Thursday, December 31, 2020

426. RICHARD II. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Ian Richardson, Richard Pasco.
RICHARD II [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: John Barton; DS: Timothy O’Brien, Tazeena Firth; L: David Hersey; M: James Walker; P: Brooklyn Academy of Music i/a/w Brooklyn College, presented by the Governors of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Royal Shakespeare Company Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music; 1/9/74-1/27/74 (22)

Ian Richardson, Sebastian Shaw, Richard Pasco.

A long, scholarly, coolly ritualistic, meticulously staged, and proficiently acted revival in which Richard Pasco and Ian Richardson alternated in the roles of Richard and Bolingbroke. The production was seen in repertory with Sylvia Plath by the visiting RSC.

Director John Barton’s highly schematic and frequently symbolic staging was set on a platform at the rear of which, on either side, rose steep, parallel staircases (likened by several writers to escalators). Between them was a curving platform that rode up and down according to need. Throughout, the motif of parallelism remained dominant. The symmetrical and rigidly precise movements of individuals and groups reminded Walter Kerr of the formalized staging presumably used for much pre-Shakespearean drama.

At the beginning, after the company, wearing brown and black garments, entered in carefully arranged files, an actor held up a gold crown with a gold mask and mantle attached. Richardson and Pasco each reached for it, and whoever was to play the king that night received it. The company recited “Long live the king,” and the play began.

The production was filled with symbolic images and novel touches. One that disturbed a few critics was having the groom who visits the king in his prison turn out to be Bolingbroke, thereby further stressing the men’s shared identity as monarchs. Theatricality in the form of hobby horses for the battle scenes, amplified echo effects for certain speeches, and masks and stilts, were used to stress thematic points, in Brechtian fashion. Edith Oliver saw these as being “politics and rebellion,” and “the role of kingship.” To Clive Barnes, they were “the dual nature of kingship” and “the medieval idea of Fortune.”

Oliver was happy to see the play performed with “absolute clarity,” but was less pleased at the loss of “complexity of character and emotion,” as well as “excitement and vitality.” The performances were “admirable,” but left her “untouched.” Barnes and several others bemoaned the plodding pace and excessive length of the barely cut play, to which some material from Henry IV, Part II had been added. But Barnes extolled “the literary perspective” gained by the staging. Too many reviewers found the show cold, didactic, and depersonalized. As John Simon snapped, “Barton’s production is not merely bad but also pale; Peter Brook without balls.”


Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Caprice.

For the latest installment in my series, ON THIS DAY IN NEW YORK THEATRE, this one covering New Year's Eve in the twenties, thirties, and forties, please click on THEATER LIFE.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


About this series (for newcomers and whoever else might be interested): Prior to the pandemic, Theatre's Leiter Side was a blog on which I posted nearly 1600 reviews of New York theatre, beginning in 2012. Once the theatres shut down, I kept the blog alive with a series of production surveys covering, in neworder, nearly every show that opened on or Off Broadway from 1970-1975. They came from the manuscript of what was planned back in the eighties as a book called The Encyclopedia of the New York Theatre, 1970-1980, which would kick off a series of similar volumes for earlier decades. 

That project was altered midway through when the publisher (Greenwood Press) and I decided to begin the series with the 1920s. Subsequently, I published The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage in three thick volumes, one each for the twenties, thirties, and forties, making it the most comprehensive survey of every show of every type to have opened in New York over those three decades. With nothing to review when the shows shut up shop, I dug up the typescript (I'd thrown the now useless floppy disks away) of the abandoned 1970-1975 entries and began retyping and posting them. Today's is the 425th since I began; I used to post more than one daily until time became a problem.

Although I've updated and slightly revised many of them, many are, admittedly, a bit less detailed than those in the published volumes, especially those for the thirties and forties. Still, many have found them interesting and even useful. I hope you do, too.

RICHARD FARINA: LONG TIME COMING AND A LONG TIME GONE [Musical Revue] AD: Nancy Greenwald; D: Robert Greenwald; S: Richard Hammer; C: Joyce and Jerry Marcel; L: John Dodd; P: Free Flow Productions and Jay K. Hoffman; T: Fortune Theatre (OB); 11/17/71-11/21/71 (7)

NoteS: No photos are available for this production. An earlier version of this posting mistakenly used the title LONG TIME GOING AND A LONG TIME GONE.

One of the young hopefuls in this short-lived grab bag of material written and composed by the late, eponymous folk singer was Richard Gere, soon to be a major film star. Richard Farina’s claim to fame was a novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, finished shortly before his death in 1966 in a motorcycle crash, when he was 29.

This revue was based on Farina’s book and some of his unpublished writings. Nobody was thrilled, though Martin Gottfried, for one, admitted he “enjoyed” the show in spite of its uneven production. Clive Barnes was wearied by it, and condemned the show as “anti-theatrical.” “The music sounds like a dated echo of Bob Dylan,” he carped.

Cast members included Charles Weldon, Jessica Harper, Brendan Hanlon, Michael Lewis, Vicki Sue Robinson, and Penelope Milford.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020


THE RED WHITE AND BLACK [Musical/Revue] CN: John Dillon; B/LY/D: Eric Bentley; S: Bill Mikeulewicz; C: Margaret Tobin; L: Robert Engstrom; P: Donald Goldman; P: Players Theatre (OB); 3/30/71 (1)

NOTE: No photos are available for this production.

Respected theatre critic and Brecht translator Eric Bentley was largely responsible for this topical revue, which began life as an Off-Off Broadway showcase. It was one of the period’s very few attempts at a radical political cabaret. Mel Gussow enjoyed it in its original manifestation and wrote that, aside from certain obvious aspects, “This is a worthwhile evening. The balance is provided by the music [played by a group called The History of Russia] and the production.”

The topics surveyed were “Vietnam, health services, poverty, Russia’s treatment of the Czechs, capitalism, anti-Black Pantherism, anti-Gay Lib, [and] anti-Fem Lib.” When Clive Barnes saw the Off-Broadway version, he agreed with some of his colleagues’ opinions, but concluded, “I suppose it makes for propaganda, but it doesn’t really make for theatre.”  With judgments like that, it never saw a second performance. Cast members included Pamela Adams, Sofia Adoniadis, Antonio Azito (who would later make a brief splash as Tony Azito), and, among others, Marilyn Sokol, still the best known of the lot.

Monday, December 28, 2020


Remak Ramsey, Jane Connell, Carrie Nye, Konrad Matthaei. 

THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND and AFTER MAGRITTE [Comedy/British/One-Acts] A: Tom Stoppard; D: Joseph Hardy; CH: Patricia Birch; S: William Ritman; C: Joseph G. Aulisi; L: Richard Nelson; P: Susan Richardson, Lawrence Goosen, and Seth Schapiro; T: Theatre Four (OB); 4/23/72-6/3/73 (465)

“After Magritte” [Crime/Family]; “The Real Inspector Hound” [Crime/Mystery/Theatre]

These English one-act imports were a resounding success, running Off Broadway for over a year. The opening piece, and also the shorter, was “After Magritte,” an amusing, but only modestly appreciated satire that Harold Clurman called “a quasi-surrealist parody of the English police melodrama.” Styled after Magritte’s surrealistic paintings, the action involves the entrance of a detective named Holmes (Edmond Genest) into the home of an apparently bizarre family and his subsequent questioning of everyone concerning a crime he suspects they may have committed. The seemingly weird behavior of the characters is all rationally motived, though, providing Stoppard with material for playing with themes of illusion and reality. The expert cast included Carrie Nye, Jane Connell, Remak Ramsey, and Konrad Matthaei.

Boni Enten, Edmond Genest, Carrie Nye, Jane Connell, Remak Ramsey.

The chief offering and the one given ovations was “The Real Inspector Hound,” a play-within-a-play spoof of both Agatha Christie-type mystery plays and theatre critics. Seated in a side box are two such journalists, Birdboot (Tom Lacy) and Moon (David Rounds). The latter is a second stringer with feelings of enmity for first string reviewers. This pair is viewing a conventional murder mystery set in Muldoon Manor, the ostentatious home of upper-crust characters. As the action progresses, we are privy to the cracks of these men, one of whom, Birdboot, has been lusting after an actress in the play. The idiotic vanities and vagaries of the critics are mercilessly lampooned as we hear them discuss the play.

Eventually Birdboot and Moon are drawn into the play’s action when, responding to an unanswered phone ringing on the stage, one of them leaves his seat to answer it. The results, for the most part, are hysterically funny as well as thought-provoking in their effective brainteasing with metaphysical issues of shifting reality levels.

Stoppard “holds the relationship of audience and stage up to a droll light in a way that restores playfulness to the theatre,” chuckled Dick Brukenfeld. Among the strong features pointed out by the reviews were its clever and witty use of language, the high-spirited humor of Stoppard’s undergraduate conceptions, and the shrewdness of his satirical mockery of literary and artistic pretensions. “It is very funny and civilized, involving despite its detachment, and, by God, there even lurks an indefinable but necessary extra dimension in it, like that bit of truffle at the heart of a goose-liver pâté,” declared John Simon. Among less fervent admirers was Clurman, who wrote, “I tried hard to enjoy the event, but I found it trivial and arid.”

The production was excellent, with kudos for the director, designers, and cast. All the actors in “After Magritte” were involved, along with Boni Enten, Brian Murray, and Abe de la Houssaye.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

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

Anasuya Vaidya in a later production of The Ramayana.

THE RAMAYANA [Solo/Indian/Period] AD: Gopal Sharman; SC: Valmiki’s Indian epic, The Ramayana; D: Gopal Sharman (New York production directed by Helen Breed); S: John C. MacGregor; L: Anasuya Vaidya; P: Robert Hendrickson; T: Barbizon-Plaza Theatre (OB); 2/6/75-2/15/75 (6)

Jalabala Vaidya, a renowned Indian actress, came to New York following a world tour with her one-woman retelling of India’s epic tale, The Ramayana. Demonstrating what Richard Shepard  called “a formidable range of virtuosity,” she presented the ancient story in a carefully edited version in which she played over 20 characters in “suitably heroic vein.” A bare stage was used for this “honestly fashioned” work that served as a fine introduction to a great book of the classical Asian past.

Many spectators left at intermission, unfortunately, perhaps turned off by the “poetic language and philosophical meanderings,” as Sylviane Gold surmised. One critic suggested that a narrator might have been used so that Vaidya did not have to keep interrupting the plot line to describe characters and locales. The actress’s talents were, however, distinctive. Gold described her voice as “an instrument of countless octaves and colorations.”

According to Jalabala Vaidya’s Wikipedia article, the work has been done over 2,000 times and is still in her company repertory. An article from the Hindustani Times covers the company and its ongoing presentation of The Ramayana, even in the age of Covid-19.

In 1987, British director Peter Brook would stage a world-renowned, full-scale adaptation of the other major Indian epic, The Mahabharata, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

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

Joe Morton, Deborah Allen, and company.

RAISIN [Musical/Family/Race/Romance] B: Robert Nemiroff and Charlotte Zaltzberg; M: Judd Woldin; LY: Robert Brittan; SC: Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun; D/CH: Donald McKayle; S: Robert U. Taylor; C: Bernard Johnson; L: William Mintzer; P: Robert Nemiroff; T: Forty-ninth Street Theatre; 10/18/73-12/7/75 (847)

After debuting at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, this musicalization of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s epochal success of 1959, was brought to Broadway where it enjoyed a considerably long run. Like its original, it focused on the story of the Youngers, a Chicago Black family struggling to move up and out of its confinement in the ghetto into the promise of a middle-class life represented by a home in the white suburbs. The move precipitates unexpected racial tensions in the uptight new community, leading the Youngers to reassess their situation.  

Virginia Capers, Joe Morton, Ernestine Jackson.
The critical reception was varied, though largely favorable. Clive Barnes declared the book an improvement over Hansberry’s script, found the score lacking in “any considerable power and originality,” and was carried away by the direction, choreography, performances, and design. “The dance numbers rank among the best in years,” he claimed. Robert U. Taylor’s set was described by Barnes as “a tenement townscape that serves equally well as a background for ghetto, bar, chapel or house.” 

Walter Kerr loved the way the show had developed into a fluidly designed, composed, and staged adaptation of inventive and clever dimensions, but had his doubts about the lack of variety in the melodic line. He pointed to the effectiveness with which the intelligent staging made use of mimed props on a set devoid even of doors and windows.

Deborah Allen, Robert Jackson.

Harold Clurman sensed a weakening of the Hansberry play’s dramatic force. He also was cool to the undistinguished score and, in contrast to Barnes, considered dance numbers “not in the least remarkable.” Nor was he moved by the total effect of dressing up the play in the adornments of the musical form. He nonetheless admitted that he was never bored, noting that there was more here than afforded by the usual Broadway musical. John Simon likewise thought the snow unexceptional, finding little to rave about in its production facets while, like most others, being overwhelmed by the performers.

Ralph Carter.

