Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Last Act

Ruth Gordon in her autobiography remarks on the poignant cry of the stage manager when places for the final act of a closing show is announced to the players. Instead of calling “Act Three”, he calls, “Last Act”.

This is the last act for “Tragedy and Comedy in New England”, though not entirely a farewell. Though I will not be continuing this blog due to a work load that requires more of my attention elsewhere, I will continue to post on the history of theatre in New England on my other blog, “New England Travels”. I hope you can join me there. In the meantime, I will leave this blog up as it is for the near future, but will disable further comments.

Let’s not ring the curtain down; let’s just move the show to a different stage.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Panned in Boston - John Philip Sousa's "Desiree"

These were hard times in the theatre in December 1884, at least in Boston’s Bijou Theater for one particular production called “Desiree”. Featured actor De Wolf Hopper got off lightly by the critic, “in spite of his exaggerations, he is a true comic artist and made all the success.”

This unnamed critic reporting in Byrne’s Dramatic Times called the play “a wearisome affair, well calculated to please Philadelphia and Washington, but devoid of any merit so far as the libretto is concerned. Some extremely pretty and fascinating music is saddled to the worst rot imaginable.”

One may ponder if the audiences of Philadelphia and Washington are less apt to spot “rot” than a New England audience, but one has to admire the old world flourish of condemnations like “rot”.

“It is a little bit the worst stuff presented in the name of comic opera for some time.”

He saves his best stuff for the heroine: “Miss Rose Leighton was, on the other hand, the worst. What possible excuse she had for appearing is beyond me.”

He liked the costumes.

“Desiree” was a comic operetta whose score was composed by the famous “March King” John Philip Sousa, with libretto by Edward M. Taber. Perhaps the above critic’s opinions were not unfounded, as the libretto was later revised by Jerrold Fisher and William Martin. It had premiered several months earlier at the National Theater in Washington.

De Wolf Hopper, a 6-foot, 5-inch mountain of a man, which in theatre terms made him more appropriate for comic roles than heroes, later went on to fame delivering recitations of the poem “Casey at the Bat”, which he also occasionally did for curtain calls. Perhaps that might have saved the play here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Curtail Call, Arrested in Hartford

George and Sarah Bartley, players on the English stage from the late 1700s through the early 19th century, came to America on tour in 1818. It was a great success for them, but one episode in Hartford, Connecticut put a dent in their shiny newfound fame and fortune.

They took the stagecoach from New York City to Boston, and stopped in Hartford for a rest. According to Curtain Time - The Story of the American Theater by Lloyd Morris (Random House, NY, 1953), some prominent citizens in town invited them to present readings from plays and recitations. It wasn’t every day famous theater folk came to town. Probably because they had no theater. There were reasons for that, as we shall see.

The ballroom of Hartford’s “principal hotel” made do, but, this being New England, several more puritanical town fathers voiced opposition and demanded that the Attorney General of Connecticut “enforce the ‘blue law’ prohibiting theatrical performances and circuses.” Theatre, as we know, is a vice.

The Attorney General duly forbade the landlord of this establishment to hold his planned entertainment, but the landlord did not tell Mr. and Mrs. Bartley. So, on went the show in theatre tradition, and the thoroughly confused couple were immediately arrested after their bows, which the author notes was after midnight.

Bail was set at $500, more than a princely sum in the new republic, but fortunately, their hosts paid the bail. The court eventually let the Bartleys go, likely skedaddling up the Old Post Road with fresh horses. One hopes they had a better reception in Boston.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Upcoming Plays - December

At the Hartford Stage, Hartford, Connecticut: “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Michael Wilson. Runs through December 31st, 2010

At the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center for the Arts, Old Saybrook, Connecticut: The National Theatre of London presents “Hamlet” December 9th.

“Nicholas Hytner, the National's artistic director, crafts a Hamlet for our time with Rory Kinnear, son of the late comic actor Roy, as an everyman melancholy Dane. A Hamlet for the Whatever generation, Kinnear's ‘performance is superb in its resonance and intelligence’- Libby Purves, The Times He's a ‘thrilling Hamlet in a hoodie’ - Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph. Come see what the British critics are raving about. Simulcast from the National Theatre of London.”

At the Merrimack Repertory Theater, Lowell, Massachusetts, “Beasley's Christmas Party”, adapted by C.W. Munger, from the story by Booth Tarkington. Runs through December 19th.

“From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Magnificent Ambersons comes this story of a curious journalist and his extremely eccentric next door neighbor who is planning a most unusual Christmas party. Magically and imaginatively delivered, it is a distinctly American and spiritually uplifting holiday story for the whole family filled with humor, heart and hope.”

The Portland Stage, Portland, Maine is also performing Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” December 3rd through 24th.

“Travel back in time to Victorian England where ghosts, time travel, and memories help a cold and lonely old miser regain his heart. Our adaptation remains remarkably true to Dickens' original book. Dickens' story seems best told in his words, allowing audiences to hear the richness of his language, and to experience the story of Scrooge's encounters with the spirits of past, present, and yet-to-come in the way that the author intended.”

The Shubert Theater of New Haven, Connecticut presents “Sister’s Christmas Catechism” December 3rd through 5th.

“The Mystery of the Magi's Gold…

“It's "Forensic Files goes to Bethlehem" in this holiday mystery extravaganza, from the author of Late Nite Catechism, as Sister takes on the mystery that has intrigued historians throughout the ages - whatever happened to the Magi's gold? ("We know that Mary used the frankincense and myrrh as a sort of potpourri - they were in a barn after all.")

Retelling the story of the nativity, as only Sister can, this hilarious holiday production is bound to become a yearly classic. Employing her own scientific tools, assisted by a local choir as well as a gaggle of audience members, Sister creates a living nativity unlike any you've ever seen. With gifts galore and bundles of laughs, Sister's Christmas Catechism is sure to become the newest addition to your holiday traditions.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off Topic and Off Blog - Interview

John Hayes of “Robert Frost’s Banjo” recently ran interview with me on my novel “Meet Me in Nuthatch.” Have a look here. And for those in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maude Adams' Boston Box-Office Bonanza

(This portait photo of Maude Adams, taken when she was about 20 in the early 1890s, is in the public domain.)

In 1901, it was reported of actress Maude Adams, “Miss Adams’ receipts last week in Boston were the largest in the history of Boston theaters or anywhere -- $23,000.” Not bad when you think most ticket prices were probably around fifty cents.

This quote chronicled in “Curtain Time - The story of the American Theater” by Lloyd Morris (Random House, NY, 1953), though a cold, if impressive fact, barely scratches the surface to describing the popularity of Maude Adams.

Born in the 1870s, she toured in stock since her early childhood, and by the turn of the century was at the top of her game. The works of J. M. Barrie were paramount in her repertoire (his “What Every Woman Knows” was written for her), and she is noted as the first American actress to play Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in 1905. It was the highpoint of her career, an enormous success in an era where theatre was the primary entertainment and had no competing media.

Author Lloyd Morris notes, “Miss Adams was…winsome rather than pretty, slight, frail and girlish. Her lilting speech and muted laughter, the delicacy of her treat, the graceful swiftness of her movement, gave her a quality that soon was described as ‘otherworldly’. Though intensely feminine, she made a curious impression of elusiveness, as if she had an elfin strain.”

Such qualities gave magic to anyone playing Peter Pan.

“Millions of Americans saw Miss Adams on stage, rejoiced in her performances, cherished a sense of genuinely personal relationship to her. Yet, paradoxically, only a handful of people really knew her. Frohman (producer Charles Frohman) believed that the illusions of the theater would be shattered if the public saw his stars off-stage, or knew too much about them.”

Intriguing, and somehow sad. So much devotion, so many box office receipts, to be really known by only a handful of people.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Audience That Wouldn't Leave

Sometime in the mid-1800s, when theatre was hundreds of years old and yet still, seemingly to our modern sophistication, still in its infancy, “Oliver Twist” was presented in Lowell, Massachusetts. The play, based upon the Charles Dickens novel, must have been a hit, because the audience did not want to leave.

According to the “Before the Footlights and Behind the Scenes”, a book on American theatre stories by Olive Logan, (Parmelee & Co., Philadephia, 1870), after the play ended, the audience stayed in their seats, looking, perhaps expectantly, at the drawn curtain.

It is a painful moment in theatre when the audience walks out before the play is over, but perhaps merely awkward when they choose not to leave at all.

At last, the stage manager came out in front of the curtain and handled the problem, as stage managers are supposed to do, with absolute authority, and if possible, tact. He announced,

“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to inform you that the play has terminated. As all the principal characters are dead, it cannot, of course, go on.”

