Tuesday, October 10, 2006
October 10th is a real red letter and even a sad letter day for American Theatre. On this day in 1947, Rodgers & Hammerstein's fourth musical together "Allegro" opened to very mixed reviews. It had a grand advance box office of two hundred and fifty thousand tickets pre-sold at the value of 3/4 of a million dollars-- a lot of money back then! It ran only three hundred and fifty-five performances (just shy of a year and a half. On this show, Hammerstein's go-fer was none other than sixteen year old Stephen Sondhiem. He met that very special opening night a begining stage hand who had just turned eighteen-- his name? Harold Prince! They became fast friends that night. The show had an horrible opening night with a wall falling on stage, a dancer getting his dance shoe stuck in a track (damaging every tendant in his leg) and with he having to be carried off stage screaming in pain. Another actress fell off stage and right into the orchestra pit.(She recovered and went back on stage)--thank God! ) This musical was a story of an everyman named Joseph Taylor, Jr and was based in many ways on Hammerstein's own life story. It flopped with only one of its many songs "So Far" (recorded by Perry Como in 1948) finding its way to the Hit Parade. Hammerstein is said to have always wanted to fix the second act! Don't we all? Today is also the birthday of Helen Hayes (1900) first lady of the theatre, Harold Pinter, playwright of note, and Jodi Benson ("The Little Mermaid") It's Ben Vereen's 60th birthday today also. Ben made his debut in Stephen Schwartz's first Broadway show "Pippin" in 1976 and played the Wizard of Oz in Steve's latest phenominum, "The Wicked." But it goes on. For on this day in 1985 two giants of theatre both passed away at the very same age of seventy: (within two hours of one another) one was Orson Welles who made MacBeth and many other stage characters come alive as wonderfully as he did "Citizen Kane" in the movies and the other was Yul Brynner who played the King of Siam in Rodger and Hammerstein's "King and I" for four thousand, six hundred and twenty-six performances: the last of which only two months before his death. He was also acclaimed playing Pharoh in "The Ten Commandments" and in "Anastasia" both in 1956. One of the actors that played in my production of "Skylark" (David Wagner) went on from that show to portray young Lewis in the last production of King and I at the Pantages Theatre in 1985. I also learn that Yul was an avid photographer and that two books on his photos have now been put together and published by his children. On top of all of these events on this very same day, one can add the premiere of Jerry Herman's very first musical on Broadway called "Milk and Honey" and the gala premiere in 1935 of the classic Broadway musical "Porgy & Bess" An amazing day. I heard from my good friend Jimmy Chapel today back from performances in Florida and New York. What a great quote he gave me: "Life keeps me so busy that when I do die, I'm gonna roll over one more time" Amen brother-- is that the way with so many of us or what?