Standouts were Virginia Capers as Lena Younger, the full-bodied Mama, who “was tremendous in just about every sense you can use the word,” wrote Barnes. Joe Morton as Walter Lee Younger provided “a splendid singing actor, supply shuttling between comedy and drama,” observed Simon. Ernestine Jackson scored as Ruth Younger, Simon noting that “Miss Jackson sings and acts exquisitely. . . . I have seldom seen such abidingly involved, highly concentrated yet unhistrionic humanity exuded so simply on stage, or anywhere else.” Ralph Carter, as the 10-year-old Travis, who stopped the show with one of his songs, was considered Broadway’s leading child star at the time. Deborah Allen as Beneatha, Robert Jackson as Joseph, and Helen Martin as a stereotyped neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, all made indelible impressions.

Among the 15 musical numbers were "Man Say," "Whose Little Angry Man," "Rnnnin' to Meet the Man," "Booze," "African Dance," "He Come Down This Morning," "It's a Deal," and "Measure the Valleys."

Loretta Abbott, Al Perryman.

Awards and nominations were abundant. Raisin won the Tony for Best Musical. Tony nominations went to Robert Nemiroff and Charlotte Zaltzberg for Best Book; Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan for Best Score; Donald McKayle for Best Director, Musical, and Best Choreographer; Ralph Carter for Best Supporting Actor, Musical; Ernestine Jackson for Best Supporting Actress, Musical; Virginia Capers for Best Actress, Musical; and Joe Morton for Best Actor, Musical. In addition, Morton, Jackson, and Carter nabbed Theatre World Awards.

Ralph Carter, Deborah Allen, Virginia Capers, Ernestine Jackson.

Friday, December 25, 2020

421. RAINBOW JONES. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Peggy Hagen Lamprey, Gil Robbins, Ruby Persson, Andy Rohrer, Stephanie Silver.
RAINBOW JONES [Musical/Animals/Fantasy/Romance] B/M/LY: Jill Williams; D: Gene Persson; MS (CH): Sammy Bayes; S: Richard Ferrer; C: James Berton Harris; L: Spencer Mosse; P: Rubykate, Inc. i/a/w Phil Gillin and Gene Bambic; T: Music Box Theatre; 2/13/74 (1)

One more coffin in the cemetery of single-performance flops so prevalent in the early 70s, Rainbow Jones was called a “coy and simpering” fantasy by Clive Barnes, “embarrassing” by Martin Gottfried, and “idiocy” by Douglas Watt. Gene Persson directed his wife, Ruby Persson—suggesting to Gottfried that this was a vanity production—in the title role of Rainbow Jones, a young woman who blames herself for the auto accident that killed her parents. She lives with an eccentric aunt (Kay St. Germain) whose chief activity is watching TV quiz shows.

Unable to keep a job, the dispirited Rainbow finds her only consolation in going to Central Park with a copy of Aesop’s Fable. There she communes with a speaking dog, lioness, fox, and lamb who materialize whenever she opens the pages. A romance blooms with an ad writer (Peter Kastner) who jogs in the park, but the relationship weakens when he is skeptical about her fantasies. She leaves for Ohio, but eventually returns to the guy in the park.

Kind words were scarce for this show. Barnes said, “The book is as bad as the music, the music is as bad as the lyrics, and the lyrics are as bad as either.” No pot of gold awaited Rainbow Jones.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

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

Kay Cole, Gregory V. Karliss, Janet Powell.

RAINBOW [Musical/Death/Fantasy/Vietnam/Youth] B: James and Ted Rado; M/LY: James Rado; Joe Donovan; S/L: James Tilton; C: Nancy Potts; P: James and Ted Ra2do; T: Orpheum Theatre (OB); 12/18/72-1/28/73 (48)

Created by several of those associated with the hippie musical hit Hair, this new rock musical had a lot going for it but could not overcome a simplistic treatment of the sensitive material driving its dramatic purpose. Practically devoid of a book (like Hair), it had 42 energetic, jubilant, tuneful songs in a variety of modes that outlined the fantastical story of a young man (Gregory V. Karliss), killed in Vietnam, who ascends to a heaven that is really a psychedelic rock radio station in the sky.

He meets such figures as Jesus (Philip A.D.) and Buddha (Meat Loaf, yes!), as well as allegorical characters named Mother (Camille), Stripper "Love Me, Dorothy Lamour La Sarong," "People Stink," "Give Your Heart to Jesus," "Somewhere under the Rainbow," and "Star Song."

Clive Barnes raved that the show was a worthy successor to Hair, with its “joyous and life-assertive” music, zany but “sweet and fresh” lyrics, and “stylistic cohesion and lack of pretensions.” John Simon was impressed by the “musical profusion” in this “bit of innocent, silly trifling,” but Edith Oliver could not bear its “Brainless, heartless, humorless, campy, complacent, gleeful, dirty, and soppy” cavorting. Walter Kerr was appalled by the “gaucherie” of a show that could offer so ridiculous a solution to the Viet Nam War. It suggested to him “an isolation from reality that substituted wishful thinking for genuine strength.” 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

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

James Cahill, Madeleine Le Roux, Beeson Carrol.

RAIN [Dramatic Revival] A: John Colton [and Clemence Randolph, uncredited in this revival]; D: Michael Flanagan; S: Stuart Wurtzel; C: Raoul Pene du Bois; L: Barry Arnold; P: Bruce Mailman b/s/a/w Sheldon Abend; T: Astor Place Theatre (OB); 3/23/72-3/28/72 (7)

Madeleine Le Roux was an actress whose popularity stemmed from such Off-Broadway camp productions as The Dirtiest Show in Town, where she could flaunt her physical charms. In this revival of Rain, she played the once-sensational role of the repentant, heart-of-gold prostitute, Sadie Thompson. This lady with a past is stuck in a steaming South Seas hotel-store where she’s confronted by the righteous, but lustful, missionary Rev. Davidson (James Cahill), who wants her thrown off the island.You know the drill.

Sadie originated in Somerset Maugham’s story, “Miss Thompson,” was immortalized by Jeanne Eagles in the 1922 Broadway adaptation, and was later brought to the screen by Gloria Swanson (in a 1928 silent movie) and Rita Hayworth (1953, in flaming color), not to mention countless revivals in theatres everywhere. This particular attempt flopped but wasn't a total loss. Le Roux, however, lacked the acting chops, and failed to get much support from the cast (among them a young John Travolta as Pvt. Griggs) or an uninspired director. The company included Antonia Rey as Mrs. Horn, Beeson Carroll (remember him from "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"?) as Sgt. O’Hara, Patricia O’Connell as Mrs. Davidson, Bernie Passeltiner as Quartermaster Bates, among others.

Dated as it all seemed, however, it had a certain fascination. Clive Barnes observed, “It is an unusually awful play that time has overtaken and made not just funny—it is a sad practice just to laugh at the past— but also still strangely convincing. It has become a period piece like Tarzan or Rudolf Valentino.” Edith Oliver said she thought the revival while tepid, still better than expected.

