Friday, July 2, 2021

609. YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-195

Liz O'Neal, Carter Cole, Dean Stolber, Lee Wilson, Stephen Fenning, Grant Cowan. (Photos: Martha Swope.) 

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN [Musical Revival] B/M/LY: Clark Gesner; D: Joseph Hardy; CH: Patricia Birch; S/L: Alan Kimmel; L: Jules Fisher; P: Arthur Whitelaw and Gene Persson; T: John Golden Theatre; 6/1/71-6/27/71 (32)

Stephen Fenning, Liz O'Neal.

The enormously successful, 1,597-performance, Off-Broadway production of Charles Schultz’s widely popular “Peanuts” comic strip closed in February 1971. Several months later it was revived on Broadway. The cast was not up to the original, wrote Mel Gussow, but Clive Barnes, reviewing it on the radio, said it had “neither suffered nor been changed.” Other reviews were similarly positive. Still, it failed to click in its larger quarters and closed in a month.

Lee Wilson, Grant Cowan.

The cast members were Stephen Fenning, Dean Stolber, Lee Wilson, Carter Cole, Grant Cowan, and Liz O’Neal.

 Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

608. YOU NEVER KNOW. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Jamie Thomas, Dan Held, Lynn Fitzpatrick, Esteban Chalbaud, Grace Theveny, Rod Loomis. (Photo: Kenn Duncan.)
YOU NEVER KNOW [Musical Revival] B: Rowland Leigh; M/LY: Cole Porter; D/DS: Robert Troie; P: Stanley H. Handman; T: Eastside Playhouse (OB) 3/12/73-3/18/73 (8)

Cole Porter’s 1938 drawing-room musical is based on a Viennese play, Candle Light, by Siegfried Geyer and Robert Katscher, which had starred Gertrude Lawrence and Leslie Howard on Broadway in 1929, following its London production (as By Candle-Light), starring Yvonne Arnaud. Candle Light was a mild success, running for 129 performances, but Porter's musical was a 78-performance flop. so the reasons for this 1973 Off-Broadway revival are unclear. Porter himself famously disliked his work.

Pared down from the original’s cast of 12, among which were Libby Holman, Clifton Webb, and Lupe Velez, this six-actor version made many changes in the script and characters, and there were also adjustments to the score. These included the insertion of “Ridin’ High” from Red, Hot and Blue. The hit numbers “At Long Last Love” and “From Alpha to Omega” were intact, but there were too few graces present to keep the show from repeating the fate of the first production.

Clive Barnes reported that “it revolves around—and around and around—a master and servant, and mistress and maid, exchanging roles. The possibilities for such humor, easily dampened are quickly extinguished by the quality of the writing.”

The performers, none of them considered up to the task, were Dan Held, Esteban Chaband, Grace Theveny, Lynn Fitzpatrick, Rod Loomis, and Jamie Thomas.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here.

 Next up: You're a Good Man Charlie Brown.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

607. YERMA. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Nuria Espert (left), Jose Luis Pellicena. 
YERMA [Dramatic Revival/Spanish Language] A: Federico Garcia Lorca; D: Victor Garcia; S/C: Victor Garcia, Fabian Puigserver; L: Polo Villasenor; P: Brooklyn Academy of Music ad Nino T. Karlweis in the Nuria Exert Company Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 10/17/72-10/29/72 (16)

Victor Garcia, a renowned Spanish director, achieved a universally acclaimed masterpiece of theatrical innovation in this Spanish-language production of Lorca’s tragedy starring Nuria Espert of the Madrid company that bore her name. It came to BAM following its great success with Madrid and London critics. Simultaneous translations were available with rented headsets.

Lorca’s poetic study of a barren village woman and her frustration at being unable to bear her husband children, normally staged in a realistically designed setting, was here put forth on a giant trampoline that could, by the attachment of ropes to eyelets by actor-stagehands, be converted at need into a myriad of highly imaginative locales. It was as much an actor as anyone in the play as it took shape as a cave, a floor, a wall, a female breast, hills, the sky, a plain, and so forth. The ritualistically choreographic staging, employing actors both on the trampoline and on platforms running around and beneath the canvas, established visual metaphors that brilliantly suggested the internal images Garcia discerned in Lorca’s people and situations.

Nothing about the staging was literal or illusionistic—all the techniques were exposed, not hidden—yet the emotional and intellectual impact of the production had an overwhelming effect, even on those with no Spanish. Striking sensuality was evident in several scenes, including those employing nudity and sexual embraces, to underline the longing of the central figure after whom the play is named (Yerma means “barren”).

Henry Hewes said the drama’s story “now emerges not only as the tragedy of a wife doomed to accept her marriage to a man who cannot and does not wish to make her pregnant, but also as a poetic and surrealistic metaphor of the needs and frustration of the female condition.” Clive Barnes saw the conception as on a level with Greek tragedy in the intensity of its power. Harold Clurman considered this Yerma “one of the outstanding successes in the effort during the last decade to enlarge the scope of the contemporary theatre.” A surprising factor was that Garcia, apparently, had accomplished his goals without “distortion of the text.”

