Joseph Papp inaugurated the 15th season of free Shakespeare in Central Park by producing four Shakespeare chronical plays on alternating evenings with the series covered by the single title, The Wars of the Roses. The plays were compressed into three, with Henry VI, Parts I and II fused to form The Chronicle of King Henry VI, Part I; Henry VI, Parts II and III blended to create The Chronicle of King Henry VI, Part II; and Richard III performed essentially intact. A similar concept (with Richard III) had been successful in John Barton and Peter Hall’s English adaptation in 1964.
To publicize the financially strapped program, Papp had all three dramas produced in a single marathon performance on opening night, June 23, 1970. The 12-hour production lasted until 6:45 a.m. and nearly 90 percent of the reported 3,000 people remained throughout, although it’s not clear how that many people could even have squeezed into the Delacorte’s 1,800 seats, despite damp air and temperatures in the mid-50s. Sleeping bags, blankets, and picnic provisions were everywhere to be seen. At one point, a character got a laugh when he spoke a line about it being 4:00 a.m. and the audience’s watches read 4:03. The production concluded with a visit from the cast of the long-running musical, Hair, singing (do I have to say it?), “Let the Sun Shine In.”
Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.
Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here.
Next up: The Water Hen.