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Suskin, Steven
  1. Broadway Yearbook A Relevant And Irreverent Record Broadway Yearbook
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Stockard Channing and Laurence Fishburne played it at the Roundabout, but it remained not too good. The — season began with The Rainmaker, another one of those not-too-good plays that becomes a well-known title by virtue of its motion picture version which starred Katharine Hepburn.

How bad could it be? How can you go wrong? American Airlines Theatre and And no royalties to pay! This production received its share of enthusiastic reviews and did strong business, but it seemed weak at the knees to me. I just compiled a list of my top twenty Broadway experiences of the three seasons since Cabaret. Betrayal is the only entry from the Roundabout.

This was followed by two misbegotten revivals. The Roundabout sensibly assembled an intriguing director Joe Mantello and an intriguing pair of newly minted stars Alan Cumming and Jennifer Ehle , the very same recipe that resulted in the aforementioned Anna Christie. There is an inherent danger of attempting a new-style production of an old play. Otherwise, thud! Another intriguing young director—Matthew Warchus, of Art fame — came up with another new take. Major Barbara 21 For the opening slot of — , Roundabout turned to a safe choice.

Who will attack you? And, besides, no royalties to pay! Roundabout produced four Shaw plays in their previous ten seasons, Candida in and—on their non-Broadway stages—Misalliance , You Never Can Tell , and Arms and the Man All four of which were—well, safe choices.

None were especially memorable except for the last, which was critically excoriated. That this Major Barbara was not to be just another workmanlike classic became apparent with the announcement of the star and director. Jones, at this point in her career, seems to be a modernday Julie Harris. Can a production of Major Barbara be merely workmanlike with Ms. Jones in the title role?

Not likely. The presence of Daniel Sullivan, too, could only further raise expectations. They also happened to be excellently directed. Sullivan also directed Ms. Shaw and Sullivan and Jones were well met, with pleasing results. Pleasing, yes; highly pleasing, no. She was well able to return to the stage this year supported by Dana Ivey — who, and next year and every other year. Major Barbara be merely workmanlike Ms. Ivey played Lady Undershaft as if she were the star; she found with Jones in the role?

And then there was the Andrew Undershaft of David Warner. Warner appeared as if out of nowhere. At the age of twenty-two, he em- 22 Broadway Yearbook, — barked on the fast track to stardom with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Warner became a movie star in as the eccentric hero of Morgan! And he was very good; despite his long absence—apparently the result of a numbing case of stage fright— Warner can speak, and he can act. But he never leapt across the footlights at you. And it helps to have Andrew Undershaft leap across the footlights.

The novelty is in hearing any man confess it. What does it matter whether they are true if they are wrong? Critical Scorecard Rave Favorable Mixed Unfavorable Pan 4 4 0 1 0 that no sane person would do at eleven in the morning. But huddle them together in a certain house in Westminster; and let them go through certain ceremonies and call themselves certain names until at last they get the courage to kill; and your six hundred and seventy fools become a government.

Major Barbara is deceptively named. Undershaft rails against class and government and religion. In Jones and Warner, Sullivan had two strong and highly capable actors. But where was the struggle between them? Where was the cat-andmouse game? Barbara has all the attributes, Undershaft has all the cards.

In this production, Warner simply sat back and waited until Shaw provided gunpowder in the way of words. Christopher Plummer or Frank Langella, for example. Both have an onstage presence that allows them to electrify the stage without words. So do Derek Jacobi and Brian Bedford, who are less likely for the role. Picture Plummer and Jones as Undershaft and Undershaft. This is the sort of thing that keeps theatregoers on the edge of their seats. The only crackling of the evening, from where I was sitting, emanated from Ms.

One of them has fallen forward and lies, like a grotesque corpse. In this production, the scene was played inside a hangar-like factory. Sullivan and Beatty appeared otherwise to stick close by Shaw throughout the evening. Not quite enough to cross the line from admirable to memorable, though.

Out he comes, in a comfortable-looking cardigan. The sort of material that you or I or Neil Simon would hide on the top shelf of a dusty bookshelf in the basement, rather than boast about at show-and-tell. And then the stars entered. Bologna in a purple tuxedo, Taylor in a purple dress. They were both in purple, the sets were purple, everything was purple, apparently on purpose. Taylor waltzed on directly under an open ladder, also apparently on purpose.

This was a bad omen, especially since she looked somewhat like a purple tugboat. So what we had were two old people in purple, walking and crawling and otherwise ambulating around the uncomfortable set. They had some funny lines along the way, yes, but the humor was pretty incidental. Most of the jokes came from stage left, where Ms. Taylor spent most of the evening.