That seemed reasonable to the audience, who finally went away.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Claudia" at the Court Square Theater

“Claudia” came to the Court Square Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts for three performances in March 1943. The play had just closed on Broadway the month before after a successful run of almost two years. The lead in that Broadway production, Dorothy McGuire, was whisked off to Hollywood to make her first motion picture. Phyllis Thaxter played the irrepressible young bride, Claudia in this road production.

This show also featured Donald Cook and Frances Starr reprising their Broadway roles. Both stage veterans with long careers, Mr. Cook also appeared in films, including the 1936 “Show Boat.”

Rose Franken, author of the play, directed both the Broadway and road shows.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Upcoming Plays

Upcoming plays for November:

At the Hartford Stage, Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” featuring Kate Mulgrew and John Douglas Thompson currently runs through November 6th.

At the Majestic Theater, West Springfield, Massachusetts, “Escanaba in Love” by Jeff Daniels runs October 29th through December 5th.

The Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the east coast premiere of “Four Places” by Joel Drake Johnson through November 7th.

“This honest, compassionate and profound drama evokes the most familiar and heartfelt aspects of family relations. Two middle-aged siblings take their mother out to lunch where the conversation turns from routine banter to life-changing revelation. The indelible characters are both marvelously funny and devastatingly human as they lead one another to a place where forgiveness and understanding are tested, but love is still possible. (Contains Adult Language and Suggestive Dialogue).”

The Vermont Actors Repertory Theatre presents “The Savannah Disputation” by Evan Smith November 17th through 20th.

 “The theological back-and-forth shines a light on the combatants’ personalities, so we get a glimpse into, if not the souls, then at least the hearts and minds of four people who are secretly grappling with doubt, fear, loneliness, and regret about paths not taken. Along the way, there are plenty of laughs…In other words, faith is a complicated business-and even sometimes, as DISPUTATION shows, a funny business, too.” -Boston Globe “Smith’s script is, above all else, VERY funny; it’s comedy rooted in situation and character in the best way…blissfully entertaining. But at the same time, Smith never shies from the important subjects at the heart of his play…This is a play filled with heady and fascinating theological and philosophical debate.””

At the Huntington Theater in Boston, The Shirley, Vermont Plays presents “Circle Mirror Transformation” by Annie Baker, directed by Melia Bensussen, through November 14th.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Meet Me in Nuthatch" - A Novel

This is to announce my book.

"Meet Me in Nuthatch", a novel of humor, warmth, Christmas tree farming, dressing up like it was 1904, and selling your small town to a theme park conglomerate is now issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle, and on Smashwords, available in a variety of formats.

Here’s the blurb:

A publicity stunt to attract tourists to a small dying town (population 63), results in the entire community turning the clock back to 1904. It is local Christmas tree farmer Everett Campbell’s idea, after watching the film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” his young daughter’s new favorite movie. What begins as half practical joke and half desperate ploy initiates the rebirth of Nuthatch, Massachusetts. Tourists do come, along with the media. Everett’s resentful teenaged son rebels at living in the pretend past. His wife, a medical transcriptionist who works at home, a self-employed and self-professed loner, has panic attacks when tourists stop to take her picture. The town’s unofficial historian, a genteel septuagenarian, supports Everett’s scheme, but for personal gain.

To Everett’s dismay, his campaign to save their community results in also attracting representatives of a chain of theme parks who want to buy Nuthatch 1904. Everett now stands to lose his town in a way he never imagined, and the community is divided on which alternate future to choose. On the sidelines but ever encroaching toward the center is a local drug dealer, the longtime enemy of Everett and his best friend Bud, who discovers a new opportunity to threaten them and exploit the town, or its new owner.

The novel is mainly humorous, a bit poignant, a little sad, briefly scary, incidentally educational, and so gosh darn entertaining if you like that sort of thing.

You do not need a Kindle or other e-reader device, as both Kindle and Smashwords versions can be downloaded to your computer. It sells for $2.99.

MEET ME IN NUTHATCH is available here on Amazon, and also available on Smashwords.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hal Holbrook Recording Found - Valley Players, Holyoke, Mass.

A collector of old audio recordings recently contacted me about a reel-to-reel tape he discovered in a flea market in North Carolina some years ago, which features actor Hal Holbrook that was labeled: " Holbrook - recording made in Guilds living room 176 Lincoln St, in late winter 1957 of publicity material prior to his performance of Mark Twain tonight at the Mt. Park Casino to open the Valley Players 16th season".

We discussed the Valley Players of Holyoke, Massachusetts in this previous post. Hal Holbrook was among the most notable young actors who graduated from his summer stock performances there on Mt. Tom to a long career on stage, film, and television. The recording appears perhaps to be either commercial spots or recorded interviews meant for publicizing the one-man play he created, “Mark Twain Tonight”. The Guilds were Carlton and Jean Guild who founded the Valley Players in 1941.

Mr. K. Morgan found this tape with others which also includes recorded material by Orson Welles and others. He is offering these tapes to anyone who wants them, free of charge, because he does not want these tapes to be lost if they are of historical significance or value to someone. He is offering as well to digitize the material, so no worries about not having a reel-to-reel player.

If anyone is interested in this audio material, please contact Mr. Morgan at:

Our thanks to Mr. Morgan for respecting this material as part of our shared cultural heritage. As we’ve seen regarding the discovering of old film, it is often the private collectors who find and protect lost material, and we owe them a lot.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Little Theatre of Fall River, Massachusetts

Theatre is a magical part of community life. Large cities boast theatrical venues as part of their urban charm. Regional theaters and summer stock companies are extolled as among the virtues of vacation destinations.

And then we have the largely un-sung but enormously important community theatre world of semi-professional and amateur meeting after work for the challenge and the fun.

One such company, or community we may call it because that’s what it really is: The Little Theatre of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Like many community theatres, this organization was for decades essentially nomadic, performing plays in any local venue that was available and it could afford. Even today, the Little Theatre splits its time between the renovated old firehouse, pictured above, and a community college auditorium.

Have a look at the group’s website for a fun history of the intrepid players. I especially love the description of how early productions at the Women’s Club allowed for no wing space and how stage right opened right out to a fire escape, and how audiences had to wait patiently while sets were changed. The writer notes, “The casts and stage crews were hardier then, as were the audiences.”

The Little Theatre performed “Pygmalion” and “Pride and Prejudice”, all manner of historical costume dramas many smaller groups tend to shy away from these days for their difficulty and expense. Impressive, when you consider this group was formed in 1936, the middle of the Great Depression.

Their next production is “Rent” to be performed at the Margaret L. Jackson Performing Arts Center at Bristol Community College in Fall River. The show runs October 7th through the 10th. Have a look at the Little Theatre website here for details on show times.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lizzie May Ulmer on Tour

This ad from Byrnes’ Dramatic Times announces the beginning of a new season with Lizzie May Ulmer in the lead of “Dad’s Girl”, a part she would play in traveling stock for several weeks, if not years, to come. Her tour had its ups and downs.

The play, as the ad tells us, was written for her by Mr. E. J. Swartz, who was a well known journalist as well as playwright of the day. The play opened in Boston in August of 1884. We might assume that the North Scituate, Massachusetts address for G. T. Ulmer, the company’s actor/manager, could be the Ulmer summer digs, in this era before summer stock in small towns.

The play is set in New England, and a famous scene takes place on Nantasket Beach, that finger of sand that stretches out into Massachusetts Bay, just north of North Scituate.

Miss Ulmer plays Malvina Hoskins, a New England girl adopted by a grizzled adventurer from the wild West. “Dad” has made his pile and is settling down in the refined East with his tomboy charge. The ad calls it a “New England Ideal Play” and we can also assume that stereotypes abounded.

Following the play on a few stops around the country through newspaper reviews, we glimpse the astonishingly hard life the stock players had. Not only did they have to brave audiences and critics, but endured a rigorous schedule of arduous traveling.

After two weeks in Boston, the company headed for the Fourteenth Street Theatre in New York City. The New York Times of September 5, 1884 referred to Miss Ulmer as “a young actress seeking a ‘metropolitan reputation’ in a “felicitously entitled ‘Dad’s Girl’.” The slightly condescending “your playing with the big boys now” attitude fails to note that Lizzie May Ulmer had already trod the boards in traveling stock for many years, and had already had her portrait painted by Nelson A. Primus in Boston. Painted in 1876, her portrait is now part of the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. Primus was one of the eminent African-American artists of his time.

The painting shows a dark-haired young woman, quite girlish, with an almost impish expression on her face that may have served her well in the number of child waifs and ingénue roles for which she was famous.

In “Dad’s Girl” her robust curiosity and courage helps to solve several thefts and murders. Oh, and she falls in love with a Good and Honest Man.

The review in the New York Times on September 9th hammers both the play and the actress.

