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://creativecommons.org/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.

Booth purchased a mansion at 16 Gramercy Park and turned it into a social club for an eclectic range of artists of all types with the intention of integrating membership from the international theatre community . The club continues to this day.

Oliver Herford (1860 – 1935) was an English writer, humorist, artist, and illustrator. He was a longtime member of The Players.

Oliver Herford
At a dinner, Oliver Herford found himself sitting next to a very serious young woman.
“Tell me, Mr. Herford,” she said. “Have you no ambition beyond making people laugh?”
“Yes, I have,” he replied. “And someday I hope to gratify it.”
“Please tell me,” she said eagerly! “What is it?”
He said, “I want to throw an egg into an electric fan.”

Herford wrote much more than just satire, but his writing and illustration as a humorist resonate more than a century later.

An electric fan in 1899

In 1899 he published An Alphabet of Celebrities. It was formatted like a children’s primer, but the content was trendy, witty, and farcical. It is filled with comedic jabs at every notable household name of the time. This included actors, playwrights, novelists, politicians, world leaders, Biblical personas, characters in popular fiction, and many more.

The entire book is illustrations. The printing process allowed only two colors of ink and included no half-tones. He captures the likenesses of celebrities and historical figures and manages to lampoon them in every kind of comedic state.

Click on the pages in the embedded media below to review the entire book.


B is for Bernhardt, who fails to awaken Much feeling in Bismark, Barabbas, and Bacon.

Sarah Bernhardt was one of the very most prominent and renowned stage actresses of her time plus a contemporary of Herford and fellow Players Club member.
Here, she seems to be sending current & historical leaders into comas, along with a
figure from the New Testament.


I is for Ibsen reciting a play while Irving and Ingersoll hasten away.

Playwright Henrik Ibsen was another contemporary of Herford, as was Actor Sir Henry Irving and writer Robert G. Ingersoll. This book is more than a whimsical tour through the alphabet; Herford is systematically razzing everyone in his circle.
When you look up photos of these people, the caricatures are spot-on, too!

Left-to-right: Robert G. Ingersoll, Sir Henry Irving, and Henrik Ibsen

Y is for Young, the great Mormon Saint, Who thinks little Yum Yum and Yvette so quaint, He has to be instantly held in restraint.

This one might be my favorite. Yvette Guilbert (born Emma Laure Esther Guilbert ) was a French cabaret singer and actress of the Belle Époque. Yum Yum is the heroine in The Mikado operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan (originally opened in 1885). Brigham Young, of course, was the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death in 1877 (not long before this publication). He had 55 wives and 56 children. Here he is so intent on pursuing Yvette and Yum Yum that he must be restrained by an unidentified police officer.

The internet makes the entire book into a rewarding scavenger hunt. Plugging each character name into a search results in (really nerdy) laughs.

I do not expect everyone who reads this to take the time to look up every character in this book.

But I know that some of you (and you already know who you are), most definitely, will.

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.

A pole-and-chariot system is a method for moving scenery. There are slots in the floor. Wall sections or other scenic elements are carried on vertical poles that extend down through the stage into a machine-room below-deck.

A wing-and-drop set is a set made up of shaped and painted 2D elements, usually fabric. These include vertical pieces on the side and horizontal pieces across the top. Together with a backdrop, they often include forced perspective to create the illusion of a grandiose interior or exterior. By changing the elements quickly with machinery, the entire setting is changed.

Beauty and the Beast

beastBeauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney movie as a child. I loved the spectacle, the love story, and the elements that Disney brought to the original Grimm tale (e.g. Belle’s yellow gown, the enchanted red rose, and the musical themes). A new live-action remake is going to be released on Saint Patrick’s Day starring Emma Watson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald, Emma Thompson, and Josh Gad.

