Friday 31 July 2015

Joseph Fields & Anita Loos' "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Based on the book of the same name, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes follows the life of Lorelei as she takes a voyage on the Ile de France to Paris to perform in a nightclub.  Already engaged to be married to a much older man, Lorelei flirts with many men aboard the ship including a rich Philadelphia man and an Englishman.  Lorelei's fiance's father, who has never approved of Lorelei, hires a private detective to track her whereabouts in Paris.

Lorelei sings hits "I'm Just a Little Girl from Little Rock" as she is wined and dined by the Philadelphian and the Englishman.  She even turns the eye of a zipper king who is pedalling the first dress with a zipper.

However, when Lorelei's fiance arrives in Paris and declares his undying love for her, to the tune of  "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", she decides he is the man for her after all.  Her fiance's father finally accept Lorelei when he discovers she is wearing a dress with buttons, his own invention.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes debuted on Broadway in 1949 and ran for 740 performances.  It was the debut performance of Carol Channing, who became synonomous with the song "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend".  Gentlemen Prefer Blondes premiered on the big screen 1953, starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

Thursday 30 July 2015

Rodgers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific"

"I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair
I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair
I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair
And send him on his way."

James Michener found himself on an island in the South Pacific in 1944 where the Americans were trying to dislodge the Japanese from a nearby island.  Michener, a writer, was assigned the task of recording the history of the American Navy in the Pacific on an old battered typewriter.  He became fascinated with the local people and culture and started composing one of nineteen tales about them. It was published as Tales of the South Pacific in 1947.  

Rodgers & Hammerstein got a hold of the book and wrote a musical, based on two of the 19 stories.  The first "Our Heroine", featured an American nurse who falls in love with a French plantation owner; she struggles to accept his mixed race children,however.  The second, "Fo' Dolla" is based on a U.S. Lieutenant who falls in love with a Tonkinese woman whose mother begs him to marry her.  However, he is reluctant to, worried about what his family and Philadelphia society might think of an interracial marriage.  

The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1949, spawned such hits as "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair", "some Enchanted Evening" and "There is Nothing Like a Dame".  South Pacific starred Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin.  Running for a total of 1925 performances, it received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.  

Emile and Nellie grasp hands as Emile's two children look on.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Joseph Stein's "Fiddler on the Roof"

"Fiddler on the Roof", set in Imperial Russia in 1905, centres on a poor milkman who struggles to raise his five daughters in the Jewish faith, despite outside influences.  His three oldest daughters wish to marry for love, not faith.  In the meantime the Czar declares an edict evicting all Jews from the village.  In the closing scene, the two youngest daughters leave the village for America, escorted by the town fiddler.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1964, spawning such hits as "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "If I Were a Rich Man".  It starred Zero Mostel as the milkman, Maria Karnilova as his wife, Bea Arthur as the Matchmaker and Gino Conforti as the Fiddler.  Fiddler on the Roof was the first musical to surpass 3000 performances, a record not broken until Grease hit the theatre in 1978.  The production won the Roof won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Donald Bevan & Edmund Trzcenski's "Stalag 17"

"Nobody has ever escaped from Stalag 17.  Not alive, anyway." (Von Scherbach)

In 1953, American cinema thought that the public would not be interested in a movie about World War II prisoners of war.  However, all that changed when the Korean prisoners of war were released later that year.  Paramoubnt Pictures decided to release Stalag 17, starring William Holden

The movie was based on the 1951 play by the same name, written by former POWs Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcenski, who were prisoners in Stalag 17B in Austria.  The play traces the lives of several American sergeants who are prisoners in a Luftwaffe camp along with Poles, Czechs and Russian women.  The setting is Austria in 1944 on the "longest night of the year".

The play shows the lives of the average American inside the camp:  eating, sleeping, cleaning, and waiting for any chance to plotting an escape.  They abscond with a clandestine radio, an opportunity to hear the BBC news each day.  

Kuwaza is obsessed with pinup girl Betty Grable.  Sefton likes to bribe the Nazi guards in exchange for food and cigarettes.  One day he even is rewarded with a trip to the womens' barracks.  Price is the barracks security chief who plays it low key.  

One day American prisoners Manfredi and Johnson escape through a tunnel and are shot, the result of an informant.  The others brainstorm to find out who the informant is.  Maybe it's Sefton who likes to bribe the guards.  Maybe it's Dunbar, whom they are trying to usher out of the camp.  In the end, the Americans question Price.  

"When was Pearl Harbor?"  To which he responds:  "December 7, 1941."  Question two:  "Where were you on that date?"  To which he responds:  "I was eating dinner at 6 pm."  This time would fit in, if he lived in Berlin.  However, he claims he lives in Cleveland.  Backed into a corner, someone checks Price's pockets and finds a chess queen, used to hide messages for the Nazis.  As Dunbar is ushered out of the camp, Price goes down in a hail of bullets.

Stalage 17 ran on Broadway for 472 performances.  The movie debuted in 1953 starring William Holden, Don Taylor and Otto Preminger.  Von Scherbach, a sadistic Nazi captain, was added to the film script.  It grossed $10,000 at the box office.

Monday 27 July 2015

Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey's "Grease"

"Grease is the word, is the word that you heard
It's got groove its got meaning
Grease is the time is the place is the motion
Grease is the way we are feeling."

His name was Jeff Rosnick.  All the girls in Grade 6 had a crush on him.  Why?  Because he had the biggest, brightest, bluest eyes and dark wavy hair parted in the middlle, just like John Travolta.  John Travolta starred in the biggest Broadway production of 1978, Grease.  I saw it not once, but twice in the theatre.  I saw it a third time in Grade 9 when my high school, Westmount, mounted its own version of the play.

