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My Theatrical Marathon

With all the talk of the London Marathon during the month of April, I decided in my own way to do a little marathon of my own, except mine was a Theatrical Marathon, in which I saw 9 shows in 11 days. Starting with:

1. Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” at the Coliseum Theatre.

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 Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” at the Coliseum Theatre.

She was the main reason that I decided on the Marathon, and to say that she lived up to all the expectations that I had is an understatement. Her performance was brilliant. To my mind she was as good as Gloria Swanson who appeared in the original noir classic in 1950. In fact, Close was even better because apart from being a brilliant actress, she sang, and how she sang! Receiving rapturous applause and ovation after ovation. When I read that the production was to be semi-staged (and I had already bought my ticket), I thought, ‘semi-staged’ Ugh! What is semi-staged? Is it going to be like in concert? How wrong I was! Lonny Price’s brilliant production was spectacular and moody and very creepy, with metal staircases, walkways, and gantry’s covering the whole stage and the most gigantic chandelier ever to grace a London stage.

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Glenn Close as Norma Desmond

The English National Opera Orchestra of 48 musicians were placed across the whole back area of the stage in front of an ever changing cyclorama, and it had to be the most amazing sound that I have ever heard in a musical, something you would only hear at the Royal Albert Hall, and on top of that I had Glenn Close, the Glenn Close. The theatre was packed, that was 2359 people, and you could hear a pin drop. As the story unfolded it was as though I was watching it for the first time, which is some feat considering I have lived with “Sunset Boulevard” since 1950 and Ray Jackson had a complete collection of stills from the original film. I knew the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I had not seen the musical. I don’t know why, but I never got round to it. There were many who considered the Lonny Price production the best. I have no comparison, but I know that I had seen the best and if I didn’t see another show it wouldn’t matter. I came out of the theatre on a cloud of euphoria, only to find the traffic in St. Martins Lane at a standstill. There were crowds of people on the pavements and in the road all waiting for Kit Harrington, “Game of Thrones”, to come out of the Stage Door of the Duke of York Theatre opposite the Coliseum Theatre, where he was in previews of “Dr. Faustus”. (I thought that’s number 5 on my marathon list, something to look forward to). But really what were the crowds doing there? I didn’t know that he took his kit off in “Dr. Faustus”.They should all have been lined up at the Coliseum Stage Door waiting to applaud Glenn Close for her triumphant performance in Sunset Boulevard. But as they say that’s Show Business! I knew that I really couldn’t expect too much from the other 8 shows, after all I had just been lucky enough to see the best. You could not top “Sunset Boulevard”.

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Glenn Close and the Coliseum Theatre.

Since writing this Blog, I have found this great review by Johnny Fox which to my joy really confirms all that I have said about this production, and Glenn Close. But also adds a few extra points.

05 April 2016 | On Stage, Theatre & Arts | By: Johnny Fox Review:

Glenn Close Is Blinding In Sunset Boulevard  at the London Coliseum ★★★★★

The night after Imelda Staunton picked up her Olivier award for best actress in a musical in Gypsy, her successor is a rock solid certainty. With such tumultuous reception at the Coliseum, there is no doubt that Glenn Close must win for Sunset Boulevard in which, like Staunton, she plays a deluded and flawed tragic hero of the entertainment business.

That Close is a movie star with a memorable back catalogue playing a silent movie star whose back catalogue has been eclipsed is just the surrealist cherry on her richly iced cake.

Stephen Sondheim began a musical of Sunset Boulevard and it’s fortunate he abandoned it because it’s doubtful he would have orchestrated it with the swimmingly sensual depth of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s homage to the film music by which he’d been enthralled when young, and which may prove his epitaph as the woven, silken fabric of his best work.

The score is the centrepiece of this stripped-down staging in the Grade/Linnet production at the Coliseum, the only residual feature of the ENO company (once its magnificent chorus had been hired then stood down as ‘unsuitable’ to play the ensemble) is the ferociously excellent 48-piece orchestra upstage and centre.

Even if you’re completely familiar with this music, you have never heard it played better. Not only does Michael Reed restrain the tempi and coax the strings to cinematic heights when following the car chase or tenderly underscoring Close’s solos, there’s enough dirty brass to power a Cuban nightclub in support of the upbeat numbers.

Few productions have excited as much anticipatory comment on social media, and even though former Normas Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige are still singing forcibly and chewing scenery at approximately the same age, speculation was rife whether Close would be up to the vocal demands 20 years after she won the Tony.

She is perhaps fortunate that Lloyd Webber sites ‘With One Look’ so early in the proceedings: once she’d hurdled that, confidently staring down the audience with its final crescendo, she was home free.

There’s a break in her range that more experienced singers could have transitioned better, but then they wouldn’t have acted the part with more intelligence.

Close has a wonderful way of undercutting the climax of a set-piece song by almost throwing away the next line. It’s winning.

This Norma is less imperious, often playful or skittish, which sets her up for a credible loosening of her grip on reality. Some of her mood-swings are too crude, but the additional years of experience have given Close an observant perspective on ageing and delusion which she fully transmits to the audience.

You could wish they’d make Norma’s age more accurate. She’s 50. It’s in the script. Gloria Swanson was 50 when she made the film. It’s almost grotesque of the book writer and lyricist to repeatedly suggest she’s ‘ancient’ or beyond the age of sexuality because the pathos is not in her decrepitude but in her elegant reclusive withdrawal, a dethroned queen: in Close’s aching interpretation, a Wallis Simpson of the silver screen. ‬

The original London and Broadway productions both lost money because of the high initial costs including an elaborate rococo mansion set with a realistic swimming pool and gilded staircase on lifts. Here, the grand luxe is represented only by a cluster of chandeliers and the deconstruction makes you focus more on both the strengths of the 1950 Billy Wilder movie and its flawed but fascinating characters, and the weaknesses of the stage book. It enhances the ‘big’ songs and exposes the feebler comic chorus numbers for tailors and beauticians. Clever.

The search for a suitable leading man and foil to play Joe Gillis must have been tough. Someone not so starry as to steal the limelight from Close, and competent enough to carry the dramatic narrative. Not Barrowman, then. Michael Xavier, rescued from old-before-his-time roles like Captain von Trapp is an amazement and a delight. At the curtain call, the audience were on their feet for him before Close even made her bows. His elegant fluidity even as a down-at-heel and slightly desperate writer is so attractive, and he sings conversationally and with feeling, like an effortless charm.

Fully clothed, he is every inch the leading man, and stripped to skimpy Speedos emerging from the orchestra pit ‘pool’ at the top of act two with a washboard stomach and balconied pectorals, he’s hot too. Don’t be late back from the bar.

I’m also including a great write-up from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s, of Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard.

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Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis and Glenn Close as Norma Desmond, at the London Coliseum, April 2016. Photograph: Richard Hubert Smith

For all the endless dashing around for the newest, edgiest thing sometimes you just have to see the greats do the classics. We watch this eccentric, old silent movie star seduce and manipulate a younger man to feed her fading dreams and also watch him exploit her neediness. God, it’s exciting, dark, sexy and hilarious. Glenn’s first song is called Surrender; she all but floats down the stairs, with an ache in her heart and you can almost feel it in your own. She plays the naivety of a child with the gravitas of a goddess. In the final moments, I turned to look down the aisle to see rows upon rows of wet cheeks and shining eyes. We all left the theatre knowing we’d just shared something very special.

 

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Watch GLENN CLOSE on YOU TUBE.

Glenn Close Preparing for the role Sunset Boulevard at ENO – YouTube

2. “Mrs. Henderson Presents” at the Noel Coward Theatre.

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I should have known after seeing the brilliant “Sunset Boulevard” that I was going from the sublime to the ridiculous. I only wanted to see this show because of my past history. I owned with my partner Ray Jackson the ‘Casino de Paris Striptease Club’ in Denman Street, W.1., the adjoining street to the Windmill Theatre, and it was during the run and the demise of the Windmill. For me they were such happy days, with such wonderful memories. This show did nothing to change my opinion of what the Windmill was and stood for. The corruption with the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, it was all there in the show. The Windmill was tacky, and it came across in the production, perhaps it was meant to show that. But striptease and nudity was my business, and I have to say that at the Casino de Paris we did it with finesse and class

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The obligatory Fan Dance.

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 Jamie Foreman as Arthur (The Comic)

The cast of Mrs. Henderson Presents were good in their own way, and they did the best of what was expected of them, but story-wise there was so much that was missed out, and the music? Forgettable! Maybe I am biased, (I am, I really am!), but when they cast an actor in the role of a comic (which is a breed unto itself) it doesn’t work. The continuity and plot was put into this poor guys’ hands and it really needed a seasoned comic to be able to handle it, and manipulate the audience. But the poor bugger he did his best. Enough said! The sooner I forget about it the better.

3. Sheridan Smith in “Funny Girl” at the Savoy Theatre.

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I was so pleased to be able to get a seat, they were like gold dust, so my expectations were high. Let me first say that I consider Sheridan Smith a brilliantly multi-talented actress whose portrayal of Cilla Black in the TV mini series was superb, and also she sings beautifully, but does she look Jewish? Never in a million years! I blame the miscasting of this lovely actress, on the producers and the director and choreographer.

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Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice

They made her look and act like an American Hilda Baker, and as for her love interest (it was Cynthia, “She knows you know!”), he was so tall that when they embraced she came up to just below his chest. Which could have been interesting, if it wasn’t “Funny Girl”! “Let My People Come” or “Hair”, yes! But not “Funny Girl”. And he sounded like Vincent Price! So there I am watching “Funny Girl” with a Hilda Baker with an American accent and (Cynthia) Vincent Price. I think that the choreographer must have watched every film and TV that Hilda Baker made, because he gave poor Sheridan Smith all her moves. Didn’t anyone tell them that Fanny Brice, although she could be gross and funny, she had class. And the clothes they gave her! Ugh! The sort of clothes that I imagine Hilda Baker would have chosen. Having to wear them was enough for anyone to take to drink!

11-Funny-Girl-Sheridan-Smith(Cynthia) Darius Campbell, (Hilda Baker) Sheridan Smith, (Mrs.Brice) Marilyn Cutts.

