Sunday, August 29, 2021

Theater Memories Part 13: Shakespeare The Histories

David Tenant as Richard II
Credit: Keith Pattison
To complete my Shakespeare recollections, here are all the history plays I can remember seeing (again this is only stage versions, there are too many film and TV productions to list):

Richard II: David Tenant (one of my all-time favorite Doctor Whos) RSC at BAM in rep with both parts of Henry IV and Henry V; Steven Skybell (Theater for a New Audience); Peter MacNichol (Delacorte).

Henry IV, Parts I and II: Alex Hassell (RSC at BAM, the same series as the David Tenant Richard II, Anthony Sher was a brilliant Falstaff); a really weird production directed by JoAnne Akalitis at the Public; a one-evening adaptation at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center with Kevin Kline as Falstaff, Michael Hayden as Prince Hal, Richard Easton as King Henry IV, Ethan Hawke as Hotspur, with Dana Ivey, Audra MacDonald and Dakin Matthews (who did the adaptation); Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, Mass.

Henry V: Twice at the Delacorte with Kevin Kline and then Andre Braugher; Alex Hassell in the RSC/BAM four-part production; Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, set during World War I. Act One had the soldiers in a trench rehearsing for a performance of Henry V, then Act Two, they are all in the hospital, wounded, and the nurses take part.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Theater Memories Part 12: Shakespeare, The Comedies and Romances

Kevin Kline and Blythe Danner
in Much Ado About Nothing
Last time I listed all the Shakespearean tragedies I have seen, so it's time for the comedies and romances. Once again, I am not including TV or film versions because there are too many. This will be just stage versions:

All's Well That Ends Well: Delacorte.

As You Like It: Shakespeare's Globe at the Armory, The Bridge Project at BAM (in rep with The Tempest), CSC with Ellen Burstyn as Jacques.

The Comedy of Errors: Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater playing both sets of twins at the Delacorte; the Flying Karamazov Brothers in an all-juggling production at Lincoln Center; all-male production at BAM.

Love's Labour's Lost: Stratford Festival; Public Theater.

Measure for Measure: Campbell Scott/Kate Burton/Len Cariou/Jack Weston/Lois Smith (Lincoln Center); twice at the Delacorte: Kevin Kline/LisaGay Hamilton and Billy Crudup/Sanaa Latham; Elevator Repair Service did a really weird, stylized version with everyone talking really fast.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Theatre Memories Part 11: Shakespeare, The Tragedies

The photo is from my collection of Hamlet playbills: I did not see Richard Burton or Albert Finney (Middle row); but I did see Kevin Kline (twice, both at the Public), Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes (on Broadway), Stephen Lang (Roundabout), Peter Sarsgaard (CSC), Michael Stuhlbarg (Delacorte), John Glover (Philadelphia Drama Guild at the Walnut Street Theatre), Peter Stormare (brilliant production directed by Ingmar Bergman at BAM), Tom O'Neill (at Villanova University, performed in rep with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), Brian Hugh O'Neill (performed in the 79th Street Riverside Park Boat Basin), Toby Stephens (Maggie Smith's son in London).

Other Shakespeare tragedies seen (I am leaving out TV and film versions, because there are too many):

Macbeth: Patrick Stewart (BAM/Broadway), Alan Cumming (in an almost solo version on Broadway), Christopher Plummer/Glenda Jackson, Ethan Hawke, Liev Schrieber, Kelsey Grammer (pretty terrible production), John Douglas Thompson, Corey Stoller, Alec Baldwin/Angela Bassett, Raul Julia, Kenneth Branagh/Alex Kingston at the Park Avenue Armory.

King Lear: Glenda Jackson, Derek Jacobi (my favorite), Kevin Kline, Frank Langella, John Lithgow, Hal Holbrook, F. Murray Abraham, Sam Waterston, Ian McKellen (BAM, Sylvester McCoy, Doctor Who no. 7 was the Fool), Christopher Plummer, Brian Cox (in London in rep with Richard III, Ian McKellen was the Duke of Kent and alternated as Richard III, Cox played Buckingham in Richard).