This was a straightforward production, not hoked up for laughs, and provided with such zealously realistic rain effects that the seats near the stage were practically inundated. 


Tuesday, December 22, 2020


The Chocolate Dandies.
For the latest installment of my series "Leiter Looks Back," which covers four musicals of 1924-1925, please click on THEATER  PIZZAZZ.

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

Robert Guillaume, Patti Jo.

PURLIE [Musical Revival] B: Ossie Davis, Philip Rose, and Peter Udell; M: Gary Geld; LY: Peter Udell; D: Philip Rose; CH: Louis Johnson; S: Ben Edwards; C: Ann Roth; L: Thomas Skelton; P: Philip Rose; T: Billy Rose Theatre; 12/27/72-1/7/73 (14)

Laura Cooper, Sherman Hemsley.

Purlie was a Broadway hit that ran two years (688 performances), from 1970-1972, went on tour, and then returned to New York for a limited run of two weeks. Classed as a revival, this latter production should more accurately be called a return engagement. Since it doesn’t fit strictly within the time parameters of this series, which begins in mid-1970, after the original show opened, it is entered here chiefly for the record.

Mel Gussow lacked enthusiasm for the show, a musical based on an earlier play by Ossie Davis, possibly because the actors were all replacements, but not improvements. After suggesting it was dated, Gussow added: “Instead of commenting on stereotypes—and ‘Purlie’ is knee‐deep in clichés—Philip Rose's current production overstates them. Occasionally this is funny. More often the humor is labored."

Patti Jo.

Louis Johnson’s vibrant, but sparse, choreography was approved. After criticizing Patti Jo as Lutiebelle for her good singing voice but exaggerated expressions, Gussow said this of the other principals: “Robert Guillaume is a convincing Purlie, floating bombast as if it were soap bubbles but his singing is not too strong. Art Wallace is a very broad Cap'n Cochipee. The best performances are given in lesser roles by Laura Cooper. Helen Martin and. Sherman Hemsley.”

Monday, December 21, 2020

418. DER PROZESS [The Trial]. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

DER PROZESS [The Trial] [Dramatic Revival/German Language] AD: Jan Grossman; SC: Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial; D: Oscar Fritz Schuh; S/C: Ursula Schuh; L: Heinz Kraile, Friedrich Schoberth; M: Eckart Ihlenfield; P: Gert von Gontard Foundation presents Szene 1971; T: Barbizon-Plaza Theatre (OB); 11/9/71-11/14/71 (8)

Note: No photos of this production are available.

Small-scale German-language productions offered by visiting German companies were a moderately regular part of the local scene in the early 70s, unlike recently where foreign-language theatre—aside from places like the Japan Society—has been extremely rare. The present work, presented by the touring group Szene 71, was a respectable version of Kafka’s nightmare novel about the tribulations of Josef K (Hans von Borsody). It appeared in repertory with Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe.

The Trial tells the kind of nightmarish tale that has come to be called Kafka-esque: a man is on trial for a crime about which he has no idea. He also has no idea of who is trying him.

“The production," wrote Richard F. Shepard, the sole critic covering the work, "is not an incandescent one, and it is possible that this was not the aim. Josef K, the enmeshed protagonist . . . emerges again according to the director's specifications, as a very average fellow. This, too, is valid, but on the stage the work does not build up as excitingly as it does in the book.

This ignores the fact that The Trial has received several notable productions over the years, most famously the one adapted and directed by the great French actor, Jean-Louis Barrault, who also starred in it. (If you have access to my book, From Stanislavsky to Barrault, you can read about it there). And, of course, there is the film made by Orson Welles, which he considered his masterpiece.  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

MY 2020.

Some of you may already have read the earlier version of this summary of my year, which was sent to a small circle of friends, several of whom asked that I post it on Theatre’s Leiter Side for wider distribution. This is an updated version, supplemented by material I first posted on Facebook. 

My 2020

2020. The year the world was crushed by Covid-19. I know a number of people who contracted the virus, but, thankfully, only a small number who actually died from it. But, along with everyone else, I’ve lived in fear of it all year, masking, distancing, and doing whatever else is needed to stay healthy. We had the family over once all year, for my 80th birthday, in July, with around 11 people. We did our best to follow the rules, inside the house and on the back porch, which wasn’t always possible, and I kept wondering why in the world we’d gone through with it. Thankfully, we survived.

But even without the coronavirus, this has been a very eventful year for us. For one thing, we sold our Poconos house after visiting it on weekends for 35 years. Given the depressed prices on homes there in recent years, we got a little more for it than we anticipated. Prices had risen as a result of the pandemic, with people who could work at home seeking to flee the urban areas for space in the country and suburbs. Driving there every two weeks was getting onerous, and we had a close call one day this summer on our way back to New York. We were driving in Jersey on Route 80 when something—no idea what—flew off a car or truck and hit the windshield on the passenger side. BANG! Never saw it coming but it destroyed the windshield. Thank goodness it didn’t break through and hit Marcia.

A week or so later, while I was having it replaced at a glass place, I got a call from Marcia that the hot water heater was busted and flooding the basement. I couldn’t leave to assess the damage or figure out what to do, so I called Home Advisor and got someone to come out and replace it later in the day. Meanwhile, we had to clean up the sopping wet basement. Later, the plumber ($1,400 for the hot water heater) showed me how easily I could have shut off the water to stop the flooding while waiting for him.

What was just as memorable was that the plumber, Singh, was a Sikh who, seeing all the Japanese stuff in my house, asked if I’d ever been to Japan. It turned out he’d lived and worked there for several years and spoke pretty good Japanese, so there we were, this Indian plumber and me, chatting casually in Nihongo.

While on the subject of home repairs, I should mention that I found a talented handyman, an Ecuadorian named Jamie, who was working on projects for my neighbor, Miguel. I hired Jamie for a number of projects, including putting in a new toilet in the garage apartment, fixing the leak from my master bedroom’s air conditioner (turns out it was sitting at a bad angle), which was destroying the garage apartment ceiling just beneath it, repairing that ceiling as well as the cracks in the backyard cement that have been letting water leak into my basement for years, and so on. He even installed our new stove and helped carry our old one upstairs so our tenants could have it.

We also bought a new refrigerator and dishwasher, from P.C. Richards, for which we’ve been waiting since late September because of a manufacturing slowdown tied to the pandemic. Learned this week they won’t arrive until the end of the year, maybe not even until early January.

Other major repairs include a new waste pipe from my kitchen sink for which I was greatly overcharged. But that’s water down the drain.