An open letter to Sheridan Smith:

Dear Sheridan Smith,
Write it off as a bad experience. They need you, more than you need them.
You are a truly beautiful, talented and brilliant actress.
Blame the Director, Producers and Choreographer, who trying to ride on the back of your
extraordinary current success, mistakenly cast you into “Funny Girl”
By the way, if they ever decide to make a Musical on the life of Hilda Baker you
Would be a dead ringer!
Yours sincerely,
Eric Lindsay

Behind the Scenes: Funny Girl Fit-Up (Savoy Theatre) – YouTube

That’s 3 down 6 more to go.

4. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the Lyttelton Theatre.

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This is the first time that I have been to this theatre and what a beautiful modern theatre it is. I had no idea what the play was about, but the Black Bottom was a dance I knew so I thought I’d give it a go and I’m so pleased that I did. Nothing like what I expected, this play with music is so moving that in one part I was nearly moved to tears and choked up. The whole cast was brilliant, except I found that Sharon D. Clarke in her quieter moments difficult to hear. The really outstanding performance was to my mind O-T Fagbenle a wonderful ‘tour de force’, so moving and heartfelt.

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The review by Quentin Letts published in the Daily Mail on the 3rd.February, 2016 says it all far better than I can.

Long-suffering jazz band hits all the right notes: QUENTIN LETTS’ first night review of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
By Quentin Letts for the Daily Mail

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
August Wilson, Royal National Theatre
Rating:
Good play, good jazz, great acting: the Royal National’s new production of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ hits lots of right notes.
August Wilson’s 1984 play is set in a recording studio in 1920s Chicago. Ma Rainey is a black jazz singer and a frightful prima donna. Her white manager Irvin (Finbar Lynch) spends much of his life saying ‘let me handle this’ as he soothes her tantrums.
Ma is played here by Sharon D Clarke, who could almost have been made for the part. Ma is by turns impossible, brilliant at the microphone and – when she needs to be – sweetly encouraging to her stuttering nephew (Tunji Lucas).

The 1984 play by August Wilson  is set in a recording studio in 1920s Chicago
Miss Clarke sings with her usual smoky power. But the story is not really about Ma, or studio boss Mr Sturdyvant (Stuart McQuarrie).
It is about Ma’s long-suffering band members, one of whom, young-buck trumpeter Levee, refuses to be cowed by her or by convention. All Levee’s cockiness and sex appeal and rage is caught fizzingly by OT Fagbenle.
Mr Fagbenle knows how to play a horn. He can act, too. The tale of Levee’s family left last night’s audience in sudden silence. ( Me too. He is quite brilliant. E.L.)
He is supported by Lucian Msamati as cerebral pianist Toledo, lecturing his colleagues in the duty of all black people to aspire. Toledo talks and talks.
Levee is more a man of action – and makes moves on Ma Rainey’s pretty girlfriend Dussie Mae (Tamara Lawrance). Giles Terera and Clint Dyer are also excellent as the other band members.
A slightly odd set, designed by our old friend Ultz (a railway station in Austria?), has the band’s practice room a long oblong basement, terribly narrow. The studio producers are upstairs in a metal Portakabin-style box which swings on chains.
Does the play have an unsatisfactory sense of justice? Well, that reflects the injustice against black Americans in the 1920s but it arguably leaves the evening less than cathartic.
Director Dominic Cooke extracts such good performances from his cast, however, that you still leave richly satisfied.

National Theatre Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom trailer – YouTube

5. Kit Harington in “Dr. Faustus” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

KIT HARRINGTON DR.FAUSTUS

Well now I was going to see what it was all about. I have to hand to Mr. Jamie Lloyd he is a visionary and a great director. The production of the Christopher Marlowe Play was brought up to the present day with an adaption by Colin Teevan. Kit Harington spends the whole of the second act in his underpants, which is sure to bring in thousands of his fans from “Game of Thrones” and also quite a lot of the gay community who will be fighting with the fans for front row seats. My admiration to Jamie Lloyd exceeds no bounds. He is astute, clever, commercial and artistic, what more can one have in a director. He rightly deserves his position as Artistic Director of the Jamie Lloyd Company.

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Kit Harington as Dr. Faustus.

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The whole production had the feel of a Jean Genet play, and I expected to see Lindsey Kemp appear from “Flowers”, which was another Jean Genet play, floating about the stage. Kit Harington gives a fine performance as Dr. Faustus, but I felt that there was something lacking in his vocal range of the Marlowe text. But I’m sure this will improve with more classical work. You have to hand it to him, he is star quality as you can see.

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Kit Harington before his shower scene in blood.

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Kit Harington post shower.

Kit Harington Doctor faustus . unchain my heart – YouTube

6. “Kinky Boots” at the Adelphi Theatre.

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I never got to see it when I was in New York last year, so I was very happy that I included it in my Marathon. The film I loved and this musical sticks closely to the plot. The cast are brilliant, the staging unbelievable, it has all the glitz and glamour that you would expect from an American musical with an English plot. If you haven’t seen it, go! go! go!  You will love it.

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Killian Donnelly, Amy Lennox and Matt Henry “Kinky Boots”.

UK – Kinky Boots the Musical – Trailer 2015 – Adelphi Theatre – YouTube

7.  Uzo Aduba, Zawe Ashton in “The Maids” at the Trafalgar Studios.

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Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!

