Thursday, April 9, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Howard Keel, Danielle Darrieux, and the Ambassador company.
The following precedes each entry

"In Lieu of Reviews"

Around 40 years ago, I began a major project that eventuated in the publication of my multivolume series, The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage, each volume covering a decade. For some reason now lost to the sands of time, I chose to start with the 1970s. After writing all the entries through 1975 and producing a typed manuscript of 1,038 pages my publisher (Greenwood) and I decided it would be best to commence with the 1920s. So the 1970-1975 material was put aside as I produced volumes for 1920-1930, 1930-1940, and 1940-1950. With those concluded, Greenwood decided it was all too expensive and not sufficiently profitable, so the remaining volumes were cancelled, leaving my 1970s entries in limbo.

To compensate, I used the research I’d done on the 1970s to write a book for Greenwood called Ten Seasons: New York Theatre in the Seventies, which described all aspects of that era’s theatre, onstage and off. Many years later, in 2012, I began a postretirement “career” as a theatre reviewer, which led to my creating this blog as an outlet for my reviews. Over the past eight years or so I’ve posted nearly 1,600 reviews, a substantial number having first appeared on other websites: Theater Pizzazz, The Broadway Blog, and Theater Life.

Now, however, with the New York theatre in suspension, and my reviewing completely halted, is probably the perfect time to post as many as possible of the entries I prepared for the never-published 1970-1975 book. The entries that follow are in alphabetical order. Each entry has a heading listing the subject categories of the work described: the author (A), the director (D), additional staging (ADD ST), when credited; the producer (P), the set designer (S), the costume designer (C), the lighting designer (L), the source (SC), the theatre (T), the dates of the run, and, in parentheses, the length of the run. The original entries also contained the names of all the actors but I’ve omitted those here.

I will try to post at least one entry daily. When time allows, I’ll provide more. The manuscript exists on fading, fragile paper and, because no digital files exist, must be retyped. Hopefully, the tragic health situation we’re all enduring will abate before I get too far into posting these entries but, for the time being, devoted theatre lovers may find reading these materials informative.

AMBASSADOR [Musical/France/Period/Romance] B: Don Ettlinger and Anna Marie Barlow; M: Dohn Gohmen; LY: Hal Hackady; SC: Henry James’s novel, The Ambassadors; D: Stone Widney; CH: Joyce Trisler; S/C: Peter Rice (costumes “supervised” by Sara Brook); L: Martin Aronstein; P: Gene Dingenary, Miranda D’Ancona, Nancy Levering; T: Lunt-Fontanne Theatre; 11/19/72-11/25/72 (9) 

M'El Dowd, Michael Shannon.
Despite being headed by such starry names as baritone Howard Keel and French stage and film luminary Danielle Darrieux, Ambassador was a failure on almost every count. It was considered a trivialization of a respected Henry James novel about a prudish, middle-aged, New England lawyer, Lewis Lambert Strether (Keel), who, at the request of a client, travels to Paris in 1906 to save the client’s son, Chad (Michael Shannon; not to be confused with the current star of that name), from the wiles of an older woman, Marie de Vionett (Darrieux) with whom he is having an affair. The lawyer is successful in convincing the youth to return home but is himself ensnared by the appealing femme fatale. He decides to throw convention overboard and remain with her.

Carmen Mathews, David Sabin.
The American-written show had premiered in London, where it flopped, and was confronted in New York by unanimously negative reviews. Neither its stars, who were generally considered effective, nor its lyrics book, or music could stir up much interest. Douglas Watt said, “there is nothing very right about it”; Richard Watts remarked that “it never comes to interesting dramatic life”; John Simon was bored by “the plain dullness of it all”: Brendan Gill thought it “mere twaddle”; and Clive Barnes noted that “it was not a disgrace, merely a pity.”

Well-known names in the supporting cast included M’El Dowd, Carmen Mathews, and Andrea Marcovicci.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement
Aesop’s Fables; T
Alice in Wonderland
All God’s Chillun Got Wings
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta

L’Amante Anglais