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Theater Memories Part 10: Acting/Directing

In my high school production of 
The School for Scandal
As long as I'm reminiscing about all the shows I've seen, I will also include all the shows I acted in and directed before switching to being a theater critic:

Acting roles:
High School: A stable boy in The Admirable Crichton, Sir Benjamin Backbite in The School for Scandal, Zoltan Karpathy and chorus member in two different productions of My Fair Lady, Mr. Lundie in Brigadoon, Herr Zeller the nasty Nazi in The Sound of Music, various roles in Tarradiddle Tales (children's show).

Barn Playhouse, Jeffersonville, PA: Albert Amundsen in A Thousand Clowns, Geoffrey in The Lion in Winter, Foot/Moon in After Magritte/The Real Inspector Hound, Harding in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stage Manager in Our Town, File in The Rainmaker, chorus in Can-Can, Jonathan in Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad (workshop), policeman in Wait Until Dark.

Community Theater in Philadelphia area: Edmund Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Sparger in Kennedy's Children, Henry Antrobus in The Skin of Our Teeth, the butler in The Philadelphia Story, Don Basile in The Barber of Saville (the play, not the opera), the mean cousin in Holiday, a prince in a fairy-tale play called The Square Egg of Gratchit (so it would rhyme with hatch-it, get it?).

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Theater Memories Part 9: Tennessee Williams

I just finished reading John Lahr's brilliant biography of Tennessee Williams (Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh). This led me to recall all of the productions of Williams' work I have seen in decades of theater going and to conclude he is our greatest modern playwright (surpassing O'Neill and Miller).

The Glass Menagerie: Maureen Stapleton (summer stock), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Phila. Drama Guild), Julie Harris, Jessica Lange, Judith Ivey, Cherry Jones, Sally Field, Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Booth (TV), Gertrude Lawrence, Joanne Woodward (film), Jessica Tandy (recording).

Streetcar Named Desire: Shirley Knight (McCarter Theater), Jessica Lange/Alec Baldwin (on stage and TV), Natasha Richardson/John Reilly, Blythe Danner/Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth Marvel in Ivo van Hove's wacko production at New York Theater Workshop, Gillian Anderson (NT Live on YouTube), Marin Mazzie (Barrington Stage), Nicole Ari Parker/Blair Underwood, Cate Blanchett/Joel Edgarton, Vivien Leigh/Marlon Brando (film), Ann-Margret/Treat Williams (TV).

Friday, August 13, 2021

Theater Memories Part 8: London

Simon Russell Beale 
in Tom Stoppard's Jumpers
Our next category of theater memories after summer stock, national tours, out-of-town try-outs, regional and ushering is London. I have been to the British capital five times from the 1990s into the 2000s and tried to cram in as much theater as possible every time I went. The first time was only a few days before I went on to Paris and Amsterdam. The second time was during a heat wave and I got stuck at the airport on the way back because Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait, throwing everything into chaos. The fourth time, my husband Jerry and I went and then toured Scotland and the Lake district. Then I went with my dad on the first stop on a trip around the world. We were only there for two days, but I did see two shows. When I went with my whole family the fifth time, they couldn't understand why I wanted to see 8 or 9 shows in a week instead of visiting museums and having high tea at Claridge's. Here are the shows I can recall:

Tom Stoppard's Jumpers with Simon Russell Beale (pictured) when it transferred to Broadway, I was surrounded by matinee ladies who couldn't make head or tail of it, but I thought it was brilliant.
A Madhouse in Goa with Vanessa Redgrave; Hamlet with Toby Stephens (Maggie Smith's son); Richard III/King Lear in rep with Brian Cox and Ian McKellen (saw both on the same day and felt like someone had taken a club marked "Shakespeare" and hit me over the head with it); Guys and Dolls with Imelda Staunton as Adelaide and Clarke Peters as Guy Masterson (really loved it); His Girl Friday, John Guare's adaptation of The Front Page and the movie script for His Girl Friday (Margaret Tyzack stands out in my memory); The Shaughran with Stephan Rea; Absolutely! Perhaps (an adaptation of Pirandello's Right You Are!) with Joan Plowright; Glenda Jackson as Mother Courage (pictured); Maxim Gorky's Barbarians with Louise Jameson (Leela from Doctor Who); The Man Who Came to Dinner with John Wood; Stoppard's The Invention of Love; The Misanthrope; The School for Scandal with Prunella Scales of Fawlty
Glenda Jackson as Mother Courage