The story was set in Chicago in 1959 at Rydell High School, based on William Howard Taft School where Jim Jacobs attended.  It followed the lives of ten teenagers through their friendships and loves in a world filled with souped up cars, greasy hair and greasy spoons.  At the centre is greaser Danny Zuko, played by Barry Bostwick, and Sandy, played by Carole Demas, as well as Rizzo played by Adrienne Barbeua and Kenickie played by Timothy Meyers.  Good girl Sandy falls in love with rebel Danny over the summer.  When the school year resumes, Danny is torn between his girl and his gang, The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies.

The original production was staged in an old trolley barn in Chicago in 1971.  Grease premiered on Broadway at the Eden Theatre on Valentine's Day 1972 and ran for 3388 performances, closing in 1980.  At the time it was the longest running musical on Broadway.  

The play was adapted for the big screen in 1978, starring John Travolta as Danny and Olivia Newton John as Sandy.  They belted out hits such as "Summer Nights", "Greased Lightnin'", and "We Go Together".

Sunday 26 July 2015

Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King and I"

"The King and I is really a celebration of love in all its guises, from the love of Anna for her dead husband; the love of the King's official wife, Lady Thiang, for a man she knows is flawed and also unfaithful; the desperation of forbidden love; and a love that is barely recognized and can never be acted upon." (

Sepia tinted photo of seated woman and older man separated by three children sitting on a bench, with several children sitting on the floor in front of them

The King of Siam with nine of his children courtesy

Rob and I saw "The King and I", based on the book Anna and the King of Siam, at the Stratford Theatre about twelve years ago.  What struck me the most about the musical was the beautiful costumes.  Set during the 1860's in Siam (Thailand), the story follows a widowed British schoolteacher who is hired to educate the King Mongkut's children.  The King is attempting to modernize his country and the education of his offspring is part of that plan.

He and the schoolteacher, Anna, clash on many occasions as they disagree in how the children should be taught.  At the same time, they are drawn to each other, and end up falling in love, a forbidden love that they cannot act upon as the King is already married.  In fact, the King has more than one wife; his official wife loves him despite his unfaithfulness.  

Theatrical attorney Annie Holtzmann came upon the book Anna and the King of Siam (1944) and presented it to her client, Gertrude Lawrence, suggesting that it would be a good play for her to star in to revive her fledgling stage career.  The attorney contacted composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein, who had already written four musicals.  Rodgers worked his magic, composing hits such as "Shall We Dance", "I Have Dreamed' and "Who Would Refuse?' and they had an instant hit on their hands.  Yul Brynner starred as the king alongside veteran actress Gertrude Lawrence.

The musical premiered on March 29, 1951 at the St. James Theatre on Broadway.  The role was taxing for Lawrence, who at 52, had to wear 75 pound dresses as she walked and danced 4 miles across the stage over a 3 1/2 hour period, eight times a week.  In September of 1952, she discovered she had liver cancer and passed away.  She was buried in a ballgown she wore in Act II.  The King and I continued with a new leading actress for another year and a half.  It closed after 1246 performances, the fourth longest running musical in history.

A barefoot man in Asian-style dress dances exuberantly with a woman in a formal gown with a large hoop skirt

Yul Brynner & Gertrude Lawrence dance to "Shall We Dance?" circa 1951 courtesy

Friday 24 July 2015

Don Harron's "Anne of Green Gables"

The longest running musical in Canadian history debuted on CBC in 1956.  It first appeared on the stage in 1965 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and Canadians fell in love with it

Based on Lucy Maud Montgomery's 1908 classic book, the musical features a red-haired pig-tailed orphan named Anne who arrives in Prince Edward Island looking for a home.  Marilla and her brother Matthew have requested a boy to help them on the farm, but are shocked to find a girl at the train station.  Despite their wishes, Anne works her way into their hearts and they keep her.

She falls in love with their home, Green Gables, and their community, Avonlea.  Anne dreams of one day being a famous author and enters a writing contest sponsored by the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Company for which she wins first prize.  As she daydreams, Gilbert watches her from afar, the boy who tugged on her pigtails on that first day of school, to which she responded by smashing a slate over his head.  Anne's relationship with the tender hearted Matthew is precious.

The musical features songs like "Humble Pie", "Wondrin" and "Ice Cream".  Anne of Green Gables appeared on the London stage in 1969 and Off Broadway in 1971.  It continues to appear on Canadian stages and has been performed every year since 1965.

Megan Follows plays Anne of Green Gables on CBC series circa 1985 courtesy

Thursday 23 July 2015

Alan J. Lerner's "Paint Your Wagon"

A crusty old miner named Ben and his 16 year old daughter, Jennifer, are panning for gold during the California Gold Rush.  Jennifer strikes gold and the town suddenly swells to 400, all men.  She falls in love with a Mexican named Julio.  Later, her father buys the second wife of a Mormon named Jacob who comes to town.  Jennifer, disgusted with her father, moves East for a year to attend school.  When she returns, she is a "civilized" woman.  She waits for Julio, who has left to find more gold as the rest of the townspeople leave in a caravan of Conestoga wagons.  Julio returns, a broken man.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1951 and ran for a total of 289 performances.  Ben was played by James Barton, Jennifer, by Olag San Juan and Julio by Tony Bavaar.  The musical score, composed by Frederick Loewe, became famous for songs like "Wandrin Star", "I Talk to the Trees" and "They Call the Wind Maria".  The movie premiered in 1969, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin and Jean Seberg.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

George Kaufman & Moss Hart's "You Can't Take it with You"

The play "You Can't Take it with You" premiered at the Booth Theatre in 1936, running for 838 performances.  Mr. Kirby, played by William J.Kelly, is a Wall Street banker who intends to buy up a 12 block radius around a competitor's factory to put him out of business.  However, there is one hold out; Mr. Kirby suggests offering the family a large amount of money and if that fails, causing trouble for them

Mr. Kirby's son,Tony, played by Jess Barker, is the Vice President of the company.  He has fallen in love with the company stenographer, Alice Sycamore, played by Margot Stevenson, and proposed marriage.  No one knows that Margot lives in the hold out house.