Garcia and Fabian Puigserver won a Drama Desk Award for their scenic design.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: You Never Know.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

606. YENTL, THE YESHIVAH BOY. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

John V. Shea, Tovah Feldshuh. (Photo: Thomas Victor.)
YENTL, THE YESHIVAH BOY [Comedy-Drama/Education/Jews/Religion/Romance/Period] A: Isaac Bashevis Singer and Leah Napolin; SC: a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer; D: Robert Kalfin; S: Karl Eigsti; C: Carrie F. Robbins; L: William Mintzer; M: Mel Marvin; CH: Patricia Birch; P: Chelsea Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 12/17/74-1/26/75 (48); P: Cheryl Crawford, Moe Septee, and the Chelsea Theatre Center with Mrs. Victor H. Potamkin; T: Eugene O’Neill Theatre; 10/23/75-5/2/76 (224): total: 262

Center: Tovah Feldshuh. (Photo: Laura Pettibone.)

Isaac Bashevis Singer was already an elderly man, widely recognized for his Yiddish-language short stories, when he turned to playwriting. Yentl, his third play (adapted with Leah Napolin from one of his stories), was his first dramatic success, and remains a popular work, partly because of the movie version starring Barbra Streisand in the title role; on stage, the character proved a career breakthrough for Tovah Feldshuh. The play received strong enough notices in its Off-Broadway showing at Brooklyn’s Chelsea Theatre Center that, 10 months after it closed, it received a commercial Broadway run at the O’Neill, albeit with one major ans several minor cast changes.
Leland Moss, Bernie Passeltiner, Tovah Feldshuh. (Photo: Laura W. Pettibone.)

Yentl is a Jewish girl living in a Polish shtetl in 1873 with her widowed father (Bernie Passeltiner). She greatly hungers for the traditional education that Judaic law restricts to men (as it still does in ultra-orthodox communities). Her father secretly teaches her from the Torah and Talmud himself. When he dies she resolves to attend the forbidden yeshivah by dressing as a boy named Anshel. She develops a very close friendship with another student, the handsome Avigdor (John W. Shea), and soon finds herself betrothed to Avigdor’s former fiancée Hadass (Neva Small, Chelsea; Lynn Ann Leveridge, O’Neill), whom she ends up marrying. Eventually, Yentl reveals her deception, Avigdor (whom she still loves) marries Hadass, and the fruit of their union is named Yentl.

The ramblingly structured play is far from perfect, being highly episodic, containing some awkwardly phrased dialogue, and an excessively anecdotal, literary style. It also bears the weight of an intriguing folk tale that, for some, simply asked too much suspension of disbelief. “Not a word of this strikes me as playable on a stage,” wrote Brendan Gill.

Lynn Ann Leveridge, John V. Shea. (Photo: Laura Pettibone.)

Nevertheless, the gorgeously designed production, making excellent use of a revolve and an artless, village style using minimal props and sets, was brimful of the period feeling emanating from the world of 19th-century peasant life. What Gill called Robert Kalfin’s “immaculate” direction made ample use of orthodox rituals. The characters were ably etched by the well-cast ensemble, and the thematic implications were intriguing, albeit anathema to potential audiences from the contemporary descendants of the community it depicts.

John Simon’s opinion was fairly typical. “Yentl is all theatre and no play.” He called the production “a whirring, whizzing marvel,” and none disputed the assertion. Singer’s views on traditional Jewish attitudes were provocative in a decade rent by feminist activity. The play’s sexual ambivalences were likewise much discussed.

The Broadway staging shaved nearly an hour off the Brooklyn version, tightening the focus on the central love triangle, but not eradicating the essential problem of the play’s non-dramatic personality. A major cause for celebration, as noted, was the presence of Tovah Feldshuh, whose characterization of Yentl caused T.E. Kalem to hail her as “an actress of imponderable scope and stature. . . . Tovah Feldshuh has the delicacy of a Tanagra figurine. She is kinetic in presence, graceful in gesture and capable of igniting, as well as displaying, passion.”

John V. Shea was also highly approved, Howard Kissel commenting on his “remarkably graceful, affecting performance.” Others in the large cast included Leland Moss, Hy Anzell, Robin Bartlett (O'Neill Theatre), and Blanche Dee.

Feldshuh won an OBIE, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award, but the Tonys ignored her. She would, of course, have been up that season against Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Elizabeth Ashley, and Liv Ullman, not a one of them small potato latkes.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Yerma.

 

               


Monday, June 28, 2021

605. THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1

Randall Duk Kim, Pat Suzuki, Tina Chen.
THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON [Drama/Asian-American/Death/Family/Race] A: Frank Chin; D: Russell Treyz; S: Leo Yoshimura; S: Susan Hum Buck; L: Victor En Yu Tan; P: American Place Theatre; T: American Place Theatre (OB); 5/22/74-6/15/74 (29)

The second of Frank Chin’s plays about Chinese-Americans and their problems of social and cultural assimilation once again starred Randall (Duk) Kim and was given by the American Place Theatre. Its major point of interest was the realistic depiction of a milieu unfamiliar to the average American audience. The play itself was fairly conventional in its look at family issues, the generation gap, and the self-realization of a budding writer.

