Archive for the Playwrights Category

The Once and Future Clyde Fitch

Posted in Broadway, Playwrights with tags , , , , , , on May 2, 2017 by travsd

Broadway Playwright Clyde Fitch (1865-1909) was born on this day.

Much like his contemporary Oscar Wilde, with whom he is said to have had an affair, Fitch established a reputation as a dandy and personality while still in college. An Elmira, New York native, Fitch had gone to Amherst, where he was highly regarded for his acting in amateur theatricals. Fitch’s devotion to dandyism manifested itself strongly in his very first play Beau Brummell (1890), commissioned by Richard Mansfield as a starring vehicle. The play is an apt illustration of Fitch’s success and cultural impact as a playwright: not only was was it revived on Broadway many times, but it was adapted into Hollywood films in 1913, 1924, and 1954. It is largely through these films that most Americans have framed any idea at all of the eponymous Restoration dandy, whose name became idiomatic for a well-dressed, sissified swell. Many of Fitch’s plays ended up having that kind of longevity and reach, becoming better remembered with the wider public than the playwright himself.

Fitch wrote over 60 plays: 36 original, and 26 adaptations (21 from foreign plays, 5 from novels). Fitch’s second play The Masked Ball (1892), produced by Charles Frohman, co-starred Maude Adams and John Drew, Jr, initiating what would become a popular professional pairing. Other notable works: Bohemia (1896, adapted from the same source as Puccinni’s La Boheme, which premiered the same year); Nathan Hale (1899); Barbara Frietchie (1899, the reputed source of the first half of Barbara Stanwyck’s stage name); Sapho (1900, a naughty vehicle for Olga Nethersole); Captain Jinks of the Horse Marine (1901, breakthrough vehicle for Ethel Barrymore); The Girl with the Green Eyes (1902), Major Andre (1903), The Woman in the Case (1905, starring Blanche Walsh and later made into films in 1916, 1922 and 1923); an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905); and the posthumously produced The City (1909), among dozens of others.

Eat your heart out, Lena Dunham!

Clyde Fitch died of a burst appendix while traveling in France after quacks had convinced him not to have it operated on. One of the ironies of being a catalyst for change is that the transformed world no longer recognizes or appreciates how it got there. And change in the 20th century was lightening fast. Pretty quickly Fitch’s name became shorthand for “old-fashioned”: e.g., “That went out with Clyde Fitch”. It is used that way for comic purposes in the movie All About Eve, for example. And yet he was one of the key people who forged our conception of Broadway as we now know it.

The beauty part is that which has been changed can be changed again. Largely through the efforts of critic Leonard Jacobs Clyde Fitch’s name lives again in the 21st Century. Jacobs’ influential web site The Clyde Fitch Report covers the nexus between art and politics. It also includes this wonderful, deeper tribute to Fitch. And who’d have dreamt Clyde Fitch’s mustache would be revived in the 21st century? His plays, too, deserve, such enthusiastic revival.

I have visited Fitch’s grave at Woodlawn Cemetery (blogged about that visit here). It is an enormous, ostentatious thing, commissioned by his mother, whom Fitch was very close to. His father, an army officer, was less keen on the theatre.  People who are not keen on the theatre get chilly treatment here on Travalanche.

Author Directing Author: Out-Takes

Posted in Indie Theatre, ME, Playwrights, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2017 by travsd
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Photo by Theo Cote

Just hitting the stands now in the Villager/ Downtown Express/ Chelsea Now, my feature on AdA: Author Directing Author, opening at La Mama later this week. Read the article here.  For this piece I interviewed the three principle artists, director/playwrights Neil LaBute, Marco Calvani and Marta Buchaca (the latter two in person, the former by phone). After you read the article at the link, please come back here and read these additional out-takes from the interview, with Marco and Marta and check out Cashel Stewart’s great photos, below. I’ve done hundreds of interviews over the last 20 years, but I believe these are the first still photos ever to catch me in the act of interviewing. But really, read the feature first, these out-takes won’t make any sense unless you do.

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MARTA, on the transfer from Barcelona to New York:

Barcelona was a big success. Now we are here doing the same plays with different actors, in a different language and that’s good for me. I can improve my English! (laughs) There are a lot of things that changed and I think its really interesting as a playwright and director. Now I see parts of the play that I didn’t see in Barleona, more levels. You’re discovering another way because you have different actors and different approaches. I love the actors they have, they are amazing, they are really really good. In general you have amazing actors here in America.

