Saturday, June 22, 2013

THE STORY OF A CHAMPION

  • Gower Champion's  birthday would have been today. His death came from a rare blood cancer and he secumbed at the tender age of sixty-one. He was an amazing direcrtor and he graced the Broadway stage with his impeccable style of directing begining in the 1950's!
    He had a solid success in 1960 with Bye Bye Birdie, a show about an Elvis-like rock star about to be inducted into the army. The show starred relative unknowns Chita Rivera and Dick Van Dyke along with a youthful cast. It ran 607 performances and won four Tony awards, including Best Musical and two for Champion's direction and choreography. Next came Carnival in 1961, which ran 719 performances and garnered seven Tony nominations, including one for Champion's direction.
    In 1964, he directed one of Broadway's biggest blockbusters, Hello, Dolly!. It ran for 2844 performances — almost seven years. Starring Carol Channing, it's best remembered for the title number, where Dolly is greeted by the staff of a restaurant after having been away for years. The show won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as two for Champion's direction and choreography.
    Champion had his fourth consecutive hit musical with I Do! I Do! in 1966. It featured a cast of two — veterans Mary Martin and Robert Preston — playing a couple seen throughout the years of their marriage. The show ran for 560 performances and got seven Tony nominations, including one for Champion's direction.
    His next show, The Happy Time in 1968, broke his streak. It had a relatively disappointing run of only 286 performances. This would be followed by many more disappointments and worse. In the 1970s, Champion directed minor hits (Sugar in 1972 and the revivalIrene in 1973), flops (Mack & Mabel in 1974) and complete disasters (Rockabye Hamlet — seven performances in 1976 — and A Broadway Musical, running only one night in 1978, not to mention Prettybelle, which closed out of town in 1971). On top of all this, he and Marge were divorced in 1973.
    After the failures of the previous decade, Champion was able to make a comeback with his longest-running show. In 1980, he choreographed and directed a stage adaptation of the movie classic, 42nd Street.
  • It won the Tony for Best Musical, and Champion was nominated for his direction and choreography, winning for the latter. The show ran for 3,486 performances, but Champion did not live to see any. After numerous curtain calls on opening night, producer David Merrick stunned the cast and audience by announcing Champion had died earlier that day.
  • Today is also the birthday of Meryl Streep, Cyndi Lauper and would have been the 90th birthday of film maker Billy Wilder. Beautiful Super Moon is tomorrow here in Southern California and this first weekend of Summer has been simply spectacular. Warm, but not too hot.
  • John Nugent and I continue to make progress on Adam and Eve and Steve. The option money has been nice, but it keeps us so busy, we barely have time to call our very closest friends these days. You can hear six of the songs, including the Overture on Sound Cloud. Great sound there!

12 comments:

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