The 1970's may have been the decade that gave us A Chorus Line, Chicago and Sweeney Todd but outside of the world of Broadway, it was a decade worth forgetting.
The Vietnam war ended and the troops returned home with nary a parade, for many felt the heroes were the ones who protested or went to Canada to evade the draft. In the discos patrons were coked up while dancing to either Bubble Gum music or other such nonsense. Cocaine became fashionable and the recreational drug of choice from New York to Hollywood. But, let's get back to Broadway.
Movie houses, once magnificent legitimate theaters on 42nd Street, were nothing but pornography palaces where bums and lowlifes of the streets frequented. Going to a Broadway show meant avoiding this street at all costs, such was the danger of getting mugged. Gangs roamed the streets yanking gold chains off the necks of anyone, daring you to fight back. Wino's bumped into you with an empty bottle, dropping it and accusing you of doing it on purpose, all in the ploy to get money for a new bottle. And let's not forget those pimps and prostitutes that are so accurately portrayed in the current musical, The Life. Nudie musicals made their mark as well, as Oh Calcutta! played to the tourists for years, and down in the Village, Let My People Come had a nice run. Imagine, leaving the theater with the cast at the exit standing in their birthday suits. It was the decade of decadence and America almost went to hell in a handbasket.
Broadway was in a nostalgic revival mood in this decade, starting off with No, No Nannette in 1970 starring the great Ruby Keeler tapping her way into the hearts of theatergoers. Later on, Goodspeed Operahouse brought Very Good Eddie and Going Up to Broadway and both were originally done prior to 1920 and Nannette was done in 1925. Over Here, starring the Andrews Sisters was the tenant in the Shubert Theater before that chorus line of gypsys moved in in 1975. This is not to say that there weren't any new or good original musicals, for there were and two words sum it up: Stephen Sondheim.
It seemed like every year there was a Stephen Sondheim musical opening beginning with Company winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1971. The following year gave us Follies, and also Phil Silvers as Pseudolis in the revival ofA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Then came A Little Night Music with another Tony for Best Musical. Broadway hadn't had enough of Sondhem as the revival of Gypsy opened for the 74-75 season with Angela Lansbury as Mama Rose and that followed with Sondheim's Pacific Overtures which picked up a Best Musical Award by the Drama Critics. With such a body of work, some producer decided to put together a night of Sondheim and titled the show Side By Side by Sondheim which was received with great acclaim. The producer's name, Cameron Macintosh. Who he? And then the best was saved for last. Sweeney Todd, in all its brilliance, swept the Tony Awards in 1979.
When looking back on the 1970's, theaterwise, it doesn't look so bad, does it? Broadway was great; the rest of the world was just crazy. Before we leave though, there was one other musical during this decade that was, well, simply, a singular sensation. Having seen it countless times, the memory always focuses on the same scene...there she stood centerstage in that red cutaway dress, pleading for a job. "God! I'm a dancer. A dancer dances...", she sang, and then danced in front of those mirrors to an audience that was left breathless at the conclusion of "The Music and the Mirror" from A Chorus Line. It was a magic moment in the theater when Donna McKechnie dazzled the world and for her efforts she received a Tony Award. I've seen many other actresses perform in the role of Cassie, but no one ever came close. I guess it's because Donna is Cassie.
Today, 42nd Street is undergoing a total restoration. Theaters like the New Amsterdam and the Ford Center are leading the way in making this street the center of Broadway. Gone are the hookers and lowlifes and once again the street and the entire Times Square area is safe for theatergoers.
In the last couple of weeks we've gone down memory lane just touching on 28 years of Broadway history. I think I'll leave the rest to Robert Rusie in his "Broadway 101" column. His next episode covers '1910-1920' and that should be up and running within the week. By the end of the year he'll be up to the present.
Tidbits: The New Amsterdam theater was the home of the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920's and after the show theatergoers were invited up to the Roof for the Midnight Frolic which featured 30 "Most Beautiful Girls on Earth and We Can Prove It." BC/EFA's Easter Bonnet competition will be held on April 13-14 in the New Amsterdam and five original Ziegfeld girls who either appeared in the Follies or the Midnight Frolic will take part in the Easter Bonnet show. Call Carla Cherry at BC/EFA for tickets to this fundraiser at (212) 768-4329
High Society is in previews and opens April 27th. Word on the street is that it's "okay." Conflicting reports state that Des MacAnuff and Wayne Cilento have taken over the directing from Christopher Renshaw and Lar Lubovitch or are they just assisting? Whatever the case, they have three weeks to spit and polish the musical.
Chicago fans will be pleased to add another recording to their collections as the deal has been worked out with recording the London cast which stars Ute Lemper and Ruthie Henshall. In my book, the OBC from 1975 is still the best. Can't wait to hear this one though. No release date yet, but it's been recorded.
On Monday, April 6, there will be a memorial for Laurie Beechman at the Winter Garden Theater at 3 P.M. It's open to the public for those who wish to attend.
Freak, John Leguizamo's one man show, is so popular that it has been extended a second time through July 4th. Should be interesting to see if the Tony nominating committee meeting this week will allow this show to be Tony eligible. Stay tuned.
Box Office is on fire at Radio City for Nickelodeon's Rugrats, A Live Adventure. Bring your M&M tubes to the box office and get up to $4.00 off. Maximum, 8 tubes per ticket with each tube being worth fifty cents. Show runs from April 3 - 13th.
Unusual ad in today's New York Times for Dress to Kill, Eddie Izzard. It tells you how funny the British comedian is with some quotes. The only thing it doesn't tell you is which theater it's at. Try the Westbeth Theatre Center down at 151 Bank Street in the West Village.
From Across the Pond, here's a letter from zany Dame Edna on his/her new show, Edna, The Spectacle:
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