Taylor and Bologna staged the thing themselves, presumably in their living room, capturing it all on video camera by remote control. Taylor was a kooky actress in the Elaine May mold. Taylor got the job, and it was off to Broadway. Understudying the two men was another youngster, Gene Wilder. Meanwhile, Taylor met Bologna in This was considerably cheaper than hiring a caterer. Which makes them fourth-rate, by my count.

The pair set down to writing together. Moderately amusing but spotty, was the verdict. Critical Scorecard Rave Favorable Mixed Unfavorable Pan 0 0 1 3 5 ceived an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the father of the groom. For a while, anyway. This one was even more mirthless — unless, I suppose, you like that sort of thing—and folded after forty-eight performances.

Off they went again, to wherever it is out west that people like Taylor and Bologna go when they are not trying to storm Broadway. They reappeared sixteen years later—this time off-Broadway—with a geriatric sex farce called The Bermuda Avenue Triangle. If You Ever Leave Me. From through , Tayopen ladder, apparently on purpose. Nanny, receiving a couple of Emmy Award nominations in the process. The daughter turned ham. Ray Bolger, Agnes de Mille, nearly three hours without cracking a smile.

I have continued to attend openings whenever tickets came my way. There we were: me and Nathan and Matthew and Sarah Jessica and Rosie and Warren and Annette and 1, others, standing beneath the narrow overhang outside the four gates leading into the theatre. It had started drizzling as my wife and I passed Balto, the bronze Alaskan sled dog two hundred paces west of Fifth Avenue and Sixty-sixth Street. By the time we reached the Delacorte and picked up our tickets, it was real rain — and plenty of it. But no one was about to leave, seeing as how this was the hottest ticket in memory. Since The Producers, anyway.

The place was packed with familiar faces. Standing under our umbrellas, it The Seagull 31 seemed as if we were on a little town square. Folks just kind of stopped by to chat with each other, making some odd couples.

Broadway Yearbook A Relevant And Irreverent Record Broadway Yearbook

It was raining all right, the stage was swamped, but everybody sat tight. I had gotten a manuscript copy of the playing script from the press agent, the better to write about the performance, and my main problem was keeping it dry through the downpour. At came an announcement that the rain appeared to be letting up and they were determined to get through the performance. Great cheers. As soon as the stage was ready, they would start — and please, no umbrellas during the performance. Out came some Russian peasants with American mops, removing the protective drop cloths from the furniture pieces and swabbing the deck as best they could.

This one was a little different than what you usually hear, as violators were threatened with electrocution. And then, to great applause, the play commenced at They got applause. Within a minute, Ms. I mean, think? They chatted for three or four minutes, as the rain got harder and harder. A few umbrellas were seen shooting up.

At , as Hoffman started describing life with mother, another announcement came over the loudspeakers. Walken and Hoffman seemed startled for a moment, then rose to exit. Rain, rain, go away, the saying goes, and it did. The stage The Seagull 33 manager came right back on the PA and told us that the rain seemed to be stopping. The mood of the audience of nineteen hundred strangers turned gleeful through the interlude, everybody — the high and the low — chatting with their neighbor. I had David Yazbek to the left of me and Julie Hagerty a row back.

No personal assistants or handlers with umbrellas and towels and bottled water, no special holding areas or luxury trailers, just the same cushionless seats under the same overcast sky. We were all in the same leaky boat, as it were, part of one and the same community. At , Walken and Hoffman resumed their places.

The play resumed. A white horse appeared upstage, which is to say where the Delacorte stage met Belvedere Lake. It was so misty up there that you could barely see the horse or its rider, Natalie Portman. This pretty much ruined her entrance hand, as she was already speaking when she came into clear view. Debra Monk did much better with her entrance, a few minutes later.

Monk is justly celebrated for her way with a line. Unfortunately, it was by now as violators were threatened with raining again — and how. Harder electrocution. There was a twolevel unit stage left — a summer house, apparently — with what looked to be a wrought iron stairway descending from the second level. Meryl Streep made her entrance from above. Kevin Kline and John Goodman entered, too, but the audience only had eyes for Meryl.

As the actress descended the stairway, she seemed to be jerked upward as if a marionette on strings. Streep struggled, as her character seemed to continue unaffected; she yanked on her dress, which had been caught on the top 34 Broadway Yearbook, — of the landing, and then glided down the stairs as if nothing had happened. Streep got her entrance applause, as well as one of those appreciative ovations.

