Wednesday, January 27, 2021

453. SCAPIN/SCAPINO (two productions). From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Cast of Scapin. Can you spot, say, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin Kline, and Patti LuPone?

SCAPIN [Dramatic Revival] A: Molière; D: Pierre Lefevre; LY: Sam Tsoutsouvas; C: John David Ridge; L: Martin Aronstein; P: City Center Acting Company; T: Billy Rose Theatre; 1/28/73 (1)

In January 1973, Broadway saw the rapid failure of a musical called Tricks (discussed later in this series), based on Molière’s 1671 farced, Les Fourberies de Scapin. Nonetheless, the following season of 1973-1974 hosted two straight revivals of the rarely seen play, the first being this hour-long children’s theatre version given only a single performance at a special matinee during the Acting Company’s 1973-1974 repertory season on Broadway. Jared Sakren’s spirited rendition of Scapin led a lively group of actors through this buoyant romp that Mel Gussow said even seven-year-olds could follow.

That group of actors included such yet-to-make-their-mark names as Sam Tsoutsouvas, Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Cynthia Herman, Leah Chandler, and David Ogden Stiers.


Jim Dale.



AD/D: Frank Dunlop; S/C: Carl Toms; L: David Watson; M: Jim Dale; P: National Theatre of Great Britain, presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music i/a/w Brooklyn College in the Young Vic Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 3/12/74-3/31/74 (10); T: Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre; 5/19/74-8/1/74 (121): total: 122

England’s Young Vic company brought its popular updating of Molière’s play, here called Scapino, to BAM for a short rep season with two other plays, and then moved the show to a Broadway mounting at the financially strapped Circle in the Square. That venue welcomed the chance to bring in a successful, fully staged, outside show and thus defray much of the cost of producing a new show from scratch.

Gavin Reed, Jim Dale.

Frank Dunlop’s brilliantly unconventional approach mingled British music hall and commedia dell’arte techniques, with numerous references to familiar New York names and places, thereby creating a comic masterpiece that Clive Barnes considered “one of the funniest things in New York." Placed in a contemporary Naples excellently designed with pop art wit by Carl Toms, the show used every sort of zany slapstick device to provoke loud hilarity.

One choice example was a plate of spaghetti that could be tossed blithely through the air without a strand flying loose. There was continual audience interplay with lead actor Jim Dale addressing the spectators directly. Barnes said, “He chats to the audience as if they were personal friends.”

Jeremy James-Taylor, Jim Dale.

Dale was the centerpiece of the delightful ensemble. Clown, classical actor, acrobat, and musician (he wrote the score), he dazzled with his multi-skilled virtuosity in the roguish role of the comic servant. John Simon, who thought the BAM staging was better than the Broadway one, which had several cast changes, was forced to admit, “He is one of the funniest comedians I have ever seen, and if I should be granted a dying wish, it would be for a command performance by him—so I could die laughing.” Simon died last year, but I don't imagine he departed with a chuckle in his throat. Dale took away a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance, as well as a Tony nomination for Best Actor, Play. Dunlop got a Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Director, and a Tony nomination for Best Director, Play.

Scapino made a return engagement at Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre in a proscenium staging (the one at Circle in the Square was in the three-quarters round) for an additional 176 performances, beginning 9/27/74 and ending 3/2/75. This brought the total number to 298 performances, with Dale remaining as star despite a number of cast changes.