The central figure in a not-over ambitious drama entitled “Dad’s Girl” cannot be said to have achieved brilliant success. To what extent this is owing to the deficiencies of Mr. E. J. Swarz’s remarkable picture of New England life, and in how great a degree to the actress’s own shortcomings cannot yet be decided. Miss Ulmer’s character is that of a slangy young woman whose heart is in the right place. If we are not mistaken, the same character has been seen before in various guises. The play is utterly improbable and is devoid of literary value. Two murders and any number of thefts are connected with the plot of “Dad’s Girl”, and its most striking scene is a view of Nantasket Beach at night, with not a soul in sight to enjoy the dazzling effect of the light of a monster moon falling upon a placid sea. Mr. Leslie Allen played a conventional old man in a conventional manner, and Mr. George C. Boniface imparted some interest to the character of an unaccountable idiot.

Still, he hands a valentine at the end:

“Last night’s audience found a great deal to admire in Miss Ulmer’s acting.”

Either the play improved, or the critics’ mood did, by the time the company reached Charlotte, North Carolina two weeks later. The Daily Mirror of October 4, 1884 noted of the September 22nd performance, that “Dad’s Girl” played to “crowded houses. Miss Ulmer has made herself a favorite, and she will always be assured of a good house here.”

On the way to Charlotte, they stopped for five days to perform at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C.

However, when they played in Pittsburg the following February, The Sporting Life newspaper of Philadelphia reported:

A great misfortune occurred to Miss Lizzie May Ulmer at Pittsburg, PA on Wednesday night when she was playing in “Dad’s Girl.” At the close of the performance she fainted, and on regaining consciousness she was found to be totally blind.” This was said to be a relapse from a long illness she had in St. Paul.

When “Dad’s Girl” came back to New York, this time playing at the Third Avenue Theatre. The New York Times noted:

This was her first appearance in several weeks, as her season was interrupted at Pittsburgh some time ago by sickness. She performed her part with considerable dash and spirit, and evidently pleased the audience, which was large enough to fill half the house.

Dash and spirit, but only a half-full house. So goes another year of bringing Nantasket Beach in all its moonlit glory to every great city and whistlestop.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Upcoming Plays for September and October

Here are some upcoming plays for September and October, 2010:

At the Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, Massachusetts: Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

Directed by Julianne Boyd, the show runs October 6, 2010 - October 24, 2010.

“The Crucible was written in response to Joseph McCarthy’s blacklisting of Americans suspected of being Communists in the 1950s. Set in 1692, The Crucible focuses on the witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts where a community is engulfed by hysteria after a group of teenage girls, accused of witchcraft, begin naming names. A timeless classic and one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.”

At the Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Massachusetts:

The world premiere of “No Wake” written by William Donnelly, directed by Kyle Fabel.

“An estranged couple struggles to cope with the death of their daughter in William Donnelly’s world premiere play. Edward and Rebecca have moved on since their divorce- she to a new husband and he to a series of failed relationships. However, when an unexpected tragedy brings them back together, they’re forced to navigate a web of grief and guilt that leads to tears, laughter, and, ultimately, hope. At once deeply touching and filled with humor, ‘No Wake’ takes an honest look at the grieving process and the unexpected consequences it can bring.”

At the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, “Carnival!” runs through September 18th.

“The magical and heart-warming tale of a naïve young woman who eagerly joins a traveling circus. Surrounded by a riot of acrobats and jugglers, music makers and clowns, she is dazzled at first by the troupe’s manipulative magician. In the end she finds happiness with a disillusioned puppeteer who can only express himself through his delightful puppets. Based on the film “Lili” and with songs like “Love Makes the World Go Round” and "Her Face," Carnival! casts a romantic spell over the entire audience.”

Music and lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Michael Stewart.

At The Hartford Stage, Hartford, Connecticut, William Shakespeare’s “Antony & Cleopatra” will be presented from October 7th through November 7th.

Directed by Tina Landau

“Joining critically acclaimed Shakespearean actor John Douglas Thompson as Mark Antony is the incomparable Kate Mulgrew (Broadway’s Equus, TV's Star Trek: Voyager and Ryan’s Hope) as Cleopatra, returning to Hartford Stage for the first time since her memorable portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five!”

The Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, Connecticut presents “Driving Miss Daisy”
September 29th through October 17th.

The Majestic Theater in West Springfield, Massachusetts presents “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs through October 17th.

The Merrimack Repertory Theater presents “The Complete World of Sports (abridged)” by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, featuring the Reduced Shakespeare Company runs through October 3rd.

“The “bad boys of abridgement” sprint through the world of sports at record-breaking speed in this brand-new championship comedy. From the earliest cavemen playing “Neanderthal in the Middle” to your own kid’s soccer practice, it’ll be a marathon of madness and mayhem as the entire history of world sports explodes in a tour de farce of physical theatre.”

The New Repertory Theatre of Watertown, Massachusetts presents David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage” in the Charles Moseisan Theater through October 3rd.

“In this biting comedy by David Mamet, Anna and Claire, two “women of fashion” who have long resided together, scheme to obtain the objects of their desire. Anna maintains their upper-middle class Victorian lifestyle as the mistress of a wealthy man who provides her with a healthy income and a distinctive emerald necklace for her companionship. When Claire’s attentions stray from Anna, Anna devises the “perfect plan” that grows in outlandishness, even as it backfires and the innocent parlor maid gets caught in the crossfire.”

The North Shore Music Theatre of Beverly, Massachusetts presents “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” September 21st through October 10th.

“Based on the popular 1988 MGM film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS centers on two con men living on the French Riviera – the suave and sophisticated Lawrence Jameson, who makes his lavish living by talking rich ladies out of their money; and a small-time crook named Freddy Benson, who, more humbly, swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother’s failing health. After meeting on a train, they unsuccessfully attempt to work together only to find that this small French town isn’t big enough for the two of them. So they make a bet: the first one to swindle $50,000 from a young heiress, triumphs and the other must leave town. What follows are a series of schemes, masquerades and double-crosses in which nothing may ever be exactly what it seems.”

Book by Jeffrey Lane, music and lyrics by David Yazbek.

Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” starring Christopher Lloyd plays at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland, Vermont September 28th.

At the Portland Stage, Portland, “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps”, adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan runs September 28th through October 4th.

“Mix an Alfred Hitchcock classic with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of vintage Monty Python and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit for anyone that loves the magic of theater. This Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning treat is packed with nonstop laughs, over 150 characters – played by a talented cast of four – handcuffs, missing fingers, and some good old-fashioned romance.”

The American Repertory Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts presents “Cabaret” through October, featuring Amanda Plummer at The Emcee. Book by Joe Masteroff

The Huntington Theatre presents “Bus Stop” by William Inge, directed by Nicholas Martin September 17th through October 17th at the Boston University Theatre.

“A snowstorm strands a bus outside of Kansas City, and its passengers — including a stubborn, lovestruck cowboy and the nightclub singer he hopes to marry – seek shelter and warmth at a roadside diner. The motley crew spends one night together, filled with bluster, heartache, and laughter, searching for love in this classic American comedy.”

The Ridgefield Theater Barn of Ridgefield, Connecticut presents Neil Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” Directed by Matt Austin, the show runs through October 2nd.

“The story revolves around the escalating problems of a middle-aged couple living on Second Avenue on the Upper East Side of New York City. Mel Edison has just lost his job after many years and now has to cope with being unemployed at middle age. An intense summer heat wave and a prolonged garbage strike just exacerbates his plight to no end as he and his wife Edna deal with noisy neighbors, loud sounds emanating from Manhattan streets up to their apartment and even a robbery of their apartment during broad daylight. Neil Simon walks a tightrope between comedy and drama in this bittersweet production.”

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse, Weirs Beach, Laconia, New Hampshire presents “Love Letters” by A. R. Gurney, staring Broadway veteran Carolyn Kirsch, October 8th through 10th.

“Letters exchanged over a lifetime between two people who grew up together but went their separate ways teach us what is implied is as revealing and meaningful as what is actually written.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vermont Actors' Repertory Theatre Play Writing Contest

The Vermont Actors’ Repertory Theatre are now opening their “Fifth Annual Nor’Eastern Play Writing Contest”.

Sponsored by the Killington/Rutland Holiday Inn,

“This is the fifth year of world premiere staged One-Act Play performances to be presented in the Brick Box at the beautiful Paramount Theatre in downtown Rutland, Vermont. The Vermont Actors’ Repertory Theatre in its exciting fifth season is again presenting the Nor’Eastern Play Writing Contest with showcase productions of the three winning scripts on May 06 and 07, 2011. This contest features the work of three outstanding regional playwrights. Each script goes through a rigorous screening process of two panels in a blind reading. The scripts with the highest scores are submitted to the final reader who selects the three scripts to be showcased.”