Towers as Mrs. Candour; a revival of Absurd Person Singular; Jerry Springer: The Opera with David Soul's understudy; Richard Nelson's Some Americans Abroad (also enjoyed it when Lincoln Center did it); John Doyle's Sweeney Todd set in a madhouse (worked slightly better than on Broadway because there were more cast members as doctors so it was clearer we were in a nuthouse); The Madness of George W., a satire on the Bush administration after the invasion of Iraq, mostly modeled on Dr. Strangelove; Festen, a drama about incest which worked much better in London than on Broadway; Playhouse Creatures, a play about the Restoration; a musical version of Metropolis which stopped only 20 into the performance because the massive mechanical scenery broke down, Brian Blessed announced the show had to be cancelled; Ibsen's The Wild Duck with Lionel Jeffries.

At Stratford-on-Avon: a wonderful production of The Tamer Tamed, a sequel to the Taming of the Shrew.

In the Lake District in Keswick: a so-so production of Blithe Spirit.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Theater Memories Part 7: Ushering at the Promenade and the Jack Lawrence

The original company of Hurlyburly:
Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel,
William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver,
Jerry Stiller, Judith Ivey
and Cynthia Nixon 

Tales from the House of an Usher, Part II: So in addition to the Lucille Lortel, I ushered for a brief period at the now-gone Promenade and Jack Lawrence and its studio theater, the Audrey Wood. I spent the summer of 1984 at the Promenade ushering for David Rabe's Hurlyburly until its move to Broadway. It was a hot ticket because Mike Nichols was directing and the cast was stuffed with stars: William Hurt, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Jerry Stiller, Sigourney Weaver, Judith Ivey and Cynthia Nixon (who was in college then). Nichols insisted no one be seated once the show started, so there were some difficult moments (particularly when the producer Alexander Cohen came late--we did seat him.)

Because of the cast, we had as many stars in the audience as on stage. On the first night of previews, Candace Bergen and Steve Martin attended. Bergen was so beautiful and glamorous she took my breath away. During the run we had Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Warren Beatty, Meryl Streep, Leonard Bernstein, Gregory Hines, Tom Stoppard (who tipped me $5 when I poured him a Coke at the concession stand), Mary Gross of SNL, Charles Haid of Hill Street Blues (who expressed his anger at the portrayal of TV actors in the play), Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Jack Weston and Marge Redmond (of the Flying Nun), Bob Dishy and Judy Graubart (of The Electric Company), Sandra Bernhardt, Lauren Bacall, David Cassidy, Charlotte Rae, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Kenneth MacMillan (then he was on Rhoda as her boss), Carroll O'Connor (that's all I can remember). Christopher Walken left to film a James Bond movie and Ron Silver (Rhoda, Speed-the-Plow) took over his part when the show moved to Broadway. I got to see him rehearse with the stage manager. Judith Ivey stopped the show every night and won a well-deserved Tony.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

B'way Update: Funny Girl Confirmed

Beanie Feldstein
Yesterday I posted that a Broadway revival of Funny Girl was a possibility for next spring due to a Equity casting notice being placed for the show. Now it's confirmed that the 1964 musical bio of the legendary comedienne Fanny Brice which made Barbra Streisand a star will be returning to Broadway for its first revival. The lead role will be played by Beanie Feldstein who played Minnie Fay in the recent Bette Midler-led revival of Hello, Dolly! and will be featured as Monica Lewinski in the upcoming TV mini-series Impeachment: America Crime Story. Tony winner Michael Mayer (Thoroughly Modern Millie, American Idiot) will direct and four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein will revise Isobelle Lennart's original book. The iconic score which includes "People," "Don't Rain on My Parade," "I'm the Greatest Star" and "If a Girl Isn't Pretty" is by Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics).

Plans for a new Funny Girl have been in the works for years with Lady Gaga, Lauren Ambrose, Idina Menzel, and Lea Michele all mentioned for the lead at one time or another. Further casting, specific dates and a theater will be announced later.

Broadway buffs are now guessing who is cast as Feldstein's leading man, Nicky Arnstein, Brice's husband. I'm more interested in who's going to play Fanny's mother (a role for which Kay Medford earned an Oscar nomination for the movie). A few months ago Rosie O'Donnell hinted she was in the running, but it may be a Broadway veteran with more credits such as Mary Testa (Xanadu, 42nd Street, etc.), Jackie Hoffman (On the Town, Hairspray, The Addams Family) or Julie Halston (Tootsie, You Can't Take It With You, Twentieth Century). Or maybe all three will be cast as Mrs. Brice and her poker-playing buddies.