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By now you must gather that I think that Jamie Lloyd is the bees knees, and you are right! What a brilliant director he is. To be able to invoke such terror and excitement into a play is something I have never in all my years’ experience in the theatre seen before. This play is so powerful and the performances of both Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton so exceptional, that I doubt that I will ever see such class acting again in my lifetime. To ask me to say which was the stronger performance, I am at a loss because the magnetism between them both was equal and if awards were to be given and there was only one, split it in half, equal, equal. Or go to the extra expense and have another made, like an Olivier. They deserve it.

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Zawe Ashton and Uzo Aduba

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Uzo Aduba

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Laura Carmichael, Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton

The stage set was an open ended 4 poster bed, so that you had a mirror image of another audience sitting watching the play unfold on the other side of the stage. But, they were for real. It is important that I explain this, as it is integral to what I have to say. So that although the theatre is so versatile it can be in the round, or 4 sided. This time it was 2 sided facing one another, with the stage in the centre. Maybe I haven’t explained it too well but the following photos may explain it better. At first I couldn’t believe that the people sitting facing me were real, until I saw a rather large fat lady who was sitting front row in the centre isle with a gentleman friend, drinking what I took to be wine from a very large plastic glass. So the play has started and the drama unfolds, it ran, I think, for 90 minutes with no interval. At odd times I would see the lady sipping the wine, but I was so caught up in the play that it did not really distract. After about half an hour into the play, I caught sight of her refilling the glass from a bottle in her bag, and by this time the wine was beginning to take effect. She was slowly sliding down in her seat and her head was beginning to loll. It finally finished up on her gentleman friend’s shoulder and she must have fallen asleep. Meanwhile the drama is unfolding and being in C Row centre, I was literally in the play and enjoying every moment of it. Much later I caught sight of her fidgeting and moving around in her chair and of all things she takes her phone out, and starts texting and the light from the phone is going on the stage. We are reaching the pinnacle of the play, High Drama! She has meanwhile fallen asleep again with the phone still switched on in her lap and the light still on. No-one on her side of the theatre said a word. What was the matter with them? Were they all asleep or just dummies? No usherette or management came to scold her and take the phone away. Meanwhile Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton are acting their tits off, and that stupid bitch was allowed to sit there and no-one admonished her. I just cannot believe that people can be so rude. But then with all that was happening, and the high drama on stage, it made a very memorable night for me in the Theatre, and every time I think about it, I see the funny side of the whole situation.  She was a light relief with such high drama.Thank you Drunken Fat Lady!

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This is what it looked like, before the play started, so I had no idea that there was another audience facing me.

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If you look closely, to the back of this photo.  This it what I saw from my seat in C Row Centre and the drunken fat lady was siting facing me, front row centre isle at the back of the stage.

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Uzo Aduba, Laura Carmichael, Zawe Ashton.

The Maids Vox Pops – Trafalgar Studios – ATG Tickets – YouTube

 

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Uzo Aduba

Here is another interview with the fabulous actress       Uzo Aduba.

Our Interview with Uzo Abuda from The Maids – YouTube

Here is an interview with the brilliant Jamie Lloyd, about “The Maids”.

Interview with director Jamie Lloyd about The Maids – YouTube

8. “Nell Gwynn” at the Apollo Theatre

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This was one glorious romp from beginning to end. Such wonderful Theatre, in such a beautiful theatre.

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APOLLO THEATRE INTERIOR

Nell Gwynn at the Apollo Theatre – YouTube

9. Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon in “The Painkiller” at the Garrick Theatre.

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“THE PAINKILLER” with Kenneth Branagh and Rob Rydon

A Farce by Francis Veber and adapted by Sean Foley. Why is it that the French are Masters at writing Farce?  For example, Feydeau, Moliere and Labiche and now we have Francis Veber. Well first you need a simple but clever plot of mistaken identities, and lost virtues, a split stage showing maybe 2 or 3 rooms. Plenty of very solid doors for running in and out and slamming. Windows for climbing out and maybe coming in, and a cast of master actors. Well, with “The Painkiller” you have just that. It was a laugh from beginning to end.

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Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon.

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Rob Brydon, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Hadfield.

Well that is the end of my Theatrical Marathon, and it was so varied, and great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed every one. Okay, there were a few that I didn’t think came up to standard, but all in all the Theatre in England is wonderful. Remember that the criticism’s are mine alone, maybe you don’t agree with me, but I have tried to be fair. Stay happy. E.L.

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The Tony Awards

Well, I seem to have talked about the Tony’s so much that I might as well start with it. 

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It was a Champagne Night

 

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RAY JACKSON DANGEROUS YEARS THE TONYS PROGRAMME 2015

The Tony Awards was founded in 1947 by a committee of the American Theatre Wing headed by Brock Pemberton, and Antoinette Perry is the woman the Tony Awards is named after, she was nicknamed Tony, an actress, director, producer and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, and she died in 1946.

(I found all this out through Google and looking at Time Magazine.)

Antoinette Perry was once quoted as saying:

“When I was a child, I didn’t say, as most children do, that I was going to become an actress.

I felt that I was an actress and no one could have convinced me that I wasn’t.”

