Saturday, October 31, 2020

367. OH COWARD! From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Roderick Cook, Jamie Ross, Barbara Cason.

OH COWARD! [Musical Revue] M/LY: Noël Coward; D: Roderick Cook; S: Helen Pond and Herbert Senn; P: Wroderick Productions, Inc.; T: New Theatre (OB): 10/4/72-6/17/73 (294)

English playwright-actor Roderick Cook, a Noël Coward specialist, devised, directed, and performed in this sparklingly tasteful, intelligent, and deceptively simple Off-Broadway revue of the master’s songs and jottings. Cook had originated it for the Vancouver International Festival in 1968, titled And Now Noël Coward . . . An Agreeable Impertinence, and starring Dorothy Loudon. After negative critical response, it was reworked for Broadway and called Noël Coward’s Sweet Potato, opening on September 29, 1968, and garnering 44 performances. Cook revised it again as Oh Coward!, produced in in Toronto and elsewhere, and then brought it to Off Broadway in this production. 

With a modest accompaniment from twin pianos and a drum, the two-man (Cook and Jamie Ross), one woman (Barbara Cason), formally-garbed cast provided a spot-on interpretation of Coward’s stylish sophistication and verbal marksmanship, with every chiseled word precisely spoken, and every tuneful note sung with clarity and charm. Even the curtain, showing a double-headed caricature of Coward, one face a bit sour, the other slightly smiling, contributed to the overall effect.

So aptly was it done that the lack any particularly noteworthy voice—Mel Gussow thought Ross the best singer—was of secondary concern. The spoken passages were plucked from Coward’s plays and books, most of the songs from his shows. A few songs—like Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It”—had been sung by Coward although someone else wrote them.  

Among the many musical numbers—created over 38 years—were “Something to Do with Spring,” “Ziegeuner,” “We Were Dancing,” “Sail Away,” “Room with a View,” “If Love Were All,” “Mrs. Worthington,” “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “Gertie,” “Mad about the Boy,” “Someday I’ll Find You,” and “I’ll See You Again.”

Oh Coward! was played straight. Gussow reported, “Wisely, Mr. Cook and his companions play everything tight to the chest. They barely crack a smile, even when laughing—but we laugh. Nothing is spoofed or ridiculed. There is no overstatement or overproduction. . . . ‘Oh Coward’ lets Sir Noel speak for himself.” John Simon referred to the approach as a perfect example of “high camp,” meaning “subversive or even anarchic views given the most genteel and soigné expression.” He thought the revue “a small diamond, but . . . a very nearly flawless one.” Like several others, he made special note of the originality of Cook’s interpretation of the song, “The Party’s Over Now,” from Words and Music, long associated with Beatrice Lillie’s eccentric rendition. Here, though, it was proffered as the unhappy remembrance of a man suffering the aftereffects of a “marvelous party” that was anything but “marvelous.”

Oh Coward! subsequently played in London, and, in 1986, was revived at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre for 56 performances, earning Tony nominations for Cook and Catherine Cox.


Friday, October 30, 2020

366. ON THE TOWN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Remak Ramsey, Phyllis Newman, Ron Husmann, Bernadette Peters, Jess Richards.

ON THE TOWN [Musical Revival] B/LY: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; M: Leonard Bernstein; D/CH: Ron Field; S: James Trittipo; C: Ray Aghayan, Bob Mackie; L: Tharon Musser; P: Jerry Schlosser-Vista Productions in the Ron Field Production; T: Imperial Theatre; 10/31/71-1/1/72 (73)

Marilyn Cooper, Tom Avera.

This was a moderately effective revival of the 1944 hit, with three exuberant and highly gifted players in the female leads: Bernadette Peters as Hildy, Phyllis Newman as Claire, and Donna McKechnie as Ivy Smith. A trio of acceptable but lesser lights played their romantic counterparts: Remak Ramsey as Ozzie, Jess Richards as Chip, and Ron Hussmann as Gabey. Ron Fields’s choreographic style replaced Jerome Robbins’s original, but the feel of the show was essentially that of New York in the wartime 40s, although somewhat exaggerated in its treatment of period costumes and hairdos.

Donna McKechnie, Fran Stevens.

The fragile book about three gobs on 24-hours shore leave in the Big Apple, their search for Miss Turnstiles (the Ivy Smith character), whose face they’ve seen on a subway poster, and their ultimate romances with the girls they meet, wasn’t strongly supported by the press. “A handsome and lavish resuscitation” from which, nevertheless, “the bloom is off,” said Clive Barnes. Walter Kerr thought the revival too forced, and noted that the leading ladies “work with the same supercharge of energy, . . . identical vocal thrusts (nearing screeches) and . . . identical physical attacks (nearing mayhem),” thereby making them “indistinguishable.”

Bernadette Peters, Jess Richards.