Beanie Feldstein said, “The first time I played Fanny Brice was at my third birthday party, in a head-to-toe leopard print outfit my mom made for me. So, it’s safe to say that stepping into this iconic role, on Broadway and not in my family’s backyard, is truly my lifelong dream come true. I am immensely grateful to be able to do so alongside such a remarkable creative team, and cannot wait for audiences to get back in theaters again!”

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

B'way Update: West Side Kaput, Funny Girl Possible, 2nd Jersey Boys Film

The company of Ivo van Hove's
West Side Story
Credit: Jan Versweyveld
Scratch one more Broadway production. Ivo van Hove's radical re-imagining of West Side Story will not be re-opening at the Broadway Theater. This was the sixth Broadway staging of the beloved updating of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and the first not to employ Robbins' original choreography. It opened on Feb. 20, 2020 and closed on March 11 along with every other show on the Main Stem due to the COVID pandemic. Von Hove, an internationally renowned director and Tony winner for his direction of A View from the Bridge, cut songs, employed huge video screens and color-blind casting which did not sit well with some fans of the show. Producer Kate Horton who took over from the disgraced Scott Rudin who has "stepped back" from his Broadway producing chores following reports of his toxic workplace behavior, put out the following statement:

"It is with great regret that we are announcing today that the 2020 Broadway revival of West Side Story will not reopen. This difficult and painful decision comes after we have explored every possible path to a successful run, and unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, reopening is not a practical proposition. We thank all the brilliant, creative artists who brought West Side Story to life at the Broadway Theatre, even for so brief a time, especially the extraordinary acting company, 33 of whom made their Broadway debuts in this production." The production was nominated for six 2020 Drama Desk Awards and won for Outstanding Projection Design. Administrators for the Tony Awards judged West Side ineligible for its accolades since too many nominators and voters did not get a chance to see it before it closed. A remake of the film version of WSS, directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Tony Kushner, is scheduled for release this winter.

This leaves only two previously-announced shows with no firm dates for the 2021-22 Broadway season: American Buffalo and Sing Street. 

Theater Memories Part 6: Ushering at the Lortel

After discussing summer stock, national tours, out-of-town tryouts and theatre on TV, the next category would be ushering. For a few years during the late 1980s and into the 1990s, I ushered quite a few Off-Broadway shows (Broadway is unionized, so it was easier to do Off) at the Lucille Lortel Theater, the Promenade and the now defunct Jack Lawrence and the Audrey Wood, its smaller studio theater. It was fascinating watching the same show for several consecutive performances and seeing cast replacements bring different interpretations. Here are the shows I ushered for at the Lortel:

Lucille Lortel: Isn't It Romantic, Wendy Wasserstein's long-running comedy. During the run, Alma Cuervo and Robin Bartlett played the lead and Joan Copeland, Julia Meade, Jay Thomas (Emmy winner for Murphy Brown), James Rebhorn, and Christine Healy were in the cast.

Joan Rivers (center) visits the cast of
Steel Magnolias: (l to r) Mary Fogarty,
Rosemary Prinz, Margo Martindale, 
Constance Schulman, Betsy Aidem
and Kate Wilkinson.
Steel Magnolias: I was with the show for much of the early run with Margo Martindale, Betsy Aidem, Rosemary Prinz, Mary Fogarty, Kate Wilkinson and Constance Schulman. The show was a big hit and we got lots of celebrities. Unfortunately, I was not there the nights Bette Davis or Elizabeth Taylor came, but I did seat Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper (I went home during intermission and got my book of classic TV shows for her to sign--I already had Mary's autograph from Sweet Sue), Mildred Natwick, and Bob Fosse (who complained about his seat). (in the photo, the original cast with Joan Rivers). Here's what my colleagues told me about the night Taylor attended. She was late and the curtain was held for her (of course). Her seat was in the middle of the middle row, so half the row had to stand up when she and her entourage arrived. Before sitting down, she took a 360-degree look at the house as if to say, "Yes, it is me, Elizabeth Taylor." The show starts and one of the first lines is delivered by Margo Martindale as the hairdresser Truvy: "Ruth Robilene, now there's a twisted, troubled soul. Her husband was killed in World War II. Her son was killed in Vietnam. When it comes to suffering, she's right up there with Elizabeth Taylor." This line elicited an enormous guffaw from the audience, the loudest recognizably being from Taylor herself (People asked if that line were added just for that night and no, it was always there.) After the show, the star went backstage to greet the cast and the audience refused to leave. They wanted a glimpse of the legend and you had to exit through the theater to get out from backstage. Meanwhile, word has spread around the neighborhood that a real-live Hollywood star was at the theater and a huge crowd gathered outside. The police had to be called because the eager fans were blocking the narrow West Village streets. The cops finally had to escort Taylor out of the building to the applause of those in and outside the Lortel as if she were royalty, which she kind of was. And she loved every moment of it.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Theater Memories Part 5: Theater on TV

