Video killed the radio star…and motion pictures killed the variety show (sort of)!
Ah, the days of vaudeville, when theatres across the nation were bustling with magicians, acrobats, comedians, jugglers, slapstick artists, musicians, singers, dancers and an assortment of novelty acts. Entertainment of all sorts flourished during this motley Renaissance. From the late 1800s to the early 1930s, the U. S. was awash in circuses, world’s fairs, nightclubs, traveling theatrical road shows and more. It was from this explosion in entertainment that cinema was born.
Vaudeville derived from myriad sources, including the concert saloon, minstrel shows, freak shows, dime museums and even burlesque. In the beginning, these “shows” were often held in beer halls with coarse—and at times obscene—content aimed primarily at male audiences. In 1881, however, Tony Pastor, came on the scene. A ballad and minstrel singer himself, Pastor established a theatre in NYC that was dedicated to the “straight, clean variety show.” It is Pastor who is credited both with giving the first performance of what came to be known as vaudeville, and with making it respectable. His unexpected success encouraged other managers to follow his lead, and by the 1890s vaudeville was considered family entertainment, exhibiting high standards of performance.
Vaudeville was quite literally a breeding ground for some of the most influential entertainers in American history. It also happened to transform the entertainment landscape of the country. Chains of theatres popped up around the nation, creating touring vaudeville circuits. The United Booking Office populated a series of 400 theatres in the East and Midwest with all the latest acts; and Martin Beck’s Orpheum Circuit—Rose’s dream goal for Dainty June and her Newsboys—controlled houses from Chicago to California. At times performers also landed a slot at Beck’s Palace Theatre in New York, a venue considered to be the “number one” vaudeville house from 1913-1932. By that time, vaudeville had long been a respectable forum for women and children, as patrons and as performers.
Many players who got their start on vaudeville stages would go on to become superstars in the world of music, theatre, movies and television. Entertainers like Buster Keaton, arguably the greatest silent film comedian of all time, started in vaudeville; James Cagney was a vaudeville hoofer (dancer); and even Martha Graham, one of the greatest dancers and choreographers in history, started out performing in vaudeville.
With the rise of the growing film distribution system, the shining star of vaudeville began to dim. Starting in 1896, motion pictures were introduced as added attractions to vaudeville shows. The pictures, however, gradually preempted more and more ‘performing time,’ until it all flipped around. With the advent of the “talkies,” in 1927, the customary bill now featured a full-length motion picture with “added acts” of vaudeville around it.
Vaudeville was on its way out, but it wasn’t until the Great Depression of the 1930s—coupled with the growing popularity of radio and television—that it truly declined. And then, after WWII, it virtually disappeared.
Its raunchier cousin, burlesque, lives on—thanks in no small part to its endless parade of risqué striptease dancers led by the spirit of Gypsy Rose Lee.
- Margaret Hall
ALBANY, N.Y.—Feb. 3, 2014—Capital Repertory Theatre announces that Benita Zahn, popular anchor and health reporter for WNYT, will join other local favorites and a brace of Broadway veterans in the company’s upcoming production of Gypsy: A Musical Fable, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by theREP’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, choreographed by Freddy Ramirez and assisted by Susan Caputo, Gypsy opens March 18 and runs through April 13.
Described by critics as one of the most important titles in the American musical theatre canon, Gypsy chronicles the rags to riches story of burlesque queen, Gypsy Rose Lee. Mary Callanan, fresh from her role in the Broadway revival of Annie, will head the cast as Rose. She will be joined by Broadway mainstay Bob Walton in the role of Herbie, the candy salesman who helps Rose and her brood survive the waning days of Vaudeville.
In addition to her turn as Mrs. Pugh in Annie, Callanan counts national tours of Big, Mamma Mia!, Damn Yankees, The Sound Of Music and Cinderella among her credits—along with a list of regional theatre roles that read like the American songbook. A favorite in her hometown of Boston, Callanan brings an established fan base for her recordings and cabaret appearances to the role of Rose, which has defined the meaning of “stage mother” for generations.
Walton, Callanan’s accomplished co-star, was last seen on Broadway in The Drowsy Chaperone, following appearances in 42nd Street, The Ziegfeld Follies Of 1936, Showboat, City Of Angels and Once Upon A Mattress with Sarah Jessica Parker. His wide-ranging career encompasses experience as an actor, director and musical director, working with greats like Mickey Rooney and Ginger Rogers.
Other New York pros include Kelsey Crouch as Louise (who transforms into the magnificent “First Lady of Burlesque,” Gypsy Rose Lee), LoriAnn Frieda as Tessie Tura, Hillary Parker as Mazeppa, Matt Gibson as Tulsa, John T. Wolfe as Yonkers and Connor Russell as Angie.
