Posts Tagged ‘plays’

I moonlighted as a theater reviewer for years and loved doing it. But even if I hated a particular show, I worked hard to find some aspect to praise. People had to read between the lines for the criticism. I really felt for the actors.

The critics of yore had no such scruples, and as I laugh out loud, I can’t help being a little jealous of their freedom.

Yesterday my husband dug out some reviews of the 1945 Broadway show Polonaise. He had read an obit about the star, who just died at age 99. As there are few shows he hasn’t heard of, he was stumped and went straight to the “critical quotebook” Opening Night on Broadway.

The show’s creators had decided to use the music of Chopin, a Pole, for a story about another Pole, a man who volunteered in George Washington’s army. The two Poles had nothing else in common.

Reviewer Luis Kroneberger wrote, “The best I can say for the thing as a whole is that it appalled me enough at times to keep me from being bored.”

Burton Rascoe noted, “The playbill says that the Alvin Theatre is perfumed with Prince Matchabelli’s ‘Stradivari.’ There was not enough of it used to overcome the odor of dry-rot and mothballs that emanated from the book, the lyrics, and the production of Polonaise.”

And Willela Waldorf must have been hanging out at the Algonquin with Dorothy Parker too much. She let it rip: “It is about time somebody started a League for the Defense of Dead Composers. It is disturbing that some of Chopin’s finest  works, ‘adapted’ for the occasion, should be carelessly flaunted on the Broadway stage in a futile attempt to add luster to a stupid, inept, often embarrassingly ludicrous spectacle. …  The concert pianist hired to play Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat while the ballet stormed the Royal Palace, not only performed with vigor at the pianoforte but spoke his one line of dialogue clearly and as if he knew what it meant. Maybe what Polonaise needs is a few more concert pianists in some of the other roles.”

Today there is plenty of harsh talk in the media, but I would venture to say it lacks the literary flair of the critics of 1945.

Photo of Chopin: Bisson, c. 1849, via Wikipedia
He looks troubled. Is he foreseeing the future Broadway show

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Today I had an amusing back and forth with Fire Islanders past and present. It was about a fund raiser for what we used to call “Group” back when I was a day camper and later a counselor and writer-director of teenage musicals.

The fundraiser is to restore the Ocean Beach Youth Group (“Group”) building below, which was pummeled by Hurricane Sandy. From the first e-mail:

“Food . Beer & Wine . Auction . Guest Bartenders . Tequila Tasting
“Sun., Jan. 6, 2013, 4-7 pm @ Rodeo Bar, 375 Third Avenue, NYC
“$50 cash/check at door, 21+
“$30 for 16-20 For advance tickets or to make a donation, visit http://www.nycharities.org/Events/EventLevels.aspx?ETID=5691 OBYG is a 501(c)3 organization.
“As an added bonus Tony Roberts of Broadway fame and Youth Group Alumnus will be our guest.”

I wrote back that I was in one of Tony Roberts’s teenage plays (back when his name was still Dave) and can sing most of the lyrics to the theme song of his show Like You Like It.

I then indulged in some contradictory reminiscing with my first co-writer/director and with the daughter of playwright Arnold Horwitt, who was an adviser on the first show we wrote.

“Memories can be beautiful and yet” … (Oh, sorry, we used to burst into song a lot.)

But about memories. I know I have the most accurate memories for the shows I worked on, yet friends keep remembering differently. And who can blame Arnold Horwitt’s daughter, for example, if she thinks her father wrote all the lyrics to our “Return of the Native” when he only contributed the song that he had already written for a cruise to fight a bridge, “Everything’s Coming Up Moses”? He was a huge support, and that’s what she gets right.

Want me to sing anything for you?

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A while back I watched the movie The Little Red Truck, a documentary by producer Pam Voth and director Rob Whitehair highlighting the work of the Missoula Children’s Theatre. It was a moving experience.

The Missoula (Montana) Children’s Theatre travels by truck from city to city all over America to put on productions with children in low-income urban and rural areas. The transformation of some of these children in the week it takes to produce a full-scale, one-hour musical is something to see, with many insecure children discovering talents that no one, including the children themselves, knew they had.

For kids who have never seen a play and have no place to rehearse — nor any props or costumes or sets other than what the theater company can pack into the truck —  putting on a production seems unimaginable.

As the movie unfolds, you see how doing the unimaginable builds self-confidence, and generates both laughter and ideas about possible futures. It’s not about growing up to be actors. It’s about seeing that there are options, and starting to think differently.

And in case anyone is more interested in the academic skills boosted through theater, this Education Week article makes that case. Not a bad case to be made, but it’s the magic of Queen Mab that speaks to me.

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When playwright Willie Reale started the 52nd Street Project in 1981 it was to meet a need. Children living in poverty in and around the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City often had little joy in their lives. A group of theater people decided to use the art they knew best to change that.

“The mission of The 52nd Street Project is to bring together kids (ages 9 to 18) from the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, with theater professionals to create original theater.  The primary activity of the Project is to present free theater to a general audience. The Project’s deeper purpose is to use the art form of theater to engage the children’s imaginations, broaden their means of expression, and increase their sense of self worth, their literacy skills and their appreciation for the arts. With the addition of our expanded Clubhouse and our own theater, the Project has been able to add programming in various other art forms (such as Photography, Poetry, Theatrical Design and Dance). Additionally, the Project runs a free, after school homework help and academic mentoring program.”

In the early years, I saw some of the plays created when one child and one actor bonded and collaborated. Delightful. As Reale says, “There is no way to fast forward and know how the kids will look back on this, but I have seen the joy in their eyes and have heard it in their voices and I have watched them take a bow and come up taller.”

In this clip, kids work with adult partners on haiku.

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