Wednesday, December 30, 2009

See you in 2010...

Taking the week off. Thanks for the pleasure of your company in 2009. See you in 2010...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Night Performance in Boston 1941

Christmas, for actors and actresses, is sometimes a celebration fit in between performances. In December 1941, when Pearl Harbor earlier in the month had already established that this would be the first wartime Christmas, Ruth Gordon played the Majestic Theatre in Boston.

From her “My Side - The Autobiography of Ruth Gordon” (Harper & Row, NY, 1976), Ruth Gordon captures a moment.

“Two days of dress rehearsals and open Christmas night…I hurried out onto Avery Street, deep in slush. No empty taxi, a cold rain beating down, dress rehearsal at two-thirty. I rushed along Tremont Street. No need to dodge the puddles; my feet and legs were soaked. I could feel the cold water squish. Only a few blocks, cross Boylston, then up the alley to the Majestic stage door. Just beyond it and across the alley is the stage door to the Colonial. Had Hazel Dawn ever had to run through rain and slush? I was perspiring from having hurried so. What if I took cold? What if tomorrow my voice was ragged? Or gone altogether? All those lines, all those words, all those changes and cuts and additions!”

Opening Christmas night, peace on earth, and anxiety backstage. Always, for the actor, putting one’s career on the line with every show.

“Backstage was taut with excitement, nerves, good wishes. Actors are great. None of us thought the show would make it, but the good wishes didn’t sound like that. One last sip of water, one last trip to the ladies, one last pat of the powder puff, last prayer to God, then wait in the wings. Deep breath. Cue, open the door On! A burst of applause, the first line.”

The play, which she does not name, got bad notices. As Miss Gordon wrote to Orson Welles afterward, “The Mayor of Boston gave me the key to the city, the pubic gave me the gate.”

The second week of performances was cancelled. They took the show on to Philadelphia. In five months, it was back to Broadway for Ruth Gorden in May 1942 with “The Strings, My Lord, Are False.” Directed by Elia Kazan, it ran 15 performances. The same play? Or another opening, another flop? One hopes her shoes dried out from the icy slush of Tremont Street by then.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Road Show - "Mister Roberts" at the Court Square Theater

Another opening, another road show. Here we have the program for “Mister Roberts”, which came to the Court Square Theater, Springfield, Massachusetts from December 11th through 16th, 1950, when the Court Square entered the period its last golden years.

Directed by Joshua Logan, the play starred Curtis Cooksey as The Captain, Robert Burton as Doc, and Don Fellows as Ensign Pulver. Cooksey and Burton were veterans, who first trod the boards on Broadway in 1915 and 1916, and Cooksey had appeared in several silent films. Both had worked in early television as well.

Don Fellows came to the road show from the original Broadway hit, where he was part of the ensemble. He had also originated the role of Lt. Buzz Adams in “South Pacific” and appeared in a number of Broadway musicals, films, and television in his long career.

The cast also included a couple of newbies who would one day become famous names, Jack Klugman and Lee Van Cleef.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Out of Town Tryouts - "Last House on the Left" - 1945

“Last House on the Left” came to Hartford in it’s pre-Broadway tryout in November 1945 with what must have been typical high hopes, but no crystal ball regarding the ultimate success of the show.

This was a comedy-farce written by Jean Carmen and Irish Owen, and directed by Irish Owen, not to be confused with the cult horror movie of the early 1970s with a similar name. Definitely not to be confused with that.

Jean Carmen played vaudeville, radio, and did a lot of B-westerns in Hollywood by the time she trod the boards at the Bushnell for this play in which she also starred with Gene Barry “and a cast of 20.” Her only Broadway stint was as a replacement in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

Gene Barry had a lot of stage work under his belt, particularly on Broadway, mostly musicals, and would eventually make his fame on television, especially as TV’s “Bat Masterson.” Barry had just come off of “Catherine Was Great” on Broadway in January 1945 when “Last House on the Left” was in the works.

“Last House on the Left” never made it to Broadway. Barry’s career sailed on, however, and he went back to Broadway in a revival of “The Would-Be Gentleman” at the Booth Theater. It ran three months. Then presumably he joined Irish Owen and Jean Carmen in the eternal search for a new gig.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Theatre as Giver and Wide Receiver

“Theatre isn’t merely giver; it’s giver and receiver,” so wrote stage director Joshua Logan in his autobiography, My Upside Down, In and Out Life (Delacorte Press, NY, 1976).

Mr. Logan writes of the immediacy of theatre, not just for the actors but for the audience, “feeling yourself played to by live actors, that can be found nowhere else.”

At The Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, in January 2008, actor Brad Nacht, playing the character Max Bialystock in the road production of “The Producers” interrupted the second act, broke the fourth wall and told the audience, “New England 14, San Diego 6.”

The AFC playoff game was currently under way, and Mr. Nacht was passing along the most recent score to New England theatergoers who would presumably also be New England Patriots fans.

Giver and receiver perhaps may also mean wide receiver in some cases.

“It’s lover and loved,” Josh Logan said of theatre, and sometimes one’s lover strays, or at least one’s attention.

The Patriots currently lead the AFC East, so perhaps January will again bring some compromise to the relationship between audience and actor.