Mr. and Mrs. Kirby disapprove of their son's choice of a mate, given that she is of the lower class.  Alice invites the Kirby's to dinner one evening, hoping to smooth things over.  However, the Kirby's come on the wrong evening and find the house in disarray.  The police arrive and arrest everyone in the house for setting off firecrackers illegally.

In prison, the Kirby's and Vanderhof's get to know each other a bit better.  Mr. Vanderhof points out to Mr. Kirby that even though he has wealth, he "can't take it with him."  Sprung from prison, the two families have their day in court where the judge asks why a wealthy family was associating with a lower class one.  Someone explains that they were discussing the possible sale of the house, but Alice points out that they are about to be in-laws.  However, disappointed at the poor treatment displayed by the Kirby's Alice spurns Tony and flees town.  Grandpa Vanderhof decides to sell their home and the neighbourhood prepares to vacate for the proposed factory.

Kirby's competitor, Ramsey, dies after confronting Kirby about his ruthlessness.  Kirby realized that Mr. Vanderhof is right:  he has no friends.  He visits the Vanderhof's again and realizes that they are good people.  Alice takes Tony back and the final scene shows the two families dining in harmony.

You Can't Take it with You was adapted for the big screen in 1938, directed by Frank Capra.  The production starred Jimmy Stewart as Tony Kirby, Jean Arthur as Alice Sycamore, Lionel Barrymore as Grandpa Vanderhof and Edward Arnold as Mr. Kirby

You Can't Take it with You circa 1938 courtesy

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur's "The Front Page"

The Front Page is a play written by former Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The setting is the Chicago Criminal Courts Building in the 1920's.  Tabloid reporters, waiting for the hanging of Earl Williams, convicted of murdering a black policeman, sit around a table  encircled in cigarette smoke playing poker (

All of a sudden, they hear that the convicted murderer has escaped.  Everyone stampedes out of the room except Hildy Johnson.  As he sits there, Earl Williams jumps through the window.  Claiming he shot the police officer accidentally, Williams says he was set up by a crooked mayor and sheriff who were looking for black votes for the next election.

Hildy is convinced that Williams is telling the truth.  He helps him hide in a rolltop desk, hoping to whisk him away to safety and interview him when the opportunity presents itself.  However, he finds he has no choice but to ask for help.  Should he approach his cantankerous editor?

The play premiered at the Times Square Theatre on August 14, 1928.  The Earl Williams character, played by George Leach, was loosely based on Terrible Tommy O'Connor.  The Walter Burns character, played by Osgoode Perkins, was based on Hearst editor Walter Howley.  Lee Tracy played Hildy Grant.  Peggy Grant, Hildy's fiancee, was played by Frances Fuller (

The play was adapted for the stage in 1940 under the title His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy.

Theater building facade with colonnade spanning second and third stories and marquee and entrance on the left for two theaters.

Times Square Theatre circa 1922 courtesy

Monday 20 July 2015

Elia Kazan's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"

Based on the novel by Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows an Irish American family lives in Brooklyn during the first two decades of the 20th Century.  The mother, Francie, got pregnant twice as a teenager and is raising her two children.  She is forced to be the main breadwinner as the father, Johnny, who is a singing waiter, cannot hold down a job due to his alcoholism.

The daughter, Francie, escapes from her family's poverty and her father's alcoholism through books.  She sits on the step of the apartment building and looks out the window at the Tree of Heaven, a tree native to China, which grows in vacant lots in New York City.  Francie is quite bright and her father tries to encourage her.  She attends a squalid overcrowded school in Brooklyn, but her father arranges for her to go to a much better school in the city.

Francie's brother, Neeley, has always been the healthy robust one of the two children.  The mother has always considered him to be her favourite, though she tries not to show it.

The mother discovers she is pregnant in 1915 and when the father finds out, he goes into a drunken stupor, dying of alcohol related pneumonia at Christmas time.  An unscrupulous undertaker absconds with the father's life insurance money.  Without money for high school, the two children are forced to find jobs.  Francie works in an artificial flower factory and press clipping office.  Her brother Neeley becomes a talented jazz piano player following in the artistic footsteps of his father.

Francie takes some courses and gets accepted at the University of Michigan.  She is courted by an older man and gets engaged.  Packing up her things to leave the apartment, she spies the Tree of Heaven again.  The tree is just like her family:  despite people's efforts to destroy it, it keeps growing.

The play A Tree Grows in Brooklyn premiered on Broadway in 1945, starring Peggy Ann Garners as Francie, Dorothy McGuires as the mother, James Dunn as the father and Ted Donaldson as the brother.

A scene from the movie A Tree Grows in Brooklyn courtesy

Sunday 19 July 2015

Frederick Knott's "Dial M for Murder"

"Dial M for Murder" premiered on the BBC in 1952, followed by a stints on the London stage and Broadway.  Written by Frederick Knott, the play featured Tony, an ex-tennis player, Margot, his younger socialite wife, Mark a crime writer who is having an affair with Margot and C. A. Swann, a criminal hired by Margot's husband to murder her.

Knowing about his wife's affair, but acting unaware, Tony and Mark go out for the evening, leaving Margot at the flat.  The plan is for Tony to hide a latchkey under the floor mat outside the flat, and let the criminal slip into the apartment unannounced, and murder Margot.  Tony plans to phone at the appointed hour to distract Margot while the criminal sneaks up on her.