Entry information is available at or can be requested by writing to:

The Nor’Eastern Play Writing Contest
Vermont Actors’ Repertory Theatre
PO Box 580
Rutland, Vermont 05702

Or by emailing at:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Finian's Rainbow" at the Ivoryton Playhouse

Go see a play or musical at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, Connecticut.

What follows is a review of their recent production of the musical “Finian’s Rainbow”, but the upshot is: go to the Ivoryton Playhouse. You will be delighted. You will likely even be amazed.

To be sure, New England summer theatre has its own particular charm, as I’ve stated often enough, I suppose, in this blog. Upon entering the Ivoryton Playhouse with its worn wooden floors, its simple seating chairs, and the rustic quality that is genuine, borne of decades, and not manufactured to be retro and decorative, one might lower one’s expectations for a performance that is, like the theater, serviceable, and good enough.

On the contrary. The show was as good as any I’ve ever seen in any theater, including Broadway, and better than most of them. It may be that the simple and whimsical nature of this show, “Finian’s Rainbow”, about a rascally Irish immigrant and his daughter, and a buffoonish leprechaun, and a flock of good-hearted villagers seeking redress from the local villain lends itself beautifully to this small-town theater.

Certainly, the minimalist and somewhat cartoonish set designed by Tony Andrea implies that we are required from the outset to suspend disbelief. However, the creative scrim effect and the lighting brings a poignant “reality” to the fairy tale, the way an impressionistic painting makes us recognize what we already know and wonder about what we had missed.

Another terrific illusion is created by the effect of the dual pianos in the pit, which give a richness that makes a larger combo or orchestra surprisingly unnecessary. The fabulous voices fill in the rest.

R. Bruce Connelly (whom your children will probably not recognize out of his costume as Barkley the dog on Sesame Street), is delightful as the rogue Finian, who steals a leprechaun’s pot of gold to put into action his own unique theory of economics.

Kathleen Mulready plays his feisty daughter, Sharon. She has a beautiful singing voice, with comedic timing that makes her at times appear as roguish as her troublesome father. She is well-matched with John Rochette, who plays Woody, the villager’s hero and best hope for defeating their oppressors. With his masterful baritone and striking good looks, Rochette’s scenes with Ms. Mulready, particularly during the number “Old Devil Moon” are sensual and moving.

Michael Nathanson is hysterical as Og the leprechaun, and Patryce Williams as one of the townsfolk steals the show in her featured number “Necessity.” Both these actors give strong, likable performances that fairly leap off the stage. The rest of the leaping is left to dancer Tessa Grunwald as Susan the Silent, who expresses herself wistfully in ballet.

Larry Lewis likewise plays a memorable Senator Billboard Rawkins, the villain of the piece who, after a little magic, has a change of heart. One note about Jamison Daniels, who plays the Sheriff when he’s not doubling as one of the townspeople: that high-pitched whine he uses as the sheriff that sounds like a teenaged boy’s voice changing is a hoot.

Costumes by Pam Puente, are evocative of the lazy summertime small town South, though Sharon’s dress stands out from the garden of small print dresses and aprons on the other ladies by its colorful stripes suggesting a rainbow.

The entire cast, including a good-sized ensemble, sings together with terrifically tight harmony and vocal precision. And the voices are beautiful. Director Julia Kiley and musical director John S. DeNicola are to be commended, as well as choreographer Schuyler Beeman for the cohesion in this production. It is fine-tuned and glorious to behold.

This is why I say this production is as good or better than others I’ve seen. There is always something overdone or underdone, even if in a small way, that happens in many theatre productions. Not this time. There’s nothing slipshod, uneven or out of place about this show.

There is a façade of simplicity, even nostalgia that remains and beguiles. Perhaps it is because there is not a lot of technical trickery, bells and whistles or eye candy to distract, thereby letting the pure and undiluted talent stand on its own merit. This is after all, summer theatre in a small town.

Perhaps it is because this show innocently harkens back to a time when tobacco was a time-honored crop and the dangers of its use in smoking were if not unknown, were at least not discussed. This production slings a modern-day joke into the dialogue, and thereby a connection to modern sensibilities, by having the townsfolk hack in a hearty community cough when discussing their treasured tobacco crop, on which they pin their hopes for economic independence.

Perhaps it is because this show reflects a time when we innocently thought racism could be vanquished merely by standing up to it. There were also chuckles from the audience when the bigoted Senator moans, “Ever since my family came to this country, we’ve had trouble with immigrants.”

In today’s political climate when racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry can so strongly surface over an argument, particularity when that bigotry is being manipulated and exploited, we might wonder if an innocent show like “Finian’s Rainbow” is out of date.

Somehow, here at the Ivoryton Playhouse, it is not out of date. It is surprisingly relevant and provides a bond not only to our cultural past, but our theatrical heritage. A painted wooden stage. A little puff of smoke from dry ice. Lights up. Lights down.

On the walls, a gallery of 8 x 10 photographs of some of the famous actors who played here. There are a number of them; after all, plays were first produced here in 1930 (the building dates back to 1911). Some of these actors were already famous when they played here, summers ago. Some were newcomers, like young Katharine Hepburn, who appeared in several shows in the summer of 1931.

Go see a play or musical at the Ivoryton Playhouse. It’s not just theatre in the summer anymore, but a produces a year-round schedule of professional theatre. For more on the rest of the 2010 schedule, have a look at this website. “Finian’s Rainbow” runs until this Sunday, September 5th.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another Booth in Another Play at the Tremont

When “The Bonnie Brier Bush” played in at the Tremont Theatre in Boston, “These familiar characters were greeted as old friends by the audience.”

This from the New York Times on the opening of J. H. Stoddard’s play based on the novel by Ian Maclaren. It was August 26, 1901, 109 years ago tomorrow.

I would say it seems like yesterday, but it doesn’t.

The play is described as being somewhat similar to J. M. Barrie’s “The Little Minister”, in that it takes place in the Scottish countryside, a love story between a young lord and a village girl, where scandal sends them away from the village (at least until Act IV), and a secondary romance between another lady and the minister.

Charles Hutchinson and Irma La Pierre played the leads, with the supporting cast including Sidney Booth, Gertrude Bennett, Stoddard in the role of the angry father who drives his daughter away from home, and Reuben Fax in the comic role of village tippler.

A quartet singing the old Scots song “Annie Laurie” brought what must have been folksy poignancy to what the New York Times reported called an “idyllic piece.” This was still an era of specialty acts punctuating the plots of plays. It was still the era of the four-act play.

This play went on to Broadway the next month, with a run of only a couple of months. Sidney Booth, incidentally, who played the minister, made a number of appearances on Broadway, and was a member of that famous acting family, the Booths. He was the son of actor Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., and the nephew of both actor Edwin Booth and actor and assassin John Wilkes Booth. (See this previous post for more on the Booth brothers’ personal and professional turmoil at the time John Wilkes Booth murdered President Abraham Lincoln.)

Have a look at this previous post for more on the Tremont Theatre.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clare Boothe Luce Plays Stamford, Connecticut

“No good deed goes unpunished” is a line often attributed to Clare Boothe Luce (and others), and might well be pasted on a review of her performance in George Bernard Shaw’s “Candida.”

At the time she played this role at the Strand Theatre in Stamford, Connecticut in August of 1945, she was also a member of Congress, a Representative of the Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut.

She had a varied career as a playwright (“The Women”), she wrote for Vogue and was an associate editor for Vanity Fair, was a correspondent to Life (her husband’s magazine), and wrote the screenplay for the 1949 movie “Come to the Stable.”

But way back she wanted to be an actress, had a few early stage experiences, and evidently decided it was not too late, despite her workload as a Congresswoman, to trod the boards again.

Critic Lewis Nichols of the New York Times remarked in his column on August 6, 1945, with a tartness Luce might have appreciated were the jibes not directed at her:

It was generally agreed after the first performance tonight that the Representative of the Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut deserved full credit for trying, she probably need not cause Katherine Cornell too many uneasy moments…

What the audience saw was a production of “Candida” which was word-perfect but lacked warmth…

Opening nights are trying affairs even to the experienced, but with all allowances for summer and a debut, Mrs. Luce seemed stiff and detached.

Mr. Nichols, evidently more intrigued with her connections than her acting prowess, notes others in the opening night audience included Brigadier General Elliot Roosevelt, son of the late President, who attended with his wife Faye Emerson. Financier Bernard Baruch, Connecticut Governor Raymond Baldwin, “who amiably vaulted a row when put into the wrong seat”, as well as actresses Margaret Sullivan and Betty Field.

Congress would re-convene soon, and the end of World War II was close at hand. One imagines there would not be too many more opportunities for playacting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"A Funny Thing Happened" - by Lester Colodny

And now for something completely different.

