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“Acting is the most logical way for people’s neuroses to manifest themselves, in the great need we all have to express ourselves,” James Dean replied when asked why he turned to acting. “An actor’s course is set before he’s out of the cradle.”
September 30 marked what would have been his 85th birthday and 62 years since his, 1955, death. But time hasn’t diminished the cult resonance or seismic effect his raw performances etched on moviegoers.
Fascination with James Dean has never ended. He was a unique as he was difficult to work with. Sadly, even after only three starring roles, he was considered the bad boy of moviedom. Also, as a writer put it: “As enormously charismatic, gifted, and intelligent as he was, his ambition and belief that his instincts were always right undermined him.” Dean’s rocky road through Hollywood was tainted with difficult romances.
Some felt Dean’s relationship with Pier Angeli was a publicity stunt. Dean biographer John Howlett and his and Dean’s friend Bill Bast’s opinion was that Angeli’s “fairy tale accounts of intense love read like wishful fantasies.” The only thing needed was a knight in shining armor on a white steed.
Kazan, in his autobiography, dismissed the notion that Dean had success with women: "He always had uncertain relations with girlfriends." However, he recalled Dean and Angeli “loudly making love in Jimmy's dressing room.”
When Warner and Dean had their talks – with Warner playing a page from Mayer’s playbook, he told Dean he thought of him as a son – even smoked imported Cuban cigars with him. He told him that he had a young star’s mother complaining that he was molesting her daughter. Warner explained that he wasn’t ready for marriage – that soon he’d have the whole world, and countless women –at his feet and “Do you think America’s teenage girls will want to see you married?” Knowing Dean bull-headedness for doing the opposite of what he considered good, fatherly advice, Warner went a step further. He informed Dean that if he went through with marriage plans, he’d be out the door and looking for another studio.
MGM’s Louis B. Mayer was determined to keep Angeli pure -- if “Papa” only knew what his “daughter” was doing behind his back! He assigned publicist Esme Chandlee, who had kept the lid on her affair with Kirk Douglas, to keep the Dean trysts under wraps. In October 1954, ignoring Mayer and Warner, the couple planned to elope. But at the last mind Dean bailed. According to those close, it was because of pressure from Angeli’s mother, the fact that Dean wasn’t Catholic, and planted gossip column mongering. Dean, just finished with East of Eden, headed East. Before boarding his plane, he and Angeli had a huge blowout: “Why are you leaving me?” she screamed. Angeli broke their secret engagement.
Then she dropped a bombshell – one that stunned everyone.Her dreadful mother had engineered an engagement plot with Italian-American singer Vic Damon, who Angeli said she also loved. With Dean away, their engagement was announced.
Breathing heavy sighs of relief were Mayer and Jack Warner, who had a beautiful star and a handsome bachelor star, respectively, soaring into the firmament. But some close friends of Dean found her to be “a manipulating bitch,” figuring she was either out for revenge, like the cosa nostra back in the old country would do, or as a way to get Dean to the altar.
Dean was devastated. Bast thought he might even do bodily harm, even attack the singer, who had strong “family” ties back East. At the couple’s lavish pre-Thanksgiving wedding, numerous friends reported Dean cycled to the church and watched the bride’s arrival from across the street in pouring rain. He even gunned his engine during the ceremony and, as the couple exited, revved his motorcycle and sped off. Dean denied doing “anything so dumb."
Joe Hyams, in his 1992 Dean biography, claims that on a day he visited Dean not long after the wedding, Angeli was departing. He found Dean sobbing. The actor allegedly told him Angeli was pregnant -- and believed the child might be his. Dean never stopped wearing a locket with a tress of Angeli’s hair.
Angeli made films in the U.S. and several in Italy, but her career never soared. She may never have gotten over what she had done that broke Dean’s heart – and hers. Wedded bliss ended in divorce in December 1958. The couple had the one child. Her second husband was Italian film composer Armando Trovajoli. They had one child. In 1971, at only 39, she died of a barbiturate overdose. Friends, even Trovajoli, claimed that Angeli never got over Dean – that he was the love of her life. Ironically, if Dean had lived another year and starred in a film Warner had him earmarked for, Angeli would have been cast as his wife. In 1997, James Dean: Race with Destiny, a TV movie a.k.a James Dean: Live Fast, Die Young, aired as “the true-story account of the love affair between Dean and Pier Angeli.”
