|Frank Speiser. (Photo: Ken Howard.)|
THE WORLD OF LENNY BRUCE [Solo/Biographical/Show Business] AD: Frank Speiser; SC: Life and works of Lenny Bruce; D: Frank Speizer; P: Norman Twain i/a/w Michael Liebert b/s/a/w Marvin Worth; T: Players Theatre (OB); 6/11/74-10/6/74 (137)
A one-man show based on the words of stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce, in which Frank Speiser, who put the show together, impersonated the controversial performer. The interest in Bruce at the time was powerful enough to inspire the present show only two years after Lenny, a Broadway hit that made Cliff Gorman a star; in fact, the movie version of that show, with a riveting performance by Dustin Hoffman, arrived the same year as the present work. It’s easy enough to explore the later careers of Gorman and Hoffman; I have no idea of what happened to Frank Speiser. Do you? Bruce himself remains a figure of importance, as witness his presence in the TV series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” even if his re-enacted routines are no longer very funny.
In The World of Lenny Bruce material that might once have landed the iconoclastic comic in jail had become so ordinary that there was no fear of police concern. Audiences had become inured to his once radical use of language and ideas in the eight years since his death from a drug overdose.
The biggest problem with the otherwise capably handled show, according to Clive Barnes, was that in 1974 Bruce’s material already seemed stale. Only those unfamiliar with it or with Bruce might have found it amusing. Barnes felt that Speiser had insufficiently conveyed Bruce’s pain and torment in the later years of his besieged career. Still, the show stuck around for over four months.
The show's first half was made up of familiar routines. The second was based on what Bruce had said in defense of his right to say the scandalous things used in his act.
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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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: Woyzeck.