Her heavy gown had an extra-long train, which in its raindrenched state must have been impossible to maneuver; hence, the struggle on the stairs. The audience contained hundreds of Broadway actors, who were especially appreciative of this sort of dedication. Larry Pine, as Dr. The cast soon moved into the play-within-the-play, with Ms. The audience groaned, but sat still. The rain got heavier and heavier, so when George C. I spilled out of the park right smack-dab into a vacant cab, somehow, which made a lovely U-turn The Seagull 35 and took us back to the East Side. The gala opening-night party, at the outdoor Belvedere Castle overlooking the Delacorte, was necessarily canceled as well, leaving more than one A-lister standing on the curb in a puddle.

All told, the opening-night audience saw thirty minutes of the play. And it was pretty much brilliant. There are no small actors, only small roles, to paraphrase Hamlet a play that Chekhov continually draws our attention to in The Seagull. There had been talk of a Broadway transfer from the moment the production was announced, and it was clearly warranted.

Until the following Friday, that is, when I went back. The performance began promptly at , under clear skies. We felt a few drops as we crossed the park, but they dried up and never returned. Streep, in dry dress, was a comic delight. Streep also managed to make her bench squeak its way through the speech, providing even more laughs. Streep sparkled, totally animating the proceedings. Act 2 belongs to Nina.

The Seagull was played at the Delacorte with one intermission, between the second and third acts. She begins as an observer, making the forty-four-year-old Arkadina look—well, forty-four. Momentum, once lost, was never regained. Good performances from good performers, mostly, but everyone working in a vacuum. This is not to say that Ms. She has had great success in motion pictures including the blockbuster Star Wars: Episode One.

She also received acclaim for her performance in the title role of the spotty Broadway revival of The Diary of Anne Frank. I myself was unmoved by performance and production. Portman, at twenty, presumably has a long career ahead Streep sparkled, animating the proceedof her; if she keeps appearing ings. She wheeled about the stage lead- with people like Streep and Kline ing from the neck, gesticulating as if and closely observes their methshe had springs on her arms that were ods, she should turn into quite an actor. He was good, but not as good as Turgenev.

Not bad for a guy who died in Nina brings Trigorin to life in the second act, for a spell; at least, she is supposed to. Not here. Part of the problem might have come from the casting. As written, Arkadina is forty-four. Attendance was virtually percent. He did not, though; perhaps, again, because he was acting against a beginner. There is little purpose in citing past productions of plays, especially productions that none of us saw. Alfred, too, was somewhat overaged for the role, at forty-six.

What makes all this relevant is that Lunt and the others played against a Nina even younger than Portman, one who was not even a movie star. This girl had not a single Broadway credit to her name, but it turned out she could act. We shall not hold Ms. As the lights went down, Streep had a wonderful moment as a sense of impending horror lit her face. The Seagull appeared a shoo-in to transfer; the word was they would try to work out cast availability — not an easy task, dealing with so many sought-after performers — providing that the reviews were great.

As it 38 Broadway Yearbook, — turned out, Streep was roundly praised for her performance, with plenty of carping about other aspects of the production. Finances would be tight; but it worked on paper, if the producers could get their Central Park cast to commit for a minimum of eight weeks. If the whole scheme sounded unlikely, I was told by a reliable production source that it was set and ready to go — with the million-dollar investment in place — until one of the stars developed a scheduling problem at the last moment. This Seagull will be remembered, mostly, for the ticket crunch.

Not all tickets, naturally. Some are reserved for the performers and staff; others go to the press; and many are distributed to NYSF subscribers and corporate sponBy the end of the run, people were on sors, without whose support there line at P. Still, I would slept and ate and cell-phoned, all night guess this leaves well over one thousand free seats per performand into the day. Tickets are distributed at P. Early, meaning A. With The Seagull, people got on line at A. As the buzz built, the arrival time got earlier and earlier. Imagine: people who arrived at A.

By the end of the run, people were on line at P. Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline and Natalie Portman were the draws; imagine the lines if they were appearing in something more accessible than Chekhov! Crazy New Yorkers standing in Central Park—of all places — through the night, simply to get a theatre ticket. The park closed in the wee hours, at which point the line would move to Central Park West until dawn.

There was a second distribution point downtown at the Public Theatre on Lafayette Street, which attracted similar-sized lines. There was much discussion comparing the tightness of tickets for the two shows, with some people going so far as to claim that The Seagull was a comparable hit. This was rather silly, as The Seagull was a free ticket to a limited engagement. If the producers of The Producers gave away hundreds and hundreds of tickets for free every day, the lines would stretch past the Delacorte.

At any rate, I shall remember August 12, , as my most memorable opening night ever. Had I been unable to return after the rainout, the play would have remained equally memorable. The fair and evenhanded theatre patron takes her or his seat, on any given night or matinee, with an open mind and no preconceived notions. Which brings us to Mandy Patinkin in Concert.