Not only did we sell the Poconos house, but our granddaughter, Briar, and her husband, Shippy, bought a lovely house in Oceanside, directly bordering a nature preserve, with a fantastic view. They’ve done a huge amount of work on it, but it still needs more, and is gradually being renovated while they’re living in it. Moreover, Briar, 29, who teaches English at a high school in East Rockaway, is pregnant with a boy and due in early March. We’ll soon be great grandparents. My good friend, Larry, who’s my age, became a grandpa a year and a half ago, and I know how greatly he relishes each moment of it, since he’s always sending me photos and videos of his grandson. Larry and I have become closer during these shut-in months, thanks to Facetime, and, while he has plenty to brag about with his SammyB, as they call him, I look forward to bragging back.

Then, to top off all this house selling and buying business, my daughter, Bambi, bought a home in Baldwin, not far from where Briar and Shippy live. Bambi’s other daughter, Paisley, is also fairly close, in an apartment across from the boardwalk in Long Beach. We searched with Bambi for the right house for months. We’re still waiting for the closing, which is taking far too long, but it seems to be imminent. The process of selling the Poconos house was much smoother, taking only two months to complete.

There are a couple of family health issues we’re keeping our eyes on, but, for the most part, we’re doing well, or were until this week when one of my granddaughters tested positive for Covid-19. After a few days of flu-like symptoms, she’s feeling better. Ditto, her live-in boyfriend, a couple of days later. He too is starting to feel better. Both are quarantining.

Otherwise, for the most part, everyone is well. Bambi, who retired from teaching a couple of years ago, continues to enjoy her retirement vocation of selling online, at which she’s doing surprisingly well, and Paisley is working on her Master’s degree as a mental health counselor while trying to stay solvent waitressing and selling the beautiful cookies she bakes, at which she’s become very talented. Here’s her website, in case you live on the South Shore of Long Island and want terrific, customized cookies:

My son, Justin, a talented illustrator/graphic artist, continues to design for an apparel company in New Jersey. However, even though their offices are only a few minutes away, an otherwise ideal situation, he’s been able to work from home during the pandemic, which is even better. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to visit him or he us since late summer because of the contagion.

My theatregoing schedule screeched to a halt on March 11, my last show being The Girl from the North Country, the Broadway musical whose score is from the songs of Bob Dylan. With all the theatres shut because of the virus, I turned my energies to posting daily essays from a manuscript I’d never published, an encyclopedia of New York productions from 1970-1975. Instead of completing it for the entire decade of the 70s, I switched gears and did the 20s, 30s, and 40s instead, and never did get to the 70s again. As of today, I’ve posted well over 400 entries from this unpublished monster on my blog, Theatre’s Leiter Side. And I’m only now reaching the “R’s.”

I’ve also created two columns, one for Theater Pizzazz and one for Theater Life, both being websites for which I used to review shows. (I also reviewed for The Broadway Blog.) The first, called “Leiter Looks Back,” is a year-by-year series in each posting of which I write about four or five plays, musicals, revues, or revivals. The second is “On This Day in New York Theater,” in which I write about all the shows that opened on a particular day in the twenties, thirties, or forties.  

Meanwhile, I also keep busy working on several books. One will be called (tentatively) Thumbs Up: 100 Raves from Theatre’s Leiter Side, its partner being Thumbs Down: 100 Pans from Theatre’s Leiter Side. They’ll be collections of my most positive and negative reviews from Theatre’s Leiter Side (and elsewhere).

More importantly, academically, that is, I’m doing the research for a book on Japanese theatre history: The Cypress Wood Stage: Meiji Kabuki and the First Kabuki-za. It’s a history of kabuki during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan first was opened to the West and its theatre, like everything else, was confronted by modern influences. The project grew out of my lengthy series on my other blog, Kabuki Woogie, where I’d written over two dozen chapters following, year by year, the history of Japan’s most famous modern theatre, the Kabuki-za, whose first of five buildings (on the same spot) lasted from 1889-1911. Those chapters are all being completely rewritten and expanded, and will follow an overview of Meiji kabuki leading up to the theatre’s opening.

I keep getting requests to participate in various projects relating to kabuki. One that I accepted was to do a lecture for a video presentation as part of a new online course called Theatre.Academy being produced by a former theatre professor at Amherst, a lovely Israeli guy named Yagil Eliraz. Yagil, who recently moved back to Israel, flew here from LA with all his video equipment and recorded my lecture in the living room. His website, which will charge a fee for those who want to study the lessons, will launch in the New Year, and will include other lectures on Japanese theatre and Indian theatre before expanding to Western theatre. I have no idea if it will prove profitable, but, despite all the work I had to put into preparing for it, I think it turned out well.

For recreation, Marcia and I have taken long walks, when the weather has been nice, in the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge, Shirley Chisholm State Park, and Forest Park, all within ten or fifteen minutes from the house by car. Since March, we’ve played nearly a daily game of Scrabble, well over 200 games by now. We tried to break the pattern one day with Monopoly, but I got bored after two and a half hours of the four-hour game. Monopoly should be called monotony.

When we began, we often had a third Scrabble player, a close friend of many years. Sadly, that person and we had a painful parting of the ways, and only the two of us now compete. (Until recently, Marcia played mahjong once a week on Long Island, but that ended when the pandemic worsened a few weeks ago.)

Now that I’m not running to the theatre daily, I’ve gotten into watching TV series and movies every night, especially those available on Netflix. We replaced our 56” set with a 70” set several months ago, and it’s been a godsend. There are so many great shows to watch, although we’ve dropped a few when we couldn’t get into them after a few episodes.

I also try to read as much as possible, especially with all the books I’ve bought over the years that I never got around to opening. Since the self-isolation began, I’ve gone through 16 books, including novels by writers ranging from Haruki Murakami to Daniel Defoe to James Baldwin to even Nevada Barr. The others have been books on theatre history, biographies, show biz surveys, and so on—some light, some heavy, some merely time-passers, and some academic. In a sense, for someone like me, with my interests and age, the pandemic has been a productive period. On the other hand, getting out to shop at the hardware store or supermarket is now something I look forward to, if only for the fresh air and the human faces, masks and all. Too many people wear their masks below their noses, which makes them useless, but it does let you see who you’re dealing with. Just don’t get too close.

Finally, despite all the trauma and restrictions and discomforts of the pandemic, nothing has laid its heavy hand across my heart—and I’m sure many of yours, as well—like the presence, words, and actions of the monster in the White House, and of the so-called Americans who vociferously support him. It’s hard to say which is more dangerous, Covid-19 or DJT.

Whether I’ll return to the theatre when it opens again is impossible to answer at the moment. I hope and pray the theatre comes roaring back, that the vaccinations do the trick, that Trump meets a sink hole in one, and that something close to normality returns to our lives later in 2021. Meanwhile, I’ll make as good use of the time remaining as possible. Hope you do, too.


