Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Upcoming Plays

Upcoming plays for New England professional theater include:

Merrimack Repertory Theater presents “Bad Dates” by Theresa Rebeck, a comedy that runs until April 12th.

Maine’s The Portland Stage Company gives us “The Passion of the Hausfrau” by Bess Welden, Annette Jolles, and Nicole Chaison running now until April 11th. A one woman show, that tells of the comic adventures of a Portland mother and would-be writer. Adapted from Portland's Hausfrau a self-published quarterly that chronicles “the passion that is parenting”, written and cartooned by Nicole Chaison.

The Shubert Theater of New Haven, Connecticut presents “Jesus Christ Superstar” from April 3rd to the 5th. This well-known musical is of course the first collaboration of the team of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The rock opera vision of “the greatest story ever told” tells the story of the final seven days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The musical dramatizes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the unrest caused by his preaching and popularity, his betrayal by Judas, the trial before Pontius Pilate, and his ultimate crucifixion.

The American Repertory Theatre in Boston presents the world premiere of “Trojan Barbie” by Christine Evans, directed by Carmel O’Reilly. The show runs from March 28th through April 22nd at the Zero Arrow Theatre. According to the website description: “Lotte Jones, a doll repair expert, needs a vacation. She books herself on a cultural tour for singles and travels with them to modern-day Troy, where she finds more of a change of scene than she’d bargained for – she's in the midst of an attack by the Greek army threatening to destroy the last fragments of a mighty civilization. Part contemporary drama, part homage to Euripides’ Trojan Women, “Trojan Barbie” recasts the legendary fall of the city of Troy against the vivid reality of modern warfare.”

Hartford’s The Bushnell gives us “A Chorus Line”. The well familiar story of this modern classic: “In an empty theatre, on a bare stage, casting for a new Broadway musical is almost complete. For 17 dancers, this audition is the chance of a lifetime. It's what they've worked for - with every drop of sweat, every hour of training, every day of their lives. It's the one opportunity to do what they've always dreamed -- to have the chance to dance. This is A Chorus Line, the musical for everyone who’s ever had a dream and put it all on the line.” The show runs from March 24th through March 29th.

The Huntington presents “The Miracle at Naples” by David Grimm, directed by Peter DuBois at the Wimberly Theatre. The show runs from April 3rd to May 9th. A band of traveling commedia players in Renaissance Italy ignites the passions of the locals in this bawdy comedy.

Connecticut’s Westport Playhouse gives us the favorite “Around the World in 80 Days”, the adventures of Phileas Fogg in a tale for adults and children alike. Written by Mark Brown, adapted from the book by Jules Verne, the play is directed by Michael Evan Haney and runs from April 21st through May 9th.

Goodspeed Opera House of East Haddam, Connecticut presents the musical "42nd Street" from April 17th through June 28th.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"A Bell For Adano" at the Shubert, New Haven

When Broadway shows were put through their paces in “out-of-town tryouts”, out of town was often New England. New England has long served as Broadway’s front gate. One such play, the drama “A Bell For Adano” opened “out of town” at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut.

The play was adapted by Paul Osborn from the novel by John Hersey, which told the story of US Army Major Joppolo’s relations with the Sicilian town he is put in charge of during the Allied invasion of Italy, and how, among other things, he manages to replace with a new bell, the ancient bell that was stolen by the Fascists and melted for ammunition.

Produced by Leland Hayward, directed by H. C. Potter, the play starred veteran stage and screen actor Fredric March. They came to New Haven November 9, 1944, and according to the New York Times review of the 10th, the show “was hailed by the audience as one of the brighter finds of the season.”

Also in the cast were Everett Sloan and Harold J. Stone. True to the nature of an out of town tryout, changes were made in New Haven, as the Times reviewer notes, “Several scenes were cut tonight to shorten the running time of the play.”

Less than a month later, on December 6, 1944, the play opened at the Cort Theater in New York City, one assumes at the proper length.

John Hersey, the author of the original novel, also happened to be a Life Magazine editor, which accounts for the generous spread about the play in the December 18, 1944 edition shown above, which also plugged the novel ($2.50). The following year of 1945 proved to be a big one for Hersey, as his novel won the Pulitzer Prize, and a filmed version was made starring John Hodiak and Gene Tierney.

After the movies, and the awards, and Broadway, maybe few people remember New Haven but those that were there. And here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Teresa Wright - Summer Stock in Provincetown

Teresa Wright, remembered best perhaps for her performances in the films “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943) and “Mrs. Miniver” (1942), began her acting career in New England summer stock at the Wharf Theater in Provincetown, Mass.

A short time later she hit Hollywood by storm giving star Bette Davis a run for her money in “The Little Foxes” (1941). Teresa Wright remains the only person to have been nominated for Oscars for her first three films in a row. Such was her notoriety, that when appearing in the Lux Radio Theater version of “Shadow of Doubt” with William Powell, the show’s host, Cecil B. DeMille asked her to explain her acting experience, what was it that brought her to fame in Hollywood?