The show may have seemed dated to some, but its glorious music was far better than most heard in new shows of the time. Peters was “priceless,” thought Harold Clurman, as Hildy, the female cab driver, yet John Simon speared the budding 23-year-old star with a noxious bolt, calling her a “mugging, mouthing little butterball” and “a full-fledged fag-hag,” among other remarks of a similar drift.

Peters one-upped Simon by snaring a Tony nomination as Best Supporting Actress, Musical. Jess Richards, who succumbed to AIDS in 1994, landed a Theatre World Award.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

365. OF MICE AND MEN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Pamela Blair, James Earl Jones. (Photos: Martha Swope)

OF MICE AND MEN [Dramatic Revival] A: John Steinbeck; D: Edwin Sherin; DS: William and Jean Eckart; P: Elliot Martin i/a/w Mortimer Levitt; T: Brooks Atkinson Theatre; 12/18/74-2/9/75 (61)

David Gale, Kevin Conway, James Earl Jones, Mark Gordon.

Two of the hottest stage actors of the day, Kevin Conway and James Earl Jones, played the roles of George and Lennie in this revival of John Steinbeck’s 1937 adaptation of his own novel about two migrant farm workers in Southern California during the dreary days of the Depression. The play, despite its obvious flaws, remained a worthwhile and not quite dated exercise. Most critics bestowed on it their appreciation for its subtle melodramaturgy and compassionate view of the symbiosis between the canny, protective George and the powerful but oafish Lennie. Reviews for the production were generally positive, but some felt that directorial inadequacy and a few less-than-sterling performances in supporting roles created a mediocre presentation.

James Earl Jones, Kevin Conway.

The performances of Conway and Jones were considered of major importance. These actors seemed to have established a bond of genuine human cohesion, made even more resonant by the fact of Jones’s blackness in a role originally written for a white actor. John Simon and Walter Kerr, however, were among the few who insisted that Jones’s casting was an egregious error. Simon pointed out that the lack of antagonism to a Black Lennie in a play where Crooks (Joe Seneca), a Black character, is mistreated because of his race, was nonsense. Still, Simon agreed that Jones “gives one of his best performances.” Clive Barnes noted that Jones had “transformed himself into a figure of shambling strength, glimmering intelligence and intense sweetness . . . It is a beautifully complete performance.”

James Earl Jones, Kevin Conway.

Conway also was loudly praised, John Beaufort pointing out that he “touches all the conflicting facets of George’s impatient, harshly protective feeling for the giant child he has undertaken to look after.”

The company included Stefan Gierasch as Candy, Mark Gordon as Curley, Pamela Blair as Curley’s wife, David Gale as Slim, and David Clarke as the Boss.  


Evelyn Varden, Clifton Webb in Present Laughter.

 For the latest installment in my series ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATER, which covers October 29 in the 1940s, please click on THEATER LIFE.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


Diana Barrymore, James Le Curto.
For my bonus entry on October 28, 1940, in my ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATER series, please click on THEATER LIFE.

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

Tonice Gwathney, Marilyn B. Coleman, Roxie Roker.
ODODO [Musical/Africa/Period/Race] B: Joseph A. Walker; M: Dorothy A. Dinroe; D: Joseph A. Walter; CH: Syvilla Fort, J.A. Walker; S: Edward Burbridge; C: Dorothy A. Dinroe; L: Ernest Baxter; P: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 11/17/70-12/27/70 (41)

An episodic recreation of black history, from Africa to Harlem, dealing with the ever-present fight for the recognition of the Black person’s dignity and rights as a human being.

To some white reviewers the tone was blatantly and offensively militant and racist. On the artistic side, the negative reviews ranged from calling it musically “dreadful,” as Martin Gottfried declared, and uncreative, to clichéd and unprofessional. Clive Barnes, who castigated Ododo (the Yoruba word for “truth”) as anti-white, nevertheless managed to find in it the elements of “a good show,” its message “beautifully written propaganda,” and its music “apt, evocative, and . . . exciting.” Brendan Gill held it to be a failure, despite effective elements, but Dick Brukenfeld paid homage to it as “a warm, virile, life-affirming show, . . . an evening to savor.” He disputed Barnes’s assertion that it was anti-white, declaring it instead “anti-American—anti what is dead and dangerous to this country.”

The cast included Ray Aranha, Garrett Morris, Roxie Roker, Charles Weldon, and eight others.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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

Sydney Walker, Maxine Herman, Robert Brink, Roy R. Scheider.
THE NUNS [Comedy-Drama/Crime/Cuban/Haiti/Period/Politics/Transvestitism] A: Eduard Manet; AD: Don Parker and Paul Verdier; D: Paul Verdier; S: Peter Harvey; C: Rita Riggs; L: F. Mitchell Dana; P: Don Parker i/a/w Stanley J. Hatoff in a Westgate Production; T: Cherry Lane Theatre (OB); 6/1/70 (1)

Written in French by a Cuban living in Paris, The Nuns proved a single performance embarrassment for all concerned. A parable play with symbolic overtones, it concerns a trio of male fugitives (Sydney Walker, Roy R. Scheider [as he was billed], Robert Brink), hiding out in a convent cellar, disguised as nuns, during a 1791 revolutionary uprising in Haiti. The juxtaposition of nuns’ habits and coarse male behavior provides much of whatever amusement the play has to offer.