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MARCO, on the methodology:

We pick a theme and then we share it and each of us wrote a piece separately. We didn’t get in touch and tell each other what we’re writing about. Of course we set up some rules. We say it needs to be two characters, that’s the main thing, it needs to relate to the designated theme, and shouldn’t require a complicated, elaborate set, not just for the financial aspect but also because the three plays have to be part of one show, so the setting needs to change easily. Or, at least, if you write a play that has specifies five floors or something be ready for the director to have to throw that out. But the biggest rules are the theme, the number of characters, and the length, which were set at 30-35 minutes.

MARCO, on writing female characters:

For reasons that are spontaneous I like writing female characters in general. Especially in terms of speaking of the struggle of aging, which is more traumatic for women unfortunately. Sometimes. Not all the time. At least in my story, in my situation, it is. It’s a woman alone. She’s been left alone by her man and is at the end, probably, of her professional career. So it was dramatic as a choice for me.

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MARTA, on her play Summit, which is based on real-life Barcelona mayoress Ada Colau

“Power” [the theme of this year’s production] for me means politics. I had never written a play about politics. And this was great, because after the Barcelona production I got the opportunity to to talk with [Colau], and could add some new things. She was really interesting to write about. When she was in the campaign, all of the other candidates were men, and she was of a lower [economic] class than the other politicians in Barcelona. And she semmed really “apart” from them. They were doing a tv show and she was alone with her cell phone, because no one wanted to introduce her to that world. Now she’s in that world and doing an amazing job. But you know, like Colau, I’m a mother. When I wrote this play I had just had a baby. For me it was really important, to talk about having a professional career and having a baby. I just spent 10 days alone with without my child. For men, that’s not even a topic of conversation. If my husband had to come here to New York as I did, no one would say anything. But when I say to my family, “OK, I’m going to New York, I’m spending 10 days alone, everyone was like, ‘OK we will come and help your husband!'”. Well, yeah! But I mean, he will be fine! But you know we’re still at that point. If you are a mayor you work from 7 in the morning to 1 the next morning. All day. I talked to her about this. She was kind of unhappy about being separated from her child. She said, “It’s hard but I;m doing very important things for the city.” She made her decision. For me as a woman, that’s important. And I love these men telling her that she has to be a mother. Just a mother. We can do both. I can be a playwright and a director and a mother.

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MARCO, on the process

When you write it’s a very lonely activity and when you are director you are called to also be a leader. In the way we are collaborating it feels more like a friendship than a responsibility. It’s always shared. That doesn’t mean you get to do less, but its about sharing. It’s a good fit. Wherever we are going to, we are having a very good experience….I have learned so much from AdA, by allowing somebody to work through your plays and being responsible for another play by another playwright, who is working on the other playwright’s play. I’ve learned a lot not just about theatre and writing and directing but about collaboration and trust .

 

MARTA, on working with actors Gabby Beans and Margaret Colin: 

Maggie and Gabby are open to do anything and they want to … they are really free and they have their own proposals. And they listen to me and I listen to them and its really a collaboration. I have no friends here in New York. My cast are my friends and family. I think they know this. I think it was quite the “mom” thing in this case. Gabby is newer and brings the energy. Maggie has the experience. They are nice people. I think it is more important to me when I cast someone that they nice than they be perfect. He might be the most perfect actor in the world but if he is an asshole I don’t want to work with him! Because you work together for many days, all day, and it’s so intimate and it’s so hard, you want to be with people who have humor and are nice and have fun,

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Sometimes I have to stop my actors (Richard Kind and Gia Crovatin) from having fun and say let’s be serious! We’ve done a lot in a very few days and that makes me feel very good.

 

 

MARTA

Run to the box office and see it! It’s going to be amazing!

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William Gillette: The Original Sherlock Holmes

Posted in Broadway, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Playwrights, Silent Film, The Hall of Hams with tags , , , , , , , on July 24, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of playwright-actor-director-producer William Gillette (William Hooker Gillette, 1853-1937). I am proud to say that I am distantly related to this important man of the American stage a couple of different ways, the most salient way through our mutual relative Rev. Thomas Hooker, the founder of Hartford, CT,  where Gillette was born.