In the past few days, I've listed my memories of summer stock, national tours, out of town tryouts and regional productions. Next is TV productions of theater. Before moving to NYC, TV was my main means of seeing theater. Some video recollections:

Much Ado About Nothing (1974) A TV version of the Joseph Papp-produced revival with Sam Waterston, Kathleen Widdoes, Barnard Hughes, Douglas Watson (from Another World) and, I believe, Christopher Walken's younger brother. Papp's first production in his deal with CBS. I watched it at my grandparents' house while my family was visiting downstairs for the grandparents' anniversary party. I was 15.

Sticks and Bones: David Rabe's controversial Vietnam-shatters-the-American-family play ended Papp's deal with CBS. Tom Aldredge recreated his stage performance and Anne Jackson replaced Elizabeth Wilson.

Wedding Band: Papp subsequently presented some shows on ABC. Ruby Dee, Eileen Heckart, JD Cannon and Polly Holliday were brilliant in Alice Childress' play about interracial love in 1918.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Theater Memories Part 4: Regional Productions

John Glover was in many
productions with the
Philadelphia Drama Guild
After posts on summer stock, national tours and out-of-town tryouts, how about regional productions? Most of the regional shows I saw as a teen and college student were from the Philadelphia Drama Guild, for many years in residence at the Walnut Street Theater and then at the Zellerbach on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Douglas Seale was artistic director. (He later was on Broadway in Noises Off and appeared on TV as butlers. I think he played Dolly Parton's once.) There was a resident company and John Glover, who later won a Tony Award for Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! and starred on Smallville, was in most of the shows and stands out in my memory.

Here are the ones I recall seeing from PDG: The Glass Menagerie and Long Day's Journey Into Night with Geraldine Fitzgerald; Ceremonies in Dark Old Men with Douglas Turner Ward; Hamlet (Glover was magnificent); The Miser; Hedda Gabbler with Roberta Maxwell and Glover as Eliot Lovborg; Pinter's The Birthday Party with Leonard Frey and Glover; The Importance of Being Earnest; Twelfth Night with Domini Blythe; Saint Joan with Domini Blythe in the title role, David Rounds as the Dauphin and Tony van Bridge as the Bishop of Beauvais; The Night of the Iguana with Douglas Seale as Nonno; The Royal Family, soon after it was done on Broadway; Watch on the Rhine; Of Mice and Men; Joe Egg; Thark, a silly haunted house farce with Paxton Whitehead and comedienne Anna Russell; Robert Prosky and his two sons in The Price; The Front Page and AN Enemy of the People which featured several fellow theater students from Temple University.

Other regional productions in Philly: A Streetcar Named Desire with Shirley Knight (on tour with the McCarter Theater) which I saw on election night 1976; Maria Tucci as Major Barbara; Moby Dick Rehearsed; Love Letters on Blue Paper; Joe Orton's Loot; another Twelfth Night outdoors in the courtyard in City Hall. I may have forgotten some and will add them if I remember.

Outside of Philly: The Merry Wives of Windsor with Pat Carroll as Falstaff (Washington, DC); Albee's All Over (McCarter Theater, the production later transferred to Off-B'way); David Hare's The Secret Rapture (Chicago's Steppenwolfe); Humana Festival of New Play at the Actors Theater of Louisville (three times); Ashes/Vanities, Mr. Roberts (Pittsburgh Public Theater).

