattan audiences were heading for the beaches, why shouldn’t the Stars take summer-holidays, too? Before World War II, there were few long-runs, in any case. If a show was really popular, the public would be waiting for it again in the fall.
The sole mid-summer Broadway opening this Post-Season was another one of those transfers from the Vineyard Theatre, which also showcased Avenue Q for its mid-town debut. This was the quixotically-title [title of show] in which book-author Hunter Bell & song-writer Jeff Bowen played themselves, desperately trying to devise an Original New Musical for the impending NY Musical Theatre Festival of 2004.
The show consists of scenes involving their efforts at both closure & achievement, aided by two audition-winners, Susan Blackwell & Heidi Blickenstaff—playing themselves, the only auditioneers—to form a curiously amusing & likable team.
Their combined charm & energy animated some workmanlike songs, but critics & public responded warmly. This is at the Lyceum, & the pianist is allowed to speak lines, under the Union contract. Michael Berresse directed, giving the quartette’s previous performances a lot more punch & synchronicity.
Primary Stages offered a summer premiere to the prolific AR "Pete" Gurney, whose Buffalo Gal brought a fading Hollywood TV-star back home to this dying New York Up-State city, to rediscover her roots, not only in her hometown, but also on the Living-Stage.
As her grandma’s old home was up for sale, her being engaged to play Mme. Ranevskaya in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard was suggested as some kind of metaphor.
This has been done before, but it was good that Gurney had not used The Seagull instead, as that involves a self-centered fading star; a visionary, but failed, poet-playwright, & a doomed young would-be actress. Surely more than he could have handled…
The play was an intermissionless 90-minutes, but it seemed longer. Gurney—who sees something of himself in his TV-diva [Susan Sullivan]—doesn’t yet know when to draw the curtain. Mark Lamos staged, but he might have helped Gurney more in cutting & shaping this odd drama.
Then there were three revivals. The best was Chris Durang’s riotously Uncorrect The Marriage of Bette & Boo, stylishly & satirically staged by Walter Bobbie, for the Roundabout at the romantic Laura Pels Theatre—formerly the American Place Theatre, but sic transit Gloria mundi & all that…
Long before Fundamentalist-Focus-on-Family groups warned us that Gays are ruining Christian-Marriages, Durang demonstrated that Married-Christians—especially Irish-Catholic couples—could do quite well on their own to make Home a Hell. Victoria Clark was brilliant as a dim-wit wife with an Iron-Will. Light in the Piazza, indeed!
Never a big fan of the plays of Richard Nelson—think: Vienna Notes or Conversations in Tusculum—I was grateful that 2nd Stage chose to revive his play-a-day London/Stratford faculty-student college theatre-tour—Some Americans Abroad—which is also about the horrors of Academe & the terrors of Not-Getting-Tenure. Gordon Edelstein staged. There were a lot of cluttered tables on stage at the close: a lot of luncheons & dinners in service of infusing Culture into the marginally-educable…
Oskar Eustis offered two revivals at the Delacorte Theatre up in Central Park: Hamlet & Hair—which does include a Danish-Ham quote set to music: What a piece of work is man, &&&&&
Although in the Good Old Days of Joe Papp—50th Anniversary of Shakespeare in the Park this summer!—there were often two or three plays by the Bard on the program. PP, or Post-Papp, audiences were fortunate to encounter even one of his tragedies, comedies, or histories, balanced by more contemporary & viable fare.
Unfortunately, I missed Hamlet as John McCain was going to make a Major-Address on the Economy—rather more Macbethian or Richard the Thirdian—which decent God-fearing Americans should not want to miss…
In the event, colleagues told me how fortunate I was, as Oskar’s clouded-vision of Danish-Madness was to have the Norwegian Fortinbras command his soldiers to fire, killing Horatio. Wow! What Insight!
As for Hair, this was its 40th Anniversary & as we do not have Draft-Cards anymore, much of the fuss & feathers in the virtually plotless Pot-fest was irrelevant. Nonetheless, young folks in the Delacorte audience were having a terrific time.
Frank Mills is still a Fun-Song, but somehow the Age of Aquarius seems to have dawned with no Beneficial-Effect. Drug-Overdose-Deaths & the spread of various forms of VD…
When Hair debuted down at the Public-Theatre, Gerry Friedman directed, obviously at the beck of his author/composer stars, Gerry Ragni & Jimmy Rado. There was some audience-interaction: one young performer sat on my lap & promised Pot back at his pad…
But Hair—before becoming a Worldwide-Success—did not move immediately to Broadway, nor with Friedman at the helm.
Instead, it inched uptown, opening next at Cheetah, but this time staged by the far more imaginative & daring director, Tom O’Horgan. Then it moved to Broadway, to the Biltmore.
For the middle-aged public, the drawing-card was not so much the songs as that moment of dim-lit Total-Frontal-Nudity—which the entire cast was not required to reveal. Only if you felt like it…
When Tom revived Hair again at the Biltmore—ten years later—it was already dated. Old Stuff. It didn’t run very long, but the kids who got up on stage to interact were clearly there because their parents in the audience had done this a decade ago.