In the course of the action, the men dupe a wealthy woman (Maxine Herman), who wishes to flee the revolution, into bringing them her jewels. They then rob, rape, and murder her. One of the men is killed by the Mother Superior, and the others are discovered by the revolutionaries.

Harold Clurman was generally kind to what he believed a “competent” production, though admitting that “Manet is no Genet.” But Clive Barnes disposed of the play as a piece of “sheer ineptitude.” It was a “very bad play,” he insisted. “It wore its banality with a kind of poignant distinction.”

Of the actors marooned here, one was Sydney Walker, a veteran character who came into his own as part of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company in its earliest years. Another would abandon his middle initial when he became a Hollywood star known simply as Roy Scheider.



Monday, October 26, 2020


Joyce Hanley, Todd Davis.
NOWHERE TO RUN, NOWHERE TO HIDE [Drama/Crime/Drugs/Race] A: Herman Johnson; D: Dean Ireby; C: La Donna Harris; L: Sandra Ross; P: Negro Ensemble Company; T: St. Marks Playhouse (OB); 3/26-74-3/31/74 (8)

Produced as the second of four pays in the Negro Ensemble Company’s special “Season-Within-a-Season” series of one-week runs, Herman Johnson’s play offered a “rewarding, although unfulfilled” evening of theatre,” said Clive Barnes. Overlong and with a plot insufficiently developed, it nevertheless had many powerful elements.

Circling around the plight of Willie Stewart (Todd Davis), an 18-year-old Harlem student, are a number of excellently etched characters and scenes. The episodic plot concerns a pair of Black cops (Leon Morenzie and Frankie Faison) who deal drugs to the kids at a Harlem high school. They murder their school connection (Roland Sanchez) and then attempt to pin the rap on Willie, a troubled, rebellious kid with a pregnant girlfriend and a mother who runs with a young hoodlum.

Atmosphere, dialogue, characters, acting, directing, and dramatic tension were all present, inviting Edith Oliver to find it “always convincing." Among the better-known cast members were Samm(-Art) Williams.Robert Christian, and Michele Shay.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

361. NOT NOW, DARLING. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Norman Wisdom, Roni Dengel, Rex Garner, Joan Bassie.

NOT NOW, DARLING [Comedy/British/Sex] A: Ray Cooney and John Chapman; D: George Abbott; DS: Lloyd Burlingame; P: James Nederlander and George M. Steinbrenner III b/a/w Michael Codron; T: Brooks Atkinson Theatre; 10/29/70-11/15/70 (21)

Roni Dengel, Norman Wisdom.

If you’ve ever wondered what kinds of plays George Steinbrenner, who bought the New York Yankees in 1973, dabbled in during his days as Broadway producer, look no further than Not Now, Darling, a mindless British farce filled with endless running around (especially by half-clothed young women), hiding in closets, and doing the expected madcap things with ferocious energy. 

M'el Dowd, Rex Garner, Norman Wisdom.

The plot is about a furrier shop run by two men, one of whom, Arnold Crouch (Norman Wisdom), hopes to seduce a woman by allowing her to pay only 500 pounds for a mink, rather than 5,000. The complications arising from this premise constitute the essence of a puerile comedy that ran in London for 699 performances but couldn’t make it through two weeks in New York, even though helmed by Broadway’s master farce director, George Abbott, then 87.Three years later a similar fate would befall another sex farce that Londoners also loved, No Sex Please, We're British, described here a couple of days ago.

Ardyth Kaiser, Ed Zimmerman.

Not Now, Darling suffered the kinds of critical slings and arrows reserved for only the most egregious clunkers. Richard Watts was being polite when he wrote that “it seemed flat, lugubrious, and lacking in humor.” It was “a maggotry sepulcher of a farce,” sniped Brendan Gill, who also said “the play is terrible, the set is terrible, the acting is terrible, and the direction is terrible.” John Simon put in his snarkily clever two cents with this classic dig: “about its unappetizing star all I can say is that if this is Norman Wisdom, I’ll take Saxon folly.”

The 11-member company included Joan Bassie, Ardyth Kaiser, Ed Zimmerman, Roni Dengel, Rex Garner, and M’el Dowd.