Friday, August 6, 2021

Theater Memories Part 3: Pre-Broadway Try-Outs

Patricia Routledge and Ken Howard
in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Now that we have done summer stock and national tours, how about pre-Broadway tours or out-of-town try-outs. Philadelphia used to be a major stop on the road to Broadway, but by the 1980s, the process became too expensive and most shows came from regional productions or were workshopped before opening in NYC (Michael Bennett pioneered the workshop process with A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls.)

Here are the pre-Broadway try-outs I remember seeing in Philly in the 1970s (most of the them big bombs): Who's Who in Hell written by and starring Peter Ustinov with George S. Irving, Beau Bridges, Olympia Dukakis, and Joseph Maher (a Shavian comedy set in the afterlife with Ustinov as a Soviet premiere, Irving as a Nixon-like US president, and Bridges as the assassin who killed them both, I enjoyed it and I thought it got a bum rap); Broadway Broadway by Terrence McNally with James Coco, Geraldine Page and Lenny Baker, Robert Drivas directs (I saw this just before leaving for college in 1977, it closed out of town, later rewritten as It's Only a Play and much more successful); The Prince of Grand Street with Robert Preston miscast as an aging Yiddish theater star, Sam Levene and Werner Klemperer were also in the cast; Alice, a musical based on Alice in Wonderland with Debbie Allen, Alice Ghostley, Cleavant Derricks, Hamilton Camp (Mike Nichols produced this attempt to cash in on The Wiz and Annie, but it closed in Philly); A Matter of Gravity by Enid Bagnold with Katharine Hepburn and Christopher Reeve (One of the few successful shows here, a light comedy and it was a thrill to see Hepburn on stage); 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the legendary bomb from Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner with Ken Howard and Patricia Routledge, it wasn't that bad (pictured); Ladies at the Alamo by Paul Zindel with Estelle Parsons and Eileen Heckart; Myrt and Phil again with Parsons and Michael Lombard, a terrible play about a miserable couple in crisis after the wife has a mastectomy; I Remember Mama by Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin, Liv Ullman's only attempt at a Broadway musical. Ullman was a big star at that time due to her shattering performances in Ingmar Bergman films such as Face to Face, Persona, Shame, Scenes from a Marriage, etc. I only remember George Hearn as the father and George S. Irving as the irascible Uncle Chris, puffing on a cigar to show his anger.

More: Seascape with Deborah Kerr, Barry Nelson, Frank Langella, Maureen Anderman (Edward Albee's very weird play before it won the Pulitzer, Langella won the first of his three Tonys); Master Harold and the Boys with Zakes Mokae, Zeljko Ivanek; Sweet Bird of Youth with Irene Worth and Christopher Walken, probably one f the best performances of a Tennessee Williams play I've ever seen; Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding with Marybeth Hurt in the Julie Harris role, Glenn Close as the bride, and the kid who played Ted Knight and Georgia Engel's adopted son on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (or at least it looked like him, I could be wrong) (I can't remember if this was pre or post-Broadway, but I will list it here.)
Irene Worth and Christopher Walken 
in Sweet Bird of Youth.

Peter Ustinov (playwright-star), 
Beau Bridges, and
George S. Irving in
Who's Who in Hell

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Theatergoing Memories, Part 2: National Tours

Now that we've discussed summer stock, how about national tours? Here are the ones I remember seeing as a kid in Philly (at the Forrest or Locust Street Theaters) and as a college student in Pittsburgh:

Jane Alexander and Henry Fonda
in William Saroyan's 
The Time of Your Life
Sleuth with Michael Allinson; Jean Simmons, Margaret Hamilton and George Lee Andrews in A Little Night Music; Dawn Welles from Gilligan's Island in Chapter Two; Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in The Gin Game, Krapp's Last Tape and Not I (Samuel Beckett one-acts) and The Many Faces of Love, their two-person program of readings from poems, stories and plays incl. Tandy recreating her original Blanche DuBois; Hair with future rock star Meat Loaf in the ensemble; a production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Theater of Living Arts on South Street before it was gentrified; Forrest Tucker and George Dzunda in That Championship Season; The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan with Henry Fonda, Jane Alexander, Gloria Graham, Strother Martin, a young Richard Dreyfuss and Lewis J. Stadlen.