Monty Python fans will recognize that catch line, but it happens to be the theme in the rollicking life and roller coaster career of Lester Colodny, whose new memoir, “A Funny Thing Happened - Life Behind the Scenes: Hollywood Hilarity and Manhattan Mayhem”, attempts to chronicle all the weird and wonderful events, and characters, that have crossed his path in the entertainment field.

Recently published by SciArt Media, written by Mr. Colodny with Susan Heller, the book opens with the horrific and classic barrel of monkeys story, a true event of a simian takeover of the set of NBC’s “The Today Show” during which Colodny was the show’s writer and associate producer.

Mr. Colodny kindly granted me a phone interview and discussed his long and varied career as a writer of plays, ad copy, of news précis, and screenplays. He stumbled into acting and stumbled into Mae West, touring with her show “Diamond L’il”. He worked as a literary agent, a talent agent, and director of television commercials. He won an Emmy Award for a special with Jack Benny he wrote, directed and produced. He won several “Clio” awards for his unique “Xerox” commercials.

Now, at 85 years old, Lester Colodny is enjoying a new endeavor as a director of community theatre plays in Connecticut.

“One of the things that irks me is I think I’ve missed my calling,” he says, having discovered a “natural affinity for directing.”

He has worked with the Ridgefield Theater Barn, directing Christopher Durang’s farce, “Beyond Therapy” in 2009 as noted in this previous “upcoming plays” post. A month later he directed “Jake’s Women” for the Town Players of New Canaan, Connecticut, and a few months ago worked with Curtain Call in Stamford on “Driving Miss Daisy.”

“Really fine professionals have come and told me that my shows are good or better than many of the shows on Broadway.”

Mr. Colodny is currently in rehearsal with the comedy “Enter Laughing” by Joseph Stein, adapted from the novel by Carl Reiner, which will be produced by the Westport Community Theatre from September 24th through October 10th.

“We get a pretty good turnout,” he said, noting that in the past he had also directed some community theatre in New York, Illinois, and in California.

Lester Colodny brings with him a lifetime of experience, including a brief stint on Broadway when a play he wrote starring Joan Rivers opened and closed with in a week, “a tremendous flop,” he says.

Throughout the course of his varied careers of wearing many hats, Lester Colodny worked with, partied with, or clashed with many famous names in the entertainment business, which are recounted in his new memoir, “A Funny Thing Happened.” We discussed this last week in this post from my New England Travels blog.

For more on his adventures in film and television, join us next week at Another Old Movie Blog.

For more on Lester Colodny’s book and to order your copy, have a look here at the SciArt Media website. SciArt Media is a new publishing company in New Hampshire, which specializes in books by New England authors.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Upcoming Plays for August 2010

The following plays are upcoming for August, 2010:

At the Acadia Repertory Theatre of Mt. Desert Island, Maine:
“FALLEN ANGELS”, August 3rd through 15th. A hilarious comedy of middle-aged women behaving badly by Noel Coward.

Followed by:
Agatha Christie's “MURDER ON THE NILE” August 17th through September 5th.

Arundel Barn Playhouse in Kennebunkport, Maine presents:  “Shout - The Mod Musical” August 3rd through 14th.

“The sensational sounds of the 60’s British Invasion! Savor the memories of Gen X in this blast from the past with a platinum pop score featuring These Boots Were Made for Walkin’, I Know A Place, Only Want To Be With You, Wishin’ & Hopin’, Don’t Sleep In the Subway, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, & many more! You’re all invited to tap, clap and shout!”

Followed by:
“Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits - A Mocument in Musical Theatre”
August 17th through 28th

“It’s the hottest ticket in town to Broadway’s greatest musicals as they meet Broadway’s greatest satirist in an hilarious, loving tribute to musical theatre’s sparkling shows and stars. Featuring whimsical glimpses of Hairspray, Spamalot, Rent, Fiddler, Momma Mia, Chicago, Les Miz, Chorus Line and many more!”

At the Barnstormers Theatre of Tamworth, New Hampshire:
“The Ghost Train”, August 10th through 14th.

“Ernest in Love”, August 17th through 21st.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep”, August 24th through 28th.

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Massachusetts presents:

“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare, directed by Eric Hill.

Followed by:

“A Delicate Balance” by Edward Albee, directed by David Auburn.

“Agnes and Tobias, a 50-something couple, want nothing more than to be left alone. However, they are saddled with Agnes’s alcoholic sister. When their daughter returns home as a result of her fourth divorce and their best friends seek asylum from some unnamed “fear”, tensions fray and every relationship in the house threatens to fall apart. An examination of the intricate web we all create among our friends and family and how easily it can all fall apart, A Delicate Balance sings with Albee’s trademark lyricism and insight. This Pulitzer Prize-winning piece is poignant, incisive, and funny.”

At the Cape Playhouse, Dennis, Massachusetts:
“Grey Gardens - The Musical”, August 9th through 21st.

“This Tony winning musical is based on the famous documentary by the Masles brothers documenting the rise, fall, and independent spirit of "Little" Edie Beale, first cousin to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Some people said Little Edie was odd, others that she was a fashion genius ahead of her time. Hilarious, touching, and original.”

The Dorset Theatre Festival, Dorset, Vermont presents:

“MURDER ON THE NILE” by Agatha Christie, through August 15th.
“DTF once again plays host to Dame Christie in this classic mystery sure to please old and young alike. Join in the fun as you travel down the Nile on a paddle steamer with a cast of characters guaranteed to keep you guessing. One of Christie's best “who dunnits” simply packed with murder, intrigue and fun for all.”

Followed by:
“THE NOVELIST” by Theresa Rebeck, August 18th through 29th.
“A country home. A weekend away from the city. A brilliant novelist and his bitter son. A nubile and cunning young female assistant enters the picture and events explode in this fierce and funny contemporary drama which explores Chekovian territory in a contemporary American setting.”

Hackmatack Playhouse of Berwick, Maine presents:
“Carousel” through August 14th, “Rodgers and Hammerstein's dramatic story of the Maine coast, a carnival barker, a mill worker and the power of love. It features many famous of R&H songs including: ‘If I Loved You’, ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’, and ‘June is Bustin Out All Over’.”
Followed by:
“Hello Dolly”, August 18th through August 28th.

"Grab your hat, Fellas; Find her an empty lap, Fellas, Dolly is back in town!" In the first act someone asks Dolly, "What do you do for a living?" Dolly replies "Some people sew, some paint... I meddle". Come join in all the fuss and fun as you enjoy this most delightful of musical comedies.”

Ivoryton Playhouse, Ivoryton, Connecticut presents the musical “Finian’s Rainbow” August 11th through September 5th.

Mount Washington Valley Theatre, North Conway Village, New Hampshire presents
“THE FULL MONTY” through August 14th. “The story of six out of work, and out of shape, steel workers, who decide to put on a strip show to make money and earn back their manhood, is poignant, funny, and the bare-it-all ending…well, you’ll have to come and see!”

At the Newport Playhouse, Newport, Rhode Island:
“Don’t Dress for Dinner” August 5th through September 5th. “Bernard packs his wife off to her mother’s and is planning the weekend with his mistress. He asks his best friend to be his alibi. What could possibly go wrong?!”

North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, Massachusetts presents:
“JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT” August 3rd through August 22nd. “Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's entertaining family musical retelling of the biblical story of Joseph, his devoted father, his jealous brothers, and his incredible series of adventures. Filled with spectacular costumes and high energy dance numbers, the story is told through a variety of musical styles - everything from country to calypso to rock 'n' roll.”

The Peterborough Players, Peterborough, New Hampshire presents:
“Tartuffe”, the classic comedy by Moliere, opening tonight and running through August 15th.

The Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, Maine presents:

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Sunset Boulevard” with Stephanie Powers,
July 28th through August 14th. Book and lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder film. Direction by Shaun Kerrison, choreography by Tom Kosis, musical direction by Ken Clifton.

Theatre By The Sea of Matunuck, Rhode Island presents:
“The Full Monty”, August 6th through August 29th. Music & lyrics by: David Yazbek, book by Terrence McNally.

At the Weston Playhouse, Weston Vermont:
AUGUST 5 - AUGUST 21, 2010
“Damn Yankees” runs August 5th through 21st. By George Abbott & Douglass Wallop, Richard Adler & Jerry Ross.

“Nothing says summer fun like baseball. And Damn Yankees takes you out to the ballpark in true Broadway style. In this classic musical from the creators of The Pajama Game, middle-aged Joe Boyd sells himself to the devil – and to the machinations of a temptress named Lola – in order to see his favorite team win the pennant. A sure-fire winner the whole family will love, this perennial favorite includes such stellar songs as ‘Heart’ and ‘Whatever Lola Wants.’”

Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Connecticut presents:
“I Do, I Do”, August 10th through 28th. Book & lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Harvey Schmidt. Directed by Susan H. Schulman.

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Massachusetts presents:
“Our Town” by Thornton Wilder through August 8th.

Followed by:

“The Last Goodbye: A Musical
Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet”, August 5th through 20th. Conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel; music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley; orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul; directed by Michael Kimmel; choreography by Sonya Tayeh.

The Winnepesauke Playhouse, Laconia, New Hampshire presents:
“Dr. Cook’s Garden” by Ira Levin, through August 14th. “Greenfield Center is a very fortunate town. There are no mean people and the residents seem to enjoy exceptionally good health. The local populace attributes this to God's ever watchful eye and benevolent stewardship of their little hamlet. However, a young doctor soon begins to suspect that other forces are at work in this thriller of ethical proportions written by the author of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.”

Followed by:
“Crossing Delancy” by Susan Sandler Aug 18th through 28th. “A charming romantic comedy about old world traditions and new world desires. Isabel is a modern young woman who lives alone and works in a bookshop. When she isn't visiting her Grandmother, Bubbie, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, she pines for a handsome author. But Bubbie and the local matchmaker, Hannah, have found a "good catch" for Isabel: Sam, the pickle man. Will Izzy choose love in the old world or the new in this romantic comedy?”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hollywood Actors in New England Summer Stock 1950

Over on my Another Old Movie Blog tomorrow, we’ll be discussing the 1950 film “Summer Stock” with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. Pretty much an overgrown “let’s put on a show” movie with grownups instead of kids, the simplistic plot paints a charming scene of what you can do with a New England barn besides keep cows in it.

Since enough New England summer stock companies began, or still play, in barns, summer theatre is sometimes called the Barn Circuit. Today, in conjunction with the movie “Summer Stock”, we’ll have a look at a couple of New England summer theatres, one of them started in a barn, that featured Hollywood actors in the summer season of 1950.

This information comes from two very interesting books, “The Cape Playhouse” by Marcia J. Monbleau, (Raymond Moore Foundation, Dennis, Mass., 1991), and from “The Ogunquit Playhouse: 75 Years” by Carole Lee Carroll, Bunny Hart, and Susan Day Meffert (Back Channel Press, Portsmouth, NH, 2007).

In the summer of 1950, Paulette Goddard appeared at the Cape Playhouse on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in “Caesar and Cleopatra.” The following show featured Shelley Winters in “Born Yesterday.” Later on that summer, Luise Rainer appeared in “Lady from the Sea”. Brian Aherne starred in “Dear Brutus.” Sylvia Sidney appeared in “Goodbye My Fancy.” The season concluded with Francis Lederer in “The Silver Whistle.”

Meanwhile, up in Ogunquit, Maine, among the Hollywood film colony appearing that summer was Stuart Erwin in “Harvey.” Leo G. Carroll starred in “Once an Actor.” Edward Everett Horton starred in “His French Wife.”

These and other plays that season also featured theatre veterans, some up and coming TV stars (like Imogene Coca), and many young apprentices to the acting craft.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Heat Wave on Stage in Ogunquit

Reminiscent of our recent heat wave, Ruth Gordon remarks on a week’s engagement in Ogunquit, Maine where she appeared in “Saturday’s Children” in July 1936.

From her autobiography, “My Side” (Harper & Row, NY, 1976):

Hottest July day on record, read the headline in the Portland paper. The matinee had been a boiler, ladies sweated, fanned, sweated. On stage, we sweated.

Ah, those simpler, more rugged days, or How Air Conditioning Has Changed Theatre.

Photographs of the signboard outside the playhouse taking in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s plainly stating the theater is AIR CONDITIONED, under Elaine Cancilla starring in “Can Can”, and Michael Constantine ahd Lawrence Pressman staring in “A Walk in the Woods” and “Yes, There Were Giants” with Kitty Carlisle, John Raitt and Jo Sullivan. You can find these, and a marvelous historical retrospective, in the excellent book “The Ogunquit Playhouse: 75 Years” by Carole Lee Carroll, Bunny Hart, and Susan Day Meffert (Back Channel Press, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 2007).

Ruth Gordon also appeared in this play at the Cape Playhouse in August 1935, see this previous blog post.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Off Topic - "Interfacing"

A brief plug for “Interfacing”, my short story, previously published in print and online magazines, is now available in e-book format from Smashwords.

It’s humor. It’s about communication. It’s about 2,000 words. It’s about 99 cents. If you don’t own an e-reader like Kindle or Nook, etc., you can still download it here and read it right off your computer. Here’s the blurb…

Susan, saved by her Heimlich maneuver-performing dog from death by choking, must remain silent until her infected throat heals. Shutting up has never been easy for her. Her job as a customer service supervisor, and her already strained marriage are on the line. Susan must learn to communicate before she goes crazy, or kills somebody, or both.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

North Shore Music Theatre Returns

(NSMT photo)

In an economy where many theatre companies are struggling, or closed, the resurrection of the North Short Music Theatre is a hopeful anomaly.

Founded in 1955, this award-winning theater of Beverly, Massachusetts closed last year, deeply in debt. William Hanney, who also operates the Theatre by the Sea in Rhode Island, as well as a chain of movie theaters in New England, bought the NSMT and is giving it new life for this season, beginning this week with “Gypsy”, which runs during July, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in August, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” from late September through early October, and “A Chorus Line” in November. “A Christmas Carol” will be brought back in December, directed by former artistic director Jon Kimbell.

For details on the upcoming season and more on the North Shore Music Theatre, have a look at this website.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Upcoming Plays - July 2010

A full and busy summer ahead of us with upcoming plays for July:

At the Acadia Repertory Theater of Mt. Desert Island, Maine -- “SHIPWRECKED!” by Donald Margulies runs July 2nd through 18th.

“The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougement (as told by himself). Thrill to this 19th-century adventurer who is either the best storyteller or biggest liar in history!”

The Arundel Barn Playhouse of Kennebunkport, Maine is currently running Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” through July 17th.

The Barnstormers Theatre of Tamworth, New Hampshire presents “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, July 6th through 10th. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Burt Shevelova and Larry Gelbart.

Following week, it’s the suspenseful “Wait Until Dark”, by Frederick Knott, July 13th through 17th.

The Barrington Stage Company of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is currently running “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” through July 17th. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler from an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Musical Direction by Darren Cohen, directed by Julianne Boyd

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Massachusetts will present “The Guardsman” by Written by Ferenc Molnár, July 13th through 31st. Directed by John Rando.

“Terrified that his wife is bound for infidelity, an actor decides to test her loyalty by doing what he does best: putting on a character. And so begins The Guardsman, a hilarious tale of treachery, deception, and assumed identities that has inspired three separate films. The actor’s charade grows more and more complicated as he realizes that the Guardsman is a harder role to tackle than he ever could have imagined. Witty, charming, and delightfully clever, The Guardsman is packed with twists from beginning to end.” Cast includes 2007 Tony winner Mary Louise Wilson.

The Cape Playhouse of Dennis, Massachusetts is currently running Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” through July 3rd.

Also, “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” runs July 5th through July 17th.

The Dorset Theatre Festival of Dorset, Vermont will present Noel Coward’s comedy “Fallen Angels” July 14th through July 26th.

The Gloucester Stage Company of Gloucester, Massachusetts will present “Tender” a new play by Kelly Younger, directed by Eric C. Engel July 8th through 25th.

“The family home, wallpapered with a lifetime of I.O.U’s, is about to go into foreclosure and Christopher, the Patron Saint of Travelers, is on standby. All that is tender is not green in this humorous and heartbreaking family drama by one of America’s emerging playwrights. Tender was developed with support of New Repertory Theatre, Watertown, MA.”

The Hackmatack Playhouse of Berwick, Maine will present “Leading Ladies” July 14th through July 24th, a comedy by Ken Ludwig (Moon Over Buffalo, Lend Me a Tenor) “features two down-on-their-luck actors with a scheme to dress as ladies in hopes of inheriting an elderly woman's money. Romantic entanglements, mistaken identities and comedy abound!”

The Ivoryton Playhouse of Ivoryton, Connecticut presents “The Buddy Holly Story” July 7th through August 1st.

The Mount Washington Valley Theatre of North Conway Village, New Hampshire will present the musical comedy “Singin’ in the Rain” July 13th through 24th.

The New Bedford Festival Theatre of New Bedford, Massachusetts celebrates its 20 year anniversary with the production of “Gypsy!” July 16th through 25th. “Based on the memoirs of entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee, GYPSY tells the story of Rose who is determined to make her daughters stars of vaudeville and in doing so looses one and makes a star of the other while leaving her own ambitions and dreams unfulfilled.”