TONY AWARDS TONY PERRY PRINT 1Antoinette Perry, stage actress and director (1888-1946)

I became so intrigued with Antoinette Perry and how the Tonys first started that I just have to print in this Blog an article that was written by theatre journalist, Ellis Nassour entitled ‘The Original Tony’ and also another entitled ‘The Mayor of Broadway Dies at 91’, the story of Vincent Sardi Jr., written by William Grimes.
Vincent Sardi Jr. was one of the first recipients to receive a Tony Award and the reason was quite intriguing.

TIME Magazine called Tony Perry ‘the wartime guiding spirit of the American Theatre Wing’
(When the first Tony Awards were given in 1947, it wasn’t quite the polished production that theatre fans have come to expect. The ceremony was on a much smaller scale, and the actual awards were decidedly quirkier, as TIME reported in 1947.)

During the first two years of the Tonys (1947 and 1948), there was no official Tony Award. These days there are 24 categories of awards , plus several special awards.
The first awards ceremony was held on April 6, 1947, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. The first prizes were “a scroll, cigarette lighter and articles of jewellery such as 14-carat gold compacts and bracelets for the women, and money clips for the men. It was not until the third awards ceremony in 1949 that the first Tony medallion was given to award winners.

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“The American Theatre Wing handed out memorial awards in 1947 for Director Antoinette Perry (Harvey, Kiss the Boys Goodbye), who died last year. Among the recipients: Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, Jose Ferrer and Fredric March, for their Broadway performances this season; Mr. & Mrs. Ira Katzenberg (TIME, Jan. 30, 1939) for their durability as first-nighters; Restaurateur Vincent Sardi Sr., “for providing a . . . comfort station for theatre folk. . . .”

The Original “Tony” by Theatre Journalist Ellis Nassour

The American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards® got their start in 1947 when the Wing established an awards program to celebrate excellence in the theatre.
Named for Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, producer, and the dynamic wartime leader of the American Theatre Wing who had recently passed away, the Tony Awards made their official debut at a dinner in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947. Vera Allen, Perry’s successor as chairwoman of the Wing, presided over an evening that included dining, dancing, and a program of entertainment. The dress code was black tie optional, and the performers who took to the stage included Mickey Rooney, Herb Shriner, Ethel Waters, and David Wayne. Eleven Tonys were presented in seven categories, and there were eight special awards, including one for Vincent Sardi, proprietor of the eponymous eatery on West 44th Street. Big winners that night included José Ferrer, Arthur Miller, Helen Hayes, Ingrid Bergman, Patricia Neal.

Early Stages

At age 15, she joined her uncle George Wessells’s touring company. “I watched and learned. I did everything from helping in wardrobe to selling tickets. I was petite and blonde and soon was playing the ingenue in melodramas and farces. Eventually, Uncle George trained me, mainly in the Shakespearean male roles.”
She left the Wessels company in 1905 in Chicago where she auditioned for the part that brought her to New York. She was almost immediately cast to join The Music Master, a long-running melodrama about a Viennese conductor in America searching for his daughter. Miss Perry played the lead female role opposite David Warfield, one of the theatre’s most popular actors.
Warfield had great admiration for Miss Perry and they became friends. He was associated with impresario David Belasco and arranged for Miss Perry to audition for him. In October 1907, Miss Perry was cast as Warfield’s leading lady in Belacso’s A Grand Army Man at his new Styvestant Theatre (now the Belasco).

Soon, another man was in Antoinette Perry’s life. Frank Frueauff, an old beau from home who merged Denver Gas and Electric, of which he was vice president, with Cities Service (now CITGO). They fell madly in love, and, at the peak of her New York acting career, Miss Perry married Frueauff.

In 1920, approached by Brock Pemberton, a flamboyant press agent turned producer, Miss Perry, unbeknownst to Frueauff, became an “angel” in Pemberton’s production of Zona Gale’s comedy Miss Lulu Bett. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and become a huge hit. Soon Miss Perry was Pemberton’s silent partner. When her husband discovered his wife has invested in theatre and had done so well, he gave his blessings. Then, in 1922, he died of a heart attack. He left a $13-million estate.

“Mother generously lent money,” daughter Margaret Perry, 89 and an actress who long ago gave up theatre, said from her wilderness ranch in Colorado, “and bailed actors and playwrights out of overdue hotel bills. She enjoyed the extravagant life. The summer of 1923, she took us, our governess, Uncle Brock, as we were instructed to call him, and his wife Margaret, and ten others to Europe for seven weeks. On coming home, Mother heard theatre’s siren call again.”

A Director is Born

She went into a great depression and became an avid reader. Inspired by actress/playwright Rachel Crothers, who directed her own plays, Perry decided she wanted to direct. Her wealth, which she doubled playing the stock market, and her relationship with Pemberton were her entree. They joined forces, professionally as well as romantically, and had modest successes. In 1929, they struck paydirt with Preston Sturges’s Strictly Dishonourable, a cynical play about virtue and Prohibition. A critic praised Perry “for doing a man’s job” as director. Scalpers got $30 a ticket. Movie rights were sold. They were on their way to easy street.
A month later, the stock market crashed.

“Mother awoke two million dollars in debt,” recalled Margaret. “It took seven years to recover. Somehow, probably because of the success of Strictly Dishonourable, she got a loan of two million dollars.”

Perry and Pemberton shared an intimate office in a theatre (it was adjacent to the Imperial, where there is a parking lot today), and lunched daily at Sardi’s, where they fuelled lots of theatrical gossip. However, at the end of their business day, she’d go home to her children and he to his wife.

