The Pause

Historic clock in the Flatiron District that dates back to 1909.

The shutdown of Broadway in March of 2020 was the first time that Broadway went dark due to a public health crisis.

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, Broadway shut down for two days. The barriers to attendance at that time were mostly transportation issues. Theatre was a welcome escape from current events.

Unlike this century, the flu pandemic from 1918-1919 did not close Broadway. Other historical closures were due to union strikes, and were measured in weeks rather than months and years.

Theatres all over Manhattan have sat dark for over a year. Now, one at a time, they are turning their lights back on.

The impact of the shutdown will be with us forever. It is changing how we think about theatre and what it does. It is also changing the way we do theatre. Professionals in every aspect of theatre are discussing how we schedule rehearsals, technical rehearsals, previews, and shows. The pause has allowed the industry time to take a good look at itself, what it does, and what it wants to be.

 Springsteen on Broadway •  Pass Over •  Hadestown •  Waitress •  Hamilton •  Wicked •  The Lion King •  Chicago •  Lackawanna Blues •  Six •  David Byrne’s American Utopia •  Come From Away •  Chicken & Biscuits •  Moulin Rouge!  •  The Musical •  Is This A Room •  The Lehman Trilogy •  Aladdin •  Thoughts of A Colored Man •  Dana H. •  To Kill A Mockingbird •  Freestyle Love Supreme •  Tina-The Tina Turner Musical •  Caroline, or Change •  Girl From the North Country •  Ain’t Too Proud-The Life and Times of The Temptations •  Jagged Little Pill •  Mrs. Doubtfire •  The Phantom of the Opera •  Trouble in Mind •  Diana •  Clyde’s •  The Book of Mormon •  Flying Over Sunset •  Company •  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child •  MJ The Musical •  Dear Evan Hansen •  The Music Man •  Skeleton Crew •  Paradise Square •  Plaza Suite •  Take Me Out •  Birthday Candles •  How I Learned To Drive •  The Minutes 

We will be discussing the effects of the pause for years to come.

In the meantime, here is a complete timeline of every show with a scheduled opening as of this writing, in order, with a countdown. Broadway is coming back. This is the time to ask: What has it become?

Countdown to Broadway

View the Timeline

Oliver Herford & Celebrities of Yore

Exterior of The Players Club in New York City.  Photo taken in 2010.
The Players’ Club, #16 Gramercy Park Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0 https:// licenses/by-sa/ 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Players (or the Players Club) is a private social club. It was founded in 1888 in New York City by actor Edwin Booth. Booth was often regarded as the greatest actor of his time. It was created in response to a perception that the theatre suffered due to a lack of interaction with the wider world of culture, literature, and art.

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Old World Spectacle

Our methods of producing spectacle evolve across the decades. New technology is not necessarily more miraculous than the older methods. Every era has its own special stage magic. 17th century Europe enjoyed theaters equipped with wing-and-drop scenery combined with the pole-and-chariot system.

Český Krumlov is in the southern Czech Republic. There, The Castle Theatre sits behind the moat near one wing of the castle. A Baroque theatre space with fully functioning machinery survives there today.

Baroque opera in the Castle Theatre in Cesky Krumlov (southern Czech Republic). Pole-and-chariot set change system, in support of a wing-and-drop set.
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Quotable Reviews

    • “I’ve knocked everything in this show except the chorus girls’ knees, and there God anticipated me.”

      – George Jean Nathan on a musical in the 1920s.

    • “It is longeth and it stinketh.”

      – Caroline Alice Lejeune on Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, (1939).

    • “A bad play saved by a bad performance.”

      – George S. Kaufman regarding Gertrude Lawrence in Skylark, (1939).

Zorba! turns 48!

zorbaOn this day in 1968, a new musical by Kander and Ebb opened at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway. The musical was Zorba!. Set on the island of Crete, this musical deals with the inheritance of power, unrequited love, and vengeance: all the things that sum up Greek life! It lost to 1776 for Best Musical in 1969, but it continues to be produced around the world today.

From Book to Stage to Screen

Based on the Greek novel, Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantakis, the narrator gains control over a mine on the island of Crete. Nikos becomes friends with an energetic older man named Zorba who teaches him about life and living it to the fullest. Meanwhile, Crete is filled with tragedy. The widow of the man Nikos inherited the mine from, has an affair with a youth on the island. The youth commits suicide when his love for the widow is not reciprocated. Shortly after, the boy’s family looks to gain revenge from the widow and murders her. These tragic events test Nikos’ newfound excitement for life.

