It didn’t get a great deal of promotion – in fact, it pretty much slipped between the cracks, and I only caught it on its repeat. But a couple weeks ago, Great Performances on PBS had a sequel to the documentary they did 18 years ago, Broadway: the Golden Age. This one is called Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.
It’s absolutely great, arguably better than the first one. It’s a bit different– the first was largely an overview of the entire period. This is more focused on several shows, but it gives a sense of the era. And I don’t want to say why it’s so wonderful, since it’s full of surprises -- some of them small but lovely, some huge, some for the people who appear on camera. I’ll only mention one: Robert Redford, who talks with such warmth and affection about the early days of his career on Broadway. Also, the opening 5-10 minutes of the documentary are thrilling, as actors talk about what it’s like preparing for the curtain to go up, beautifully, rivetingly edited. But it’s not like that’s the high point of the production and downhill from there. It’s all terrific.
And sequences and moments are so great of a joyous, distant era, and include some rare, never-before-seen footage.
By the way, after watching it I found out through a friend who knows one of the producers why this appeared to be a bit different from the first documentary. That’s because this was only 98 minutes or so, but the full documentary was 150 minutes. They cut out a third of the film to fit in the PBS timeslot with Pledge Breaks. There’s almost another hour of material left! And yet it was still tremendous. On the positive end, I’m told that the company is looking for outlets.
Both films were directed by Rick McKay. Sadly, he passed away three years ago before this second production was completed. However, the production team and editor were finally able to finish it. A couple of friends got to know him well in the last 15 years or so of his life, though a sort of family connection, and spoke highly of him.
Hopefully you’ve had a chance to see it, or will be able to catch it on a repeat on one of the various PBS channels, or On Demand. But it’s also on the PBS Passport website for PBS subscribers. This is the direct link here.
However, good news! It appears that I can embed the show on my website – I just tested it, and that seems to be the case. Just know that the video expires in about two weeks, on September 11.
If you can make it full screen, do so.
It’s great. And one of those things I feel comfortable saying, “Trust me.”
Neil Patrick Harris had a streak where he hosted the Tony Awards with a trifecta of three great opening numbers. The best by far -- what I think was the best opening number in any awards show history that got a full 65-second standing and roaring ovation -- came in 2013. But had a really wonderful one the year before (which was the second one in the great streak) I've posted this 2012 opening previously, but since it tends to get overlooked by the spectacle the next year, I though I should revisit it. It's awfully good as far as opening numbers go, all on its own.
By the way, late in the number about the 6:40 mark he does a long run-on lyric that begins with "We know that life is brief and brutal". It's largely the same rhythm, cadence and music as one he did the following year (about Annie and her orphans coming up to your knees and Chuck E. Cheese) so I suspect similar people were in involved.
All that aside, here there is the Tony Awards opening number from 2012.
I was about to post the 2013 number, as well, since I referenced it, but then realized I didn't want to repeat the problem of letting this great 2012 number get lost in comparison. If you want to see it, go to YouTube and just search for Tony 2013.
I have on my list of videos to search for a small handful of true treasures on my wish list. This is one of those, near the top. In fact, I've wanted to see it again ever since it aired on CBS television over 50 years ago, back on April, 1967.
As readers of these pages know, I'm a huge fan of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. They're a couple of British songwriters who had a hugely successful revue, At the Drop of a Hat, that played in London for a long time and then had a long run on Broadway. It was a collection of very funny, occasionally touching, odd, whimsical songs with lyrics by Flanders and music by Swann, tied together by wonderfully witty and erudite narration that was written and performed by Flanders, who also sang lead on most of the songs. At the heart of all this were deeply offbeat songs on all manner of subject, most famously some about animals and plants, and a long monologue that had something to do with a hat.
Then, in the mid-60s, they did another show -- At the Drop of Another Hat. And it had similar success in London and on Broadway. With one added twist: a one-hour version of the show was recorded live for CBS.
And this is that performance. O huzzah!
There were two reasons I've looked so hard and hoped so much to find this broadcast. The first is because my recollection is that it was so wonderful. (And watching it again, that recollection holds true.) The other is because Flanders did not like television and did not want to appear on it much, and so there is very little video of the two of them performing, just their various albums. The few videos of them on TV tend to be snippets that came from this broadcast. So, having the whole thing, not snippets, is a total joy. I've posted the very few videos of them I can find, but it's very few. So, I've also been more limited to songs from their albums.
In large part probably because there is almost no video material of them, Flanders & Swann aren't especially known, particularly in the U.S. But their two shows and the albums that came from them (and other albums) have kept their names alive. And a few of their songs, notably "Madeira, M'Dear" have been recorded by others. Happily, they perform that here.
