Thursday, April 2, 2009

No Business Like Show Business

I can't remember the first play I ever saw; probably "My American Cousin". The evening was ruined though when they shot President Lincoln. In New York we have always referred to plays as "Broadway shows" simply because there is no venue in the world that has seen more exciting musicals, riveting dramas or hilarious comedies than our beloved "Great White Way". By way of useless information (my stock in trade) I offer the following: "The Great White Way" was originally the title of a 1901 book about the South Pole. The term was applied to Broadway by Shep Friedman of the New York Morning Telegraph, after a snowstorm on Broadway in 1902 had turned the street into a "white way." Later, "white way" referred to the lights of Broadway. No, no, don't thank me.

I think one of the earliest shows I remember attending was "Funny Girl" starring a very young Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice, and Sydney Chaplin as her male lead, gambler Nicky Arnstein, a role later played by Omar Sharif in the movie. The show opened in 1964 at the Winter Garden theater, and Streisand was a smash, singing some of her now signature songs like "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade. I thought she was wonderful and stood up cheering with everyone else as she was summoned for many curtain calls. Unfortunately, Streisand has become a hypocritical tool of the liberal left, telling the rest of us poor unwashed how we should live our lives while she, with her success and money, comfortably isolates herself from the "downtrodden" people she professes to champion. I take back my applause Babs.

Another memorable show for me was "La Cage Aux Folles", based on a 1973 French play, and adapted for the musical stage in 1983 from a book by Harvey Fierstein with lyrics and music by the talented Jerry Herman. A story about two gay men whose lives become comically complicated by the impending nuptials of the straight son of one of them from a previous marriage to a girl with very strict, morally upright parents. Gene Barry and George Hearn were brilliant in this campy farce, and Herman's score was masterful. To this day if I hear any tune from the show, I'll be humming it for weeks. The show is so well crafted that even some local amateur productions we've seen couldn't be screwed up. Winners of eight Tony awards including best musical, the show ran for 1,761 performances.

We try to attend mostly musicals and comedies since there is more than enough drama in the world. One exception was the great mystery thriller, "Sleuth". From a review: "Sleuth tells the story of two men who share interests for the same woman. Complicating matters is the fact that one of these men is already married to the woman. Andrew Wyke is a detective fiction writer who is confronted by his wife’s lover, Milo, who asks Wyke to surrender his wife to him. Wyke welcomes Milo into his home and gains his trust with his witty, composed manner, only to later reveal his true evil intentions. The razor sharp banter between the two, in addition to some unexpected guests, creates a humorous, psychological thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat." We saw Patrick MacNee (The Avengers") who was great in the role originated by Sir Laurence Oliver.

"Deathtrap" was another brilliant thriller about New York playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine), not a happy man. His latest murder-mystery fooled no-one and had more unintentional laughs than shocks. Worse still, he's been teaching a writing class at a local college and one young man (Christopher Reeve) has written a great script, possibly better than Sidney ever wrote in his hey-day. He invites the young man to his house, ostensibly to murder him so he can claim the script as his own. But events, as you would expect, do not transpire as Sidney intends. Both these mysteries are cleverly constructed with wit and enough roller-coaster plot twists to keep your attention riveted to the stage.

There is an excitement in live theater that can never be equalled by movies. The interaction between actors and audience, when the play is is right, is electric. More modern shows like Phantom of the Opera, The Producers, Wicked, and Jersey Boys carry on the time-honored stage tradition of the Great White Way. Neil Simon, Rogers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman and so many other talented geniuses have left a body of work unequalled anywhere. Sadly, Broadway ticket prices have skyrocketed, but if you take advantage of the "two-fer" offers, even if you sit in the nosebleed seats, you'll get your money's worth. Or try off-Broadway shows...we have seen some good ones (Nunsense, Perfect Crime, Into the Woods); they are cheaper and just as entertaining.

I was glad when Disney started bringing shows like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid to Broadway. These wonderful productions bring a whole new generation of young audiences in to experience live theater. Do your children or grandchildren a great favor; drag them out of their electronic world for a little while and take them to a show.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

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