Original Productions

The original film from 1991 set a precedent for other Disney films as well as other cartoon films of its time. Alan Menken wrote the music that he later extended for a stage production that opened on Broadway in April of 1994 at The Palace Theatre. With lyrics by Tim Rice and Howard Ashman and a book by Linda Woolverton, the production was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won one for Best Costume Design.

beast1The 1991 film had many stars including Paige O’Hara as Belle, Jerry Orbach as Lumiere, Jesse Corti as LeFou, David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth, and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts. Angela Lansbury was recently interviewed by Entertainment Weekly about the new remake. The 91 year old actress stated her confusion at Disney’s want to redo the story:

“I don’t quite know why they’re doing it. I can’t understand what they’re going to do with it that will be better than what we’ve already done. And how they’re doing it live — it may turn out to be very entertaining and wonderful. It won’t be like the cartoon that we did, but it’s a good story — it’s one of the famous fairy stories that is known worldwide by children. Therefore, why not? I don’t blame them for doing it. But, I’m sorry, they’re not really on our territory. We did it as cartoon characters, and that is quite different from live actors.”

A Great Remake Or Just a Money-Maker

A live-action remake for Beauty and The Beast could be great. The advanced CGI for the Disney castle will definitely be remastered in a new, enchanting way. Designers already seem to be taking advantage of the authentic, Bavarian aesthetic from the original Grimm Fairytale. The filmmakers could also be adding more of our favorite songs from the live stage production, which would set the movie apart. Then, Emma Watson will once more get an opportunity to be delivered from her perpetual place as Hermione Granger. Good things could definitely come of it!

On the other hand, the merchandise for the film will earn Disney more money and the box office earnings are expected to be ridiculous. I guess we’ll just have to wait until March 17th to see if it’s all worth it!

Click here to hear the first clips of Emma Watson singing as Belle!
 

Another Star of the Stage and Screen Lost

debbieAfter the passing of Carrie Fisher, we were dismayed to learn that her mother, Debbie Reynolds, had passed. After a stroke, she was hospitalized on December 28th. News of the hospitalization spread all over the internet until the news of her death surfaced hours later. Today, we remember her triumphs onstage and off that left us singing in the rain and feeling as unsinkable as Molly Brown!

On Broadway

Reynolds’ career began in film with her break-out role as Kathy Selden in Singing in the Rain. She proved to have the charm and the chops to make it on the big screen but her musical strengths led her to the Great White Way where she starred in Irene in 1973. If you read our posting about Carrie Fisher, you’ll know that this production was also her daughter’s Broadway debut. Fisher played an ensemble member in the show that was about an Irish immigrant, Irene, who has high ambitions to hang out with high society types.

After Irene, Reynolds did a special Broadway concert review in 1976 called Debbie at the Minskoff Theatre. With a full cast of male dancers and a few back-up singers, Reynolds shared some Broadwaylore with audiences for a limited run of 14 performances. In 1977 she starred in the US tour of Annie Get Your Gun as the title character. Then in 1983 she added Woman of the Year to her resume. Reynolds always shined playing the charming and beautiful ingenue.

A Legacy to Be Remembereddebbie1

Debbie Reynolds dazzled us for about six decades. She was even memorable for younger generations with her performances in Disney Channel Original movies, voice over work, and cameos in television shows like Will and Grace. We hope we won’t have to write another one of these articles for a long time, though an actress like this is worth remembering.

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!

Broadway Musical Spring Awakening Leaving Broadway

spring1There are only a handful more performances of Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening before it closes on January 24th! The original production won 8 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score in 2006, and we’re all going to be waiting to see how this production does in the revival category at next year’s Awards! With American Sign Language fully incorporated in the storytelling of this drama, the production pulls at the heartstrings of audience members whether they’re part of the deaf community or not.

No One is “Left Behind”

Accessibility is hugely important for today’s audience goer. Sensory friendly elements, ASL translators, and audio descriptive aids are being spring2incorporated into more and more performances. Theatres are finding ways to incorporate proper translations, less stimulating sound or lights, as well as venues committed to the whole experience of sensory performances for young ones with autism. The great thing about using American Sign Language in theatre is that there isn’t a problem with performance and syntax. The expression of the language in song is meant to be fluid with rhythm and tempo as well as with facial expression. This makes the performance more pleasing to watch and more meaningful. In fact, the meaning of the language becomes stronger with the auditory and visual elements being portrayed by these highly animated actors.

What Made This Story Great: “The Guilty Ones”

“A re-imagining of Fraspring1nk Wedekind’s 1891 play with music by Duncan Sheik”, book and lyrics by Steven Sater, the Tony-winning Spring Awakening boldly depicts how young people navigate the thrilling, confusing and mysterious time of their sexual awakening. The story centers around a brilliant young student named Melchior, his troubled friend Moritz, and Wendla, a beautiful young girl on the verge of womanhood” (Broadway.com). The revival has been open on Broadway since September 27th and has won or been nominated for many Ovation Awards during its L.A. Deaf West run, including Best Production of a Musical, Best Acting Ensemble of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical, and Best Lighting Design.

#AndThenThereWereNone

If you haven’t seen this production yet, you have until January 24th! Ticket prices in the mezzanine are low right now, starting at $39 a piece when making use of our Group Discounts. All Tickets Inc. is a great place to go to grab group tickets for you and all your friends to see this show in its final stretch on Broadway! Just don’t forget the tissues!

Bad Behavior by American Theatre Audiences is Nothing New

th-23

Hand to God recently had an incident with an audience member.

So many reviewers, columnists, and performers are bemoaning the recent bad behavior of Broadway audiences. It’s as if having people in the audience who distract other audience members, upstage the show, and act in ways that detract from the live stage performance are something new. These actions are not. Such behavior is actually normal in the American theatre. If, somehow, you manage to not have anyone act inappropriately, then you truly have had a special live theatre experience.

Often Isolated

Ideal audience?

Ideal audience?

At any given performance of any play, there are small, isolated displays of rudeness by audience members. Most are fairly innocuous and go unnoticed by the majority of those in attendance, monitoring the house, and performing on stage.

Incidents such as unwrapping and consuming food, using chewing tobacco, commenting on the action or a line in a play, or discussing the day’s events with a friend are done habitually and have been a part of the theatre for centuries. Note, none of these types of poor behavior involve technology. Incidents with technology have been occurring for less than a half-century.

Audience Control

Park Theatre was known for rudeness.

Park Theatre was known for rudeness.

Controlling audience behavior and encouraging proper decorum has been an issue in the US since the late 18th century. Many critics and commentators, including Washington Irving, Walt Whitman, and Frances Trollope, wrote about the audacity, poor manners, and outrageous actions of audiences in New York, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, and other parts of the country.

In 1802 that when he went to see a show at the Park Theatre in New York City, Irving wrote, “Although constables were stationed in the gallery to keep order, they did not do so. The gallery gods whistled, shouted, hissed, and groaned. They showered spectators in the pit with apples, nuts, and gingerbread. The spectators in the boxes were not so noisy but for them too playgoing was a social occasion. The belles simpered and coquetted. The beaux studiously wielded their glasses and ostentatiously ignored the play. The men in the pit suffered drip from the chandelier and barrages from the gallery, but their own behavior was not the best; they stood on the benches before the curtain went up like spectators at a football game before the kick-off.”

Frances Trollope

Frances Trollope

Trollope, who went to theatre throughout the U.S. in the early to mid-nineteenth century, was in the nation’s capital during a performance when she observed, “One man in the pit was seized with a violent fit of vomiting, which appeared to not in the least to surprise of annoy his neighbors; and the happy coincidence of a physician being at that moment personated on stage, was hailed by many in the audience as an excellent joke, of which the actor took advantage and elicited shouts of applause by saying ‘I expect my services are wanted elsewhere.’”

Man sitting on coat, placed on rail of audience box, with his back to the stage.

Man sitting on coat, placed o rail of audience box, with his back to the stage.

She went on to comment on the many politicians in the audience, saying, “The spitting was incessant, and not one in ten of the male part of male part of the illustrious legislative audience sat according to the usual custom of human beings; the legs were thrown sometimes over the front of the box, sometimes over the side of it, here and there a senator stretched his entire length over the bench, and in many instances the front rail was preferred as a seat.”

Such activities would not be tolerated today. However, humankind being what it is, there is, due to the very different natures of each person and the fact that the U.S. is not a police state, bound to be behaviors amongst theatre patrons that annoy other theatregoers as well as, at times, the actors on stage.

Ian McKellen and Acting Shakespeare

McKellen in Acting Shakespeare.

McKellen in Acting Shakespeare.

It was in the 1980s that I went to see Ian McKellen in his one-man show Acting Shakespeare at the Charles Playhouse in Boston. The show was being performed in the theatre’s 500-seat house and the performance was sold out. I had seats in the second row and was but 10-feet away from the actor.

When McKellen took the stage to applause he launched into one of Shakespeare’s famous soliloquys. I can’t remember which one because as the great actor began the speech, he was joined by an elderly gentleman sitting in the audience left section. That man recited the piece word for word with McKellen.

You could feel the entire energy of the house change, as we listened to this odd duo that featured the rich voice and amazing interpretive skills of one of the greatest actors of the English speaking stage and the shaky but enthusiastic tones of an aging lover of the Bard.

Perhaps he felt a bit murderous that night. Who could blame McKellen if he did?

Perhaps he felt a bit murderous that night. Who could blame McKellen if he did?

After the first speech was over, McKellen greeted the audience and introduced the show. He then launched into his second piece, which was a reading of what is written on the great playwright’s tombstone. The actor focused stage left on the imaged tombstone, his back to the man who had recited the initial passage with him, and began, reciting, and the elderly gentleman, once again, join him-

“Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare to
Digg the dust encloased heare…”

Then McKellen thrust out his right hand towards his unwanted fellow performer, stopped reciting, and without turning towards the interrupter said, “I say, old chap, I believe the people came hear tonight to hear just one man recite Shakespeare.”

With that pronouncement, the audience applauded, the old man laughed, and the rest of the evening was McKellen performing in the manner he had intended, alone.

Richard Wagner and Thomas Edison

Wagner's theatre.

Wagner’s theatre.

It was the great opera composer and producer Richard Wagner who was instrumental in devising a few simple but fairly effective methods of controlling audience behavior. He did so by utlizing specific design elements in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which was built in the 1870s.

First, he created a seating arrangement that made audiences focus on the stage by eliminating the side boxes, which were often the source of interruptive behavior. He also lengthened the distance between the stage and audience and placed the orchestra in a sunken pit so that they could not be seen.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he dimmed the lights in the house, which meant the only part of the theatre that was illuminated was the stage. By blacking out the audience, he greatly diminished the opportunities for theatregoers to interact and misbehave, while his other innovations demanded that audiences focus on what was happening on stage.

Lighting controls.

Lighting controls.

In 1879, Thomas Edison created the first successful electric light. By the 1880s, cities were being wired for electricity and by the 1890s theatres had begun to make the transition from gaslight to electric.

Electric light gave us much more control over audiences by giving stage practitioners a means to focus audience attention on specific parts of the stage, including upstage and stage right and left areas that gaslight could not effectively illuminate. The new lighting used in productions, as well as in the complete extinguishing of house lights during a performance, demanded that audiences focus their attention on the show and not on one another.

Technology Controls and Out of Control

Madonna guilty!

Madonna guilty!

Ironically, much of the same technology that gave theatre producers more control over audiences is also responsible for now distracting audiences. Powered by an electrical charge, our mini-computers, which we still often refer to as “phones,” have become the primary distractive elements in today’s theatres.

Whether it’s someone illegally recording a performance, taking pictures of a show, surfing the Internet, or texting a friend, lover, or babysitter, these devices, which now light up previously darkened auditoriums, have become a major nuisance. Along with all of the distractive activity they inspire, they also, occasionally ring in some manner when someone forgets to shut them off or mute them.

It’s very perplexing to those who work in the theatre. These devices have clearly accelerated loutish behavior.

Hand of God

The Hand to God offender apologized.

The Hand to God offender apologized.

Recently, a bad behavior incident, which was widely written about and discussed, involved a young man who was attending a performance of Hand of God on Broadway. Prior to the start of the show, the man went on stage and plugged his cell phone charger into an electrical outlet on the fairly realistic set. Of course, the outlet was not practical, but the theatergoer saw a representation of reality on stage and went with it.

This type of behavior, which is the kind of thing that simply mystifies many of us and totally bewilders anyone working in the theatre, is not uncommon. Patti LuPone recently snatched a phone from someone texting during an Off-Broadway show in which she was performing, Madonna drew criticism for texting during Hamilton, and many other incidents have been chronicled with increasing frequency.

The offender during Hand to God was a 19-year-old named Nick Silvestri who said in a press conference held by the producers, “I don’t go to plays very much, and I didn’t realize that the stage is considered off limits.” He also noted, “I’ve learned a lot about the theater in the past few days — theater people are really passionate and have been very willing to educate me. I would like to sincerely apologize to the Broadway community.”

Typical Yankee Character

The Yankee character.

The Yankee character.

What many do not understand, especially those in the theatre, is that this behavior is typically American, and we should expect it and take positive steps to change the culture that engages in it. In the first successful American play, The Contrast (1787), playwright Royall Tyler created a character who mirrored the uneducated, well-meaning, sincere, and simple American. This was the Yankee character; a type that would be popular on the American stage for close to a century.

In The Contrast, Jonathan, who is the Yankee character, talks about going to see the play School for Scandal. As he accounts what he witnessed on stage, it becomes evident that he thinks he’s viewed real life playing out in front of him. It’s a very funny monologue, partly due to the innocence and ignorance of the character.

Although not all of those who offend are like the Yankee character, Mr. Silvestri and others who are connected to him by their lack of knowledge regarding the theatre and what’s expected of them, are. Remember, cellphone technology is new to everyone and constantly developing, and those who have grown up with it see it as essential and natural to their lives as eating, breathing, and speaking.

Please Check Your Devices?

th-27Finally, and this is a radical idea for curbing the problem, perhaps it’s as simple as having a place for people to check their devices when they are going to a show. It sounds cumbersome for sure and 99% of those who have cells, which is about 100% of the public, would resist it.

In lieu of such an invasive and time-consuming practice as checking cellphones, perhaps a campaign to really educate people about theatre decorum and phones would be in order? Whose job would it be to educate theses people?

It would be the job of those of us in the theatre. After all, they are coming into our house and we set the rules. That being the case it’s our responsibility to make sure that those rules are clearly understood and enforced.

On the Twentieth Century: Peter Gallagher Misses the Train Again

Gallagher will return soon.

Gallagher will return soon.

Peter Gallagher is still recovering from a serious sinus infection and that means that he was not seen on stage tonight in the revival of the Tony Award winning musical On the Twentieth Century. He is now expected to be on stage for the Saturday, March 7 evening performance. Gallagher has been out since the evening of February 21. The Roundabout cancelled the evening performance that night and the next day Gallagher’s understudy, James Moye, play the role of Oscar Jaffe. Moye, who usually plays Max Jacobs, has been filling in for Gallagher ever since, playing opposite Tony and Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth (Lily Garland)

Postponements and Cancellations

On the Twentieth Century has already had numerous cancellations and postponements. The producers changed the first preview by one day due to setbacks caused by dismal winter weather. Then there was the cancellation of the Saturday night preview performance due to Gallagher’s illness and the need to offer Moye more rehearsal time. Recently, the Roundabout put off opening night, opting to offer the official opening on March 15 rather than March 13. The show is being performed at the American Airlines Theatre and it’s directed by Scott Ellis.

The Show

On the Twentieth Century, which was nominated for nine Tonys when it premiered in 1978, winning five, is a crazy comedy that takes place on a luxury train that’s named The Twentieth Century. The train is brimming with a wide range of unique and comical characters, including desperate Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, former Broadway star and now film queen Lily Garland, Garland’s jealous and egotistical boyfriend, and a crazed but extremely benign religious zealot.

As the train travels along it’s predetermined destination, characters are side tracked and driven. The various characters collide to create mayhem, madness, and mischief. There are wonderful comic scenes, great gags and lines, and a lot of wonderful duets, solos, and production numbers.

The original production ofOn the Twentieth Century received five, including Best Book and Best Score. It was also nominated for four Drama Desk Awards, winning four including Outstanding Music.

Larry David’s Fish in the Dark Opens to Mixed Reviews

David's Fish in the Dark opened tonight.

David’s Fish in the Dark opened tonight.

Yes, it is true that Larry David’s Fish in the Dark is booked solid. It was an instant hit the first week pf previews. But now it’s official as the first reviews come out. Reviewers are surprised not by the fact that the comedy is filled with and finds much of its comedy from David’s neuroses, but that it’s a relatively old-fashioned, you might say, “classic,” comedy.

The reviews for Fish in the Dark are mixed.

Reviews Snippets

The reviews for Fish in the Dark were mixed. The Wall Street Journal thought Fish in the Dark was less of a play and more of a personal stage appearance and that David was uncomfortable on stage. The New York Times reviewer, Ben Brantley, said that he “laughed fully exactly once. The Washington Post called it a “middling comedy.”

The Wrap, which was more positive than the WSJ , Times, or Post noted, “It’s to be expected that Larry David’s new play is laugh-out-loud funny. The big surprise, though, is just how sturdy and conventional his stage comedy is in an old-fashioned Broadway kind of way. David may have written cutting-edge TV, but “Fish in the Dark,” which opened Thursday at the Cort Theatre, is anything but cutting-edge theater.”

The Daily News was also fairly upbeat, saying, “Fans will be pleased to know that David, a Broadway rookie, holds his own with seasoned stage pros in this solid production helmed by Anna D. Shapiro (“August: Osage County”), who is as good as it gets for shaking hilarity from family dysfunction.”

For Variety, Marilyn Stasio observed, “For anyone who’s still reading this review, let me say that, contrary to rumor, the show is not a TV sitcom. It does, however, round up some outrageously funny Larry David-ish characters who could probably float such a show.”

Stasio adds, “Helmer Anna D. Shapiro (“Of Mice and Men,” “August: Osage County”) has shrewdly surrounded her star with some of the best character actors in the business — Lewis J. Stadlen, Kenneth Tigar and the wonderful Marylouise Burke among them — to give master classes on how to time a laugh. There’s a swarm of these pros playing the family friends and relatives who crowd the waiting room keeping the death watch for Sidney, who is showing a lot of spirit for a dying man. Just ask the pretty girl who makes the mistake of paying him a bedside visit.”

The cast, as just about every reviewer admits, is stellar.

Record Breaker

No play in Broadway history has had $13.5 million in advanced ticket sales. Fish in the Dark for that fact alone is a record-setter. David fans are giddy with the show, reviewers are mixed, and producers are very happy. Fish in the Dark opened March 5 and is scheduled to close June 14.

Rebecca Naomi Jones Replaces Lena Hall in Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Rebecca Naomi Jones replaces Lena Hall in Hedwig.

Rebecca Naomi Jones replaces Lena Hall in Hedwig.

Rebecca Naomi Jones will be in Tony-winner Lena Hall’s stead and play Yitzhak in the hit musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hall leaves April 4 and Jones will begin performing April 14. In that interim understudy Shannon Conley will play the role. Jones, who is currently Off-Broadway in Charles Mee’s Big Love at the Signature Theatre, has appeared on Broadway in American Idiot and Passing Strange.

Hedwig

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which has been enjoying a successful Broadway run at the Belasco Theatre, won multiple Tonys last season. Written by Mitchell, who currently stars as the title character, and featuring a score by Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about a transgender woman (Hedwig) from East Berlin whose sex change went array. The woman is part of a rock and roll band that she feels has not been given proper recognition. Her remembrances are simultaneously painful and funny, as she reveals her deepest feelings to the audience. The score features the songs “Tear Me Down,” “Wig in a Box,” “Wicked Little Town,” “The Origin of Love,” and “Angry Inch.”

Mitchell Leaving

Mitchell is scheduled to depart from Hedwig and the Angry Inch on April 26. Then on April 29, Darren Criss (Glee) will take up the torch for a 12-week run. The musical, which became an Off-Broadway hit in 1998, open on Broadway in 2014, winning the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. The show won eight Tonys and also received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical.

Clive Owen Opens Roundabout’s 50th Season In Old Times

Owen on Broadway in Pinter's Old Times

Owen on Broadway in Pinter's Old Times

Owen to make Broadway debut in Pinter’s Old Times.

Clive Owen will star as Deeley in Harold Pinter’s dark and mysterious drama Old Times. The play will be the first offering in the Roundabout Theatre’s 50th season. Opening night is set for October 15, 2015 with previews starting September 17.

First Time on Broadway

This production marks Owen’s Broadway debut. Nominated for an Oscar for the closer, Owen won the Golden Globe for that same film. Theatre work includes Romeo & Juliet, Design for Living, and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. At present, the actor is in New York filming the second season of Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick. The actor got a nomination for Best Actor from the Golden Globes for his work on that show.

Douglas Hodge

Douglas Hodge, Tony Award winner, will direct. Hodge won the Tony as an actor for his performance as Albin in the Broadway transfer from London of the musical La Cage aux Folles. In the U.K., Hodge has achieved great notoriety as an interpreter of many of Pinter’s characters. As an actor, he has appeared in No Man’s Land (Comedy Theatre 1993), Moonlight (Almeida Theatre 1993), A Kind of Alaska, The Lover and The Collection (Donmar Warehouse 1998). He’s also played as Jerry in Betrayal (Royal National Theatre’s Lyttelton Theatre 1998) and has appeared as Aston in The Caretaker (Comedy Theatre 2000). His stage directing credits include Torch Song Trilogy at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2012, Last Easter by Bryony Lavery at Birmingham Rep, and See How They Run, which first went on tour and then sold out its West End run.

The Play

In considering Old Times and its meaning, one may simply remember one thing that playwright Pinter said about his play, “A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.” In the play, Deeley is anticipating meeting his wife Kate’s longtime friend, Anna. After becoming reacquainted and acquainted with Anna, Kate and Deely find that what was supposed to be a time to share and exchange memories has become a stormy fight for superiority and power.

The full cast and creative team will be announced at a later date.

On the Twentieth Century’s Off Track Again

On the Twentieth Century. delays opening night

On the Twentieth Century. delays opening night

Chenoweth in On the Twentieth Century.

Once again, On the Twentieth Century has experienced a schedule snag as producers have decided to delay opening night by three days. That means the Broadway revival of the Coleman, Comden, and Green musical will March 15 instead of 12. Earlier, due to delays associated with inclement weather, the Roundabout delayed the show’s preview by one day, and then, a week from this past Saturday, the decision was made to cancel the evening performance due to Peter Gallagher’s (Oscar Jaffe) illness and the fact that his understudy had not yet had enough rehearsal to go on in his stead. The show did go on the next day with understudy James Moye in the role of Jaffe.

Reason for Latest Delay

The three-day delay is reasonable, as co-star Peter Gallagher has missed an entire week of previews due to a sinus infection. For the past week, co-star Kristin Chenoweth (Lilly Garland) has been playing opposite Moye. Gallagher is due to return tomorrow, which will offer him about a week-and-a-half of previews before opening night.

The Story

On the Twentieth Century, which was the big Tony-winner when it premiered in 1978, is a wacky comedy set on a luxury train that’s been given the appellation The Twentieth Century. The train is filled with an array of rich and funny characters, including desperate Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, former Broadway star and now film queen Lilly Garland, Garland’s jealous and egotistical boyfriend, and a crazed but extremely benign religious extremist.

As the train rumbles along, these characters are driven: some are driven into each other’s arms, others are driven to scheme, while others are driven to follow their convictions. The extreme drives of the various characters collide to create mayhem, madness, and mischief. There are wonderful comic scenes, great gags and lines, and a lot of wonderful duets, solos, and production numbers.

The original production of On the Twentieth Century was nominated for nine Tonys. It received five, including Best Book and Best Score. It was also nominated for four Drama Desk Awards, winning four including Outstanding Music.

On the Right Track?

Can anyone get this train to run on time? Actually, it’s expected that the show will be fine and that the Roundabout and director Scott Ellis are being prudent in waiting to open. On the Twentieth Century a physical play, and Gallagher will have to work his way back into it. Aspects of this production were still being refined when he took ill. For the week that Gallagher was out, ticket sales were down for the musical comedy with capacity falling 9.4% from 97.7% to 83.3%. Look for a rise in ticket sales with Gallagher back.