The New Century Theatre, Northampton, Massachusetts, is also celebrating its 20th anniversary, and presents “To Forgive, Divine” July 1st through 10th. Written and directed by Jack Neary, “Father Jerry Dolan, a genial parish priest, dealing as best he can with the pressures and responsibilities of a job not often appreciated for its demanding workload, finds himself at the center of a challenging and unexpected situation. With great humor and an understanding of what happens when life's choices go awry, TO FORGIVE, DIVINE's story soars.”

And NCT follows with their next show, “Intimate Apparel” by Lynn Nottage, July 15th through 24th. “In the early 1900s, a gifted African-American seamstress creates intimate apparel for New York Society Ladies and Prostitutes alike. Her life becomes romantically intertwined with her clientele, challenging the sexual taboos of the age.”

The Newport Playhouse of Newport, Rhode Island is currently producing “Suitehearts” by William Van Zandt and Jane Milmore through August 1st.

“A young couple checks into a New York hotel for a romantic weekend. An older couple has inadvertently booked the same honeymoon suite! After they scuffle over the accommodations, no one is where or with whom they should be. With plenty of sight gags and one liners, this play will have you laughing all the way through!”

The North Shore Music Theater of Beverly, Massachusetts celebrates its grand re-opening with the musical “Gypsy!”, starring Vicki Lewis.

The Peterborough Players of Peterborough, New Hampshire will present “Freud’s Last Session” July 7th through 18th. This is the New Hampshire premiere of the new play by Mark St. Germain.

The Summer Theatre of New Canaan, New Canaan, Connecticut presents the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot!” July 18th through August 2nd.

The Ogunquit Playhouse of Ogunquit, Maine currently presents Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” through July 24th, starring Rex Smith.

Theatre by the Sea of Mantunuck, Rhode Island is currently producing the musical “Hello, Dolly!” through July 11th.

The Weston Playhouse of Weston, Vermont will present the Vermont premiere of the mystery comedy, Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” July 15th through 31st.

The Westport Country Playhouse of Westport, Connecticut presents “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett, with 5-time Tony nominee Dana Ivey.

“From the Nobel-Prize winning author of Waiting for Godot—recently revived on Broadway to wide acclaim—comes a play of luminous beauty and rare power. Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, the story of a woman's cheerful optimism in the face of a trifling universe, is among the most inspiring and exhilarating explorations of what it means to be alive.”

The Williamstown Theatre Festival of Williamstown, Massachusetts presents “Samuel J. and K” by Mat Smart, directed by Justin Waldman, July 7th through 18th.

“Samuel J. surprises his adopted brother, Samuel K., with a trip back to his birth country of Cameroon for college graduation—but Samuel K. has no desire to face a place and a past that abandoned him. Samuel J. and K. challenges the traditional definitions of family and asks if a place we’ve only imagined can become home overnight.”

The Winnepesaukee Playhouse of Laconia, New Hampshire presents “Scotland Road” July 7th through 17th.

“The Titanic meets The Twilight Zone…A beautiful young woman is found floating on an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. When she is rescued, she says only one word: Titanic. Trouble is, it’s 1992. Who is this woman and how is she so well-preserved? Is this all an elaborate hoax or are supernatural forces at work? One of the world’s foremost Titanic experts is determined to find out in this intriguing mystery that may leave you asking if anyone is really who they say they are.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Valley Players - Summer Stock on Mt. Tom

Summer stock sometimes provides the audience a chance to see young actors and actresses rising in their profession before they become famous. Sometimes it provides a chance to see veteran actors and actresses whose career high points are long past. They may be guest actors that week, or part of the stock company.

Summer stock is probably the most egalitarian environment for theatre there is.

About a year ago, we took a look at the Valley Players of Mountain Park, whose theater perched atop Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In its day, from 1941 to about 1962, it was considered the largest summer theater in New England.

Here we have a look at another play produced by this company, the comedy “Three on a Horse.” It was August, 1942, World War II not a year old and many summer theaters were adversely affected by gas rationing since they were out in the country, for the most part beyond the reach of trains and trolleys.

Joseph Foley starred, and founders of the Valley Players Lauren Gilbert, his wife Jackson Perkins, and Jean Guild were also in the cast. Directed by Dorothy M. Crane, another colleague made this an almost entirely home-grown production, where administrative staff doubled as actors.

We can look at the cast for a good example of some actors on the rise (though who never became household names), and veterans whose career peaks were behind them.

Alfred Paschall played a supporting role. I think he was the same actor who played a handful of minor Shakeapearean roles, usually in the ensemble, on Broadway from the late 1930s to early 1940s.

Willard Dashiell, an older actor in another supporting role, had a handful of minor Hollywood movie credits in silent films, his last film role as a “businessman” in the 1934 film “War is a Racket”. He appeared on Broadway throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. Evidently at the time, Mr. Dashiell was living in the area. The program notes of him, “We consider ourselves very fortunate that an actor of such wide experience and fine reputation lives here in this community and can take part from time to time in our plays.”

Frank Rollinger, in another supporting role, played summer stock and regional theater, including in the company of the famed Pasadena Playhouse. He also did some radio shows, including appearing on “Suspense”

John McQuade, who plays the role of “Patsy”, was beginning his career, which would soon involve a number of television roles in TV’s Golden Age, including “Studio One”, “The Philco Television Playhouse” and “Robert Montgomery Presents.”

He had a handful of roles on Broadway through the 1940s, including a couple of stints at what may have been the same Shakespearean productions the above-mentioned Alfred Dashiell appeared. His final Broadway appearance was in 1963, though his TV career lasted longer. He also toured with Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson in “Macbeth”

The Valley Players played an important role in the formative years in the careers of many actors, but like most summer theaters, flew by the seat of its pants. You could buy reserved seats tickets in downtown Holyoke at the Park Pharmacy on Dwight Street, or in the Highlands section of town at Martin’s Pharmacy on Hampden Street. You could also call Dickinson’s Drug store in Northampton at telephone Northampton 3466 for reservations. Probably the reason why drug stores filled in for the box office is that most people did not own a phone at this time to call for reservations, and getting up the mountain, in wartime with gas rationing, was not always convenient. The neighborhood drug store served as a command post for all things vital, prescriptions, news from the front, casualty lists, and theater tickets.

Attendance was heavier on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, “and the call for tickets has become so great on Wednesdays and Saturdays that you will be wise to reserve your seats for those nights at least two or three days in advance.”

It was an 8:30 curtain on weeknights, 2:30 on the Wednesday matinee. You could purchase autographed pictures of the company in costume at 65 cents each.

For more on lead actor in this production Joseph Foley and the Valley Players, have a look at this earlier post.

Note: Program and vintage postcards are from the author’s collection, special thanks to Gail Watson.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lunt and Fontanne - the New England Tour From Hell

Husband and wife acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, famed for appearing in witty, sophisticated comedies, toured New England in “I Know My Love” in the summer of 1951. Apparently, it was The Touring Production from Hell.

Fresh from its run on Broadway at the Shubert Theater from November 1950 through June of 1951, the play, directed by Mr. Lunt, was set in Boston from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Lynn Fontanne has an interesting Broadway credit of being the one who designed and “executed” a hat she wore onstage.

It seems that when the play went on tour their luck ran out. From the book of theatre “incidents” by Brad Schreiber, “Stop the Show!” (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006), an entertaining collection of theatre stories, “I Know My Love” first encountered problems in Hartford, Connecticut, when a robbery backstage occurred.

On to Springfield, Mass., where actress Esther Mitchell, one of the original Broadway cast members who played a maid, got smacked on the head by a prop box. She suffered a concussion.

On to Portland, Maine. Star of the show, Miss Fontanne, tripped on the hem of her dress while exiting her hotel, and fell. She broke her arm. According to the book, her husband, Mr. Lunt, was so rattled by this he just ran off. Ever the trooper, Miss Fontanne tied her broken arm up in a scarf and found herself a doctor. That night on stage, she wore her arm in a sling. Her husband apologized for momentarily losing his senses and his nerve.

The show went on, continuing the tour westward, but did not leave their bad luck in New England. Appearances in Pennsylvania and the Midwest were hampered by severe snow, staff illness, and a railroad strike.

In 1964, two years before they retired from acting, Lunt and Fontanne were given the Presidential Medal of Freedom award by President Lyndon Johnson. Perhaps it should have been a Medal of Honor for conspicious courage. Except for that moment in Portland when Alred lost it.

(The photos above are in public domain, from the Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jane Cowl at the Court Square Theater

Jane Cowl, actress, playwright, and “Juliet” of a generation, toured with “The First Mrs. Fraser” at The Court Square Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts, April 1948. You might recall the darling diva from our earlier post about her blowing up at an incompetent young Jimmy Stewart and getting him fired. Here, she’s all composed and playing the grand lady of stage at the end of her career.