Between January and March 10, when I saw The Girl from the North Country, I reviewed 38 plays. The official season still had nearly two of its busiest months to go before it ended in late April, but the pandemic made that impossible. Of the 38 plays I reviewed, I liked a decent number but, as I go over them now, gave only five my highest sign of approval--two thumbs up. That means my five favorites were the following:


This being the time when critics are asked to name their favorite whatevers of the year that's ending, I offer the above titles. Links to my review of each follow. Hopefully, you can relive these shows through these commentaries if you were lucky enough to see them. If not, you can get an idea of what you missed. And, obviously, not everyone who did see them is going to feel as I did, but let's be bipartisan about it anyway, shall we?













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

Paul Kreppel, Jane Curtin, Munson Hicks, Sam Jory.

THE PROPOSITION [Revue/Improvisational] CN/D: Allan Albert; DS: Allan Albert, Ron Ginsberg, Clint Helvey; C: Arthur McGee. P: Manon Enterprises, Ltd.; T: Gramercy Arts Theatre (OB): 3/24/71-4/14/74 (1,109)

A highly talented group of half-a-dozen young actors and two musicians in a comedy revue with music, previously seen in Boston to popular approval. Many of the scenes were developed from audience suggestions, although Edith Oliver, for one, found that the routines often lacked true spontaneity and seemed “set.”

The critics were mildly pleased, but not bowled over, especially as they detected a general unevenness in the overall quality of the program, and would have desired more risky situations than the relatively conventional ones on display. Many sketches drew upon the familiar show biz source of film, TV, and Broadway musicals.

Clive Barnes, admiring the players, summed up with “there are some things that should remain in Boston.” Those players were Jane Curtin, Paul Kreppel, Josh Mostel, Munson Hicks, Judy Kahan, and Karen Welles. Nevertheless, the show proved amazingly durable and, in two editions, with various cast replacements, kept drawing crowds for several years. 

It moved to the Mercer-Shaw Arena on 4/29/71, where a “second edition,” with an expanded company, opened on 9/16/72. The new company added David Brezniak, Shelly Burns, Gerri Librandi, Judith Cohen, Sam Jory, Sam Freed, Ray Baker, John Monteith, and Jane Ranallo, among others.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

416. PROMENADE ALL. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Anne Jackson, Hume Cronyn, Eli Wallach, Richard Backus (front).
PROMENADE ALL [Comedy/Business/Family/Sex] A: David V. Robison; D: Arthur Storch; S: David Chapman; C: James Berton Harris; L: Martin Aronstein; P: Fred Coe, Arthur Cantor, and Charles Taubman i/a/w LARC, Inc.; T: Alvin Theatre; 4/16/72-5/27/72 (48)

Anne Jackson.

A generation-spanning comedy with four scenes taking place, respectively, in 1895, 1920, 1945, and “approximately now.” It allowed its stellar, four-member cast opportunities for tour-de-force performances in which, with costume and makeup changes, they could each play a variety of roles. The story chronicles the fortunes over 75 years of the Huntziger family, shortened to Hunt, with its focus on Willie (Richard Backus, Hume Cronyn), heir to the family’s button-making fortune.

Eli Wallach.

The critics enjoyed the acting more than the play, which Clive Barnes termed “amiable, at times rather too bland, and often too obvious, but with a few really sharp lines.” Walter Kerr said it was a “stock company play” with too many clichés and too few surprises. “Mr. Robison makes his points with crude, cartoonlike strokes,” noted Brendan Gill, and “is almost invariably leaden when he should be light” John Simon, observing that the comic material dealt primarily with sex and money, said it did so as “mostly facile doodling and dawdling facetiousness.” 

Barnes, after highly praising Cronyn's work, opined:

Mr. Wallach [has] fine fun, first as a repressed old man vicariously admiring his son's sexual freedom, and then as his own grandson, mean, bigoted and determined to end up very, very rich. Although Mr. Wallach acts everything larger than life and Mr. Cronyn acts everything smaller than life, in this play their acting styles seem perfectly complementary.

Anne Jackson plays all the women . . . , from aged grandmother to middle‐aged matron and plays them all with a gentle emphasis and smooth skill. Finally completing the quartet is Richard Backus. . . [,] an actor of great resource and promise. . . [;] here he jumps generation gaps as if they were hurdles.

The actors were members of a new group called Loose Actors Revolving Company (LARC), which boasted a membership of many top stars, and which intended to produce worthwhile plays on Broadway. The plan vanished after this first attempt failed, even with Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson backing up veteran Cronyn and talented newcomer Backus. The latter won the Theatre World Award, the Clarence Derwent Award, and the Variety poll for Most Promising New Broadway Actor. If you wish to learn more about his subsequent career, click here.

Friday, December 18, 2020


Frances Salisbury, Louise Stubbs.

THE PRODIGAL SISTER [Musical/Family/Prostitution/Race/Southern] B: J.B. Franklin; M: Micki Grant; LY: J.E. Franklin, Micki Grant; D: Shauneille Perry; CH: Rod Rodgers; DS: C. Richard Mills; C: Judy Dearing; P: Woodie King, Jr.; T: Theatre de Lys (OB); 11/25/74-12/29/74 (40)

The Biblical tale about the prodigal son inspired this Black musical with rhymed dialogue about Jackie (Paula Desmond), a 17-year-old girl from a Georgia small town, who gets pregnant. To escape her father’s (Leonard Jackson) wrath, she runs away to Baltimore. Her adventures in the big city are seen as if in the crystal ball of a seeress.

Frances Salisbury, Frank Carey, Esther Brown.

In Baltimore, she becomes indentured to Baltimore Bessie (Louise Stubbs), proprietress of a combination coffin factory and whorehouse. Jackie eventually gets herself shipped home—in a company casket—to be joyfully welcomed back by her anxious but forgiving family.

Musical numbers included "Slip Away," "Ain't Marrying Nobody," "If You Know What's Good for You," "Big City Dance," "Sister Love," "Hot Pants Dance," and, among others, "The Prodigal Has Returned."

Largely negative reviews sealed the fate of this show, which had begun life as an Off-Off Broadway showcase. Clive Barnes viewed it as an artlessly naïve work, whose “good nature and fervor seems to stand somewhere between a block party and a revival meeting.” It was “robustly comic, sometimes touching,” to John Beaufort. But to Martin Gottfried the evening was “the world’s longest 90 minutes,” the two-dozen songs were “in a soul style drained of life,” the choreography was “a self-parody,” and the direction was “utterly without drive.” It was “too simple-minded” by far for Douglas Watt, while Edith Oliver described it as “a coarsely drawn caricature of middle-class black life,” with embarrassing stereotypes and a vulgar plot. John Simon flushed it away as “of unsurpassable emptiness and amateurishness.”