However, things do not go according to plan.  Tony is late with his phone call.  The criminal enters the apartment and attacks Margot, but she fights back, stabbing him with the nearby scissors she was using for sewing.  Tony then phones and gets a distraught Margot who explains what has happened, the dead criminal lying at her feet.

The police are called and arrest Margot, thinking that she was being blackmailed by the criminal regarding her affair.  Margot goes to jail, is sentenced to hang.  However, the police later discover an attache case full of money in the flat, money that Tony was planning on paying the criminal to do the deed.

Equally incriminating, the police discover that the latchkey in Margot's handbag does not belong to her but to the criminal.  Tony mixed the keys up:  the criminal, killed by Margot, had a key in his breast pocket,  Tony, assuming it was Margot's flat key, returned it to her handbag.  However, it was the criminal's key.  Tony admits to his guilt and Margot goes free.

In 1954, Alfred Hitchcock acquired the script and adapted it to the screen, his production starring Grace Kelly as Margot, Ray Milland as Tony and Robert Cummings as the criminal.

Dial M For Murder.jpg

Dial M for Murder movie courtesy

Saturday 18 July 2015

Dore Schary's "Sunrise at Campobello Island"

Sara Delano and her husband James Roosevelt purchased land on Campobello Island in the 1880's, a resort where wealthy Americans and Canadians stayed.  When Franklin Delano Roosevelt married Eleanor, they purchased a 34 room cottage on the island.  In 1921, Franklin fell ill and was diagnosed with polio, which left him permanently paralyzed. (

Dore Schary's play, Sunrise at Campobello Island, which premiered on January 30, 1958, focusses on the years 1921, when Franklin first contracted polio, to 1924 when he returned to the political scene.  The play stars Ralph Bellamy as a young FDR, Mary Fickett as Eleanor, Anne Seymour as the interfering mother in law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, and James Earl Jones in his first big role.

Franklin is depicted as someone who never gives up.  After having served in the New York State Senate and as Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt ran for president of vice-president in 1920 and lost.   While FDR would pursue walking for seven years after his polio attack, he never did relearn how to walk unassisted.  Roosevelt's polio diagnosis could have spelled the end of his career.  But he made the best of it.

"On June 26, 1924, FDR stood at the podium in Madison Square Garden and nominated Alfred E. Smith as the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party." (  Referred to as the "Happy Warrior Speech" this marked Roosevelt's return to politics.  Roosevelt was back in a big way.  In 1932, he was elected President of the United States, the first of four successful election bids.  His New Deal, his fireside chats, his "a date that will live in infamy" speech built the morale of a nation.

Sunrise at Campobello Island enjoyed a 556-performance run on Broadway.  In 1960, two years after the play debuted, the film version premiered, also starring Ralph Bellamy. Greer Garson played Eleanor Roosevelt.

Friday 17 July 2015

Samuel Taylor's "Sabrina Fair"

Sabrina Fairchild lives in Long Island with her widowed father who works as a chauffeur for a wealthy family named Larabee.  Somewhat of a dreamer, Sabrina longs to see the world.  She sails for Paris where she works as a private secretary for a politician for five years.  She returns to America well educated, beautiful, charming, and with a wealthy French suitor in tow (

However, Sabrina has always had a crush on David Larabee.  David's older brother, Linus, schemes to make David fall in love with Sabrina and he succeeds.  However, in the meantime, Sabrina falls in love with Linus, attracted to his worldliness and intelligence.  

In another plot twist, the working class chauffeur has secretly been investing in the stock market for years and has amassed a fortune.  Knowing that her father is financially set, Sabrina chooses to return to Paris, this time with Linus, her new love.

Sabrina Fair, which comes from a John Milton song from his masque Comus, premiered at the National Theatre on Broadway on November 11, 1953.  Starring Margaret Sullavan and Joseph Cotten, it ran for 318 performances.  The Saturday Review called it "the best American comedy of manners in more than a decade" (

The play was adapted for the big screen as Sabrina, premiering in 1954 and starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden.  In 1995, a remake featured Juliette Ormond, Greg Kinnear and Harrison Ford.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Philip Van Doren Stern's & Elmer Harris' "The Man Who Killed Lincoln"

"Wilkes was a good friend and faithful brother, and popular with all who knew him.  Too popular, some said:  too much of the convivial dram drinker, too much the pursuer of pretty ladies..." (Chicago Tribune)

Abraham Lincoln attended the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre that night.  He sat in a red velvet rocker, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln beside him.  All of a sudden, an assassin appeared from behind the curtain, pulled out a revolver, and shot the president; he leaped over the side of the balcony, fracturing his leg, and exited the theatre, leaving Lincoln for dead.  

John Wilkes Booth was a young fanatic.  "Most of his friends were Southern and all of his beliefs..." (  He was disturbed to hear that President Lincoln called for the vote for the "freed Negro" only days after the Civil War ended.  He plotted to kill him, along with Vice President Johnson, General Grant and General Seward.  He thought General Lee would then withdraw his surrender, reassemble his army and save the Confederate's cause.  

But his fractured leg got in the way.  A doctor named Mudd treated Booth that day for his injury.  When the public found out, they were unamused.  Hence, the saying when you are in trouble: "Your name will be Mudd".  Booth escaped to Confederate territory where he took his final stand in a tobacco shed.  He was holding his revolver to his head when he was shot by a sentry and killed.

Lincoln passed away the following morning.  He was given a hero's farewell, complete with a caisson, a 21-gun salute, and a funeral train which crossed the United States from Washington D.C. to his home state of Illinois (  No American would ever forget how he held the country together through the Civil War, how he took a stand on slavery, no matter how unpopular he would appear. 