Much like Joseph Jefferson (who made a career of playing Rip Van Winkle), Gillette is best known to theatre buffs for playing a single role from literature; he originated the first stage characterization of Sherlock Holmes. Prior to Basil Rathbone, Gillette’s name was synonymous with Holmes’. Now that there has been an explosion of film and television adaptations, the unthinkable has happened — the character is no longer automatically associated with Rathbone either! But Gillette was the first to play the character on stage, and performed as Holmes more than 1,300 times between 1899 and 1932, and also performed Holmes on film (his only movie as actor, 1916) and radio.  (Footnote:, the character of “Billy Buttons” was played by a young Charlie Chaplin during the hit London run of the play — that notable connection was one of the first places I ever heard about Gillette.) Here he is in that role:

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Gillette would have been a notable figure in American theatrical history even if his career had not been associated with the galvanizing character of Holmes. In addition to his innate talent as an actor, which was legendary, he was fortunate in his birth. His father was the influential U.S. Senator and activist  Francis Gillette. William was helped in his early career by family friend Mark Twain, who secured a role for him in a Boston production of The Gilded Age in 1875. Against his father’s wishes, Gillette had been acting in stock companies since 1873; his father’s death in 1878 removed that element of tension from his life. I am VERY interested to learn that Gillette wrote an unproduced play called The Twins of Siam in 1879 — surely it is about the conjoined twins of Siam who worked for P.T. Barnum! Interestingly, Twain had also written a story inspired by these twins This must be looked into.

In 1879, he debuted his play The Professor in Columbus, Ohio. In 1881, Daniel and Gustave Frohman brought it to New York, where it was a moderate success and his career was assured. That year he also helped Frances Hodgson Burnett (Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden) adapt her story Esmerelda for the stage. In 1887 he wrote and starred in his Civil War drama Held by the Enemy, which was such a hit in New York that Charles Frohman helped him transfer it to London, where it was the first American show with an American author and star to gain widespread approval from the English public.

In 1887, Gillette adapted H. Rider Haggard’s science fiction novel She for the stage. (This is the same source for Merian C. Cooper’s eponymous 1935 film, made as a follow up to his King Kong pictures.) In 1893, he wrote a nine-scene patriotic pageant for the Barnum and Bailey Circus called The War of the American Revolution. In 1894, there was his farce Too Much Johnson, also legendary, for it was the source for Orson Welles’ first film, made in 1938 for a stage production and now lost). In 1895, his play Secret Service became another smash. The American production starred Maurice Barrymore; the London production starred Gillette and further cemented his reputation with the British public.

It was after this that he was hired to adapt Holmes for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with Charles Frohman as intermediary. You will note that Gillette had already been in the theatre for over a quarter of a century by this point. Holmes was a cash machine, and without a doubt it would dominate his life going forward. But it wasn’t all that Gillette did, even in his remaining decades. In 1903 he starred as the title character in the American premiere of J.M. Barrie’s The Admiral Crichton. There were countless other premieres and revivals of his own plays on Broadway over the next three decades. Starting in 1915, silent films began to be made of his plays: Esmerelda (1915), starring Mary PickfordSherlock Holmes (1916) starring Gillette himself, Secret Service (1919), Too Much Johnson (1919), and Held by the Enemy (1920). A talkie version of Secret Service starring Richard Dix was released in 1931.

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We haven’t even touched on Gillette the actor. Contemporary descriptions of him remind me of my feelings about Patrick McGoohan. He was said to be mesmerizing, that he could compel your attention with the tiniest and most minimal of gestures. But it was also said that he was also somewhat affectless, that it wasn’t about “romance” or “heart”. I was thrilled to see the recent screening of his 1916 screen version on TCM. That event was nothing short of miraculous. Not only had the long-lost film been discovered, but it had been discovered (in a French archive) in 2014 — just in time for the film’s centennial! While it was thrilling to watch the actual Gillette in action, something I had assumed I’d never get to do, the crudity of the production made it difficult to properly make any sort of fair assessment. 1916 was still early in film history. The Birth of a Nation had been released only a few months before, and the director of this version of Sherlock Holmes was no D.W. Griffith. Most of the film is shot from wide angles, making it hard to see actors faces, at least on TV — it would be much better to see it screened in a theatre (here’s hoping!). And Gillette was 63 at this stage, although he would continue to play the part for almost another two decades. Gillette’s adaptation is also not QUITE what fans of the Holmes’ fiction and movies are expecting. It’s very “drawing room”…it contains much less of Holmes the intellect, sniffing the universe like a bloodhound perceiving what the rest of us poor mortals can’t. He is much more the conventional “inspector”. STILL! Gillette is the first guy to wear the deerstalker and cape, the first to smoke the Meerschaum, and abstractly scrape his violin while he thinks. And, as I think we’ve amply demonstrated, he is significant for so much more besides.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Augustin Daly: The Man Who First Tied a Damsel to Railroad Tracks

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Broadway, Impresarios, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Playwrights with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of pivotal American playwright, producer, and critic Augustin Daly (1838-1899).