Was it Aristotle—or Ralph Waldo Emerson—who said: "You cannot step in the same river twice…"
Iraq is nothing like Vietnam. If we had a Draft now…
THE SUMMER BOOKSHELF:
Obviously, there have been a number of new books relating to theatre this summer, but only two of them have come to the attention of Your Scribe.
Both of these volumes could be important additions to the bookshelves of any theatre-buff, but they are of special interest to American-Theatre Historians. They can also be invaluable research-resources for journalists, critics, students, & teachers.
Vintage Theatre-Images Illuminated with Insightful Texts!
While you will surely find Historic Photos of Broadway: New York Theatre, 1850-1970 a useful reference & resource, the Iconic-Images—some of them famous in their own right—are so interesting that anyone who goes to the theatre should treasure this volume, especially as a coffee-table centerpiece.
The myriad photos have been selected from the vast archives of the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Some of them appear here for the first time.
Not only are there stunning production-photos—the jacket-cover features Tevya & his neighbors in a spirited dance from Fiddler on the Roof—but there are also revealing portraits, plus historic theatre-exteriors & interiors.
The selections, running-narrative, & illuminating captions are the work of Leonard Jacobs, who has already won awards for his theatre-books. Jacobs also knows more about the American playwright, Clyde Fitch, than anyone now living.
In fact, he was once in my living-room, telling me about his interests in preserving Fitch’s Name & fleeting Fame. Long before Neil Simon, Fitch was noted for having four hit-shows running simultaneously on Broadway!
Fitch was a mutual-interest, in fact, for I had long had a set of his Collected-Plays & had gone up to Woodlawn-Cemetery to photograph his handsome Classic-Mausoleum.
[More specifically, I had—when researching my doctoral-dissertation on Dramatizations of Popular American Novels—discovered the original play-manuscript of the Detroit premiere of Edith Wharton & Clyde Fitch’s play of her best-selling novel, The House of Mirth. As well as the revised New York play-script, never before published.
[My edition of the scripts—with appropriate Introduction—was duly published by Associated University Presses—Fairleigh-Dickinson—in this case] & is still in-print.]
Oddly enough—although all the photos in the handsome new book are preserved in the Billy Rose Collections—there seems to be no photo of this fabulous showman himself, nor of the onetime Billy Rose Theatre, now the Nederlander.
The only Rose citations in the Selected-Index are: Rose-Marie, Rose of the Rancho, Rose Tattoo, & Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead…
Actually, Leonard Jacob’s captions & texts faced a stiff challenge, compared with the often striking power of the stark black-&-white imagery of most of the vintage photos in this valuable reference-book.
Fortunately, he has succeeded admirably, so the book is, in effect, a visual-history of the Broadway stage, with briskly running commentary.
Somebody must have been asleep at the linotype-machine, for Bert Lahr is listed as the author of Notes on a Cowardly Lion. Actually, that book is about Bert—not by him—penned by his son, the New Yorker drama-critic, John Lahr!
This weighty tome has been published by the Turner Publishing Company for the New York Public Library, priced at $39.95. Worth every penny!
Aside from That, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
Writing about the paucity of Theatres & Productions in the DC of the 1960s, I incorrectly theorized that the Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre had put a definitive-damper on official-theatre-going—not only by subsequent Presidents, but also by other Dignitaries, such as Ambassadors & Senators, who may have feared they would be Over-Exposed-Targets in the all-too-public Boxes & Loges.
With Lincoln’s Tragic-Death, Ford’s Theatre was rapidly closed, eventually becoming a warehouse. Only when newly-aroused Tourist-Interest in theatre in Our Nation’s Capital emerged was there a campaign to restore Ford’s Theatre to its Former-Glories.
This was handsomely-achieved, but some thought it in Poor-Taste to arrange the Stars-&-Stripes banner on Lincoln’s-Box as if it had just been torn by the spur of actor/assassin John Wilkes Booth, leaping to the stage after his dastardly-deed, shouting: Sic Semper Tyrannis!
Currently, Ford’s Theatre is again closed, but only for some restorations. You can, however, visit the House in Which Lincoln Died, just across the street.
My misconceptions about Presidential-Theatre-Going—or the lack of it—after the Lincoln-Assassination have just been corrected by an excellent new book, thoroughly researched & interestingly presented by author Thomas A. Bogar.
Even if you have never been to DC, to Ford’s Theatre, or the Kennedy-Center, you will surely find much of interest in this fact-packed & highly-readable report. It is titled: American Presidents Attend the Theatre: The Playgoing Experiences of Each Chief-Executive.
The colorful-cover features a photo of President Lyndon Johnson dancing with Carol Channing, dressed in her Hello, Dolly! costume! A stupefied Gerald Ford stands in the background, his eyes closed…
You could Keep Cool with Coolidge, but you wouldn’t have seen "Silent Cal" often at the theatre. As for Warren G. Harding, even before he was President, he was taking his mistress, Nan Britton, to the theatre, something New York’s recent ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer was careful not to do with Ashley Dupree…
Bogar’s excellent book not only puts our Presidents in the Limelight, but it is also a very informative History of the American-Theatre, as well. It is an important reference for anyone interested in both Theatre & Politics!
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