On January 17, 1940, seventy five years after the assassination, The Man Who Killed Lincoln premiered at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway.  Charles Keane starred as Lincoln, Mary Dorne as Mrs. Lincoln, and Richard Waring as John Wilkes Booth.  According to the Chicago Tribune, however, it was Whitford Kane, as Samuel Fox, who stole the show.  

A century and a half later, Lincoln is still remembered fondly.  Millions visit Gettysburg National Park each year where the president delivered his infamous Gettysburg Address.  And the red velvet chair that Lincoln sat in at Ford's theatre sits in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  John Wilkes Booth is buried in a small grave in Baltimore, Maryland.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Jim Leonard Jr.'s "The Diviners"

In the 1930's, Zion, Indiana has a populations of 40.  Drought has made the Depression-era town bone dry.  Buddy, a mentally challenged teenager, claims that he can sense when water is near.  He is searching or "divining" for water for local farmer, Basil.  Basil's wife, however, doesn't believe that he will find it.  See

C. C. Showers, a stranger from out of town, arrives and immediate takes to Buddy.  C.C. becomes Buddy's mentor.  C.C. also attracts the eye of young Jennie Mae.

The dry goods owner in town, Norma, who cleans her store to the tune of "Rock of Ages", wants a church revival.  The local diner wants the local church rebuilt.  All they need is a preacher.

It is revealed that C.C. has a secret:  he is a preacher who comes from a long line of Kentucky pastors.  The town tries to persuade C.C. to fill the pulpit at their church, but, after a crisis of faith, he is "determined not to do what he does best" (

In the meantime, C.C. tries to persuade Buddy to take a bath, but Buddy is deathly afraid of water, after the drowning death of his mother.  Finally, one day C.C. manages to convince Buddy to bathe in the river, to the strains of "Shall We Gather at the River".  However, the townspeople see the preacher "dunking" the teenager in the river and mistake it for a baptism.  They descend upon the scene and tragedy ensues with the accidental drowning of Buddy.

Even so, despite the tragedy, it is "Amazing Grace" which plays at Buddy's funeral, pointing to the hope the townspeople hold on to.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Reginald Rose's "Twelve Angry Men"

"They arrive with calcified prejudices and hardened hearts, testosterone positively steaming up the windows."

One room, one day, twelve men.  It's the hottest day of the year.  The men are charged with deciding the fate of a young teenager who has supposedly killed his father.  The jury reaches a verdict:  eleven vote guilty, one votes not guilty.  It's a hung jury.  

Over the course of the day, the dissenter manages to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the other jurors.  The vote is recast over and over.  If declared guilty, the accused faces the death penalty.  His fate rests in the hands of "twelve angry men".  

In 1954, Rose Reginald served on a New York City jury in a manslaughter case, his inspiration for Twelve Angry Men.  He explained:  "[The] moment I walked into the courtroom...and found myself facing a strange man whose fate was suddenly more or less in my hands,  my entire attitude changed." (

Reginald wrote a play for television in 1955.  Two years later, a film premiered, starring Henry Fonda.  A stage play followed, debuting in London in 1964.  

Twelve Angry Men movie scene circa 1957 courtesy

Monday 13 July 2015

William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker"

"As Helen, little Miss Duke is altogether superb, a plain, sullen, explosive, miniature monster whose destructive behavior makes sympathy for her afflictions impossible, but whose independence and vitality are nevertheless admirable." (New York Times review of The Miracle Worker at

On October 19, 1959, William Gibson's play The Miracle Worker premiered at the Playhouse Theatre on Broadway.  Based on The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller, the play ran for almost two years, closing on July 1, 1961.

Tuscumbia, Alabama native Helen Keller went deaf and blind at 18 months of age when she was afflicted with Scarlet Fever.  Her parents felt such pity for her that they overindulged her and by six years old, she was a "wild, angry, tantrum-throwing" little girl

Desperate to get their little girl back, the Keller's called on the Perkins Institute to help their child.  Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with the deaf, recommended a woman named Annie Sullivan.  Miss Sullivan agreed to work with Helen and, thanks to her consistency and perseverance, performed a "miracle" in the life of little Helen, teaching her how to communicate.

Helen Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life, was based on her years with her beloved teacher.  She dedicated it to Alexander Graham Bell.  For more information on the relationship between the two, read my post

The Broadway play starred Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan, Patty Duke as Helen Keller, Torin Thatcher as Captain Keller and Patricia Neal as Kate Keller.  The production won five Tony Awards and ran for 719 performances.  The movie version, which premiered in 1962, starred much of the same cast.

Sunday 12 July 2015

George Axelrod's "Seven Year Itch"

George Axelrod, a radio program writer, wrote the script in 1952.  While he had enjoyed moderate success as a writer, he had not yet made his mark on the theatre.  That was all about to change.

On November 20, 1952, The Seven Year Itch premiered at the Fulton Theatre on Broadway.  It starred Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman, a 39 year old employee of a 25 cent book publisher.  During a summer heat wave, he sends his wife, Helen Sherman, and his son to the coast of Maine.  He, however, remains in New York City due to his work obligations (

The upstairs apartment is being sublet by a 22 year old played by Vanessa Brown.  She keeps visiting the much older book publisher, coming up with airhead comments like:  "When it's hot like this, you know what I do?  I put my undies in the ice box."  Ironically, the actress who played "The Girl", Vanessa Brown, had an IQ of 165.  Later in life she worked on the political campaign of John F. Kennedy (

The Seven Year Itch ran for 1141 performances and almost three years.  For George Axelrod, it was his breakout play.  For Tom Ewell, it was his most identifiable role, earning him a Tony award. Vanessa Brown would also make her mark in the play.

