Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bogie's Hartford Debut

New England theatergoers used to have the reputation of “sitting on their hands” or being reserved in their expression of appreciation for a performance.

In the case of “The Petrified Forest” which made its world premiere in Hartford in December 1934, the polite review in the New York Times gave no real indication of the impact the play would have on audiences, such that it lead to the eventual movie stardom of Humphrey Bogart.

“Leslie Howard delighted an audience that filled Parson’s Theatre here tonight at the world premiere of Robert E. Sherwood’s latest play ‘The Petrified Forest’,” began the review of December 21st, “Ably supported by a well-balanced cast of nineteen that included Peggy Conklin, Blanche Sweet, Humphrey Bogart, and Charles Dow Clark.”

In the biography “Bogart” by A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax (William Morrow and Company, Inc., NY, 1977), the tryout performance in Hartford is recalled a bit more dramatically, “…the company became aware of how compelling Bogart was as Mantee. Audiences literally gasped when he entered with his two days’ growth of beard and prison pallor, his shuffling gait and menacing mannerisms.”

The play opened on Broadway a couple of weeks later in January 1935. A New England audience seemed to have shucked at least some of its reserve on at least this occasion and picked a winner.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Upcoming Plays February - March

Upcoming plays for February-March 2010:

At the Majestic Theater in West Springfield, Mass. the historical drama about the confrontation between Sir Thomas More and King Henry VIII in “A Man for All Seasons” by Robert Bolt runs February 25th through April 3rd.

At the Merrimack Repertory in Lowell, Mass. “Black Pearl Sings!” by Frank Higgins is currently making its regional premiere and runs through March 7th. “A search for lost African-American folk music leads Susannah, an ambitious “song collector” for the Library of Congress, to Pearl, a woman with a soulful voice, a steely spirit and an incredible history. Featuring many beloved American folk songs and spirituals, the legacy of the past clashes with their hopes for the future, as they journey to find their way out of the shadows and into the spotlight.”

The Portland Stage of Portland, Maine presents “Master Harold ... and the Boys” by Athol Fugard March 2nd through March 21st. “A sometimes comic, frequently searing, and ultimately hopeful coming of age story set during a rain-soaked afternoon in South Africa. Fugard's masterpiece is a powerful examination of the impact of apartheid on the close friendship between young Hally, a teenager from a fractured family trying to find his place, and two black servants.”

The Shubert Theater of New Haven, Connecticut presents the family favorite musical “Annie” March 5th through March 7th.

The American Repertory Theater of Boston presents “Paradise Lost”, by Clifford Odets, directed by Daniel Fish. A multimedia presentation.

The Bushnell of Hartford, Connecticut presents a musical review “Century of Broadway” featuring Jeff Tyzik with Christiane Noll (see my review of Christiane Noll in Broadway Year-By-Year last summer at the Berkshire Theatre Festival) and Doug LaBrecque. “From Gilbert & Sullivan and Irving Berlin, to Rodgers & Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Weber – we invite you to tour the world of Broadway over the course of a century with three of today’s most accomplished artists. Jeff Tyzik is principal pops conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic, Vancouver and Oregon Symphony Orchestras. Christiane Noll made her Broadway debut as Emma in Jekyll & Hyde, received an Ovation Award for her role in the national tour of Urinetown, and wowed audiences in the American premieres of The Mambo Kings and The Witches Of Eastwick. Doug LaBrecque has starred as both The Phantom and Raoul in the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera, played Ravenal in the Harold Prince revival of Showboat, and toured nationally with Les Misérables.”

At The Huntington in Boston, "Stick Fly" by Lydia R. Diamond, directed by Kenny Leon runs February 19th through March 21st.

“Sparks fly and long-hidden secrets tumble into the open when the LeVay brothers bring their new girlfriends home to Martha's Vineyard's world of privilege. This smart, moving, and funny portrait of a complex African-American family from acclaimed Huntington Playwriting Fellow Lydia R. Diamond (Voyeurs de Venus) is an of-the-moment look at sibling rivalry and the weight of parental expectations.”

The Westport Country Playhouse presents Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery “And Then There Were None” as its first installment of the Script in Hand playreading series, Monday, February 22nd.

Featuring Playhouse alumni and audience favorites Geneva Carr (How The Other Half Loves), Keir Dullea ((Butterflies Are Free), Beth Fowler (David Copperfield), Charlotte Moore (The Fatal Weakness), Ciarán O'Reilly (The Streets of New York), Joe Paulik (Old Wicked Songs), Jay O. Sanders, Mark Shanahan (Around the World in 80 Days), Doug Stender (A Marriage Minuet), and Paxton Whitehead (How The Other Half Loves).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nelson Theatre - Springfield, Mass.

The Nelson Theatre of Springfield, built in 1909, the heyday of vaudeville, was a thriving house in a city with a thriving entertainment industry. We can see by this vintage postcard the Nelson was a feature of Main Street activity in the days when trolleys and horseless carriages competed with horse-drawn wagons and carriages in a chaos of mixed, but slower, traffic.

It became the Fox Theater after World War I, and vaudeville gave way, as so many theatrical houses did, to the movies. By the middle 1930s, it was the Art, and by 1961, it was gone.

The Nelson Theatre had the typical favorable setup of downtown theaters in those days; it was nestled in an area of hotels and restaurants, and only a block or two down from the train station (fortunate both for grand arrivals and quick exits). Despite the collage of conveyances in this postcard scene, it was a walker’s paradise.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tremont Theatre - Boston

We recently received a question from Herb about the Tremont Theatre in Boston. Above is a photo Herb sent which he reckoned at being from about 1925.

There were a few theaters in Boston named Tremont Theatre at various times, at least three that I can think of, and perhaps more.

I believe the one in the photo is the Tremont Theatre at 176 Tremont Street across from Boston Common. I think it was built in the late 1880s, and in the mid-1930s started converting from a "legitimate" theater to a movie theater. It was re-named the Astor Theatre in 1947. The Astor Theater went out of business, I believe, in the 1970s or '80s. I'm not sure the building is still there.

However, the Cinema Treasures website has a description of this theater, with many interesting comments from readers sharing their knowledge about its history. If any of you have anything further to add, I’d love to hear from you.

Also visible in the photo above is the Hazel Boone School of Dancing just above the theater marquee. Herb’s family was involved in the operation of the Hazel Boone School of Dancing, and would like anyone with any information or memories to share about it to contact him at this website.