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For Columbus Day: Christopher Columbus on Stage, from Lope de Vega to Eugene O’Neill to David Henry Hwang

There are statues of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle — although city officials have hinted they want to get rid of it — and Columbus, Ohio and Columbus, Georgia and Columbus, Wisconsin, and in many cities not named Columbus. But Christopher Columbus seems to have virtually disappeared from the American stage.

That’s not the way it always was. The first play about Columbus goes back to the 1500’s: “El Nuevo de Mundo” by Felix Lope de Vega. The first to be staged in America itself was in 1794: “Columbus, or The Discovery of America. A Historical Play” by Thomas Morton. Yet even as far back as 1858, the theatrical treatment was far less than worshipful of the Italian explorer of the New World.

That’s the year that John Brougham is said to have toured a show (starting at the Boston Theatre) whose satirical intent is evident in its lengthy title: “Columbus el Filibustero!! A New and Audaciously Original Historica-Plagiaristic, Ante-National, Pre-Patriotic, and Omni-Local Confusion of Circumstances, Running Through Two Acts and Four Centuries”

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Broadway Photographs from the Museum of the City of New York

The Theater Collection at the Museum of the City of New York contains over 190,000 objects that document theatrical performance in New York City from 1785 on. These include more than 30,000 photographs, documenting over 5,000 Broadway production, which are currently in the process of being put online. Below is a sample, including Sarah Bernhardt in an 1880 production of “Adrienne Lecouvreur,” and “New Faces of 1952” featuring Eartha Kitt and Paul Lynde, as well as Lunt and Fontanne, Katharine Cornell and Basil Rathbone, Fanny Brice and a Fanny Brice female impersonator, Paul Robeson, Patty Duke, Celeste Holm, Lillian Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Glenda Jackson. Click on any picture to see it enlarged, and read the caption.

4th of July Poll: Favorite American History Musical

On the Eve of the Fourth of July, my biannual poll: What is your favorite Broadway musical that takes actual American history as its subject.

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Today is World Theatre Day, 2018

 

World Theatre Day logo

World Theatre Day logo

Today is World Theatre Day. Created in 1961,it  is celebrated annually on March 27. How will you be celebrating?

This year, five different artists from five continents are delivering the World Theatre Day messages. Below are excerpts from each (in English), with a link to read each full address, followed by ten facts about theater.

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Happy Birthday Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber!


Today Stephen Sondheim turns 88 (the number of keys on the piano!) and Andrew Lloyd Webber turns 70.  Sondheim made his Broadway debut at the age of 26 in 1956 , Lloyd Webber at 23 in 1971, and, along with John Kander (who turned 91 four days ago), and Jerry Herman (who turns 87 on July 10th) they are at the very least the dominant musical theater composers of their generation, inspiring new generations of theater makers, their work continually produced around the world and in New York — Sondheim, currently with Sweeney Todd; Lloyd Webber, with Phantom of the Opera and School of Rock.

Occasionally their music is heard together — such as in the recent Prince of Broadway and in this vid

 

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Presidents on Stage: Respecting the Presidency

Below is my annual Presidents Day photo essay of a century’s worth of stage depictions of American presidents.

Nearly every president has been depicted on the stage at one time or another. There are currently three on Broadway — in a single show, “Hamilton” –– and the current officeholder is mentioned in “The Parisian Woman.”

“I think presidents are a natural topic for the stage,” said Bruce Altschuler, professor emeritus of political science at SUNY Oswego and the author of Acting Presidents: 100 Years of Plays about the Presidency “There is usually built-in name recognition and often passions for and against them. In our celebrity culture, we want to know more about what is really happening, either behind the scenes politically or in their private lives.” And, as he explains in his book, “often, by depicting past presidents, the authors hope to teach a lesson to contemporary audiences.”

Lincoln has been the star of more than a dozen Broadway plays, starting with Benjamin Chapin’s Lincoln in 1906; Washington is a distant second. But even more obscure presidents such as Rutherford B. Hayes have gotten their moments in the spotlight. Hayes and two other presidents were portrayed by Gene Wilder in “The White House,” a short-lived 1964 play by A. E. Hotchner that crammed in 24 of the presidents between John Adams and Woodrow Wilson.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the extensive caption.

 

Mass Shootings on Stage: Healing or Titillating?

The mass shooting on Valentine’s Day at a Florida high school is the latest in a long line of school shootings, some of which are instantly identifiable: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook.

Each of these has been the subject of plays, as have some of the other most notorious mass shootings in the United States.

Other dramas about shooters or shootings don’t dramatize specific events, but take their inspiration from what one can call, horribly, the trend.

Below are some examples — the good, the bad and the ugly — and they pose a question. As I put it in the title of a piece I wrote for HowlRound in 2015:  Violence on Stage: Healing or Titillating?   Enlightening…or exploitative?

 

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From the Arthur Miller Archives

The Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archives of Arthur Miller, from his first play “No Villain” (1936), written when Miller was at the University of Michigan, to “Finishing the Picture” (2004), produced just months before his death.

Here are some items from the 322 linear feet of material, with captions largely provided by the Center.

Top New York Theater Stories of 2017: Reeling, Resisting and Persisting

It was a year of shocks. In 2017, we got Hurricane Harvey and Harvey Weinstein, indecency in the White House and terror in Times Square. Meryl Streep began the year speaking out against Donald Trump’s bullying and ended the year accused of remaining silent about Harvey Weinstein’s bullying. To many in America, to borrow half of Charles Dickens’ famous phrase, 2017 was the worst of times, an age of foolishness, an epoch of incredulity. And the theater community was far from immune. But it was also far from passive. This was also a year of standing up and speaking out, resisting and persisting. Below are some of the top New York theater news stories of 2017, presented chronologically month by month, including prominent theater people who died. As you’ll see, in many of the months, a different new (or newly renovated) theater building had its ribbon cutting ceremony. Nearly every month, resisters held a protest or a spoof of the White House went viral

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The Lion King Turns 20 on Broadway

Today is the 20th anniversary of the opening of “The Lion King.” Now the third-longest running show in the history of Broadway, the musical is worth celebrating.

 

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