In 1955, The Seven Year Itch hit the big screen, starring Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe.  While in the play, the two stars actually do have an affair, in the movie, it is just a fantasy of Tom Ewell's character.  Also, the movie adds the iconic scene of Marilyn Monroe cooling off on a New York City subway grate, her white halter style dress billowing in the breeze (

Saturday 11 July 2015

Lindsay & Crouse's "The Sound of Music"

"The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years." 
(The Sound of Music)

The Sound of Music debuted at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959.  Loosely based on Maria von Trapp's memoir "The Trapp Family Singers", the musical was the last creation of the famous team of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  While the critics considered it too "sappy", audiences loved it.  It ran for 1443 performances before the final curtain came down in 1963.

The original production starred seasoned actress Mary Martin as Maria von Trapp and Theodore Bikel as Captain von Trapp.  Maria is a young nun who enjoys singing in the hills more than reciting her Hail Mary's.  Her Mother Superior sends her to be governess to the seven children of Captain von Trapp, a captain in the Austrian Navy.  While the Captain runs his household the way he would run his ship, Maria gets to know the children.  She plays with them and teaches them how to sing famous songs like "Do, Re, Mi", "Edelweiss" and "My Favourite Things".

Maria starts to have feelings for the Captain.  Unsure of what to do, she returns to the Abbey where Mother Superior suggests that she can't run away from her troubles.  Upon returning to the Trapp's, she hears Captain von Trapp announce that he is engaged to socialite Elsa Schrader.  However, Elsa is a champion of the Anschluss.  The Captain however refuses to greet others with "Heil Hitler" as well as to hang the Nazi flag.  Elsa calls off their engagement.

In the meantime, Captain von Trapp realizes he is really in love with Maria.  After a magnificent church wedding in Salzburg, the children are coached by Max for the upcoming Salzburg Festival. After their performance, with the help of the nuns who sabotage the Nazis' cars, the von Trapps escape through the Alps to Switzerland.

The Sound of Music garnered five Tony Awards and was adapted for the big screen in 1965.  The movie starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  

Friday 10 July 2015

Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett's "The Diary of Anne Frank"

"This play is a part of my life, and the idea that my wife and children as well as I will be presented on the stage is a painful one to me.  Therefore, it is impossible for me to come and see it." (Otto Frank)

The Diary of Anne Frank, based on the diary written by the young girl who went into hiding from the Nazis in an Amersterdam annex during the Second World War, was adapted for the stage by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.  Debuting at the Cort Theatre in 1955, it starrted Joseph Schildkraut as Otto Frank, Susan Strasberg as Anne, Gusti Huber as Edith Frank, Dennie Moore as Mrs. van Daan and Stephen Press as Peter van Daan.  The production moved to the Ambassador Theatre, also on Broadway, in 1957.  Running for 717 performances, it garnered both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. 

The Diary of Anne Frank premiered simultaneously in seven different German cities on October 1, 1956.  At the end of each night, there was "a long drawn out silence" in the audience.  More than two million Germans attended the play.  The Netherlands' Queen Juliana was in attendance when the Diary of Anne Frank debuted in Amsterdam on November 27, 1956.  

The now famous play was adapted for the big screen and premiered on March 18, 1959, starring Shelley Winters as Mrs. van Daan, a role for which she received Best Supporting Actress.  About four months into filming, a special visitor came to the set.  It was Otto Frank.  She explained;  "We all had lunch with him in our costumes, shabby, smelly, wartime Dutch clothes.  He looked around the table at all the actors who were portraying his friends and family.  He was trembling, and had tears in his eyes." (

Note:  For more information on The Diary of Anne Frank, read my post "How the Red and White Checkered Autograph Book Became a Bestseller" at

Thursday 9 July 2015

L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz"

The Wizard of Oz premiered on June 16, 1902 at the Grand Opera House on the banks of the Chicago River.  It had the trademark Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, although the Tin Man was dressed in a Scottish kilt.  It had the famous tornado scene.  But Toto the Dog was changed to Imogene the Cow.  The Wizard had a prominent role, but not The Wicked Witch of the West.  A summer hit, the play lasted twelve weeks; by summer's end, it was on its way to Broadway.

Hamlin Wizarsd of Oz.jpg

L. Frank Baums' novel, The Wizard of Oz, was published by a Chicago printing press in 1900.  Its first edition of 10,000 copies was sold before its September 1 publication date.  The original play premiered at Chicago's Grand Opera House and received rave reviews.  The production starred Anna Laughlin as Dorothy Gale, Fred Stone as the Scarecrow, David C. Montgomery as the Tin Man and Arthur Hill as the Cowardly Lion.


After a twelve week run, and a tour of the upper Midwest, The Wizard of Oz premiered on Broadway in 1903 at the Majestic Theatre on Columbus Circle.

"It became the favorite of a generation.  The audiences couldn't get enough.  The tornado scene!  Fred Stone's boneless scarecrow walking about on his ankles!  The lovely all-girl poppy field!  The glittering Emerald City!  The audience came back for seconds and thirds.  They brought their kids.  Everyone bought the sheet music, the phonograph records, the player piano reels, and Baum's original novel!  Oz had entered the American consciousness." (

Decades would pass, but The Wizard of Oz would not be forgotten.  In 1939, the film version premiered starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man and Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion.  This time, the Wicked Witch of the West, played by Margaret Hamilton, had an unforgettable role.  I remember watching this version on T.V. when I was a little girl.  The characters followed the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where Oz granted Dorothy her three wishes:  the Scarecrow received a skeleton, the Tin Man, a heart, and the Cowardly Lion, courage.  Dorothy's wish, granted by the Good Witch, happened when she clicked her sparkly red shows together and ended up back in Kansas, with her little dog Toto nipping at her heels. (

Wednesday 8 July 2015

George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion"

"Yes you squashed cabbage leaf, you disgrace to the noble architecture of this culture, you incarnate insult to the English language!  I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba!" 