Michael Flanders is wonderful -- smart, funny, lowkey, whimsical, elegant, eloquent, witty and down-to-earth, a pretty good combination. He effortlessly wheels around stage in his wheelchair, the result of polio, so much so that it just seems natural. Swann is an accomplished pianist, with a classical background, and is generally low-key here, expect for having a wonderful laugh that echoes throughout the evening, an impressive feat given that he likely heard these jokes many hundreds of time. But he has a persona that, as quiet, owlish and professorial as he appears, seems like there is a crazy man buried underneath wanting to break out.
What stands out in this production is not only how erudite Flanders & Swann were, but also how much they respected their audience to understand (or at least accept) their references. And what stands out, too, is that this was a time when television would put on such a smart, funny, different kind of TV broadcast as this. Oddly, they begin the evening with two songs with new lyrics written to existing (and familiar) tunes. Lest this give the wrong impression initially, this is very uncommon from them. Though they did write a few such songs over the years, the vast bulk of their work was completely original.
Worth noting is that among his many credentials, Donald Swann also wrote a sort of song-cycle of music to the poems of J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. In fact, he even sings one of those songs in this production, and what stands out is that he has to explain to the audience what The Lord of the Rings is.
Also, Michael Flanders appeared in one movie. It was released in 1971 as The Raging Moon, but is also known as Long Ago, Tomorrow, The film was reasonably well-regarded (it has a 6.9 rating on iMDB), and starred Malcolm McDowell and Nanette Newman (the female lead in the wonderful The Wrong Box, written by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove), along with Georgia Brown, who created the role of 'Nancy' in Oliver! on both the West End and Broadway. And it was directed by Brian Forbes, whose strong credits include The Stepford Wives, The Madwoman of Chaillot, King Rat, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, and the aforementioned The Wrong Box. I didn't see the movie at the time of its initial run, and haven't been able to track it down since. I haven't seen it scheduled on Turner Classic Movies (though it's in their database), and there isn't a DVD or streaming version available yet on either Netflix or Amazon Prime. But I live in hope.
Hey, I lived in hope that this TV broadcast of At The Drop of Another Hat would show up one day. And finally, at long last, it did...!
Know that this is only a smattering of Flanders & Swann. This broadcast alone is only about a half, probably even less of At the Drop of Another Hat. There's also their earlier show. And several albums. But though it's not a "best of evening," best of all it finally gives a view of who they are and what they did.
Ignore the title below -- this isn't "the only" video of Flanders & Swann. But it's close to that. And most videos of them come from this. What it most definitively is is the longest, most complete video of them. And for that, it is an absolute treasure.
This past Saturday, the first "show" on Broadway opened since the pandemic. It was only a 40-minute production, and the audience was extremely limited, socially distanced and required to wear masks -- comprised mostly of staffers from the Actors Fund and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
It was a matinee, directed by Tony-winner Jerry Zaks, and featured Tony-winners Nathan Lane and Savion Glover, who each had solo performances in their halves of the evening. Only three minutes of each are available, but it's worth it.
Lane performed a new monologue written by playwright Paul Rudnick. It's the story of a theater-obsessed man self-isolating in his small apartment, as he talks about what he says are his encounters with Hugh Jackman and others.
It's not only very funny, but Nathan Lane is a total joy, and I’ve love to see the whole thing and hope it either gets released (perhaps as a fund-raiser) or that Paul Rudnick can expand it to a full evening, or at least a regular one-act that can be paired with something else..
Savion Glover's piece is very enjoyable, though from just these two clips -- admittedly not a fair comparison -- Lane's is the standout for my taste. In his work, Glover uses tap dance to "reflect on his life in the theater, while exploring what Broadway is, was, and will be."
This is a huge deal for theater-lovers.
Starting tonight and running through this Sunday, October 25, the Goodman Theatre of Chicago is going to stream its 1999 Tony-winning production of “Death of a Salesman” with Brian Dennehy.
The production won four Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play (Dennehy), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Elizabeth Franz), and Best Direction of a Play (Robert Falls, the artistic director of the Goodman.).
It begins streaming at 7 PM CDT tonight and will end at midnight CDT on Sunday. This is being done as a benefit for the Actors Fund
You can stream it here on the Goodman Theatre's website. Or if for some reasons that's not working, over on Playbill.com.
For some reason, Dennehy loved performing in Chicago, which he did a lot. Periodically at the Goodman, often at Steppenwolf. Apparently, he was pushing to do a production of this play in the city for years. It did so well there and was so acclaimed that they took it to Broadway.