The son of a North Carolina sea captain, Daly moved to New York as a young child with his mother and brother when his father died at sea. The family were inveterate theatre goers paving the way for Daly’s lifelong association. He began his professional career as a critic starting in 1859. He began adapting and writing plays at around the same time.

Daly was to become one of the most prolific and influential American theatre artists of all time. Though dismissed by later generations, I believe time will give him his due. Though not a great literary man, he was hugely influential on the craft of the stage itself. His main modus operandi was to gobble up existing properties (foreign hits, Shakespeare, and novels) and adapt them — a method which I believe strongly presages the later working methods of Hollywood. His productions were known for their heightened realism (for the time), for spectacular special effects (also anticipating Hollywood), and for establishing rituals of what we now think of as melodrama.

His adaptation of the German play Leah the Forsaken (1862) was his first success. Under the Gaslight (1867) remains his best known original play — it purported to bring audiences to gritty urban realms and introduced the soon-to-be-overused device of a villain tying a heroine to railroad tracks. (This invention would outlive Daly in earnest by at least a couple of decades in the movies.  But people were still sending it up as comedy as late as Dudley Do-Right cartoons in the 1960s.

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Mack Sennett’s parody of the ritual, 1914, a sure fire sign it was already old hat by then

A Flash of Lightning (1868) was the follow up to Gaslight. In 1870 he produced Bronson Howard’s successful Saratoga. Horizon (1871) was an adaptation of a Bret Harte story set in the wild west. His Dickens adaptations included Pickwick Papers (1868) and Oliver Twist (1874). His numerous Shakespeare adaptations were criticized by Shaw and others for the audacious manner in which Daly cut passages and scenes and switched things around. 

Starting in 1869, he managed his own stock company based at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. He was to build his own Broadway house a decade later and another theatre in London in 1893. At various times his company included Ada Rehan, Maurice Barrymore, John Drew Jr, Tyrone Power Sr (father of the Hollywood actor), Maude Adams, Isadora Duncan, and Fanny Davenport. He continued working until his death in 1899; the shadow he cast (though the public has forgotten him)remains to this day.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

O’Neill (Unexpected) at the Metropolitan

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, Irish, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Playwrights, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on June 9, 2016 by travsd

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As I blogged here, I am an enormous fan of the playwright Eugene O’Neill.  If I had to draw up a short list of a half dozen favorite playwrights, he would be on it, and near the top. He’s got his faults, but he’s got many more virtues. Unlike most people, I am more excited by his early work than his later stuff. The usual rusty old canard is that The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night are his great works, and everything else is so much embarrassment. Well, I have read everything — and by that I mean everything published — by O’Neill (and I’m here to tell you it’s a lot), and I am frankly much more excited by his Expressionistic work of the 1920s, and his very early experiments in naturalism…things like the Sea Plays, Anna Christie and the very obscure stuff that came before.

To my great joy Alex Roe is presenting a couple of those early plays at Metropolitan Playhouse even as we speak. I had the privilege of sitting in on a rehearsal the other day and I learned tons just by being in the room. I think Roe is one of the smartest theatre directors in Indie Theatre and he does work I place great stock in. The Metropolitan “matters” to me more than almost any other company I can name. Read more about the the O’Neill gems they have on the boards now in my feature in Chelsea Now here. 

On the “Gold Diggers” Series

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Playwrights, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Jazz Age playwright Avery Hopwood (1882-1928). Hopwood was long legendary for the feat of having four successful plays up on Broadway simultaneously, a feat later equaled by Neil Simon.

We have already done an extensive blog on one of the plays Hopwood was associated withThe Bat (1920), although that was primarily a Mary Roberts Rinehart work (Hopwood was called in to finish the third act and doctor the play overall). Today it seems apt to talk about what is now by far Hopwood’s best known legacy: the many versions and incarnations of The Gold Diggers. The best known one Gold Diggers of 1933 has a zillion fans even to this day; but folks may not realize that there was much that came before and much that came after.  