Saturday, October 24, 2020

360. NOH-KYOGEN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Noh play Funa Benkei.

NOH-KYOGEN [Dramas/Comedies/Japan/Japanese Language] P: The Carnegie Hall Corporation and Pacific World Artists, Inc., under the Sponsorship of the Foreign Ministry of Japan, K.B.S., and the Asahi Shinbun; T: Carnegie Hall (OB); 3/24/71-3/26/71 (3)

Kyogen: Boshibari (Tied to a Pole), Futari Daimyo (Two Daimyo), Shido Hogaku (Shido Hogaku, the Horse), Futari Bakama (Two Pairs of Trousers)

Noh: Funa Benkei (Benkei in the Boat), Aoi no Ue (Lady Aoi), Sumidagawa (The Sumida River)

Three one-night programs of two of Japan’s classical theatrical forms, billed as the National Theatre of Japan, the dramatic noh and the comical kyōgen, on each of which one from each genre was performed. Noh and kyōgen are closely related and usually appear together on the same program in Japan. A kyōgen actor may play a special kyōgen part in a noh play, but noh actors never act in kyōgen plays. These forms go back to the 14th century, although their antecedents predate them by several centuries. The noh company represented during this visit was of the Konparu school, the kyōgen of the Izumi.

Mel Gussow, viewing the first program, thought the noh “intense and fascinating,” but the kyōgen seemed “too unsubtle and tedious.” He was distressed by the inappropriateness of the spacious Carnegie Hall as a venue for such intimate works. “But,” he admitted, “even half-seen and in an alien setting setting, this is a rare and indelible experience.”

Kyogen play, Futari Daimyo, seen in 1971.

A kyōgen troupe visited Carnegie Hall without the noh on April 16, 1975, for two performances presented by Kazuko Hillyer. They brought back Boshibari, and added Urinusubito (The Melon Thief) an Kusabira (Mushrooms).  

Friday, October 23, 2020


J.J. Lewis, Stephen Collins, Tony Tanner, Maureen O'Sullivan.

NO SEX, PLEASE, WE’RE BRITISH [Comedy/British/Marriage/Sex] A: Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot; D: Christopher Hewett; S: Helen Pond and Herbert Senn; C: Jeffrey B. Moss; L: John Harvey; P: Tom Mallow b/a/w John Gale; T: Ritz Theatre; 2/20/73-3/4/73 (16)

John Clarkson, J.J. Lewis, Stephen Collins.

An import from London’s West End, where it was a hit, No Sex Please, We’re British—a title that has stuck around far longer than the play—came to Broadway with a very capable American cast and expert rapid-fire direction. Too bad it lacked the ero-dramatic stamina to avoid a premature ejection.

J.J. Lewis, Stephen Collins, Robert Judelin, Maureen O'Sullivan.

This implausible, door-slamming sex comedy deals with the Hunters (Stephen Collins and J.J. Lewis), an attractive, newly married young English couple who send away to a Swedish import company hoping to obtain glassware with which to set up a small business. Instead, they receive an incessant stream of pornographic materials, including a pair of stacked sex bombs named Susan and Barbara (Jill Tanner and Jennifer Richards).

Leon Shaw, Stephen Collins, J.J. Lewis.

The Hunters’ frantic attempts to conceal their collection from the other characters—business associates, the husband’s mother (former movie star Maureen O’Sullivan [Mia Farrow’s mother]), the cops, and so on—who show up constitutes the action of this mindless, disappointingly unfunny confection.

Tony Tanner, Maureen O'Sullivan.

When Richard Watts said he “thought it was dreadful,” he spoke for all his critical brethren.

In addition to its title, another reason I’ve always remembered this show is that one of the actresses playing the sexpots was Jennifer Richards, who had recently graduated from Brooklyn College, where I was then a young theatre professor. She’d made an impression, so to speak, as a student; her Playbill bio claimed she’d graduated “cum laude,” pun unintended (I think). So, her acting talent aside, it was interesting for BC students and faculty at the time to note how quickly she'd been cast in a Broadway show. 

Jennifer actually had a decent career playing voluptuous women in the Monroe-Mansfield mold. You can see what I’m talking about from this 1983 interview with Johnny Carson, whose other guest was Eddie Murphy. I’m kind of sorry now that I never gave her a Theatre Department Alumnus Award when I chaired the department. But, hey, BC, it’s never too late.  Remember, that "B" stands for Brooklyn, not British!

Thursday, October 22, 2020


Philip Thomas.
NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY [Dramatic Revival] A/D: Charles Gordone; S: John Retsek; L: Conrad Penrod; P: Ashton Springer and Jeanne Warner; T: Morosco Theatre; 9/9/71-10/10/71 (39)

Ian Sander, Mary Alice.

Charles Gorone’s 1969 Pulitzer Prize drama, the first by a Black author, had played for two healthy runs Off Broadway in its original and a return engagement. There are some fascinating notes on the play’s connection to the Public Theater in Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp's Free for All. It’s a play I’ve always had a fondness for, having directed a Brooklyn College production of it in 1978, with a promising young actor named Jimmy Smits in the lead. Whatever happened to him?