Thursday, December 17, 2020

414. PRIVATE LIVES. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

John Standing, Maggie Smith.
PRIVATE LIVES [Dramatic Revival] A: Noël Coward; D: John Gielgud; S: Anthony Powell; C: Germinal Range, Beatrice Dawson; L: H.R. Poindexter; P: Arthur Cantor b/a/w H.M. Tennent, Ltd.; T: Forty-sixth Street Theatre; 2/6/75-4/26/75 (92)

John Standing, Niki Flaks.

This is Noël Coward’s 1930 high comedy about a divorced couple who meet after five years while occupying adjoining suites at a Deauville hotel, where they are honeymooning with their new spouses.  Self-described by its author as a vehicle for sterling acting, its London production had starred Coward himself opposite Gertrude Lawrence, surely perfect casting. Wealthy ultra-sophisticates Amanda Prynne and Elyot Chase were now played by Britons Maggie Smith and John Standing to enthusiastic responses, especially for Smith.

Coward’s polished wit continued to sparkle and stir loud laughter. Douglas Watt called Private Lives “an immaculate comedy [that] seems to get funnier each time I see it,” while Clive Barnes found it “screamingly funny . . . still fresh, and most surprisingly, still surprising.” “How perfect the play is,” he added, “a gorgeous, enchanting play.”

Maggie Smith, Remak Ramsey.

For most viewers, John Gielgud’s direction was a masterful evocation of Coward’s nostalgic 1920s charm. Maggie Smith proved a superb purveyor of the brittle, flashing epigrams. “The tall and slender Miss Smith, her red hair closely marcelled, and wearing a nifty set of specially designed clothes, has deadly aim with a Coward line. Using a voice variously produced in her nose, throat and heel of her evening slipper, and a body as pliant and darting as an antic mongoose, she is hilarious,” clapped Watt. “[S]he conveys a special image of woman—self-reliant, entirely self-aware, audacious, . . . all suffused with a marvelous irony. . . . She is some sort of pagan goddess. . . . Amanda Prynne . . . is a perfect role for her, and she does it to perfection,” declared Howard Kissell. But Edwin Wilson thought her over-obvious and broad, producing farce effects that were not called for. And John Simon was put off by her “mannered” acting and exaggerations.

John Standing’s notices were approving but mild, with no raves, some even considering him miscast. Remak Ramsey played Victor Prynne and Niki Flaks was Sybyl Chase.

This revival came to Broadway following a hit London run and a four-month American tour.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Peter Falk, Lee Grant.
THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE [Comedy/Marriage] A: Neil Simon; D: Mike Nichols; S: Richard Sylbert; C: Anthea Sylbert; L: Tharon Musser; P: Saint-Subber; T: Eugene O’Neill Theatre; 11/11/71-9/29/73 (788) 

Lee Grant, Peter Falk.

 A smash hit domestic comedy from comic playwriting kingpin Neil Simon that ran for close to two years and provided Peter Falk with a great role in one of his rare Broadway performances. 

Mel Edison (Falk) is a 47-year-old advertising executive living in an Upper East Side high-rise on Second Avenue with his wife, Edna (Lee Grant). Here he encounters a mélange of urban headaches, from air and noise pollution to unemployment to faulty plumbing to burglaries to apartment house construction defects to drug addiction to psychiatry to the impositions of unfriendly neighbors. The threats from Mel’s environment put increasing pressure on him until he becomes truly alienated from his surroundings and approaches a nervous breakdown. There is no feasible escape, suggests the playwright, who underlines his comic exaggerations with a sense of true despair. 

Mel loses his job in Act One, remains home while his wife works in Act Two, and confronts his brother (Vincent Gardenia) and three wealthy sisters (Florence Stanley, Tresa Hughes, and Dena Dietrich) over his regressive mental state in Act Three. Then Edna informs him that she, too, has been fired. 

Dena Dietrich, Tresa Hughes, Florence Stanley, Vincent Gardenia, Peter Falk.

The critics laughed with tear-producing gusto at all the jokes, commenting that The Prisoner of Second Avenue may well have been Simon’s most hilarious gag fest yet. The sense of angst at its heart, however, revealed that the comedy had a considerably serious soul. There was frequent reference by the reviewers to the play’s structural problems, its lack of fully realized characters, and its stretching the truth to inspire laughs. This “gloriously funny play,” declared Clive Barnes, was “paper thin,” displayed “no real development or conclusion, but concentrates on revealing comic attitudes to trivial despair.” “[O]ften the poverty of the writing reminds you of just how hackneyed these matters are,” responded Julius Novick. There was a “relative vacuum” here, thought Walter Kerr, while Henry Hewes and John Simon pointed to the flatness of the author’s characters amid their amusingly depicted issues. 

The exceptionally well-played production benefitted from Mike Nichols’s adroit, energetic, comically inventive staging, and wonderful performances by the entire company. Clive Barnes left this record of the leads: “Peter Falk, looking like an amiable denizen of the Central Park Zoo who had been given the wrong keeper, is a delight as the battered Mel, full of angst and anguish and definitively put‐down by the zeitgeist. . . . [H]is performance seems most carefully balanced between a suggestion that life is too much for him and one that he is too little for life. . . . Lee Grant is sweet and potent, caring for her husband through the strange emasculation of unemployment and standing back—to—back with him against the slings and arrows of our outrageous city. With his controlled misery Vincent Gardenia is admirable as Mel’s brother.” 

Dena Dietrich, Florence Stanley, Tresa Hughes, Vincent Gardenia.

In her autobiography, I Said Yes to Everything, Lee Grant, who had moved from her red-hot movie career in Los Angeles to do the play, recalls working with Nichols and Falk: 
Mike was especially sensitive in his preparation, molding me without my even knowing it, for what was essentially a two-character play. . . . After our first reading, Mike turned to me: "You're the gardener; he's the flower." The blood drained out of me. I had not rented the Red House for a year, I had not moved to a strange apartment, I had not put Dinah in the New Lincoln School to come o Broadway as the gardener,

I was familiar with being a gardener, as were all the wives at 444 Central Park West. 

We'd been good gardeners. Truly concerned with our husbands. Endlessly worried and wordless. Money, bills, rent, our husbands' states of mind.
But I was a leading lady now. I'd dreamed I'd return to Broadway in a smash hit and be rediscovered and celebrated. I'd come to be the flower.

But in a split instant, I recognized my fate and accepted it. Two actors cannot have nervous breakdowns on the same stage. Peter was the flower. I had no choice 

In rehearsal, Mike Nichols had us lie on a cot together in the dark backstage and go over and over our lines with a girl prompter sitting on a chair at the head of the bed.