Antoinette Perry: Philanthropist

In spite of her theatrical credentials, Perry is best remembered for her generosity and leadership in World War II as a co-founder of the Theatre Wing of Allied Relief, subsequently, the American Theatre Wing.

The Wing operated the famed Stage Door Canteen in the basement of the (now razed) 44th Street Theatre, where stars worked as dishwashers, waiters, waitresses, and entertainers for the armed forces. The sale of film rights for a story about the canteen, and a six-figure check from Perry along with support from Rodgers and Hammerstein, provided USO tours of shows to overseas troops.

Margaret confided her mother was an inveterate gambler. “The seed money for many a Wing activity or show investment came from her track winnings. Even during Wing board meetings, mother played the horses. She’d have her secretary tip toe in to give her the odds, then place a wager with a bookie.”
Perry was also president of the National Experimental Theatre and financed, with Actors Equity and the Dramatists Guild, the work of new playwrights. During and after the war, she underwrote auditions for 7,000 hopefuls. Her dream of a national actor’s school was realized in 1946.

“Mother developed heart problems,” Margaret explained, “but, as a devout Christian Scientist, she refused to see a doctor. That, her directorial duties and her dedication to the work of the Wing took a terrible toll.” By now, because of their huge successes, Pemberton was a member of cafe society and, because of his brother’s membership in the Algonquin Roundtable, on the best terms with literary society. “But,” noted Margaret, “from wherever he was, he’d call Mother every night. Often his calls were the only thing that alleviated her intense physical pain.”

Well, that told me about the Tony Awards, but how did Sardi’s equate to this story?

  1. SARDI'S RESTAURANT PRINT
    Vincent Sardi Jr., Restaurateur and Unofficial ‘Mayor of Broadway,’ Dies at 91

The New York Times
Vincent Sardi Jr. In 1991
By William Grimes
Published: January 5, 2007

Vincent Sardi Jr., who owned and managed Sardi’s restaurant, his father’s theatre-district landmark, for more than half a century and became, by wide agreement, the unofficial mayor of Broadway, died yesterday at a hospital in Berlin, Vt.. He was 91 and had lived in Warren, Vt., since retiring in 1997.

The cause was complications of a urinary tract infection, said Sean Ricketts, a grandson and manager at the restaurant.

Mr. Sardi ran one of the world’s most famous restaurants, a Broadway institution as central to the life of the theatre as actors, agents and critics. It was, the press agent Richard Maney once wrote, “the club, mess hall, lounge, post office, saloon and marketplace of the people of the theatre.”

Mr. Sardi understood theater people, loved them and was loved in return. He carried out-of-work actors, letting them run up a tab until their ship came in. (At one point, Sardi’s maintained 600 such accounts.)

He attended every show and made sure his headwaiters did the same, so that they could recognize even bit players and make a fuss over them. At times, he exercised what he called “a fine Italian hand,” seating a hungry actor near a producer with a suitable part to cast.

He commiserated with his patrons when a show failed, and rejoiced with them when the critics were kind. He distributed favors, theater tickets and food, rode on horseback with the local police, and acted as a spokesman, official and unofficial, for the theatre district.

Mr. Sardi was born on July 23, 1915, in Manhattan and spent his early childhood in a railroad flat on West 56th Street, where his parents took in show-business boarders. In 1921, his father took over a basement restaurant in a brownstone at 246 West 44th Street. He named it the Little Restaurant, but theater people called it Sardi’s, and so it became.
The family lived upstairs. When the building was razed in 1927 to make way for the St. James Theatre, Sardi’s moved to its current location, at 234 West 44th.St.

(I’m happy to say that I had Lunch and Dinner 4 times at Sardi’s, whilst I was in New York this time.)

SARDI'S INTERIOR PRINT 1The Interior view of Sardi’s

Vincent Jr., whom his father called Cino, attended Holy Cross Academy on 43rd Street. He got a taste of the theatre at an early age, appearing as Pietro, an Italian urchin, in “The Master of the Inn” at the Little Theater when he was 10. The play closed quickly, but not before Vincent learned about the subtleties of the actor-director relationship. When he pointed out that an Italian would say “addio,” not “adios,” he was told to keep his opinions to himself and read the line as written.

In 1926, the Sardis moved to Flushing, Queens, where Vincent graduated from Flushing High School. He entered Columbia University intending to become a doctor, but failed the chemistry examination, in part because, short of pocket money, he had sold his textbook at Barnes & Noble so he could attend a dance. He transferred to Columbia Business School and earned a degree in 1937.

In the meantime, he began working in the family business on weekends, earning $14 a week. “My duties included stints at the cigarette counter, shifts at the cash register and a few attempts at being a Saturday headwaiter in the upstairs second-floor level,” he recalled in Playbill.

He also learned how to cater to Sardi’s unusual clientele. When Broderick Crawford was appearing in “Of Mice and Men,” Vincent was volunteered to take the actor’s Doberman for its nightly walk.

Mr. Sardi spent two years learning the food-service business at the Ritz-Carlton before rejoining Sardi’s in 1939 as dining-room captain. That year he married Carolyn Euiller. The marriage ended in 1946.