In 1971, only a relatively short time after the return engagement closed, it was revived on Broadway, directed by Gordone himself. The audience for it appears to have been dissipated, though, during its 578 Off-Broadway performances.

Terry Alexander, Susan Spaulding.

The new staging of this racially sensitive drama, set in a West Greenwich Village bar, was completely recast and reconceived, but its placement on a Broadway proscenium stage seemed to Douglas Watt to weaken its potency from that displayed in more intimate surroundings. Yet Clive Barnes felt it belonged right where it was, claiming, “The play is a lot better than it was originally,” its structure and impact being sharper than before. Jerry Tallmer’s opinion coincided with Barnes’s, calling it “a brilliant piece of theatre.”

Phillip Thomas played Gabe Gabriel, Ian Sander was Shanty Mulligan, Terry Alexander was Johnny Williams, Elaine Kerr was Dee Jacobson, Mary Alice played Cora Beasley, and Ed Van Nuys was Judge Bolton.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

357. NO HARD FEELINGS. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Nanette Fabray, Eddie Albert.

[Comedy/Marriage/Romance] A: Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark; D: Abe Burrows; S/L: Robert Randolph; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; P: Orin Lehman, Joseph Kipness, and Lawrence Kasha; T: Martin Beck Theatre; 4/8/73 (1)

Stockard Channing, Nanette Fabray, Conrad Janis, Eddie Albert, A. Larry Haines.

Even with the rash of one-night flops in the early 70s, it’s still hard to imagine one directed by Abe Burrows with a cast including Eddie Albert, Nanette Fabray, Conrad Janis, and young Stockard Channing. But such was the fate of No Hard Feelings, an inane marital farce about George Bartlett (Albert) and his wife, Roberta (Fabray), a suburban, middle-aged couple. After marrying off their daughter (Channing), they separate when Roberta announces she has fallen in love with Jimmy Skouras (Janis), a Greek waiter 14 years her husband’s junior.

George tries everything he can to win back his spouse, but must instead suffer the indignity of seeing her grow pregnant by and then marry her lover. George loses his temper, shoots Jimmy in the foot, is given a suspended sentence, and, a year later, visits Roberta to make up. His newfound friendly attitude, however, is beginning to disintegrate when the curtain falls.

Fast moving and often funny, the comedy could not conquer the obstacles of cardboard characters, mechanical plotting, lack of feeling, and a crateful of hard-driving, obvious gags. There was “total mindlessness and near total witlessness,” said John Simon of a play Douglas Watt dubbed “this pathetic little farce” and Clive Barnes dismissed as “efficient, glossy and heartless.”

Monday, October 19, 2020


Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn.

NOËL COWARD IN TWO KEYS [Comedy/Hotel/One-Acts] A: Noël Coward; D: Vivian Matalon; S/L: William Ritman; C: Ray Diffen; P: Richard Barr, Charles Woodward; T: Ethel Barrymore Theatre; 2/17/74-6/29/74 (140)

“Come into the Garden, Maud” [Marriage/Romance]; “A Song at Twilight” [Homosexuality]

Anne Baxter, Thom Christopher.

Suite in Three Keys was the title of a 1966 London repertory bill by and starring Sir Noël Coward. One program was a full-length play, A Song at Twilight, the other was a pair of one-acts. In bringing the plays to New York in 1974, a year after Coward died, the producers dropped one of the short plays and put the two on a single bill, cutting the longer one by removing its intermission. The new title was Noël Coward in Two Keys.

The original British director was again at the helm, but the three principal roles played in London by Irene Worth, Lili Palmer and Coward were now in the hands of former movie star Anne Baxter and the husband-and-wife team of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Thom Christopher added a thespian fourth wheel in two minor roles.

Anne Baxter, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy.

Both plays are set in the same luxurious suite at a high-class Swiss hotel (something like what Neil Simon did in Plaza Suite). In the curtain raiser, “Come into the Garden, Maud,” Cronyn played Verner Conklin, a super-wealthy, middle-aged American businessman, with an avidity for golf, who’s on his yearly European vacation. With him is his wife, Anna Marie (Tandy), a pretentious social climber who behaves as if her husband’s boorish ways are an impediment to her snobbish aspirations. Enter a mature, attractive, but impoverished Italian noblewoman (Baxter) with whom Verner promptly falls in love. Deciding for once to be completely unconventional, he decides to drive off with the other woman in her Volkswagen.

Jessica Tandy.
Jack Kroll thought the piece “painfully thin,” but Clive Barnes called it “light and bright and quite deceptively simple” Neither the plot nor the dialogue “sparkled” for John Simon, though.