Strike one because Patinkin strikes me adversely. This is not to blame Mr. Patinkin made his Broadway musical debut in Evita. He was strange, exotic, and over-the-top, as he would be all too frequently over the next two decades. But the role of Che called for an eerie performance, and Patinkin had director Hal Prince to rein him in. For me, at least. This performance history made one wonder why Kidults was booked for but a single performance. Biting actors, spitting in their faces, things like that.

Some of these rumors were, apparently, based in fact. Patinkin ever, other than Evita twenty-odd years ago. Which leads me, right or wrong, to be just a wee bit apprehensive when I see his name on the marquee.

And then there was Kidults. I remained the-top could Patinkin possibly in my seat, while Clive Barnes get on an album for children? I was in the market for this sort of stood with the rest looking disgruntled CD, actually, as I was spending and extremely annoyed. Here, I thought, was something new for my four-year-old.

Kaye was a similarly showy performer with lots of talent and a tendency to overdo it. Until midway, that is, when the sound effects started. Creaky doors; echoes, and echoes of echoes; and thunder. Real thunder, not just the tymp player rattling his sticks. And lots of water, real running water. In the bathtub? The lyric is about a lost green-and-yellow basket. Now, Mr. Patinkin may sing anything he likes, whenever he likes, in any way he likes. But I had a hard time getting through seven tracks of Kidults.

Mandy in black pants with a raspberry-colored V-neck, gray-and-white sneakers, and a noticeably large bald spot. During the evening he made jokes about the sweater and the bald spot. Mandy started to sing. Not a song from Kidults; rather, something that was obviously a Sondheim song, although few listeners could have been expected to recognize it. Did Danny Kaye do this number? Or was it Jerry Lewis? Mandy began the song in a sweet-voiced, leisurely tempo. Patinkin crooned it gently, in lullaby-like fashion. The lyric is very good, and Patinkin delivered it with pain in his heart. Can any Broadway singer sing so well?

Patinkin, apparently, does whatever he wants however he wants whenever he wants. Clive Barnes of the Post, two seats down, stood with the rest. Keening, for our Irish friends. Again, Mr. The song was actually a vanished show tune, written for a quick failure called Between the Devil. Patinkin did all three parts, with two hand puppets, and it was enchanting.

This was another audience participation number, the house standing in for the chorus of townfolk. Excuse me if I seem to be yo-yoing around, folks, but this was Mandy Patinkin in Concert. Shining at one moment, searching for a self-expressionistic gimmick the next. He then went into an exceptional string of Sondheim. He removed the boom, if you will, revealing a song of tender beauty.

All in all, it was a mostly up evening with occasional downs. I can understand a talented artist wishing to add something unique to his performance; the desire to make it personal rather than just performing the material like everyone else. A handful of special performers can do this just as well. Which is to express the intent of the authors. He prepared the number by placing a music stand before him, at waist level.

Strangelove voice.

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I spent my last morning, as always, walking around my favorite neighborhood: along the Rue de la Seine, across le boulevard Saint-Germain, and down to the Jardin du Luxembourg. When the time came to visit the WC, I realized that I was without any change. Paris abounds with public toilets. Through the door you see a little old martinet in dirty apron, rubber gloves, and unbuckled galoshes.

She sits there collecting your centimes, or nowadays euros; ask for change, and she gets awful mad. She then returns, takes your coins, and tells you into which booth you must head. And I mean spray, in French. Back in , an underground playwright named Greg Kotis was performing at a theatre festival in Romania. Quickly running through his francs, he ended up sleeping in the parks. Commercial producers eagerly picked it up, but where — exactly—do you take a musical comedy called Urinetown? How do you take a musical comedy called Urinetown to Broadway? Very carefully.

The decision was made to start off off-Broadway. The plan was to allow the show to sneak into town at a low ticket price; build up great word of mouth; and receive wildly enthusiastic reviews imploring it to move to Broadway. Back himself choosing between the public in , I managed a consider- amenities, which you had to pay ably less interesting show that had for, and getting a sandwich. It raised some eyebrows, but it worked. Five days after I returned from Paris, I headed to an early preview of Urinetown.

I did not expect to review Urinetown, though, as it seemed an unlikely prospect for transfer to Broadway. I had an old friend in the cast, my brother had an extra ticket, and so I went. I look about thirty years older than when I met him; he still looks twenty-two. He was musical director, but not conducting. I found him at intermission.

Carrafa had been a lead dancer for Twyla Tharp for many years. He moved on to choreography back in the s and somehow got pegged as the guy they got when they were doing a play that needed a dance or two. His work had grown more prominent of late, with Love! Even at an early preview, Urinetown was highly impressive, and I told him so. It was Kotis, the librettist-lyricist.