“The Bend of the Road”

The original actors in the production included Herchel Bernardi as Zorba(Fiddler on the Roof), Maria Karnilova (Fiddler on the Roof OBC), Carmen Alzarez (Bye Bye Birdie), and John Cunningham (Cabaret). Though the production didn’t get the best reviews, more productions came along to star some big names! John Raitt and Chita Rivera performed in the US Tour in the 1970s and last year, the New York City Center produced the show in their Encores! series. This production starred John Turturro, Zoe Wanamaker, and Marin Mazzie.

“That’s a Beginning”

Do you remember the film production of the show? Can you remember the 1969 Tony Award performance? Maybe you can just remember the production of the 1983 revival at the Tonys! Whatever you can’t remember, there is a website for that! YouTube has the ‘69 Tony Award performance of “Life Is”.

Was this a musical favorite of yours or just a more depressing version of Fiddler on the Roof? Let us know on Twitter!

The Birth of Musical Comedy

Schwartz, Gershwin, Schonberg, Menken, Kander, Ebb, and Webber: What do these names have in common? They represent names of musical composers whose music is currently represented on the Great White Way! Names that would not have become so well known in musical theatre if it had not been for one great Irish-born composer: Victor Herbert!

The Climb to the Top

On first looking at old pictures of Herbert, the first striking trait is the mustache. He probably twirled the ends of it nervously during long periods of composing alone in his New York flat.

Victor Herbert

Victor Herbert

Herbert’s mustache gained some acclaim because his wife Therese Förster came to New York with him to sing at the Met for a season of Wagner. He got some associative fame as her pianist and then skyrocketed into the New York scene from there! His goals as a composer were to create work within a “folk theatre” scope that was reminiscent of Harrigan and Hart, a vaudevillian duo of comedic composers who also performed in NYC. Herbert’s first productions are considered “Light operas” and he was the best at writing during the turn of the 19th century. He and his twirling mustache made famous the song, “Gypsy Love Song” from The Fortune Teller (1898) that is shown here in this video performed by the Robert Shaw Chorale from 1976:

Always a Backlash

Of course, Herbert didn’t have it easy with the critics all the time. When he first came to the United States, his first job was as bandmaster for the 22nd New York National Guard Band. Critics found his ascension to composing fame to be appalling because they believed a job as a bandmaster was completely lowbrow! To think that this man should be allowed to twirl his mustache on the New York stage annoyed them. At the fame of The Fortune Teller, critics scoffed and called him a plagiarist of better composers. Unfortunately for them, their hateful words have not lasted as long as his influence on the musical comedy!

What He Gave Us

Herbert’s constant mustache twirling and composing gave the musical comedy a need for great music accompanied by a strong libretto. Though he was born in Ireland, studied in Germany, and then immigrated to the United States, his composing style helped to give identity to American musical theatre with his marches, waltzes, and ballads. Much like Antonin Dvorak and the New World Symphony, his appearance in the United States and experience of American patriotism helped him to identify us and himself as a composer in the New World.

The MacDowell Colony

Edward and Marian MacDowell

Edward and Marian MacDowell

A quiet studio just for your particular skill set sits waiting in a rural town in New England. For composers and writers there are cottages with grand pianos, beautiful bedrooms with handmade quilts and rugs, and large windows to look out into the woods for inspiration. Your gourmet lunches and breakfasts are delivered quietly and left in ornate baskets outside your door. At dinner you can join other artists at a summer camp-style mess hall to discuss progress. This Thoreauvian escape is where the most elite artists are accepted to work for weeks at a time. If it seems like your type of place, you might consider submitting your work to The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire next year.

History and Famous Fellows

Leonard Bernstein.

Leonard Bernstein.

Composer Edward MacDowell and his wife, Marian MacDowell, a pianist, invested in this property in 1896 as an escape. Its peaceful grounds and remote location made it a perfect place for MacDowell to compose. MacDowell wished he could turn the area into a community for working artists and his wife acknowledged this wish. After MacDowell’s death in 1908, Marian worked with investors like Andrew Carnegie and Grover Cleveland to turn the area into an artists’ colony. The colony has now served more than 6,000 artists including some of our theatre favorites Suzan Lori-Parks (Topdog/ Underdog), Kerrigan-Lowdermilk (Henry and Mudge), John Pielmeier (Agnes of God), Susan Blackwell (Title of Show), and Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story).