In the longer play, Cronyn was a famous old novelist, presumably modeled after Somerset Maugham, but with a heavy injection of Coward himself, who is staying at the hotel with his German secretary-wife (Tandy). He’s visited by an ex-mistress (Baxter) who wants his permission to print some of his old love letters in her autobiography. If he refuses, she threatens to expose some other missives of his, sent to a young man he once loved. (Note the similarity in plotting to Nightride, the previous entry in this series.)

Hume Cronyn, Anne Baxter.

The homosexual theme, seen as a semi-confessional exercise on Coward’s part, was viewed by some as affecting, though without Coward in the role it was less so than in the London version. A few thought the handling of the subject evasive and shallow, lacking compelling interest in the gay-lib 70s.

Douglas Watt called the evening “pure theatre and written with a flourish,” but “not particularly striking or original.” Barnes judged the plays “knowingly entertaining and yet still substantial.” The general feeling was that the work was lesser Coward, that his fabled talent to amuse had faded (he was 66 when he wrote the plays), and that only brilliant performances could save the show.

A number of critics lavished praise on the acting and direction, with Tandy collecting the best reviews. Even Christopher was considered good enough to win a Theatre World Award. There were, however, those who called the acting mediocre. Kroll, for example, wrote that the cast lacked “the Martini-marinated nuances to make you care about these pampered puppets.”

The show earned an Outer Critics Circle Award.




355. NO, NO, NANETTE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Ruby Keller, Bobby Van.
NO, NO, NANETTE [Musical Revival] B: Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel; M: Vincent Youmans; LY: Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach; AD/D: Burt Shevelove; CH: Donald Saddler; S/C: Raoul Pene du Bois; L: Jules Fisher; P: Pyxidium Ltd.; T: Forty-Sixth street Theatre; 1/19/71-2/4/73 (861)
Susan Watson, Roger Rathburn.

The enormous, unexpected success of this 1925 musical hit, conceived and produced (with Cyma Rubin) by Harry Rigby, ushered in a definite trend in the revival of long-forgotten American musicals of the century’s first quarter. Nostalgia was the primary incentive driving audiences to see these shows their parents and grandparents may have experienced, and producers capitalized by employing old-time stage and screen stars to play the leading roles. Patsy Kelly and Ruby Keeler, favorites of the 30s, made long-delayed returns to the Great White Way, and soon became the toasts of New York.

No, No, Nanette’s creators also had the perspicacity to engage that genius of 1930s Hollywood choreographic spectacle, Busby Berkeley, as production supervisor, although a book about the show, The Making of No, No, Nanette suggests his contributions owed more to his name’s legendary value than to his artistic contributions.

Company of No, No, Nanette.

Burt Shevelove performed a miracle of comic staging and book revisions, avoiding the campy flavor often found in such golden oldie revivals. The approach was a straight, sincere one despite the material’s intrinsic inanity. All the stars were very well liked, the tap dancing sequences proved sensational (especially one featuring the redoubtable and still agile Miss Keeler), and the charm of the old songs—“Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy” in particular—gave everyone a delightful tingle. Raoul Pene du Bois’s gorgeous designs played an enormous role in furthering the show’s value as sheer entertainment without any hint of social or literary pretension.

Ruby Keeler and company.

Plot, music, and choreography each went their merry way without that sense of integration that was to evolve in musicals of a slightly later generation. Everything meshed smoothly, however, to provide a perfect evocation of the Roaring Twenties spirit thumping at the heart of the show. Even with such success, though, one of the producers refused to be content. My friend, Mimi Turque Marre, the widow of Michael Turque, one of the show's stage managers, recalls that once the production was running, co-producer Cyma Rubin kept firing one person after the other. (This is a correction of my initial account, which mistakenly noted that the firings were during the production process, not after the show opened.)

Reviews were almost universally enthusiastic, although some hemmed at the book’s concerns with a middle-aged Bible salesman (Jack Gilford) in Atlantic City, his three adorable girlfriends, and his hiring of a young lawyer (Bobby Van) to prevent his wife from making mush of his mashing. Martin Gottfried used such words as “satisfying,” “charming,” and “enjoyable” in his notice. One of the “genuinely thrilling production numbers”  he pointed to had a group of chorines balancing on beach balls; to stage it, the show even hired a “beach ball instructor,” Ernestine Mercer. Shevelove’s book revisions improved the original, said many, because the result left “just the right amount of sentimental silliness to make us feel . . . a pleasing, rueful nostalgia for that long-vanished time,” noted Brendan Gill.

Ruby Keeler as Sue Smith and Patsy Kelly as Pauline garnered raves, the former for her sparkling dancing (notably in “Take a Little One-Step”), the latter for her laugh-getting abilities. Jack Gilford as Jimmy Smith was cute and clownish, and Roger Rathburn as Tom showed great promise, but the highest accolades were awarded to the marvelously versatile Helen Gallagher as Lucille Early. She was “electrifying,” said Walter Kerr, in a show-stopping number she and Bobby Van, as Billy Early, did in a variety of twenties’ dance styles. Gallagher’s role required her to remove her trademark bangs and come on strong as a sexy vamp, a feat she accomplished with aplomb in a torch song called “Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone-Blues.”