It was wonderful direction. Peter and I breathing our lines to each other became comfortable lying so close together. Relaxing into each other like old friends. Like husband and wife. Mike forced us to trust each other totally. The prompter kept us from getting self-conscious about our bodies and intimacy. 

Peter breathed in and I breathed out.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue was nominated for a Tony as Best Play, while Gardenia won for Best Supporting Actor and Nichols for Best Director. Gardenia also garnered the Supporting Actor nod in Variety’s then annual poll.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

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

John Forster, Timothy Jerome, Judy Kahan, Jane Curtin.
PRETZELS [Revue] B: Jane Curtin, Fred Grandy, and Judy Kahan; M/LY: John Forster; D: Patricia Carmichael; S: Stuart Wurtzel; C: Clifford Capone; L: Ken Billington; P: Burry Fredrik and Walter Boxer in the Phoenix Theatre Production; T: Theatre Four (OB); 12/16/74-3/30/75 (120)

Done originally as a showcase sponsored by the Phoenix Theatre Company, this tasty little tidbit went down smoothly enough to warrant its resuscitation as an Off-Broadway effort. In that guise, it kept breathing for a comfortable three and a half months. It was a “Bright, bland and blithe” delectation, vowed Clive Barnes, who called it “small, modest, yet chic.” Martin Gottfried agreed that it was “modest,” while Douglas Watt called it “slight.”

Three comedian-singers (Jane Curtin, Timothy Jerome, and Judy Kahan) and an amusing pianist (John Forster), who occasionally joined in the fun, used Stuart Wurtzel’s simple but surprisingly adaptable set to run through a series of 15 skits on the theme of “mild urban disillusion,” as Barnes put it. The title referred to an old rock and roll trio who, years after splitting up and becoming successful as important people in science and politics, have a reunion and sing “Pretzels,” their 1961 hit single. Other bits included one about a would-be ladies man from Greenwich Village who comes on strong with pre-planned, arty talk about Ingmar Bergan or museum tapestries to girls at cocktail parties; one about Mozart’s efforts to come up with a commercial hit; another about a Spanish actress on an unemployment line who suddenly bursts out in the only English she knows, learned for a TV commercial; one dealing with a bored housewife who wants to sing and dance more than to play hostess at dinner parties; one in which an anthropologist working as a coffee waitress, for the experience, enjoys talking about a South Pacific tribe’s sexual habits, and so on.

The satire was rather weak, the program was uneven, and the music, while pleasant, in the pastiche vein reminiscent of familiar tunes. However, the lyrics were clever and laugh-provoking.

Most critics were impressed by the versatile cast, who had worked together in the popular improv revue, The Proposition. Barnes wrote, “The blonde Miss Curtin showed just the kind of range one hopes for in a revue performer, moving easily from a snob cosmetics lady to a Ninth Avenue harridan. Miss Kahan was equally versatile and spontaneous. I liked particularly her chirpy divorced mother, while Timothy Jerome showed consistent energy and style.” Although each went on to a successful career, the one who became a household name, of course, was Curtin after she hit it big on “SNL.”  

Monday, December 14, 2020


THE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER [Musical/Jews/Romance/Yiddish Language] B: H. Kalmanov; M: Murray Rumshinsky; LY/P: Jacob Jacobs; CH: Henriette Jacobson; DS: Barry Arnold; T: Billy Rose Theatre; 11/3/70-1/3/72 (72)

Note: No photos are available for this production.

A wishful attempt at reviving Yiddish theatre in New York, on Broadway no less, this offering (subtitled “A Yiddish-American Musical Comedy”), with only occasional forays into English, had a minimal plot involving stereotypical characters in a romantic mix-up involving an orphan girl. Much of the show bore no relation to the plot, though, and the material was schmaltzy in style and effect.

Clive Barnes summed the plot up thusly: “a handsome widower, a nubile refugee who is acting as his housekeeper, an orphan daughter, a scheming divorcée, a spinster sister‐in law and cupid in the form of an old butter and egg man (that's right). Through a misunderstanding, the widower latches on to the scheming divorcée and the problem then becomes how to separate the two long enough so that the right couple can get married and provide the orphan daughter with a mother.”

This material was expressed over two acts in the form of sketches, songs, and dances, supplemented by a prologue that had only the vaguest connection to the book. Barnes said the highly sentimental music was “cool—Jewish wedding cool that is.” Everything was done broadly with boisterous energy at a brisk pace. The enthusiastic performers included Chayele Rosenthal as the lovesick refugee, Jacob Jacobs as the widower, Jack Rechtzeit as a butcher, and Michaele Burke as his spouse.

Barnes advised his readers, “If you do go though, watch out for the first‐act curtain. It's a beauty, untouched for a hundred years, straight out of ‘East Lynne’ and absolutely great. It may be the best curtain on Broadway between now and next June.” Unfortunately, no further details are available.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

410. PRESENT TENSE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Lois Smith, Biff McGuire.
PRESENT TENSE [Comedy-Drama/One-Acts] A: Frank Gilroy; D: Curt Dempster; S/L: Charles Cosler; P: TDJ Productions, Inc.; T: Sheridan Square Playhouse (OB); 7/18/72-7/23/72 (8)

“Come Next Thursday” [Marriage]; “Twas Brillig” [Films]; “So Please Be Kind” [Sex]; “Present Tense” [Marriage]

Biff McGuire and Lois Smith, both A-list stage actors, appeared in each of these four Off-Broadway one-acters by Frank Gilroy, author of the hit play The Subject Was Roses. Supporting them were less well-known players Stanley Beck, Sarah Cunningham, and Gary Nebiol. “As entertainment,” concluded Clive Barnes, “the pulse [of these plays] is dim and distant.” The evening struck John Simon” as an almost complete, although completely likable, failure.”

“Come Next Thursday” is a black comedy about a wife (Smith) who manages to overlook her wayward husband’s (McGuire) faults. “Twas Brillig” deals with a Hollywood screenwriter (Beck) unable to compromise his principles to please his studio boss (McGuire). “So Please Be Kind,” considered the program’s strongest piece,” shows a pair of adulterous lovers in a hotel room who are unable to consummate their passion when they get sidetracked by an inability to remember the name of an actor they passed in the street. The final playlet is about a husband’s (McGuire) attempt to keep his wife (Smith) from learning of their son’s death in Vietnam.

Barnes thought the evening as a whole too wordy and only sporadically stageworthy. Simon commented, “Despite good acting, the work doesn’t belong in a theatre struggling for its life, which won’t be saved by amicably pseudo-serious trifles.” 

Until the pandemic hit, of course, Lois Smith, in her mid-90s, continued to reign as a beloved doyenne of the New York stage (not to mention other media). One hopes she will return in good health to provide more of her personal and artistic warmth when this thing is over.