I explained to him how remarkable and surprising this show was, even at this early stage. Seeing as how Urinetown was something that could get you ridden out of town on a rail, he seemed happy to hear compliments instead of complaints. Out came Cullum. What is less apparent is How do you take a musical comedy that he is a clever comic, with a called Urinetown to Broadway? Very strong sense of the ridiculous, as carefully. Here he was gloriously funny — and this was an early preview after a short rehearsal period.

The point is, I was a fan of Urinetown long before it opened on Broadway. The Broadway opening had originally been scheduled for Thursday, September A week later, everybody was still pretty jittery. The score was much the same as at the early preview; the only added number, as far as I could tell, was the jolly new curtain call.

Over four months of playing and rehearsing, the jokes and gags and actors became more and more assured. Physically, the show lost a little with the change of venue. At the Henry Miller, they were onstage, and you were in the theatre. But the Broadway version was that much slicker; every gag was in place, and it worked like clockwork. As a champion of both Weill and Blitzstein, let me say this: copying these guys is not, in any way, a formula for success.

Hollmann and Kotis were successful because they used their models carefully and purposefully.


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In Urinetown, the evil keeper of the lavatory keys—a Mrs. Lovett of the slops—is similarly backed by a religious chorale. A-bing bang boom! But there were wonderful numbers throughout. Yes, all this musical theatre shorthand served as skeletal support; but the music and lyrics themselves were very good. The jokes — not just in the dialogue but in music and lyrics as well — went by so fast that you could hardly keep up. What was the last Broadway musical, other than The Producers, that kept you laughing? Cullum got the juiciest material. See the title.

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Cullum has always 54 Broadway Yearbook, — known how to deliver a song, and he was at his comic best here, Simon Legree mixed with Snively Whiplash. His partner, needless to say, was named Barrel. He was assisted at every turn by Spencer Kayden, who gave a remarkable performance as Little Sally. Or a bad title? Nancy Opel displayed a strong voice and good comic sense as the keeper of the latrine; Hunter Foster and Jennifer Laura Thompson played the beset lovers, serious and farcical in turn. The entire cast was good; Urinetown had the best ensemble in town, perhaps because the authors and stagers gave each and every actor a moment and a gag in the spotlight.

Urinetown was enhanced by dazzling work and clever ideas from all involved. Director John Rando kept things cracking, with sight gags every place you looked. He also took advantage of those comic narrators, using them to sparkplug the action. Choreographer Carrafa shared in the fun, taking his cast of nondancing singers and putting them through ersatz Robbins and Fosse routines.

Conductor Ed Goldschneider started the show with a joke of his own. The policemen brought him down to stage The jokes—not just in the dialogue but level, walked him across to the in music and lyrics as well—went by bandstand in the left wing — and so fast that you could hardly keep up. Big laugh, immediately followed by the brass choir opening of the prologue. The stars of the evening: Kotis and Hollmann. Intriguing and catchy music, matched with brightly clever lyrics, brimming with ideas. Urinetown was a Broadway musical almost by accident; the authors say they never imagined that anyone would take it seriously, and I can understand why.

Gee, you should play Hedda Gabler, said her husband. Gee, you should play Hedda Gabler, said her mother. But this is not such a stab in the dark if your mom happens to run a well-respected summer theatre. Or if your husband runs one of the most prestigious regional theatres in the country. Your favorite wigmaker. Kate Burton it was, who was thus approached over the breakfast table.

That might be an The suggestion of Hedda was not, exaggeration, but not by much. In daring to be life- Hedda Gabler 57 size in a traditionally larger-than-life role, Ms. With, ultimately, mixed results. For a Norwegian lass from , Hedda has been a surprisingly frequent visitor in these parts. Fiske played it twice at the Manhattan, in for 8 performances and for 24 performances. Alla Nazimova played it for 40 performances in at the Princess; for another 24 performances in at the Bijou; and once again —after a world war—for 24 performances in at the Plymouth.

Clare Eames played it for 8 performances in at the 48th Street. Emily Stevens, Mrs. Elvsted to Mrs. The following year, Blanche Yurka did it at the 49th Street for 25 performances. This makes Alla the champ, with performances as Hedda on Broadway. The Greek tragedian Katina Paxinou played it for 12 performances in , also at the Longacre.

Le Gallienne revived it again in , for 15 performances at the Cort. She has steadily trod the Broadway boards since graduating from Yale Drama School in She immediately joined rehearsals for George C. Until Hedda Gabler, that is. Chillingly dangerous, she delivered a theatrical knockout of a performance. This Hedda had attacks of the giggles, of all things, but Burton and director Martin made sure that we saw the ice water coursing through her veins.