It tells of a San Francisco Chinatown family whose dying patriarch, Pa Eng (Conrad Yama), is the community’s mayor. It is the Chinese New Year and Pa Eng has gathered his brood to be with him when he passes. Around him are his first wife (Pat Suzuki), his successful restaurateur daughter from Boston (Tina Chen), his Caucasian son-in-law (Doug Higgins), his tourist guide son (Kim), and a shiftless younger son (Keenan Shimizu).

The play pictures the tensions that run through this group—parental, marital, cultural, and social. A good deal of the play focuses on the older son’s struggle with his father over the son’s future responsibility toward the family vis-à-vis his desire to become a writer.

Aside from the inherent interest in presenting a world then infrequently seen on the mainstream stage, the play provoked little enthusiasm. It was too discursive and lacking in “energy,” according to Clive Barnes. Edith Oliver faulted it for being “not yet as strong as it could be” because there was insufficient command of the dramatic action. John Simon concurred, noting that, despite “flashes of wit and flights of anger,” it lacked “discipline” and bordered on soap opera.

There were respectable notices for the acting, especially for Randall Kim, although Simon thought “his mannerisms are becoming disruptive.”

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Yentl, The Yeshivah Boy

Sunday, June 27, 2021

604. WOYZECK. (2 Productions) From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Kenneth V. Lowry, Juliene Marshall, Curt Karibalis. 
1.

WOYZECK [Dramatic Revival] A: Georg Büchner; TR: Henry I. Schmidt; D: Robert Weinstein; S: Bob Olson; C: Daniel Michaelson; L: Jon Brittain; P: Robert Weinstein i/a/w Two Arts Playhouse; T: Fortune Theatre (OB); 5/25/71-5/30/71 (8)

German playwright Büchner’s 1836 proto-expressionist drama was given an unimaginative, poorly conceived staging by a young acting company, the Actors’ Group. Mel Gussow commented that “Almost everything is too representational—and dispassionate” for so highly charged a work. Further, “the acting lacks conviction and penetration.” Martin Washburn concurred: “the many scenes . . . hung in floppy disassociation” and the cast seemed unconnected to the play.”

This was the play’s first English presentation. A German one had been shown in 1966. More would bcome in the following years, including the following German example. Cast members were Curt Karibalis, Kenneth W. Lowry, Julienne Marshall, and Dorin McGough.

Wolfgang Reinbacher, Dieter Brammer. (Photo: Hilde Zemann.)

2.

D: Hans Joachim Heyse; S/C: Christian Bussman; M: Dieter Shönbach; P: Goethe Institute of Munich and the Gert von Gontard Foundation; T: Barbizon-Plaza Theatre (OB); 12/5/72-12/10/72 (7)

Die Brūcke (The Bridge), a traveling German troupe that appeared periodically in New York in the late 60s and early 70s, offered this revival in the play’s native language. A.H. Weiler thought the production “fairly cheerless” in its depiction of Büchner’s unfinished tragicomedy. He was, however, held by its “spellbinding” effect.

Wolfgang Reinbacher’s much-put-upon Woyzeck was “not so much a fool as a simple man confused and misused by the people around him.” There were strong performances by Dieter Brammer as the Captain and Gerhard Friedrich as the Doctor. The “workmanlike” production’s setting was simple, and changed for each of the 26 scenes by the actors themselves.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: The Year of the Dragon.

 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

603. THE WORLD OF LENNY BRUCE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Frank Speiser. (Photo: Ken Howard.)

THE WORLD OF LENNY BRUCE [Solo/Biographical/Show Business] AD: Frank Speiser; SC: Life and works of Lenny Bruce; D: Frank Speizer; P: Norman Twain i/a/w Michael Liebert b/s/a/w Marvin Worth; T: Players Theatre (OB); 6/11/74-10/6/74 (137)

A one-man show based on the words of stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce, in which Frank Speiser, who put the show together, impersonated the controversial performer. The interest in Bruce at the time was powerful enough to inspire the present show only two years after Lenny, a Broadway hit that made Cliff Gorman a star; in fact, the movie version of that show, with a riveting performance by Dustin Hoffman, arrived the same year as the present work. It’s easy enough to explore the later careers of Gorman and Hoffman; I have no idea of what happened to Frank Speiser. Do you? Bruce himself remains a figure of importance, as witness his presence in the TV series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” even if his re-enacted routines are no longer very funny.

In The World of Lenny Bruce material that might once have landed the iconoclastic comic in jail had become so ordinary that there was no fear of police concern. Audiences had become inured to his once radical use of language and ideas in the eight years since his death from a drug overdose.

The biggest problem with the otherwise capably handled show, according to Clive Barnes, was that in 1974 Bruce’s material already seemed stale. Only those unfamiliar with it or with Bruce might have found it amusing. Barnes felt that Speiser had insufficiently conveyed Bruce’s pain and torment in the later years of his besieged career. Still, the show stuck around for over four months.

The show's first half was made up of familiar routines. The second was based on what Bruce had said in defense of his right to say the scandalous things used in his act.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here. 

Next up: Woyzeck.