Here are a couple of minutes from the production with Dennehy and Franz. It gives a good sense why he received the Best Actor award. It's a low-key scene, but done with such realism and heart.
And as a bonus, this is the Tony Awards when Dennehy won. It's quite nice, and often very funny.
This is a follow-up companion piece of sorts to my article and video yesterday on The Lunts -- Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, arguably the greatest couple in American theater in the 20th century. But don't take my word for it, this feature says the same thing, though they leave out "arguably."
Also, probably one of the least-known acting couples today, in large part because they made almost no work on film or TV.
This is a wonderful 10-minute profile of the couple done on CBS Sunday Morning in 2010. It's broken into two segments.
It makes many of the same points I did, but goes deeper with some wonderful footage, including some more from that film The Guardsman, the only full-length movie that they made.
By the way, there's an interesting discovery in this. On the video I posted yesterday of the special Tony Award presentation to The Lunts, Julie Andrews remarks the special pride she has when her fellow-countrymen from England get an honor. And I understand her comment with The Lunts having such a regal persona of theater royalty. And Lynn Fontanne was indeed from England. But Alfred Lunt was from...Milwaukee! In fact, the focus of this feature is their impressive country home in Wisconsin.
All those details aside, however, there is one main thing above all that thrills me about finding this --
You'll recall that yesterday I went on at length about seeing them as a kid when they were in a very rare (for them) TV production in the 1960s on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. It was an adaptation of the play The Magnificent Yankee about Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and his wife. As I said, my recollection was that it was a total joy, confirmed with I had access to the research archives at UCLA and watch it again when I was in grad school. And I bemoaned that the show has never since been released to the public.
The wonderful news, though it's tiny, but you takes what you gets, is that -- they actually have about 15-20 seconds of footage from The Magnificent Yankee! So, you'll be able to see that I wasn't lying. It comes along in the second video below.
This is a real treat. Especially if you know of The Lunts. But if you don't, do yourself a favor and find out more. It's just 10 minutes, and your life will be richer for it.
Besides, you'll get to see 15-20 seconds of The Magnificent Yankee. And it's all you'll have to go on - until one day when they hopefully release the whole thing.
Two of the greatest stage actors of the 20th century -- and arguably the greatest husband and wife acting couple, doing much of their work together -- were Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Unfortunately, there's very little footage of them, since they did very few movies, leaving most of their work for the stage.
One thing I do remember seeing them in, though not a movie per se, was a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production of the classic play, The Magnificent Yankee, about Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, which aired in 1965. My recollection, even watching it as a kid, was that it was a total joy. Years later, when I went to UCLA for graduate school, I discovered that the school had the greatest collection of Hallmark Hall of Fame specials anywhere, everything in fact -- though it was only available for academic purposes. Being a student, I thought that that might qualify, and it did. For some reason, I only took advantage to see two of their classic productions. One was A Storm in Summer, for which Peter Ustinov won the Emmy Award, written by Rod Serling -- and it was as great as I remembered, though I knew it would be since it hadn't aired that much earlier. The other I wanted to see was The Magnificent Yankee, curious how it lived up to my memory all that time before when I was much younger. And...it was just as superb. I wish both of these were available to the public. Why one of the several Hallmark Channels doesn't air their collection -- even in the middle of the night, where they could be recorded for later viewing -- is beyond me.
Alas, no, I don't have footage of The Magnificent Yankee. I mention it only for the sake of perspective. I should note that many people have seen the work of Lynn Fontanne, though, but don't know it. And I say "seen the work" specifically, because they haven't seen her in it. She did the narration of the original, legendary TV production of Peter Pan with Mary Martin.
As I said, there isn't much footage of the two of them acting, though you can get their one, famous film, The Guardsman -- recreating their roles from the major Broadway hit -- which is available on Netflix. It's old and dated, from 1931, but it's still enjoyable and especially a treat to see them both. It's the story of an actor husband who suspects his wife of infidelity, and so pretends to be a foreign nobleman to try to strike up an affair with her and prove himself right.
And at least we have a trailer for that.
All of this is a long way to lead into this video. It's from 1970, when The Lunts were given a special Tony Award. It's introduced by Julie Andrews, and then presented by another then-married couple, Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens.
As I noted here the other day, I've written periodically about attending the wonderful Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum outdoors in the Topanga Forest. This is also where Billie Eilish performed her recent world premiere video, "My Future," for the DNC Convention.
The Theatricum Botanicum has just announced a month of special online Zoom events -- all free -- that they will be putting on over the next month, intended no doubt to involve the public to do some fundraising since they've had to shut their performance season down.