There were several uncanny moments when Burton glanced away from the others and we could actually observe ominous thunderclouds crossing her wide, Welsh forehead. Perhaps the lighting designer Kevin Adams did it, with some pinspots from the balcony rail. But no, I think it was all Kate. The star was ably abetted by Martin and adapter Jon Robin Baitz.

This version was commissioned for a production at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles, without the involvement of Burton or Martin. Annette Bening starred, under the direction of Dan Sullivan. Many Ibsen adaptations reek of camphor balls, with musty sensibilities and stilted passions. Ibsen, taking an aisle seat at the Ambassador, might not quite understand what his girl was doing. Michael Emerson — well remembered in these parts for his Oscar Wilde in the off-Broadway Gross Indecency—was best, making an unusual but interesting George Tesman. Rather than the typically dutiful husband whose life is ruined by his bride, this fellow was exceedingly annoying and somewhat reminiscent of the young Bobby Morse.

Emerson brought something new, and logically valid, to his role. The others were—well, adequate. Director Martin is a story in himself. Martin, who was the play reader and artistic adviser to McCann and Nugent Productions managers of Alice , played the Dormouse. Very nicely, too. Burton got through it fairly well, with moral support—and I expect offstage coaching—from Martin.

Martin has been in great demand at top regional theatres since the midnineties, with numerous stints at Williamstown. In he was named artistic director of the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. Aspiring artists, take note. All of which brings us back to Kate Burton. Just watch that girl dance with her pistols. And that made her performance dangerously fascinating, with icy teeth. Unfortunately, Hedda Gabler came in under a couple of distinct disadvantages.

He reiterated his praise in October, but his critical brethren were for the most part distinctly in the minority. And in October, Hedda ran up against There were several uncanny moments competition from Dance of Death. But the latter, thanks to the presence of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, amassed a considerably larger advance sale than the former. Broadway ticket sales all but ceased in mid-September; when they started picking up, musicals like Mamma Mia!

Without enough presold seats to guarantee break-even business, Hedda never had a chance. Three of them enjoyed major New York productions in short order, before even one Neil Simon came to town. Chekhov, Ibsen, and Strindberg all lived into the twentieth century, but they were alive and kicking back before old Abe Lincoln grew his beard.

The plays were written between and , which puts them over the century mark. All three were well produced; all were well acted; all received plenty of attention, plus mixed reviews; and all were—after the fact—memorable. George Bernard Shaw, too, was represented. While Shaw lived until , he was born in — making him older than Chekhov — and thus was very much a product of days gone by.

Major Barbara was forgotten by the time Strindberg opened, but the risk-taking productions of The Seagull, Hedda Gabler, and Dance of Death will be long remembered. Dance of Death was the least likely of revivals. The Seagull, as we saw, came about because Meryl Streep wanted to do it. Major Barbara was a typical offering from the Roundabout, which periodically serves up Shaw. But Strindberg, that melancholy misogynist Swede, is a relatively infrequent visitor to our Dance of Death 63 shores.

And for good reason. This production seems to have been born out of Indiscretions Les Parents Terribles , a Cocteau cocktail that the Shubert Organization imported in British director Sean Mathias made an impressive Broadway bow, with a production that was striking although of limited success. Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, was understandably proud of Indiscretions, and duly called on Mathias for more of the same.

Mathias went to Sir Ian McKellen, his friend and former companion. He wants to do Dance of Death on Broadway. A translation was commissioned from Richard Greenberg, one of those formerly young playwrights of promise who made a splashy debut in with a play called Eastern Standard. The parallels are plain to see: the relationship between the married couples; the general bleakness of the lives being lived; and the way the plays seem to progress through what might be called endless night. Albee, too, gives us four fascinating characters with a real story behind them and an unreal story, too.

And lots of jokes. Mathias imported two stars from England — Helen Mirren and Sir Ian—but the designers and the rest of the group were all American. This was not an incidental choice. Yes, usually these were imports, which dictated use of the original designs. But more than a few recent American-produced shows have imported British designers including the very busy — and very good — Bob Crowley ; it is almost unheard for West End shows to import American designers. That being said, the producers of Dance of Death chose to hire two top American designers, and they came up with a production every bit as striking as, say, Indiscretions.

Santo Loquasto has done exquisite work over the years, including mem- Dance of Death 65 orable sets for That Championship Season and costumes for Ragtime. Natasha Katz is best known for Aida, one of the most expert recent lighting designs in recent memory. The director and his designers combined for some memorably magical moments. Except, what would they have done in the second act without McKellen?

