We have seen countless Virginia Woolf s over the years; they come along like clockwork, as befits a modern-day classic, and provide high-grade fodder for dramatic actors. But the original production, preserved on LP by Columbia Records and now released by Masterworks Broadway, can be seen as — or, rather, heard as — a revelation.
Martha and George always battle their way through Albee's three-act prizefight, yes, but with Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill , it is a true slugfest.
These now-familiar words come across like darts and bullets; the now-familiar dramatic peaks — the "fun and games" they play, the various plot points including the history of Martha and George's son — come at us as if they are original thoughts, hurled like blistering weapons of attack to help the protagonists get through the long night's journey into day. As the play proceeds, you stop listening to the recording and become immersed in the death-struggle. George Grizzard and Melinda Dillon contribute mightily as well, and one mustn't overlook that the whole has been tautened by director Alan Schneider to the point that it resembles a grand spider's web made of steel strands.
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The play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, will arrive on Broadway in When they played the material for the star—material written with a prodigiously gifted singer in mind—her reaction was immediate. And negative. As Bancroft departed, Stark asked that the score be toned down, but Styne and Merrill began pressing for a more convincing book.
Playwright John Patrick came in for rewrites. Other actresses were considered. Eydie Gorme wasn't interested in the commitment. Carol Burnett was convinced she couldn't be convincingly Jewish. And Styne refused to give up: Now he sent Jerome Robbins down to the Village to hear Streisand, and the director was impressed. He invited her to read for the role—by all accounts, an electrifying encounter of iron wills involving Streisand, Robbins, Styne and Stark—and eventually insisted that Stark cast her.
Then Robbins quit over disagreements about the book, and the show briefly went into limbo. But Jule Styne refused to give up, and even he tried to come up with another project for Streisand. I think the greatest woman singer of my time is Barbra Streisand. I'll never live to hear anyone else who has so much.
Stark came up with a new director, Bob Fosse, who came and went. Big talents, big egos. But the lid stayed on, for the moment. The Fanny Brice project seemed at last ready to emerge officially until David Merrick split with Stark after a disagreement. Suddenly, a new crisis: Merrick had been the one who'd signed Streisand. Stark had to renegotiate with his star who wasn't yet really a star, but was a shrewd operator now dealing from a position of strength.
Merrick's parting gift to the project, though, was an important one.
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As rehearsals began, giant egos clashed. Monumental tempers flared. Chaplin and Streisand disliked each other virtually on sight, and Chaplin saw his nominal co-starring role begin to shrink early. Stark was producing a movie at the same time, and he returned from location to find Funny Girl stalled. Accounts differ as to why—the best and most thorough account of the whole tale is in Barbra—A Biography of Barbra Streisand by Donald Zec and Anthony Fowles—but the eye of the storm began to gather, rightly or wrongly, around Garson Kanin.
Styne would later recall that he wrote 56 pieces of music for Funny Girl. Some 22 songs would be added, then subtracted from the score in rehearsals or in the frenzied pre-Broadway tryouts in Boston and Philadelphia. The Boston opening was nearly a disaster, running late into the evening and earning the show a set of largely negative reviews that nearly closed it.
The story had to be delicately skewed because Frances Stark objected to anything that shed an unflattering light on her father, a difficult matter since Arnstein went to prison. Production numbers came and went, at least once in the course of a single performance.
My fair lady 20th anniversary by Original Cast, LP with recordsbymail - Ref
Henderson was pleased to inform him, at long last, that there was no need for a new arrangement. Other aspects of the show weren't so lucky. By Philadelphia, a new writer had been called in to collaborate with Lennart when John Patrick's patience gave out. Of all people, Jerome Robbins returned to take over the show. And when Jerry Robbins came in to help fix the show, the tensions between writers and producers and cast often reached monumental heights.
And l hope she never changes. She seems to have exactly the right instincts about what works for her, and had—even in those early days—the will to insist. With progress being made, the Broadway opening was postponed as Funny Girl moved to another Philadelphia theater for more revisions. Robbins dug in and insisted on more time, cutting away the excess and sharpening the focus on Streisand.
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The final scene endured 42 rewrites, several just to please a very unhappy Sydney Chaplin. Streisand had received the material earlier in the day, and she actually performed it for the first time in front of the critics and a glittering first-night crowd. The show that opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater that evening —March 26, —bore few indications of the struggle that created it.
The most expensive musical of its day, it managed this feat the same season Hello, Dolly! Funny Girl was nominated for eight Tony awards at the end of the season. It failed to win in every single category, swept away by the tidal wave of acclaim for Hello, Dolly! That being said, I am not a vinyl purist, although I personally love the actual package of the album with cover art etc.
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