Zahn, who has trod the boards at many local theatres, takes on her Capital Repertory Theatre debut in the role of Electra, the sparkling stripper who helps teach Louise her trade. Ramirez, a Troy resident and Broadway veteran who toured the country in West Side Story, will portray L.A. Other top area actors, several taking their first bows at theREP, also decorate the cast.
Amelia Rose Allen stars as Baby Louise with Alexis Papaleo as her little sister, Baby June. Taking on the task of teenage Louise is Cara O’Brien, an Albany resident and graduate of NYU, last seen on the theREP’s stage in James Joyce’s The Dead. Emily Louise Franklin makes her downtown debut as the tap-dancing Dainty June. She was last seen as the grown up Princess Fiona in Park Playhouse’s critically-acclaimed Shrek. Franklin’s brother George, who starred in Broadway’s A Christmas Story, also appears. And local favorites Tony Pallone and Joe Phillips will portray a variety of male characters in the play.
Other members of the 22 actor ensemble include Katherine Delaney Buddenhagen, Heather-Liz Copps, Sophie Elise Meisner, Morgan Przekurat, Whitney Wilson and Sara Wolf.
Preview performances for Gypsy: A Musical Fable take place March 14-16. Opening night is Tuesday, March 18. Regular performances continue through Sunday, April 13. Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday—with matinees 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 26. Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany, N.Y. Tickets range from $20 to $65. For tickets and information, call TICKETS BY PROCTORS, (518) 445-SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org.
Gypsy: A Musical Fable is sponsored by M&T Bank; with sub-sponsors Greenberg Traurig LLP.
Michael Bush and Kevin McGuire return to join Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill in the director’s chair.
ALBANY, N.Y.—Feb. 4, 2014—Today, Capital Repertory Theatre announces its 34th season, which balances world premieres and popular musicals with comedies and classics. Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill says, “with this season we reaffirm our commitment to bringing new work to the stage, while not forgetting our ties to theatre history. I love music and I love literature, so bookending the slate with the musical fun of Smokey Joes Café and the serious drama of Hamlet makes perfect sense to me.”
“I’m especially excited that our NEXT ACT: New Play Summit has become a way to grow developing work, as well as a way to introduce our audience to new voices in the American theatre.”
They say the neon lights are bright on North Pearl Street, and Smokey Joe’s Café— The Songs of Leiber & Stoller opens theREP’s 2014-2015 season (July 11–Aug. 10) with a dazzling selection of Brill Building pop, rock and R&B chestnuts. Tunes like “On Broadway,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Fools Fall In Love,” “Love Potion #9” and “Stand By Me” fueled the careers of The Drifters, Elvis Presley, The Coasters and Ben E. King, and have made Smokey Joe’s Café a perennial favorite and the longest-running revue in Broadway history.
Michael Bush (A Christmas Carol, The Sisters Rosensweig) returns to direct Jon Robin Baitz’s dramedy Other Desert Cities (Sept. 26–Oct. 19). Baitz made his bow at theREP with The Substance of Fire in 1993; and Other Desert Cities, which the New York Times called “one of the most satisfying grown-up plays of the decade,” marked his Broadway debut in 2011. A family clashes at the holidays over politics, memory and dark secrets in this Pulitzer Prize-nominated dazzler.
NEXT ACT! New Play Summit 3 (Nov. 1–3) will offer another round of exciting new as-yet-to-be-determined works. This mini-festival gives theREP’s dedicated patrons an inside look at what’s happening now in the world of theatre. The three-day event, split between spaces at Proctors and theREP, is fast becoming a buzz weekend as well as a proving ground for plays destined for theREP’s regular season.
Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill will helm the Classics on Stage holiday production of The Secret Garden (Nov. 21–Dec. 21). Librettist/lyricist Marsha Norman and composer Lucy Simon breathe new life in to Francis Hodgson Burnett’s timeless tale of a spurned orphan girl turning a dead and wasted garden into a loving paradise and sanctuary for love. The 1991 Broadway production, lifted by Simon’s soaring score, took home three Tony Awards.
Need proof of the power of NEXT ACT? Sherry Kramer’s How Water Behaves was the hit of last year’s hoedown. Now, it’s making its World Premiere (Jan. 16-Feb. 8) in a production sure to launch it on the regional theatre circuit. Kramer’s zany comedy—directed by Mancinelli-Cahill—focuses on Nan and her unemployed husband, Steve, who create a fictitious charity in order to keep up with their family’s extravagant gift giving. When Steve whips up a fake web site for the family to view, everything spins out of control.