Professor of Phonetics, Henry Higgins, meets bedraggled flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, who speaks with the signature Cockney accent, dropping her 'h's' and speaking in colloquialisms.  The professor vows to give Eliza speech training in order to pass her off as a duchess at the ambassador's garden party.

Shaw's inspiration for the professor was either Alexander Melville Bell, father of the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Ellis or Henry Sweet.  The two main characters show the great divide between the lower and upper classes in Britain at the time of the play's writing in 1912.  Despite their differences, the professor and his student end up falling in love.

Pygmalion premiere at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna in 1913 and ran for 118 performances.  In 1956, it was made into the musical My Fair Lady, starring Julie Andrews.  In 1964, My Fair Lady hit the big screen with Audrey Hepburn.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Philip Barry's "The Philadelphia Story"

"They mentioned her doing the Charleston with Josephine Baker in Paris, dancing a foxtrot with the Duke of Windsor at El Morocco...and lunching with Churchill on Aristotle Onassis' yacht." (

The Philadelphia Story debuted on March 29, 1939 at the Schubert Theatre in New York City.  Starring Katharine Hepburn, it was based on a Philadelphia socialite's wedding plans, which were complicated upon the arrival of her ex-husband and an attractive journalist.  Hepburn had been labelled "box office poison" after the disappointment of Bringing Up Baby.  The actress passed on a salary in exchange for 10% of the play's profits.  The Philadelphia Story, which ran for 415 performances, grossed $1.5 million.

Playwright Philip Barry based his character, Tracy Lord, on a real life Philadelphia socialite named Helen Hope MOntgomery Scott.  Her patrician family, which lived in the Main Line district of Philadelphia, the city's "most fashionable address", represented old money.  The very term WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) was coined to describe Philadelphia's elite.  

Young Philadelphia debutantes had coming out parties at the Philadelphia Assemblies Ball, an event that dated back to 1748.  It was on the staircase that a young Helen Hope Montgomery descended in 1922.  By the end of the ball, the debutante had four marriage proposals.  However, she had a mind of her own and chose to marry Pennsylvania Railroad heir Edgar Scott.  Her parents' wedding gift was a 1720 fieldstone house on her family's 750 acre Androssan estate.  As Mrs. Scott, Helen hosted endless grand dinner parties.  Philadelphia society buzzed about Helen and her beauty.  Painters offered to paint her likeness; photographers lined up to snap her picture.  

In 1939, Philip Barry cast Katharine Hepburn as Helen Montgomery, Joseph Cotten as C. K. Dexter Haven, Van Heflin as Macauley connor and Shirley Booth as Lix Imbrie in The Philadelphia Story.  The following year, Hepburn reprised her role for the screen, but this time opposite Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.  The latter won Best Actor and the film wont Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Monday 6 July 2015

Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun"

"What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" (Harlem, Langston Hughes)

The home the Hansberry's purchased in the Washington Park neighbourhood of Chicago circa 1937 courtesy

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry, the daughter of a teacher and real estate broker, was born in Chicago.  Her parents purchased a house in the upper middle class, all-white neighbourhood of Washington Park.  Because they were black, Lorraine described their reception as "hellishly hostile".  Most people would have moved out, but the Hansberry's dug their heels in and refused to budge.  Three years later, in the case of Hansberry vs. Lee, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Hansberry's could not stay in Washington Park.  However, it was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that the Hansberry's could stay.

In 1951, Lorraine came upon a poem written by Langston Hughes with the lines:  "What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"  She used the line as a title for her play, based on a black family who buys a house in an all white neighbourhood and is pressured to leave. The road to success was not easy:  it took over a year for the producer to raise enough funds to bring the play to Broadway.  But on March 11, 1959, "A Raisin in the Sun" debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, starring Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee Younger and Ruby Dee as his wife and Claudia McNeil as his mother, Lena.  It enjoyed a successful run of 530 performances.

"A Raisin in the Sun" explored territory never before explored on the American stage.  It was the first play to be written by a black female to be performed on Broadway.  Lorraine Hansberry did not think that it would be a success, given that it "introduced details of black life to the overwhelmingly white Broadway audiences."  However, the people kept buying tickets; it ran for 530 performances.  After closing, Lorraine Hansberry's play was adapted for the big screen in 1961, also starring Sidney Poitier.  

Sunday 5 July 2015

Tennessee William's "A Streetcar Named Desire"

"Along with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night and a few other notable works, Tennessee William's 1947 masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, helped shape the look and feel of American drama for decades to come." (Life magazine)

From 1920 to 1948, the Desire Line ran from New Orleans' Bourbon Street, through the French Quarter, to Desire Street and back up to Canal Street.  The line served as the inspiration for Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Name Desire which debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in December of 1947.  That night's performance, despite its "shocking scenes" and "gritty dialogue", received a half hour applause from the audience.  The play made Williams a Pulitzer Prize winner and transformed Marlon Brando into a movie star.

"Along with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night and a few other notable works, Tennessee William's 1947 masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, helped shape the look and feel of American drama for decades to come." (  

The play opens with Southern Belle, Blanche DuBois, arriving in New Orleans from Laurel, Mississippi where her family's home has been repossessed by creditor.  Blanche, who moves in with her sister, Stella, and her brother in law, Stanley, explains that she has left teaching due to her nerves. 

Living in such close quarters, and not seeing eye to eye, Blanche and Stanley immediately clash.  Stanley feels like Blanche cheated Stella out of her inheritance of the family home.  Blanche dislikes the way that Stanley treats Stella.    