Helen Gallagher and company.

The company included Susan Watson as Nanette, Loni Zoe Ackerman as Betty Brown, Pat Lysinger as Winnie Winslow, and K.C. Townsend as Flora Latham. Among the 36 members of the ensemble were Ed Dixon and Mercedes Ellington.

Jack Gilford, Ruby Keller, Patsy Kelly, Bobby Van, and company.

Gallagher nabbed a Tony for Best Actress, Musical; Kelly got one for Best Supporting Actress, Musical; and Van landed a nomination for Best Actor, Musical. The show itself won an Outer Circle Award. Shevelove took home a Drama Desk Award for Musical Book, and a Tony nomination for Best Director, Musical. Donald Saddler won a Tony for his choreography, and a Drama Desk Award as well. Roger Rathburn received a Theatre World Award. And Raoul Pene du Bois earned a Joseph Maharam Foundation Award as well as a Tony, for his costumes.

In 1973, the show was produced in London with a British cast. It also had multiple international stagings.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

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

 Chandler Hill Harben, Jeremy Stockwell, Lester Rawlins.
NIGHTRIDE [Drama/Alcoholism/Homosexuality/Theatre] A: Lee Barton; D: Milton Lyon; S: Alan Kimmel; C: Katrin; L: Ken Billington; P: Bill Shirley; T: Vandam Theatre (OB); 12/9/71-2/27/72 (94)

Chandler Hill Harben, Jeremy Stockwell.

The 1970s were a decade in which gay people were more openly declarative of their sexual inclinations than at any previous period in modern history. Some, however, continued to fear repressive measures if they chose to “come out of the closet.” “Lee Barton,” the pseudonymous author of Nightride was such a one, a man who was unprepared to face the social opprobrium he knew would greet him among friends and business acquaintances if he were to reveal his sexual nature. He called for other hidden gay artists to stand to stand up for gays, so that men such as he would not feel so threatened professionally for their sexuality..

In Nightride, he treated, somewhat melodramatically, the quandary of a renowned middle-aged playwright, Jon Bristow (Lester Rawlins), a man saddled with the burden of homosexuality—as per the playwright’s perspective—as well as alcoholism. Jon's career is running at low gear in the face of an ever-deteriorating artistic output. He is visited in his Puerto Rican home, where he lives with his lover, Peter (Jeremy Stockwell), by a gay rock star, Jab Humble (Chandler Hill Harben), who wants Jon to use as lyrics some revealing poetry written years earlier about a love affair between Jon and a young man. To the singer, the exposure of these poems will strengthen the gay cause, but the offer doesn’t appeal to the playwright, who wishes to remain in the closet.

The theme had interest for various critics, such as Clive Barnes, for whom it was “a serious play about homosexual life that makes no apologies and reveals no regrets.” But he also pointed out that the work took “a simplistic attitude” toward its material, and was flawed in several areas. Dick Brukenfeld thought it occasionally quite honest, but conceded that “the play proceeds more as argument than as experience, more as soap opera than as drama.” He said it too closely resembled the “muddy, ideological melodramas” of the old Broadway stage.

Lester Rawlins as Jon Bristow was widely praised. Barnes wrote, “Mr. Rawlins provides a magnificently rich and controlled interpretation. . . . [H]e weaves his way through all the false thickets of his part and all the phony confusions of his style to offer a performance that is both honest and poetic.” Rawlins won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance for his efforts.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

353. NIGHT WATCH. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Joan Hackett, Len Cariou.
NIGHT WATCH [Drama/Crime/Marriage/Mystery] A: Lucille Fletcher; D: Fred Coe; S: George Jenkins; C: Donald Brooks; L: Tharon Musser; P: George W. George and Barnard S. Straus; T: Morosco Theatre; 2/28/72-6/11/72 (121)

Len Carious, Elaine Kerr, Joan Hackett.

This first Broadway play by Lucille Fletcher (“Sorry, Wrong Number”), a highly successful writer for film, television, and radio, is a brooding mystery drama set in an expensive Manhattan apartment occupied by a neurotic, insomniac heiress, Elaine (Joan Hackett). She claims she has seen, in the window of a tenement across the way, a man’s horribly murdered corpse. The police investigation turns up neither corpse nor other evidence of foul play. It’s suggested that the woman’s story is fantasy. 

Eventually, the cops ignore her frantic calls. Her stockbroker husband (Len Cariou) attempts to soothe her and, among other things, proposes that she travel to a Swiss clinic for therapy. His motives, however, are made to seem nefarious. It’s clear that he’s having an affair with his wife’s friend (Elaine Kerr). The play ends with the surprise device of the wife having been the scheming genius behind the entire plot.