He is lying on a bed center stage, beneath the staircase, tended by Kurt David Strathairn. Edgar falls asleep, sinking back against his pillow and thus moving his face out of the light. Kurt leans forward, looking at him. Alice Mirren opens the door on the upper level, at the top of the stairs, directly above Edgar and Kurt. The door closes, the candle simultaneously is extinguished, the stage lights go to black, and the act ends. Director, actors, and designers conspired here to create stage wizardry, but it was otherwise a very long evening.

Dance of Death is, clearly, a vehicle for high-octane star acting. His performance was something. Because we watched Ian act, fascinated by how he did this and how he accomplished that. His dance was quite remarkable; he jerked about as if he was a marionette being supported by the shoulder bar, arms and legs swinging every which way until he fell catonic, midway through. This was, indeed, a dance of death impending. Small print in the back of the program informed us that this was staged by John Carrafa, who prior to Urinetown was the guy they got when they were doing a play that needed a dance or two.

Those of you with long memories might wish to compare this to McKellen in the Broadway production of Amadeus. Except, what would the curtain call that you stopped they have done in the second act to consider the actor under the makeup. In Amadeus, we watched without McKellen? There is a difference, I contend, between watching a great actor at Dance of Death 67 work and watching a great performance. Still, I shudder to imagine what this production would have been like without McKellen. It took but a moment at the Broadhurst to realize that Ms. The other three actors were little more than walk-ons.

A job, I guess, is a job. Ben Brantley of the New York Times praised McKellen to the skies, de- We watched Ian act, fascinated by how spite reservations about every- he did this and how he accomplished thing else except Ms. He is leaving her, and she has set wheels in motion that will destroy him.

By destroying his future, Alice has destroyed her own as well. I was just sleepy. Mamma Mia! Twice as much as Bialystock and Bloom. The show suffered innumerable slings of critical arrows. Suffered, perhaps, is not the precise word; Miss Saigon received the same type of critical reaction on Broadway, and they did okay. It remains to be seen which show has stronger legs, The Producers or Mamma Mia! I suppose they could just have easily been BAAB. The boys went on to collaborate with Tim Rice on the musical Chess. Others placed blame on the circumstances.

Just before departing for rehearsals in London, he became incapacitated by AIDS and was forced to withdraw. What was left was a concept musical without its conceptor. Before working for Rice, she had been assistant stage manager on the original London production of Cats. But watch to do it. The situation: twenty-one years ago, our feisty heroine was sleeping with three different men at once. Which one is the father of her twenty-year-old daughter? What happens when the three unsuspecting potential dads converge?

What happens? What else? A musical comedy, Carmelina, covered precisely the same ground. Campbell; so, oddly enough, had Carmelina author Alan Jay Lerner. Apparently the plot sprang from a real-life news story. Both Mrs. Campbell and Carmelina were set in Italy; Mamma Mia! But why does it have an Italian title?

The not-so-immaculate conception in the Italian versions took place during World War II; the three fathers were American GIs far from home, the mother a poor, orphaned teenager trying to make ends meet. Sweet sentiment, no? Here you had a heroine who indulged in — egad! A role model for the daughters of the moralists? Apparently so. There have been any number of attempts at stocking new musical comedies with old songs, although few actually make it to Broadway. Theatre composers are usually the victims; High Society, with Cole Porter tunes, was the most recent mishap to hit town.

And the success of Mamma Mia! The problem is fairly simple, really. Musical comedy evolved into a form in which the story is told in part by book and in part by song; the lyrics, ideally, are an extension of the character. Good old Professor Henry Higgins is a perfect example.

And a good deal of what passed for 72 Broadway Yearbook, — plot and characterization was inane. Johnson supplemented her unwed mother with two similarly feisty middle-aged pals, her backup singers from the old days. Songs and jokes were distributed with a free hand; characterization was severely rationed, and it was every gal for herself. The audience knew they were in Greece, though, because the tacky-looking set featured a backdrop of Aegean blue.

Most of these songcatalogue musicals fail due to the uneasy mixture of new characters and old songs. They acknowledged it at every turn, and invited the audience in on the joke. How could they? People who just met talk about being in love for years, or walking the streets together in Paris — that sort of thing. And it worked, it worked like gangbusters.

If the score was shoehorned, the book itself was shopworn. Peppy comes on to one of the middle-aged ex-backup girls. His work here was of the same quality, although Mamma Mia! The mother was played by a new-to-Broadway Canadian actress named Louise Pitre, who gave a friendly and attractive performance. Perfectly satisfactory, but without the sort of star quality that lights up the stage. Tina Maddigan played the love child, and seemed quite lovely.

