Wednesday, April 15, 2020

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Lauren Bacall and company in Applause.

 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.

In addition to the shows chronicled here, the New York professional theatre produced hundreds of others, largely in the form of showcases receiving brief runs of a dozen or less performances, most of them unreviewed. Their credits and other significant data can be found in sources such as the annual series called Theatre World and The Theater Yearbook: The Best Plays of . . .

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.
Len Cariou, Lauren Bacall.
[Note: This entry is slightly out of alphabetical order.]

APPLAUSE [Musical/Romance/Show Business/Theatre] B: Betty Comden, Adolph Greene; M: Charles Strouse; LY: Lee Adams; SC: screenplay of All about Eve and original short story, “The Wisdom of Eve,” by Mary Orr; D/CH: Ron Field; S: Robert Randolph; C: Ray Aghanyan; L: Tharon Musser; P: Joseph Kipness and Lawrence Kasha i/a/w Nederlander Productions and George M. Steinbrenner III; T: Palace Theatre; 3/30/70 (896)

Penny Fuller, Lee Roy Reams.
A topflight team of creatives, a sizzling cast led by scintillating movie star Lauren Bacall, and a book based on All about Eve (1950), one of the great movies about backstage life, helped push this entertaining  musical into hit territory. Bacall, more a film actress than a stage one, and definitely not a trained singer (this was her first musical), was a delicious surprise as middle-aged Broadway star Margo Channing (the Bette Davis role), backed by Penny Fuller as her scheming, up-and-coming rival, Eve Harrington (the Anne Baxter role).
Brandon Maggart, Ann Williams, Lauren Bacall.
In the big supporting roles were Len Cariou as Bill Sampson (the Gary Merrill role, called Bill Simpson in the film), Ann Williams as Karen Richards (the Celeste Holm role), Brandon Maggart as Buzz Richards, Lee Roy Reams as Duane Fox, and Bonnie Franklin as Bonnie. A few major character changes from screen to stage were made, most noticeably that of theatre critic, Addison DeWitt, played in the film with waspish sting by George Sanders, who was now transformed into a producer named Howard Benedict (Robert Mandan).
Lauren Bacall, Lee Roy Reams, Sammy Williams. 
The classic story of a dramatic star (interestingly, not a musical one) supplanted by the young actress she nurtures was applauded for a book that told the story via a flashback that begins at the Tony Award ceremonies when Eve is being presented with a Best Actress award. The action shifts to the past, when Eve, an ambitious young actress with few scruples, shows up at Margo’s stage door, flatters her way into the star’s good graces, and becomes Margo’s protégé and even (behind Eve’s back) understudy.

Eve soon becomes Margo’s avatar, befriending her acquaintances, and managing, with the help of playwright Buzz Richards’s wife, Karen, to take over for Margo when the latter is forced—through a ruse—to be unable to get to the theatre. This makes Eve a star but Margo is partly compensated by Buzz’s promise to write his next play for her, although she eventually agrees—after a rift—to marry her faithful friend, Bill (whom Eve tried, unsuccessfully, to seduce) and retire from the stage. The ending differed somewhat from that in the film, but the happiness it brought Margo and the pain it caused Eve gave audiences the satisfaction they desired.

The show, updated to reflect the passage of time since the film was made, received praise for its bitchily whip-sharp dialogue, sense of cynical honesty, glittering visuals (especially the fashionable costumes the still-striking Bacall displayed), and sparkling direction and choreography.
Bonnie Franklin.
But the central attraction was Bacall, of whom Clive Barnes—who thought the music “second-rate,” rhapsodized: “Whatever it is Miss Lauren Bacall possesses she throws it around most beautifully, most exquisitely and most excitingly.” “Seriously, Miss Bacall is a sensation. She sings with all the misty beauty of an on-tune foghorn. She never misses a note—she is not one of your all-talking musical dramatics—and although her voice is not pretty, it does have the true beauty of unforgettability. Her dancing is more conventional—she is averagely, if beautifully groovy. Her acting is her own thing.”
Penny Fuller, Len Cariou.
Few of the songs had lasting popularity but the title number, performed by Bonnie Franklin as a bar waitress, made a big impression, with its satiric takes on recent musicals, even taking a poke at the nude revue, Oh! Calcutta! The show had out-of-town problems before arriving in New York, largely because Bacall so dominated the proceedings, but some recasting, especially that of Fuller as Eve, worked nicely to balance things.
Bonnie Franklin and company.
Applause won the Best Musical Tony, Ron Field won for his direction and choreography, and Bacall for her performance. Bonnie Franklin nabbed an Outer Critics Circle Award. When the show began its hugely successful national tour, Bacall was set to be replaced on Broadway with Rita Hayworth, but Hayworth stepped down and the part of Margo was taken, in a cunning publicity move, by Anne Baxter, the original Eve. She later was replaced by Arlene Dahl.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead