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The Sixties


If the decade of the Seventies belonged to Stephen Sondheim, then the 1960's belonged to Jerry Herman with two of the biggest hit musicals ever presented on Broadway.

It was a time of rejoicement after the dull 1950's when a World War II General was President of the United States. Camelot arrived both in the White House and on Broadway. John F. Kennedy and his first lady, Jacqueline, were the King and Queen of America while Richard Burton and Julie Andrews reigned on Broadway.

Mary Martin, at the Lunt-Fontanne, continued nightly in her Tony winning role as Maria. On the night of August 23, 1960, she sang the title song, The Sound of Music, in tears, blowing a kiss to the heavens, as this was the day Oscar Hammerstein II died. The theater district turned all the lights off on the Great White Way for one minute in tribute to this great master of the American musical.

Ethel Merman was wowing the audience nightly as Mama Rose in Gypsy and down in the village, a newcomer by the name of Jerry Ohrbach was singing "Try To Remember" in some little musical called The Fantasticks.

The assassination of the President in November of 1963 caused theaters to cancel performances as the nation was paralyzed from the gunshots of Dallas, Texas. Even the casinos of Las Vegas closed, posting security guards at the entrances, as there were no locks on the doors of the 24 hour casinos. The nation mourned its loss of Arthur and cried for Guenevere.

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum were the best musicals prior to 1964 when the blockbuster of the decade opened at the St. James theater. I was just 15 when I skipped school one afternoon, boarded a bus and then caught Carol Channing conquering Broadway as Dolly Levi in Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly (a role she is still performing after 34 years.) Needless to say, I've been hooked ever since. The original run of Dolly went on for 2,844 performances over an almost seven year period.

Every season another smash hit made it to the boards; many enjoying long runs for years with each show breaking records for longevity. After Hello Dolly there was Fiddler on the Roof followed by Mame starring Angela Lansbury, (Imagine being Jerry Herman who ran from one theater to another to catch the big production numbers in Mame and Hello Dolly.)

After Mame there was Man of La Mancha, Cabaret, Hallelujah Baby!,1776, Promises, Promises and Applause. And let's not forget Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl or Liza Minelli making her stage debut in the revival of Best Foot Forward. And if you blinked during this decade, you may have missed Anyone Can Whistle which folded after 9 performances.

Such memories! And there were many more book musicals during this decade that brought the Golden Age of Broadway to a close. Times changed, people changed and the theater changed as well. Life in America in the sixties started off with such promise in 1960 but by the end of the decade, Vietnam had changed everything and everyone.

Today, many musicals are the sung through opera type, reminiscent of the operettas at the beginning of the century. Perhaps, what goes round comes round and the glorious book musical artform may return someday. Until then, head over to the Kit Kat Klub and catch Cabaret or the Gershwin to see 1776. Relive the sixties. It was a great time to be introduced to Broadway. Long live revivals! Well, that completes my look at the past four decades on Broadway. I'll leave the rest up to Robert Rusie who will be taking a much more indepth look at each decade in his "Broadway 101" series right here on Talkin' Broadway.

Tidbits: A few weeks ago I paid a visit to the new musical in Las Vegas called Broadway...Off B'way at the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino. Dropped in last night to pay another visit and all I can say is Wow! This show is so polished that they can freeze it at any time. There's a new opening and a smashing finale. Go see it if you are heading to Las Vegas. I mentioned the cast in that column but ommitted a few names in error and they are Amber Dimmick, Eric Mack, Michelle Donahue, Ron McKay and Laura Akard, all very talented. And pay attention to Brian Kent in the Hand Jive number from Grease. Great singer and dancer!

Yakked with Nell Carter for a few minutes. Lovely lady who took my goading with a grain of salt over Annie. This was not a good experience for the talented lady as she gave the impression that she's glad it's over. If you'll remember the television campaign for the show, the commercials featured Marcia Lewis from a long ago production. The press claimed that Nell cried racism, but totally untrue. Nel never uttered such words. She also stands fast on her portrayal of Miss Hannigan as not being as cruel as originally written. Nell is very much concerned with child abuse in this country, so those stories about her roughing up those ragamuffins was pure nonsense.

"Two words Nel, what's your reaction?...Martin Charnin." "Honey, you know, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Guess that means, "No comment."

Outer Critics kick off the Awards season. My favorite Off Broadway musical for the season was The Last Session and I wish it well with all the upcoming awards. If you live on the West Coast you'll be able to catch this brilliant musical in Laguna in September. We'll keep you posted.

Jerry Herman is heading back to Broadway this July in a revue called An Evening with Jerry Herman. Appearing with him will be Lee Roy Reams and Florence Lacey...The Judas Kiss opens this Thursday. Better get your tickets now as the box office is on fire... The sensational Barbara Cook will be celebrating the music of Bock and Harnick at the Cafe Carlyle through May 2nd. It's called To Life.

Who does those posters for Lincoln Center? Twelfth Night, A New Brain, and Ah Wildnerness make up the season and these posters would make great framing. Think I'll call Triton Galleries tomorrow...Starlight Express in Mexico is folding after poor attendance and the Evita production couldn't meet payroll. Perhaps, they'll have better luck south of the border with the upcoming Phantom.

In addition to this column, check out What's New On the West End and Broadway Bound today, and on Thursday it will be a new installment of Christina's World.


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