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Original Broadway Play (1919)

The concept of the “Gold Digger” was a major part of the zeitgeist during the Jazz Age, when prosperity made for much gold to be dug. The phrase seems initially to have been applied to Peggy Hopkins Joyce, whose many marriages just happened to be to wealthy husbands. It’s not like such scheming isn’t as old as humankind. What was new about Joyce was the unprecedentedly open and frank way that she pursued her goals. Welcome to America! This was a new phenomenon. It inspired many writers, from Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), to several characters in Fitzgerald.

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Ina Claire and Bruce McRae

Hopwood’s The Gold Diggers was early in this cycle. It gives us the familiar kernel of the story: a chorus girl and a rich young man want to get married. Relatives disapprove and try to put a stop to it. Hypocrisy is exposed through funny stratagems, and it is demonstrated that the chorus girl really loves the rich young man (thus proving she is not a heartless monster). The original lead was played by Ina Claire, and the production was a smash hit thanks in part to rave reviews by Alexander Woolcott. 

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Hope Hampton

The Silent Film (1923)

David Belasco, original producer of the play, also produced the first film version, starring Hope Hampton and Louise Fazenda. Like later versions it was made by Warner Brothers. Sadly the film is now lost.

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Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929)

This is the unkindest cut of all. This one is partially lost yet just enough has survived to drive us crazy wishing we could see the rest of it. The earliest years of talkies left us some really incredible documents because of all sorts of factors which capture their moment in a way that Hollywood films which came before and after would be unable to do. Sound (Vitaphone)! Color (Two Strip Technicolor)! More realistic dialogue (Pre-Code)! For the first time Broadway spectacle could be brought to the screen in a way that made sense — and so they went at it, whole hog. Here’s a fragment:

It was the top grossing film of the year and made a screen star (for a time) of Winnie Lightner. Also in the film were Ann Pennington, Nick Lucas (who sang the version of “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” that later inspired Tiny Tim), Lee Moran, and Louise Beavers. It was directed by Roy Del Ruth, who was to marry Lightner a decade later.

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Gold Diggers of 1933

Not a sequel per se, but yet another re-make with a new added poignancy (and sympathy for the heroines) because it is the depths of the Great Depression and the girls are literally starving. This (as far as we know) is the apex of the series, though one dreams about Gold Diggers of Broadway. 

Co-directed by Mervyn Leroy and Busby Berkley (musical numbers), and produced by Warner Brothers in much the same style as 42nd Street, which had been released just a couple of months earlier, and with much of the same cast (Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Ned Sparks, Ginger Rogers, and Guy Kibee). Sparks plays a producer who needs cash to put on a musical about the Depression (1933 was the very worst year of that worldwide financial disaster). Songwriter and juvenile Powell turns out to be a Boston Blueblood and underwrites the show — which (thanks to Berkley’s amazing staging) turns out to better than anyone’s wildest fantasies of a live stage show could ever be. Unfortunately Powell’s conservative brother and trustee (Warren William) and family lawyer (Kibee) want to break up his romance with Keeler. As they try to do so, gold-diggers Joan Blondell and Aline McMahon kick into action and eventually get both fuddy duddies to marry them. And a pre-Astaire Ginger Rogers is yet another gold digger. Happy ending, roll credits.

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Gold Diggers of 1935 (film)

Some but not all of the luster is lost here. Here Dick Powell is a hotel clerk hired by miserly millionairess Alice Brady to escort her daughter Gloria Stuart. They fall in love though she is actually engaged to a doofus who is writing a monograph on the use of snuff (Hugh Herbert). Meanwhile, because this is a musical, the millionairess is bankrolling an annual charity show for the milk fund, and hires a wacky Russian stage director played by a very funny Adolph Menjou. It’s Busby Berkley’s first film as credited director, though of course he had choreographed many times before. The big number is “Lullaby of Broadway”: it’s brilliantly staged and shot, even surreal—it all takes place in her head, and has an amazing fantasy interlude. Of course it’s all apropos of nothing connected with the movie we’re watching!

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Gold Diggers of 1937

This one has the morbid plot of producers and cast taking out a life insurance policy on hypochondriac moneybags Victor Moore so they can finance a show. With the now married team of Dick Powell and Joan Blondell returning, the picture also features Glenda Farrell and even more notably Susan Fleming (better known as Mrs. Harpo Marx). Busby Berkley staged the production numbers once more and Lloyd Bacon directed.