She responded, “I played in summer stock. Naturally, that included building scenery, wrestling props, painting backdrops, taking tickets, and sweeping up the theater.”

This radio appearance of January 3, 1944 could have been light years away from this description of her humble beginning as a summer stock ingénue, but it was only about five years.

While in high school in New Jersey, Miss Wright was encouraged in her desire to become an actress by a teacher, who himself worked summers at the Wharf Theater in Provincetown. She was allowed to become a member of the company (through paid tuition) as a student apprentice the summer between her junior and senior years.

According to an article by James Reid in Silver Screen Magazine, published June 1942, Miss Wright recounts, “I had the chance to study acting for eight solid weeks, along with about twenty other young hopefuls. The study consisted mostly of watching the professionals and playing a few bits…I was the youngest, smallest, and shyest of the group, and I would have been completely lost in the shuffle, if it hadn’t been for one lucky circumstance. Several child parts came up, and no one else was small enough to play them, so they gave them to me. That led to my being invited back the next summer to play bigger roles.”

In the fall of 1938, Teresa Wright understudied for Martha Scott and Dorothy McGuire in “Our Town” on Broadway, and took over the role of Emily Webb on tour, largely through the efforts fellow Provincetown actress Doro Merande who was cast as Mrs. Soames in the show and recommended her. Among the cities she played were Boston, Providence, and New Haven. Theater giants Walter Hampden and Eddie Dowling were also in the cast. She was nineteen years old.

The following summer she was back in stock with the Barnstormers Theater at Tamworth, New Hampshire. After that, when she was cast in Broadway’s “Life with Father”, Teresa’s life would change forever and Hollywood claimed her for many years.

It was film mogul Samuel Goldwyn who brought her to Hollywood after seeing her performance on Broadway in “Life with Father.” According to A. Scott Berg’s Goldwyn-A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, NY 1989), Goldwyn went backstage after the show to meet the then 20-year old Wright.

“‘Miss Wright was seated at her dressing table when I was introduced, and looked for all the world like a little girl experimenting with her mother’s cosmetics,’ Goldwyn would remember. ‘I had discovered in her from the first sight, you might say, an unaffected genuineness and appeal.’ He offered her a contract that night.”

Teresa Wright would later have regrets both about Samuel Goldwyn’s contract and the limitations of a Hollywood career, and in later years she happily returned to the theatre.

The Wharf Theater, where her theatrical career began, had its beginnings when members of a group called the Barnstormers, which had formed in Provincetown the year before, split from that group and established a separate theater company in 1924. They performed as the Wharf Theater on a pier in the west end of town. This West End Wharf Theater was destroyed in 1940 in a winter storm. The West End Racing Club, a non-profit sailing club for children, is now located here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Upcoming Plays

Here’s brief catch-up on upcoming plays in New England:

At Boston’s Colonial Theatre, the musical “Movin’ Out” with music by Billy Joel, and choreography by Twyla Tharp will be presented from March 20th through 22nd.

At the Majestic Theater of West Springfield, Mass., we have “Bus Stop” by William Inge currently running until April 5th.

Maine’s Portland Stage Company gives us the comedy “Out of Sterno” by Deborah Zee Laufer from March 3rd through 22nd.

The Shubert Theater of New Haven, Connecticut presents the eight-member percussionists with everyday objects and a lot humor, “Stomp” from March 17th through 22nd.

The American Repertory Theatre’s “Endgame” by Samuel Beckett, directed by Marcus Stern is currently running through March 15th. The show stars Remo Airaldi, Karen MacDonald, and Will LeBow. Have a look here for a review by Louise Kennedy in The Boston Globe.

Hartford’s The Bushnell will present the musical “A Chorus Line” from March 24th through the 29th.

Boston’s The Huntington begins “Two Men of Florence” this week, March 6th and runs through April 5th. The play by Richard N. Goodwin is directed by Edward Hall.

The New Hampshire Theatre Project of Portsmouth, New Hampshire presents “Entr’Acte” from March 13th through 22nd, and is a showcase, part documentary, and part variety show featuring historical video footage, new works, and performances by veteran NHTP artists.

From NHTP website:

“Andrew Schwartz, one of NHTP’s original co-founders, returns to Portsmouth with his signature juggling act, featuring comedy, feats of daring, and audience participation. Long time NHTP artist Pat Spalding will present some of her humorous tales and puppets beloved by every generation.

Directed by Meghann Beauchamp, Entr’Acte will also feature new works by Genevieve Aichele and Libby Page, performed by a multi-generational cast including Linda Chase, Robin Fowler, Donna Goldfarb, Libby Page, Colby Senior, Kathy Somssich, Heather Glenn Wixson, and special guest James Patrick Kelly.”

If you have a chance to see any of these shows, stop by and let us know what you think.