More: for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (can't remember cast); The Elephant Man (can't remember cast); Twigs with Sada Thompson repeating her Tony-winning performance as three disparate sisters and their crotchey old mother, Daniel J. Travanti (long before Hill Street Blues) and Oscar nominee Joe Mantell (Marty); Good Evening, a very funny two-man revue written by and starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cooke (I recall a hysterical sketch satirizing the life of Jesus long before Monty Python's Life of Brian and the classic bit about a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan); Barbara Rush (I think) and Tom Troupe in Same Time, Next Year; Equus with Douglas Campbell; Julie Harris in The Belle of Amherst; Children of a Lesser God; Lily Tomlin in her first solo show, Appearing Nitely; Dame Judith Anderson in a program of readings incl. an excerpt from Medea where she played all the characters.

Sada Thompson in Twigs

Theatergoing Memories Part 1: Summer Stock

I've recently joined a Facebook group called Broadway Remembered. Members post their memories of theater experiences. I'm still on summer vacation and the Broadway theaters won't re-open until the fall, so I have time to recollect all the shows I've seen in nearly 50 years of theatergoing. I put the shows in different categories and posted them to the Facebook group. I've never gotten more likes or responses from anything I've ever posted on FB. So I will be reposting them here on the David Desk blog.

Summer stock is one of the richest sources of memories. Stars from TV and old Broadway used to tour in recent or old shows for one-week stands. The Valley Forge Music Fair and the Philadelphia Playhouse in the Park were the theaters my parents took me to, starting around 1971 when I was about 12. I've been trying to remember all those shows.

At the Valley Forge Music Fair: Ginger Rogers in Coco, Jan Peerce in Fiddler, Angela Lansbury in Gypsy, Yul Brynner in The King and I, Lauren Bacall in Wonderful Town, Eva Gabor in Applause (she broke her ankle and we got the understudy), Frank Gorshin in Promises, Promises (he broke his ankle too but went on anyway), Robert Alda, Vivian Blane, Jane Kean, Selma Diamond, Hildegarde, Mary Small, Lynn Bari in Follies, Theodore Bikel, Lainie Kazan, Julie Wilson in Jacques Brel, Jack Gilford and Lou Jacobi in The Sunshine Boys. Note on Frank Gorshin: He was playing Promises, Promises a week after Gabor had her accident. He broke his ankle and on a local TV talk show when asked how it happened, he said he was doing an imitation of Eva Gabor at a party. At the performance attended, he limped but got through it. What a trouper, as they used to say.

More on Eva Gabor and Applause: When Gabor broke her ankle, her understudy went on for her at the Saturday matinee I attended with my family. There is a big number "But Alive" which expresses Margo Channing's vibrant, unconventional personality when she goes to a gay bar with her hairdresser-companion and Eve instead of the stuffy opening night party. Bacall brought the house down, dancing and singing. When we saw it w/o Gabor, they cut the entire number, going from Margo singing the intro to the song in her dressing room right to her apartment. I never learned if this number was cut because the understudy didn't know it, or if it was always cut because Gabor was not a dancer. It recently occurred to me they may have cut it because the producer may have thought a scene in an unquestionably gay bar would have been too much for the suburban Philadelphia matinee ladies in 1971 or 2-or whenever it was.

Lauren Bacall, Lee Roy Reams, and (I think)
Sammy Williams in the gay bar scene
from Applause.

At the Playhouse in the Park: Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara in Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Tom Poston and Marian Mercer in Lovers and Other Strangers, Lynn Redgrave in The Two of Us (three one-acts by Michael Frayn), Maureen Stapleton in The Glass Menagerie, Sandy Dennis and David Selby in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sandy Dennis and Gale Sondergaard in The Royal Family, Shelley Winters in Cages (two one-acts) and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Meg Wynn Owen (Upstairs, Downstairs) in Out on a Limb (a revue of James Thurber pieces), Peggy Cass in An Almost Perfect Person, Steve Allen and Marcia Rodd in The Wake (a play by Allen about an Irish-American family), James Whitmore and Audra Lindley in The New Mount Olive Hotel (a lame comedy which was supposed to go to Broadway but never made it), Jan Sterling in The Hot L Baltimore, Paxton Whitehead repeating his Broadway performance as Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood, Jean Marsh in Twelfth Night, Tovah Feldshuh in Peter Pan.

Summer stock tours have faded away. Too expensive. The Valley Forge Music Fair was tore down and a Home Depot is in its place. The Playhouse in the Park closed in the early 1980s. Next up will be national tours.
Paxton Whitehead as Sherlock Holmes