First up is a fascinating sounding event, "An Evening of Mummers and Mystery." This is a small, independent film that Will Geer made In 1974 with other original Theatricum company members. As they describe it, the film "recreated the experience of a troop of mummers performing a mystery play typical of The Middle Ages in Europe. This rarely seen film, full of familiar faces and screened now for the first time in nearly five decades, illustrates how early acting companies in the 1400s helped give way to the modern theater as we know it."
Here's a trailer for the film -- clearly low-budget, but just as clearly rambunctious and lively. I did recognize a few performers, like Will Geer, of course, and also -- at the 50-second mark -- Dana Elcar and Arthur Malet (a longtime character actor who, among many other things, played the banker 'Mr. Dawes, Jr.' in Mary Poppins, the character who rehires Mr. Banks at the end, as everyone sings "Let's Go Fly a Kite), as well as, I think, Joyce Van Patten (who memorably played a killer in an episode of Columbo), along with some others I recognized but couldn't quite place in the few moments on screen, , but this is just a brief trailer, so I look forward to seeing the many others .
If you want to see the film, which is free, you have to RSVP first, and then they'll email a Zoom link and password. You can sign up at here. There will be a Zoom discussion afterward.
By the way, this is the full schedule of their free Zoom events over the next month. One is their Evening with Woody Guthrie, who was friends with Will Geer. And there is an evening of storytelling from performers who've worked at the Theatricum Botanicum, an evening for young children, and a gala "fundraiser" -- which, again, is free -- full of performers and hosted by Pamela Adlon, creator and star of the series Better Things...and daughter of my friend, the late writer Don Segall, who I wrote about here.
As I've mentioned here, the National Theatre Live streams a production every Thursday for free, and it runs for a week. (It was supposed to be just for four plays, and then they extended it for four more. This is the last one starting today, though they may extend it further, but no word yet.)
The new production that begins streaming today for free to run until next Thursday is Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. I wasn’t absolutely sure I was going to watch – not only am I not dying to see it, one of Shakespeare’s lesser plays, but also it’s three hours long. But I figured I won’t get many chances to see Corionlanus, and I can always watch over two nights. And it stars Tom Hiddleston who I like a lot.
So I read the synopsis.
And I was flabbergasted. It’s about Trump!!
(Albeit with more pathos, sympathy and courage... But at its foundation, Trump nonetheless.)
A couple passages from Wikipedia –
“The play opens in Rome…. There are riots in progress, after stores of grain were withheld from ordinary citizens. The rioters are particularly angry at Caius Marcius, [Coriolanus] a Roman general whom they blame for the loss of their grain….Marcius is openly contemptuous of the people, and says that the plebeians were not worthy of the grain.
“Faced with this opposition, Coriolanus flies into a rage and rails against the concept of popular rule. He compares allowing plebeians to have power over the patricians to allowing ‘crows to peck the eagles’".
There’s a lot more, too. Including the matter of being a traitor and working for Rome's enemy.
Okay, you couldn’t keep me from watching. Though still perhaps over two nights…
Furthermore, it turns out that this is an acclaimed production, originally done at the Donmar Warehouse in 2014. A friend of mine who is seriously up on such things not only saw a recent movie of the play that Ralph Fiennes directed and starred in and said it was wonderful (I only saw the trailer, which doesn’t count…but it looked good), but he also wrote me last night, “Hiddleston's performance and this production have entered modern theatrical lore so this will be an extraordinary opportunity.”
Also in the cast is another actor I like, Mark Gatiss, who viewers here may know best as Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft opposite Benedict Cumberbatch.
For those interested, this is the online link here. However, it can be watched on a Smart TV, too, through the YouTube app, which is how I've watched these streaming productions. And again, it will run for a week starting today, and for free. (Though they do make a request for a donation.)
And this here is a brief synopsis, not anything in full detail, but it should give you a pretty good idea.
This is the trailer --
As I noted yesterday, the Los Angeles Music Center is putting out material from their archives, which they call "Scenes from the Vault." It's not just musicals, but plays, as well. And this is from a very interesting play that I saw at the Mark Taper Forum in late 2012, called Red by John Logan. He's probably best-known as a screenwriter, getting three Oscar nominations -- two for Best Original Screenplay with Gladiator and The Aviator, and once for Best Adapted Screenplay with Hugo.
The play is about artist Mark Rothko who spars with his assistant Ken sparring over the merits of contemporary artists, most of whose work he detests.
This is an excellent, extended scene with Alfred Molina who wonderful as Rothko, and Jonathan Groff as the assistant.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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