The problem, though, came when Ms. Maddigan and Ms. Pitre started to sing. The arrangements were so noisy, and so backed-up by backup voices, that they seemed canned; you could never tell if they were simply dubbed into the proceedings. Karen Mason has been around a long time, singing in cabarets and onstage, most prominently as the much-utilized standby for the leading ladies of Sunset Boulevard. She gave the impression in Mamma Mia!

Kahn, with a clutch of spectacular reviews considerably better than those for the show itself, wanted her schedule reduced to six performances a week. In Mamma Mia! Kaye did. It was very clear that theatregoers familiar with the songs — and that encompassed much of the audience — were absolutely loving Mamma Mia!

In musical theatre, typically, the audience usually has to listen to the words before deciding what the song is about. Oddly, though, the ABBA fans seemed slightly more entranced at the beginning of the songs than at the end. This was due to fond memories, no doubt, but it was also a result of the Mamma Mia! The creators seemed to slavishly adhere to the old pop arrangements, at the understandable peril of a revolution from the die-hards in the audience.

But many of these arrangements built to similar, abrupt endings, suitable for disc or disco. Live theatre is something else again, or should be. Musical numbers, typically, are designed to build to an effective conclusion. Call it great or call it poor, one thing was clear: Mamma Mia! Then it started earning euros, by the buckets. None of Mamma Mia! For them their enjoyment. Some critics went after the show with hatchets; a few — who appear to have grown up listening to the songs — simply accepted the show for what it was. At the bottom of Bobby Darin, is a bewildered, confused, soul-searching, grasping artist who is desirous of truth in art — sickening as it may sound.

Now you gently simmer and you lay over this bottom stratum a little bit of human being who craves social acceptance. Sprinkle with a few years of childhood environment. Add years of plain poverty and simmer some more. Unfortunately for Bobby, many of these quotes and mis-quotes came back to bite him throughout his career.

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From onwards, Bobby was treated differently by much of the media. To add to this, with nearly thirty known television appearances in , it was likely that some of the more bitter and cynical columnists thought that he had outstayed his welcome and needed to be brought down to earth. Over the next couple of years, and on until his passing and beyond, they would do their best to make sure that happened. Revised and Expanded , with an expected release date of late It remains a classic. This was the first time that Bobby confronted the subject of death in the studio. Artistically, this ticking time bomb was part of what drove him to try and accomplish everything so quickly, and to try so many different genres of music and conquer them within a couple of albums before moving on to do something else.

While Bobby may have often come across to some as care-free, brash and cocky as a performer, there was also this inescapable motif of death running through a number of his recordings and, in many of these, Bobby appeared to be laughing in the face of it. There were also more serious efforts on the subject. Darin might have been using a big band sound, and he might have been singing standards, but the styles of the two singers in these surroundings are very different to each other. His breath control, and how he used it, is legendary.

Bobby was creating something all his own, not copying Sinatra. His outlook on the business and his attitude to performance are the important things. My approach to singing is not the same. Once again, this was a perfect fusion of arrangement, lyrics and vocal that should never have worked, so disparate are these various elements, and yet everything comes together beautifully. Darin would continue to sing the song in concert on TV through the s, even performing an extended version during the taping of the final episode of his TV series.

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Bearing this in mind, Through a Long and Sleepless Night , the third track, is perfectly placed. The arrangement here is completely different to the brash big band sounds of the previous two numbers, and Bobby puts in a performance that utilises the softer, more controlled, part of his range. There is a rawness here, both within the singing itself and the feeling that what we are hearing is untrained, raw talent.

There is more than just this casual link between the two performances. Get your grimy hand off that dial, man! Bobby takes the song from Porgy and Bess , edits out some of the less-commercial elements, and transforms it into a number with a smoky, night-club vibe to it. The instrumentation is stripped down, almost bare, compared to the rest of the album, although the arrangement grows with each verse. As with Mack the Knife ,there are also a number of key changes, but there is no big finish here and the song never really moves away from the night-club atmosphere.

It is also worth noting that no co-writer is credited with this song, unlike the previous self-penned efforts that Bobby had recorded. This orchestration became a template that Darin would use again through the years, perhaps most notably for Lazy River. Bobby would include the song in his live album, Darin at the Copa , as well as on several TV appearances.

As with the other ballads, this is less memorable then the upbeat tracks. In fact, it would take Bobby a couple more albums of standards before he mastered the art of ballad singing in this style. Once again, Bobby takes a ballad and performs it as an upbeat number, this time taking the song at a frantic pace and featuring an expanded percussion section within the orchestra. Bobby would end his stage performances with the song on many occasions through the years.

Watch it climb. Skip to content. Home Contact. He is quoted here as saying: At the bottom of Bobby Darin, is a bewildered, confused, soul-searching, grasping artist who is desirous of truth in art — sickening as it may sound. Post to Cancel.