Variety calls Steven Temperley’s Souvenir “a comic jewel with a heart.” Florence Foster Jenkins couldn’t sing a note, but that didn’t stop her from becoming the eccentric doyen of New York high society. Too bad she didn’t realize that her annual sold-out recitals were popular for their comic effect, not their art. Souvenir (Feb. 27-March 22) chronicles the side-splitting journey of Mrs. Jenkins and her compassionate accompanist Cosme McMoon from the rehearsal room to Carnegie Hall. Based on a true story, Souvenir will have you laughing—till you cry!
Kevin McGuire. Hamlet. Enough said. Broadway star and Capital Repertory Theatre favorite Kevin McGuire returns to direct the Bard’s towering classic of murder, betrayal and treachery. This fast-paced Classics on Stage production of Hamlet (April 17–May 10) is ripe with ghosts, political intrigue, romance and sword fighting swagger. McGuire, noted throughout the region for his brilliant stagings of Shakespeare at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, will leave you breathless with his vision of the Danish prince.
- Smokey Joe’s Café • July 11–Aug. 10, 2014
- Other Desert Cities • Sept. 26–Oct. 19, 2014
- NEXT ACT! New Play Summit 3 • Nov. 1–3, 2014
- The Secret Garden • Nov. 21, 2014–Dec. 21, 2015
- How Water Behaves • Jan. 16–Feb. 8, 2015
- Souvenir • Feb. 27–March 22, 2015
- Hamlet • April 17–May 10, 2015
New subscriptions, starting at $120, will be available beginning late March.
Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany, N.Y. For tickets and information, call TICKETS BY PROCTORS, (518) 445-SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org.
The Mountaintop (Review)
by Rich DiMaggio
"This play has some really cool twists and turns in it that are best left as a surprise."
"Playing Martin Luther King is an extremely talented actor by the name of Brandon Jones, and he is joined with the equally compelling performance of Liz Morgan (I will also not disclose her role for fear of plot spoilage) Both are wonderful actors, delivering a five star performance about a torrid time in American history. Close your eyes, and you can almost hear Mr. King roar. Open them, and his fate looms large."
"History and humanism collide head on here."
"The acting is five star."
Mountaintop Hits its Peak at Cap Rep!
by Will Gallagher
"Non-fiction and fantasy collide for ninety breathtaking minutes on the Capital Rep stage."
"Jones captures the essence of one of the most famous historical figures of our time and more so makes it look and sound quite effortless."
" you’d being doing yourself a great injustice by not seeing it."
"Liz is funny, heartwarming, and just plain entertaining."
"One of the greatest things that Mr. Jones brings to the table is Dr. King’s humanity."
‘The Mountaintop’ stirring at Capital Rep
by Steve Barnes
"Every mention King makes of his awareness of his own mortality seems profound"
"The conceit of her true identity affords great occasion for Morgan to show off as an actress, and she does; she’s terrific, especially in an early scene when, encouraged by King, the maid dons his suit jacket and shoes, climbs on a bed and delivers the sort of confrontational speech she believes he ought to give."
"This isn’t the MLK you think you know, and that’s reward enough."
'The Mountaintop' at Capital Rep imagines Martin Luther King Jr.'s final night
by Joe Dalton
“The two-person drama imagines an extended conversation between King and a maid named Camae that takes place on the night before he is assassinated in Memphis in 1968.”
"It's grounded in historical fact, but presents him as a human being," explains director Nick Mangano. "We see a side that we've never seen before. The writing is beautiful and humanizes him in many ways. It's about a man who thinks he still has a lot to accomplish, even though he's done so much."
"It's very poetic with themes of redemption and forgiveness," explains Mangano. "There's also a wonderful surprise in the play. He meets the hotel maid and they begin a dialogue but you don't know who she really is. Is she planted there by someone? Is she with the FBI? That's something he had reason to worry about throughout his lifetime."
Controversial Play Brings a New Humanity to MLK
Vermont News Guide
by Susan Robinson
" ‘The Mountaintop’ imagines the man Martin Luther King, grappling with faith, fame and the future on the last night of his life."
"playwright Katori Hall has an idea of what happened that rainy night in the hours between Martin Luther King, Junior’s stirring speech for sanitation strikers at the Mason Temple and the moment he was shot on the balcony outside his second-floor room."
1/21/-2/9–The Mountaintop brings Martin Luther King, Jr. back to life in Controversial New Play
“Hall’s brilliant language and fearless mind create a scene that bristles with possibility, hums with humanity and—veering towards a shimmering magical realism—haunts with her own vision of truth. Is it any wonder she’s been called one of “Theater’s hottest new voices.” “