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Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)

It’s always been an axiom of mine that you know your franchise has jumped the shark when you have to transplant it to another country for an angle. By these last couple in the series, it is becoming quotidian and a little tired (reminds me of the plots of some of the Fred and Ginger movies). The meat of the farce is that Hugh Herbert is sent to New York to bring back a certain ballet company to Paris. He accidentally books a bunch of chorus girls who work for Rudy Vallee and Allen Jenkins. Learning the truth too late, he hires Fritz Feld and Rosemary Lane to teach the girls ballet on the ship back to France. The fly in the ointment is that one of the French bookers (Melville Cooper) wants to watch rehearsals, and the company has to keep diverting him. The stakes in a scenario are too low to interest me. Give me the early “Gold Diggers”! Seems like the public felt the same way.

Why “Hamilton” is the Best Show Ever

Posted in AMERICANA, Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, CULTURE & POLITICS, Latin American/ Spanish, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Playwrights with tags , , , , , , on May 4, 2016 by travsd

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Well, as predicted, Hamilton was nominated for a gazillion Tonys yesterday, and I would say “well deserved” except I never follow the Tonys, I know nothing of the other nominees, and I have not seen Hamilton live. But the announcement does give me an occasion to gather together stray thoughts I’ve been germinating about the show for a couple of weeks. I haven’t done so yet because a) I haven’t seen it, I’ve only done like millions of people around the world have done, and how I did with many shows as a teenager — played the cast album (and watched the occasional video clip); and 2) I didn’t listen to the album until rather recently, and I’m so behind the curve in this case that I feared my gushing would only embarrass both of us. It is particularly embarrassing because my praise for it is as immoderate as everyone else’s, and this too puts me behind the curve. I am not accustomed to agreeing with everyone else. After all, everyone else seemed to love Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and I walked out of that show after ten minutes. It was rubbish, and the sycophantic audience at the Public combined the worst qualities of Restoration bubble-heads mixed with the mob at the Roman coliseum (yes, I review audiences along with productions). Finding myself in agreement with the sickening masses of humanity disorients me and makes me want to bury that knowledge in a deep hole. However, my love is much better than your love — at least I can have that consolation.

Since I was a teenager I have periodically penned little rants and manifestos and essays and blogs about how things (theatre, plays, musicals) ought to be. In fact, I was about to do another this month, along with a series of other serious, thinky posts that began with this one on May 1. But my encounter with Hamilton pre-empted it. Headed it off at the pass. Hamilton is so great an accomplishment, and so aligned with what I have been seeking from the theatre my entire life, that I no longer have any complaints. Granted, I am not satisfied with most everything else (including my own attempts to attain my own ideal). But for the rest of my life, I will be able to say, I have been satisfied — so much more than satisfied — by this. Forgive me, but I have a personal mental checklist…and every box was checked. And normally almost none of them are. An American theme. Check! A historical theme! Check! An American history theme! Check check check!!! An American history theme that represents the outsider and talks about our problematic history with issues of class and difference!!!! Check!!! A quasi-Shakespearean tragic hero!!!! Check check!! Populist in both spirit and aesthetic while NOT dumbing down to the audience or pandering to the lowest common denominator!!! Quntillion checks!!!! Poetical genius in the literary sense!!!! Formal brilliance!!!! Quintillion checks to the 10th power!!!! Contemporary music that talks to our own culture and reaches past the normal self-imposed musical theatre ghetto that has made most live theatre culturally irrelevant for the past 75 years! Quintillion checks to the the quintillionth power!!!!! Created by an individual as opposed to a committee! (Unmeasurable!!!) An individual who is essentially a rock star as a performer, comparable in his way to Elvis (Unmeasurable to the gazillionth power).

The Mad Marchioness put it best — Lin-Manuel Miranda is like the George M. Cohan of our time. But in some ways, he’s even better. Cohan wrote indelible, timeless popular songs, and was a terrific stage star. But as a playwright he never wrought anything as complex or as masterful as Hamilton. Is Miranda the Second Coming of Jesus? Well, I suppose only his next show will be able to tell whether he will hold this exalted status for the rest of his life. But you know what? As far as I’m concerned, he never has to do anything else as long as he lives. He never does.

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