Born in 1884, this Boston native was one of the great stage actresses of her day, who performed in a few silent films, originated the role of Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder’s “The Merchant of Yonkers”, and during World War II headed New York’s Stage Door Canteen.

She was in her mid-60s when she appeared as Janet Fraser in this comedy by St. John Ervine, which was revived on Broadway in November 1947. Unfortunately, it played only 38 performances through December before producer Gant Gaither sent it on the road.

The play was actually made into a film in 1932 with Dorothy Dix in Jane Cowl’s role. Also in the cast of this play was Reginald Mason who came with Miss Cowl from the original New York cast, and had Broadway credits as long as your arm.

This play capped the 1947-48 season at the Court Square, and was also a kind of cap to Jane Cowl’s stage career. She died two years later.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Upcoming Plays for June 2010

This month we note the beginning of the summer theatre season in New England. Go, and enjoy.

At the Arundel Barn Playhouse in Kennebunkport, Maine: The New England premiere of “Nunset Boulevard: Nunsense at the Hollywood Bowl” June 8th-26th.

More unholy hijinks from the Little Sisters of Hoboken as they bring us their 7th heavenly gig – this time in Tinseltown. The Little Hobos raise comic mayhem and tons of ‘Nun fun’ in this perfect 300 game! Nunsense is habit-forming, and it would be a sin to miss the latest Nunsense nonsense!

At the Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, Mass. from June 17, 2010 - July 17, 2010: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler from an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Musical Direction by Darren Cohen, directed by Julianne Boyd.

At the Cape Playhouse, Dennis, Massachusetts:

“Tea at Five” starring Stephanie Zimbalist as Katharine Hepburn, running June 7th through June 19th.

At the Gloucester Stage Company, Gloucester, Massachusetts: “Table Manners” by Alan Ayckbourn runs from June 17th through July 3rd. Directed by Eric C. Engel, the cast includes Steven Barkhimer, Lindsay Crouse, Paula Plum, and Richard Snee.

Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick, Maine presents Rogers & Hammerstein’s musical “Cinderella” runs from June 24th through July 10th.

At the Ivoryton Playhouse, Ivoryton, Connecticut, the perennial favorite, “Arsenic and Old Lace” by Joseph Kesselring, from June 9th through June 27th.

A delightful evening of murder and mayhem with eccentric aunts, crazy nephews and bodies in the basement!

At the Mt. Washington Valley Theatre Company in North Conway, New Hampshire: Meredith Wilson’s delightful “The Music Man” from June 30th through July 10th.

New Century Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts: “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn, directed by Sam Rush, runs June 17th through 26th.

NOISES OFF peeks backstage at the ridiculous antics of the cast and crew of NOTHING ON. We follow the English company from dress rehearsal to the end of the ten week run, each act revealing more hilarious cast drama, missed cues, and slamming doors, while the show is constantly upstaged by the noises off in the wings. The 1982 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy winner, this is the ultimate backstage farce. Join some of the original cast as we kick off our 20th year with a sidesplitting comedy that must be seen to be believed.

At The Newport Playhouse in Newport, Rhode Island: “Suitehearts” runs June 24th through August 1st.

A young couple checks into a New York hotel for a romantic weekend. An older couple has inadvertently booked the same honeymoon suite! After they scuffle over the accommodations, no one is where or with whom they should be. With plenty of sight gags and one liners, this play will have you laughing all the way through!

The Peterborough Players in Peterborough, New Hampshire presents:
“Once in a Lifetime” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman runs June 9th through 13th.

Ascending Stars Project - Some of the area’s best high school actors will work alongside professional actors and be directed by Artistic Director Gus Kaikkonen. Once in a Lifetime is a rollicking tale of three down and out troupers who decide to head for Hollywood and try their luck with the newly invented talkies.

The Summer Theatre of New Canaan in New Canaan, Connecticut presents Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in a “modern day highly charged adaptation in our new intimate outdoor protected theater.” Preview June 18, 7:30 pm, show runs from June 19th through July 11th.

At The Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, George Gershwin’s classic “Porgy and Bess.”

The drama of love, murder, and hope on Catfish Row springs to teeming life in a dazzling 75th anniversary tour of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess coming to The Bushnell June 8-13 in a brand new production with riveting choreography and glamorous costumes. Approved by the Gershwin Estate, produced by veteran opera impresario Michael Capasso, General Manager of New York’s Dicapo Opera Theatre, and in association with noted producer Willette Murphy Klausner, (Three Mo’ Tenors). Porgy is directed by the brilliant African American Charles Randolph-Wright (Mama I Want To Sing). Don’t miss this celebration of America’s most beloved opera, with a stellar all African American cast of sensational performers.

At The Huntington Theatre, Boston University, “Prelude to a Kiss” by Craig Lucas, directed by Peter DuBois running currently through June 13th.

A whirlwind romance. A storybook wedding. A kiss for the bride that suddenly changes everything. Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza, Longtime Companion) explores the enduring power of love and the nature of commitment in this breathtaking and life-affirming comedy directed by Artistic Director Peter DuBois.

At The Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine “The Drowsy Chaperone” runs from June 9th through June 26th.

Be transported to a magical, wonderful world in this new musical comedy that was the darling of the Tony Awards, winning the most statues in 2006, including Best Sets and Costumes, which will be featured in the Ogunquit Production!

It stars Bravo’s top-rated celebrity, Carson Kressley along with Georgia Engel reprising her Broadway role! Georgia is best known as Georgette from the smash TV hit “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

The hilarious show-within-a-show begins when a die-hard musical fan plays his favorite cast album, a 1928 smash hit called “The Drowsy Chaperone” and the show magically bursts to life. Audiences are instantly immersed in the glamorous, hilarious tale of a celebrity bride and her uproarious wedding day, complete with thrills and surprises that take both the cast and the audience soaring into the rafters. Don’t miss the show critics announced as “delightful and sparkling entertainment!” You’ll be over the moon!

Emmy-winning television star, celebrity stylist, author and fashion designer, Carson Kressley is about to make his theatrical debut at the Ogunquit Playhouse, alongside twice-Emmy nominated actress Georgia Engel, in the multi-Tony Award winning musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone”. Kressley is cast as the “Man in Chair,” an obsessive fan of old musicals who imagines performers coming to life in his shabby apartment whenever he plays one of his favorite cast recordings. Throughout the show the musical bursts to life as the Man in Chair continuously brings the audience in and out of the fantasy.

At The Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield, Connecticut, “The Memory of Water”, written by Shelagh Stephenson, directed by Sherry Asch runs June 4th through June 26th.

After years of separation, three sisters come together for the funeral of their mother, finding that each of their memories of events in their lives are very different. These different recollections force them to confront their perceptions with introspection and humor. The play asks searching questions, such as who are we without our memories. While it remains firmly in the genre of family comedy, what makes this play so captivating, is the way it reveals emotional pain and complexity beneath the outward facade.

At The Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut - “Dinner With Friends”
runs June 1st to June 19th.

Karen & Gabe and Beth & Tom, couples who have been friends for years, participate in all the familiar and comfortable rituals of shared vacations, good conversation and great food—so when Tom abruptly walks out on Beth, it threatens more than just their marriage alone. A Pulitzer Prize-winning play that explores the difficulties of divorce, even when it isn’t your own.

At the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Massachusetts: “It’s Judy’s Show:
My Life as a Sitcom” runs from June 23rd through July 4th. Written by Judy Gold and Kate Moira Ryan, with original music by Judy Gold, lyric by Kate Moira Ryan and Judy Gold, additional material by Eric Kornfeld and Bob Smith. Directed by Amanda Charlton.

Building on the success of her show 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, funny-woman Judy Gold returns to the stage in this hilarious look at her amazing life through the lens of the classic sitcoms of her youth. With multimedia, original music, laughter, and love, Judy shows us how she balances family and ambition in a world where she sometimes does not fit.

At The Winnepesaukee Playhouse at Weirs Beach, New Hampshire - “Educating Rita” by Willy Russell runs June 23rd through July 3rd.

Tutor becomes student in this endearing comedy. Professor Frank Bryant withdraws from his students and passes his days in his stuffy office clutching a bottle of whiskey. That is, until the arrival of spunky hairdresser Rita whose thirst for knowledge turns his world upside down.

Theatre by the Sea in Matanuck, Rhode Island presents “A Chorus Line” June 4th through June 20th. Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante, conceived by Michael Bennett.

On a bare stage, casting for a new Broadway musical is almost complete.
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 of - Not to be the star, but to get a job on the line. From funny to heartbreaking, these 17 dancers share the stories of their lives and when they’re done, so is the audition, and the final chorus line is chosen. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Musical.

If you happen to see any of these shows, come back and give us your review.