Joan Hackett, Keene Curtis.

Joan Hackett’s performance as the high-strung Elaine was masterful. Both she and the play were accorded several strong notices. Clive Barnes was pleased at this “most superior thriller . . . , which from its first blood-curdling scream to its last charming surprise is a first-class example of its genre.”

Fletcher’s characters, dramatic tension, and Hitchcockian suspense kept many on the edges of their seats. The play offered Douglas Watt “a satisfying series of surprises,” and fulfilled for Richards Watts “all the requirements for an evening of satisfying menace and mystification.” Martin Gottfried, however, claimed it was burdened with clichés and “unnecessary” persons and scenes, lacked mystery, was poorly acted, and was “never interesting and often trying.” And Walter Kerr assailed it for too many red herrings and a vastly confusing plot.

The cast included Keene Curtis, Jeanne Hepple, Martin Shakar, William Kiehl, Barbara Cason, and Rudy Bond.



Friday, October 16, 2020


Harry Chapin.
[Musical Revue] M/LY: Harry Chapin; D: Gene Frankel; CH: Doug Rogers; S: Kert Lundell; C: Randy Barcelo; L: Imero Fiorentino; P: Edgar Lansbury and Joseph Beruh i/a/w The Shubert Organization; T: Ethel Barrymore Theatre; 2/26/75-4/6/75 (47)

Harry Chapin.

Harry Chapin, the then popular folk-rock balladeer from Brooklyn, was the star of this extravagantly staged presentation of about 30 songs he’d written, well known through his hit recordings. The show employed a company of nine backup singers and dancers, as well as three soloists in addition to Chapin himself. The trio was Kelly Garrett, Delores Hall, and Gilbert Price, all recognized artists. The critics chose Garrett as the show’s knockout presence. She and Price each received a Tony nomination for their supporting performances in a musical.

Spectacular multimedia effects, including closed-circuit TV, giant slide projections, huge masks, and unusual costumes, along with elaborate lighting, created by Joshua White of the Joshua Light Show, accompanied the tunes.

Delores Hall, Harry Chapin, Kelly Garrett.

Among the parade of songs were "Six String Orchestra," "Give Me a Road," Sunday Morning Sunshine," "Welfare Ray," "Peace Teachers," "Changing of the Guard," "Taxi," "Battleground Bummer," "Cat's in the Cradle," "Cockeyed John, Give Me a Dream," "Beginning of rhe End," and "The Night That Made America Famous."

The music, unfortunately, found few takers among the critics, although Martin Gottfried, often a negative outlier, demurred: “you will rarely find such musical values in the theatre. There are melody and rhythm, breath-catching voices and gorgeous orchestrations, all magnificently performed and handsomely staged.” More representative, however, was another frequent naysayer, John Simon, who said that the songs told “banal or pretentious stories, and [were] set to variations on one basic tune with minor changes in rhythm, or even without.” The poor rhymes led Brendan Gill to state that Chapin had a “tin ear.” “[T]he material was pretty flat,” inserted Douglas Watt, who described Chapin’s voice as “hoarse but enthusiastic.” “His music is somewhat monotonous and stereotyped,” chimed in Clive Barnes, for whom the show was “more like an animated record album than a musical.”



Thursday, October 15, 2020


Nicol Williamson.

[Literary Anthology/Solo] L: Jene Youtt; P: Norman Twain; T: Eastside Playhouse (OB); 6/26/73-7/28/73 (30)

Every night following his strenuous, acclaimed Broadway performance in the Circle in the Square’s revival of Uncle Vanya, British actor Nicol Williamson rushed over to Off Broadway’s Eastside Playhouse to begin, at 10:45 p.m. this one-man program of spoken and sung selections from the poetry, prose, and music of e.e. cummings, Samuel Beckett, Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Dorothy Parker, E.B. White, Spike Mulligan, Shakespeare, Hoagy Carmichael, Kurt Weill, and many others. He wore casual denim clothes and played on a stage set with a microphone, a staircase with books stacked on it, and a table.

The range of material, which varied somewhat at each performance of this self-directed solo show, was quite eclectic. Country and western songs mingled with Broadway show tunes, while modern literature  competed with the classics. A six-piece combo backed the musical selections.

“[T]he actor’s readings are superlative,” beamed Mel Gussow, who marveled at the actor’s virtuosic powers and ability to evoke “harrowing” images as well as “antic . . . wit.” Williamson’s pop singing talents were also of notable quality, wrote Gussow. “He sings effortlessly and without a trace of an English accent.” Feeling quite differently was John Simon, for whom the actor’s poetry readings were distorted by acting “out . . . with febrile gestures, eyes popping . . . , Pinteresque pauses, and all kinds of vocal contortions. . . ." Nor could he resist noting, "As a pop singer, [h]e is bad.”