Visit the Grounds

To continue MacDowell’s belief of a community area, the colony invites the general public to visit once every summer. There is a great guest speaker or two, women wear expensive floppy hats, everyone eats lunch on the lawn, and the artists open up their cottages to display their work and speak with the public. I was lucky enough to visit the year Stephen Sondheim was the guest speaker. Musical theatre geeks from New Hampshire and Massachusetts flocked to hear him discuss his lessons learned under his mentor Leonard Bernstein. Visiting only made me more jealous of the sanctuary each of these creators are allotted for a few weeks out of the summer. As one of the top artist communities in the world, it’s no wonder why it’s difficult to become a MacDowell Fellow. Applications are usually due around April of each year.

Satire through the Centuries

Sarah Siddons as Euphrasia in The Grecian Daughter, 1782

Sarah Siddons was born in Wales in 1755. She became one of the most prominent actresses of the 18th century, famous in particular for playing Lady Macbeth. She remains notable and memorable even today. The Sarah Siddons Society in Chicago presents theatre scholarships in her name annually.

Siddons made her first appearance in Dublin in 1784. An Irish newspaper, apparently, felt that the hype surrounding her over in London was out of control.
What follows is their writeup, as documented a century later in English As She Is Wrote, which was itself published well over a hundred years ago, in 1883.
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At the Theatre: To the Lady Behind Me

A.P. Herbert 1890-1971

A.P. Herbert 1890-1971

A.P. Herbert 1890-1971

Dear Madam, you have seen this play;
I never saw it till today.
You know the details of the plot,
But, let me tell you, I do not.
The author seeks to keep from me
The murderer’s identity,
And you are not a friend of his
If you keep shouting who it is.
The actors in their funny way
Have several funny things to say,
But they do not amuse me more
If you have said them just before;
The merit of the drama lies,
I understand, in some surprise;
But the surprise must now be small
Since you have just foretold it all.
The lady you have brought with you
Is, I infer, a half-wit too,
But I can understand the piece
Without assistance from your niece.
In short, foul woman, it would suit
Me just as well if you were mute;
In fact, to make my meaning plain,
I trust you will not speak again.
And – may I add one human touch? –
Don’t breathe upon my neck so much.

Broadway Snark

Poster for Abie's Irish Rose

Poster for Abie's Irish Rose
Poster for Abie’s Irish Rose
Abie’s Irish Rose was a Broadway comedy by Anne Nichols.  It enjoyed a special combination of fame and notoriety that few shows manage to reach.  The show was about an Irish Catholic girl and a young Jewish man.   They get married over the objections of both of their families, with a lot of drama.

 It opened on May 23, 1922, and ran for 2327 performances, closing over five years later.     At the time, that was the longest run in Broadway history.

It must have been a great show.


But not according to the critics.

Robert Benchley
Robert Benchley
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Subways are for Sleeping

"7 out of 7 are ecstatically unanimous about Subways are for Sleeping." Howard Taubman: "One of the few great musical comedies of the last thirty years, one of the best of our time. It lends lustre to this or any other Broadway season." Walter Kerr: "What a show! What a hit! What a solid hit! If you want to be overjoyed, spend an evening with 'Subways are for Sleeping.' A triumph." John chapman "No doubt about it. 'Subways are for Sleeping' is the best musical of the century. Consider yourself lucky if you can buy or steal a ticket for 'Subways are for Sleeping' over the next few years." John McClain: "A fabulous musical. I love it. Sooner or later, everyone will have to see 'Subways are for Sleeping'." Richard Watts: "A knockout, from start to finish. The musical you've been waiting for. It deserves to run for a decade." Norman Nadel: "A whopping hit. Run, don't walk to the St. James Theatre. It's in that rare class of great musicals. Quite simply, it has everything." Robert Coleman: "A great musical All the ingredients are there. As fine a piece of work as our stage can be asked to give us."

It was January of 1962.   The Broadway production of Subways are for Sleeping at the St. James Theatre was getting weak reviews.   Ticket revenues were low, and in need of some magic.

Producer David Merrick had a trick up his sleeve that he had been saving for several years.    He spent some time making some interesting arrangements, and then prepared the following advertisement for every major New York newspaper.  

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