In 1942 he joined the Marine Corps, which took one look at his résumé and assigned him to run the bachelor officers’ mess at the Cherry Point Air Station in North Carolina. The next year he was sent to Okinawa, where he supervised a rest camp. He left the Marines as a captain. In 1946, he married Adelle Rasey, an actress. That marriage, too, ended in divorce.
In 1947 Vincent Sr. retired, and Vincent Jr. took over the restaurant, buying it from his father. Sardi’s was already renowned as a place where deals were made, gossip circulated and actors and producers made it their business to see and be seen. “The restaurant had a central place in the theatre,” said Gerald Schoenfeld, the president of the Shubert Organization. “You could walk in at lunch and do a day’s business, see people you hadn’t seen in a long time. You didn’t think of going anywhere else.”

Mr. Sardi, a tall, affable man with a military bearing, perfected the art of seating enemies far apart and putting friends and potential allies near one another. “He was always the soul of politesse, but where he seated you could be crucial to making a deal,” said the producer Arthur Cantor.

Mr. Sardi also knew how to keep temperamental actors happy. “You’ve got to be awfully careful with actors out of work,” he told an interviewer. “They’re very sensitive about their fading prestige, and I know darn well they scrimp to come in here, on the chance that they’ll be considered for a part. Boosting an actor’s ego with a table in a good location is simply my way of giving him a pat on the back.”

When he was not running the restaurant, Mr. Sardi raced cars, played polo and skied. He was also president of the Greater Times Square Committee in the 1960s and the Restaurant League of New York in the 1970s.

If Sardi’s was a club, its rules were mysterious. Only Mr. Sardi knew them, and only he could explain why, for many years, one of the best tables was held for Mr. and Mrs. Ira Katzenberg. The Katzenbergs, who by the early 1950s had attended virtually every Broadway opening for 30 years, took their seats at Sardi’s at 7:15 and ordered, without fail, a brandy and a bottle of Saratoga water. Mr. Sardi called them his favourite customers.

“People like them keep the theatre alive, and the theatre is their life,” he said. “The least we can do is give them the best table in the house.”
Mr. Sardi could do nothing about the autograph hounds and the photographers who crowded around the entrance. But inside the front doors, his word was law. Diners were not to be disturbed.

Sardi’s shone brightest on the opening night of a Broadway show, and in the 1960s, a show opened nearly every night. The ritual never varied. In a line that stretched down 44th Street, theatregoers, theatre insiders and celebrity watchers clamored for a table, hoping against hope to be seated on the first floor, where they could see cast members, producers and the playwright of the moment entering the restaurant after the curtain rang down. As the actors made their way to their tables, the diners would stand and applaud.

Once seated, the actors, producers and playwright would put on a brave face waiting for the reviews. The first 25 copies of The New York Times and The New York Herald Tribune were rushed over to Sardi’s from the printing presses at midnight, with the review pages marked. Mr. Sardi would man the telephone, taking calls from friends of the cast, ticket brokers and newspaper columnists eager to get a read on the fate of the new play. If the reviews were poor, a pall descended over the dining room, and diners would slink out the door. If the reviews were good, it was Champagne all around and a celebration until the wee hours.

“All of us on the staff were caught up in each Broadway play,” Mr. Sardi wrote in Playbill. “We became involved in the raising of money, the casting of roles, the progress of rehearsals, and, after opening night, the success or failure of a play.”

In 1946, hoping to capture some of the excitement of Sardi’s, the radio station WOR created “Luncheon at Sardi’s,” an hour long program in which the host moved from table to table, microphone in hand, interviewing celebrities. In 1949, the show spawned a television spinoff, “Dinner at Sardi’s,” which failed to catch fire. The celebrities had a bad habit of using their air time for shameless self-promotion.

Undeterred, Mr. Sardi appeared as himself in two television dramas in the mid-50s, “Catch a Falling Star,” on “Robert Montgomery Presents,” and “Now, Where Was I?” a CBS production. He also turned out a cookbook, “Curtain Up at Sardi’s” (1957), which he wrote with Helen Bryson. It included, of course, the restaurant’s signature dish, cannelloni with Sardi sauce, a homey curiosity in which French crepes were stuffed with ground chicken, ground beef, spinach and Parmesan cheese, then topped with a velouté sauce enhanced with Hollandaise, sherry and whipped cream.

By the late 1950s, Sardi’s was grossing about $1 million a year, and in 1958, looking to expand, Mr. Sardi opened Sardi’s East, at 123 East 54th Street.

Mr. Sardi threw his all into the new venture. He arranged for theatregoers to be taken to Broadway on a London double-decker bus. He hired out-of-work actors as conductors. He lured his father out of retirement and installed him as manager. Sardi’s East never caught on, however, and Mr. Sardi sold it in 1968.

By the 1960s, the Times Square area was deteriorating, the theater district was becoming more dangerous and the vibrant world of culture that had nourished Sardi’s entered a period of decline. To make matters worse, in 1974, Mr. Sardi embarked on a ruinous venture, opening a 700-seat dinner theatre in Franklin Square, on Long Island. The theatre burned money for two years before closing.

At Sardi’s, critics complained, standards seemed to be slipping. “Those who go to the restaurant to observe celebrities will rarely be disappointed,” Mimi Sheraton wrote in a 1981 review for The Times. “Those who go for good food that is well served will rarely be satisfied.”