Southern Belle Blanche attracts the eye of a respectable gentleman named Mitch, played by Karl Malden.  In the meantime, in the heat of an argument, a drunk Stanley strikes Stella, who flees upstairs with Blanche.  A sober Stanley returns to beg Stella's forgiveness, bellowing her name from the courtyard.  This is a cultural touchstone scene of the play, re-enacted many times since.  Stella returns to Stanley, despite Blanche's protests.

In the meantime, Stanley spreads a rumour that Blanche was fired from teaching for sleeping with one of her male students.  When Mitch confronts Blanche about the rumour, she admits that it is true. Mitch storms out in disgust.

Stella, pregnant with Stanley's child, leaves for the hospital to give birth.  Stanley, home alone with Blanche, rapes her.  Blanche later tells her sister what happened but she refuses to believe her.  Blanche, who suffers a nervous breakdown, is committed to an insane asylum.  

A Streetcar Named Desire served as an example of melodrama with the female characters' "exaggerated sighs, unnecessary screams and fluttery hand gestures" (  But it also served as an example of "Method Acting" with Marlon Brando's attempt to "create in himself the thoughts and feelings of his character".  The iconic play closed in December of 1949 after 855 performances.

Saturday 4 July 2015

Tony Award Winning Plays

Here is a list of Tony Award nominees and winners.

1.  Death of a Salesman (1949)

2.  The Teahouse of the August Moon (1953)

3.  The Diary of Ann Frank (1956)

4.  The Miracle Worker (1960)

5.  Luther (1964)

6.  Inadmissable Evidence (1966)

7.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1968)

8.  The Philanthropist (1971)

9.  The Elephant Man (1979)

10.  The House of Blue Leaves (1986)

11.  The Grapes of Wrath (1999)

12.  The History Boys (2006)

13.  The 39 Steps (2008)

14.  War Horse (2011)

15.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (2015)

Friday 3 July 2015

Best Books about Playwriting

Here are ten books about playwriting to get you started.

1.  The Art and Craft of Playwriting
     (Jeffrey Hatcher)

2.  The Architecture of Drama:  Plot, Character, Theme, Genre and Style
     (Joe & Robin Stockdale)

3.  Technical Theatre for Nontechnical People
     (Drew Campbell)

4.  The Playwright's Guidebook
     (Stuart Spencer)

5.  Writing a Play
     (Steve Gooch)

6.  Composing Drama for Stage & Screen
     (Stanley Vincent Longman)

7.  Writing the Broadway Musical
     (Aaron Frankel)

8.  The Art of Dramatic Writing
     (Lajos Egri)

9.  Naked Playwriting:  The Art, The Craft and the Life Laid Bare
     (Robin Russin & William Missouri Downs)

10.  The Dramatic Writer's Companion
       (Will Dunne)

Thursday 2 July 2015

Play Versus Short Story: What is the Difference?

What are the differences between a play and a short story?


  • dates back to Plato and Aristotle
  • consists of acts and scenes
  • drama comes from the Greek word "dran" which means to do or to act
  • tells the story of one or more events
  • consists of a few characters
  • set on a stage
  • tells story through dialogue
  • use of literary devices
  • theme should be evident as play unfolds
  • setting self-evident
  • top 100 stage plays (


  • dates back to early 19th Century
  • consists of a sequence of events (plot)
  • has a clear beginning, middle and ending
  • few characters
  • read at one sitting
  • tells story through narration and some dialogue
  • strong character development
  • frequent use of literary devices
  • theme woven into the plot
  • setting described through narration
  • top 100 short stories (

Wednesday 1 July 2015

The Play's the Thing

"Writing for the stage is an exhilarating experience.  I'll never forget the first time I saw my scruffy pages of dialogue transformed into flesh and blood drama on an off-off-Broadway stage in New York's east village in the late 1960's."

One author, who used to write fiction, poetry and essays, thought that his background would not suffice for playwrighting.  However, he found that his fiction experience helped him to structure a story, his poetry background helped him with rhythm and diction, and his essay writing helped him present the core factual information.  Here are some tips to help you get started as a playwright (

1.  Involve yourself in all facets of the theatre.  Volunteer, attend rehearsals, audition for roles.  Observe the collaboration involved in mounting a play.

2.  Study the play's text before and after the performance.  See how the dialogue moves the play forward.

3.  Use standard playscript format.  Page 1 should include cast members, setting and what happens when the curtain rises.  The characters' names should be written in capitals.  A single space should appear between dialogue, a line between characters.  Stage directions should appear in parentheses.  A one act play should run 30 to 60 pages while a full play should run 90 to 120 pages.

4.  Keep casts, sets and scenes simple.  Focus on character develpment.  Remember that most of Shakespeare's plays can be performed on a bare stage.

5.  Don't overdo stage direction.  Again, keep it simple.

6.  Stage test your play with a group of amateurs or friends.  A dramatic reading of your play will help with pacing, coherence and dialogue.

7.  Find each character's voice.  It should be recognizable.

8.  Keep the plays as small as possible.  "It is a slice of life, not a biography." (

9.  Understand the limits of the stage ex. no gun fights, no car chases.

10  Break the plot into scenes and acts (usually three).

11.  Enter playwriting competitions for exposure.  It could be your one true shot at the big time (metropolitan commercial theatres).

12.  Contact play publishers, not theatres.  Look in the Writer's Market for a listing ex. Big Dog Plays, Broadway Play Publishing, Eldridge Publishing Pioneer Drama Service.  When a theatre buys your play, the publisher will send you a royalty statement.  Just as authors have literary agents, playwrights have theatrical agents.  However, you usually need at least one performed play under your belt before you can attract an agent.

Note:  For more information, read The Art and Craft of Playwrighting by Jeffrey Hatcher.