Gradually, Sardi’s became a tourist destination. The lunchtime business evaporated. The restaurant was showing its age. In September 1985, Mr. Sardi sold it for $6.2 million to two producers from Detroit, Ivan Bloch and Harvey Klaris, and the restaurateur Stuart Lichtenstein. They announced plans to bring back the old luster and open up a Sardi’s restaurant, hotel and casino in Atlantic City. Instead, they fell behind on payments, declared bankruptcy and closed the restaurant in June 1990.

Mr. Sardi, who had planned to spend a tranquil retirement in Vermont, resumed ownership of Sardi’s in 1991. He gave it a facelift, leaving intact the 700 or so caricatures of theatre people that hang on the walls. He also brought in serious chefs, who gradually improved the quality of the food, although Sardi’s, even in its heyday, never owed its reputation to its kitchen. As his health declined, Mr. Sardi spent less and less time at the restaurant, turning its operation over to his partner, Max Klimavicius, who will continue to run the business, a restaurant spokesman said yesterday.

Mr. Sardi is survived by his wife, the former June Keller; three children, Paul, of Coco Beach, Fla.; David, of San Diego; and Tabitha, of Manhattan; a sister, Anne Gina Sardi of Stamford, Conn.; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A daughter, Jennifer, died earlier.

The family plans to hold a memorial service at a date to be announced but at a location that is certain: Sardi’s.

So this was the History of Sardi’s and its Theatrical Involvement with the Tonys.

Digital CameraAngie and I having pre Tony Award drinks at the Hilton Hotel Midtown.

Now Angie and I were about to see the 69th Annual Tony Awards Ceremony, and what a truly magical evening on Broadway it turned out to be from beginning to end.

We had to be in our seats by 6:45pm as the doors closed at 7:00pm and the evening finally finished at around11:30p.m. The time just seemed to fly by.

Angie and I walked from the Hilton Hotel along Avenue of Americas to the Radio City Music Hall, it was just a short walk of a couple of blocks and the traffic was at a standstill. Everybody seemed to be heading for the Tonys, and all in Black Tie and the Ladies in either Cocktail or Evening Dresses.

The side entrance to the theatre, is where the red carpet is placed and that is where all the stars and the Interviews take place. So the main entrance is left clear for the general public.

I was completely confused because I thought the red carpet was in the front of the theatre. But of course where they do it makes sense. So the traffic can keep flowing.

 

 

Digital Camera

Once inside the champagne kept on flowing. This was even before we had reached our seats.

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How glamorous it all looked. Angie had booked us G Row Centre in the first mezzanine (which is Dress Circle to us Brits), so we could see everything.

20150728-123055 LIGHTENED

INTERIOR OF RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL PRINT

Here’s a view from the Stage.

The size of the Radio City Music Hall just takes your breath away it is enormous, and there we were with a perfect view of everything. How lucky could one get? This photo just shows a small portion of the theatre.

INTERIOR OF RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL PRINT 3

Side view from the Auditorium, these 3 shots give you some idea of how large Radio City Music Hall really is.

RAY JACKSON DANGEROUS YEARS THE 2 HOSTSThe show was Hosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, and what a wonderful job they made of the whole evening.

There were 24 awards and each award had 4 or 5 Nominees, so the excitement in the audience was electric.

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A Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Award went to Tommy Tune for his work as actor, dancer, director and choreographer.

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You may recall him as the Long Legged Fiancée in the film “Hello Dolly”. Of course he’s a lot older now. But aren’t we all !

Some of the shows nominated performed a scene from their show. Of course,the arrangement and running of the show was flawless.

CHITA RIVERA SOLO POSTER PRINT THIS ONE

Chita Rivera who was nominated for a leading actress in a musical, and she also appeared in a scene from “The Visit” which was also nominated for best revival of a musical. This 82 year old star is amazing!  But unfortunately “The Visit” lost out to “The King and I” in both cases.

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Later in the week Angie and I saw “The Visit”, which was quite stunning and very different from most musicals with it’s dark theme. Chita Rivera was excellent, it was so great to see her again.

I remembered when Ray and I saw her originally in “Bye, Bye Birdie” with Dick Van Dyke in 1960, then later with Gwen Verdon in “Chicago” 1976, and later on in “Merlin” 1983 with Doug Henning in which she walked away with the show. All these shows we saw on Broadway.

Unfortunately, the Theatre business being what it is, “The Visit” closed on the 14th of June.

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20150721-161933 LIGHTENED PRINT

Chita Rivera in “The Visit” at the Tonys.

The British contingent won with “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” for the best play, and “Skylight” for best revival. But the evening really went to Helen Mirren for best performance by a leading actress in “The Audience”, and what a performance it is. Later in the week Angie and I went to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre to see the show and after seeing it, I think that Helen Mirren deserves a blog all to herself.

Digital CameraHelen Mirren on stage at the Tonys

Of course, it’s completely out of focus, but I assure you it was Helen Mirren, and you can see all the illuminated posters for “The Audience” around her. I’m useless with a camera, but there she is at the Tonys accepting her award for her performance in “The Audience”.

So by the end of the evening I returned to the Hilton happy but hungry as everywhere all the restaurants seemed to have suddenly closed.

 

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