As troublesome as Dean was on East of Eden, WB knew they had hit box office gold, especially among adolescent audiences, and not just in the U.S. The film scored well in the U.K., France, and Germany.
In 1954, Dean became interested in becoming a regular on the car race circuit. After filming of Eden concluded, he purchased including a Triumph Tiger T110 and a Porsche 356. Before filming commenced on Rebel Without a Cause, on March 26 and 27, 1955 he competed in his first professional competition at the Palm Springs Road Races – taking first place in the Novice Class, and second place in the main event. He raced again in April in Bakersfield, where he finished first in his class and third overall. Dean had dreams of competing at the Indianapolis 500, but his Rebel shooting schedule made it impossible. Not only that, but Warner was constantly on his back about how risky his motorcycling and
racing was – for the studio.
Warners purchased rights to psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner’s 1944 book, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath, a groundbreaking attempt “to portray the moral decay of American youth, critique parental style, and explore the differences and conflicts between generations.” A full script was never done and the project was shelved. In 1946, WB producer Jerry Wald secured the rights and commissioned a script. One of the writers was Theodore Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss.
Brando, on break in rehearsals for A Streetcar Named Desire, screen tested and was attached. Warner’s chief talent scout William Orr recalled: “'Brando just sat there tearing up an envelope into little pieces ... We figured he must be a genius, so we signed him.”
The script gathered dust until 1954 when director Nicholas Ray discovered it and began writing a treatment, The Blind Run. Ray, in his pre-black eye-patch [over his right eye due to an embolism-related injury] days, had a fascinating history – and seemed cut from the same cloth as Dean. Charismatic, intelligent, temperamental, unpredictable, a lover of the Bohemian lifestyle – and, if claims are correct, bisexual. He and the actor were a match made in heaven. Or hell.
Ray left University of Chicago after a year, but made such an impression on
one of his professors – two-time Pulitzer-winning playwright/novelist Thornton Wilder (The Bridge of San Luis Rey; Our Town, The Skin of Our Teeth), that he was recommended for a Tallesin Fellowship to apprentice with architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Ray noted he “learned the importance of space and geography – even my later love for [the widescreen process] CinemaScope.” Eventually, however, there was excessive drinking and political differences.
He made his way to New York, where he worked for the Federal Theatre Project, part of the WPA. He became friends with folklorist Alan Lomax. They traveled through rural America recording regional music. During the Depression, they produced a pioneering folk music radio program featuring Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, Leadbelly, and Pete Seger. Even at the height of Hollywood’s “Red Scare” and blacklisting of actors and writers, Ray remained involved in Socialist and Communist movements.
Working with the Group Theatre, he met Elia Kazan – and, in 1944, served as his assistant on the screen adaptation of Betty Smith’s best-seller A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. He had two Broadway outings: acting in the Theatre of Action’s short-lived The Young Go First and directing the Duke Ellington and John La Touche’s musical Beggar’s Holiday, based on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and starring Alfred Drake and Zero Mostel.
Ray went on to film and directed highly-received movies in the film noir genre, including They Live by Night, a Southern gothic [Mississippi] prison escape thriller, which starred Farley Granger; Knock on Any Door, starring Humphrey Bogart; and the deep-color camp Western Johnny Guitar [which still has a cult following] starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, and Mercedes McCambridge.
His Blind Run treatment had little to do with Dr. Lindner’s book. Rather it “offered
social commentary and an alternative to previous films depicting delinquents in urban slum environments.” It became a story about emotionally confused suburban, middle-class teens on a journey through a turbulent universe of violence and delinquency.”
The director claimed Romeo and Juliet as his inspiration, calling it "the best play written about juvenile delinquents. The only Lindner remnant was the 'chickie-run' where Jim/Dean and Buzz/Corey Allen in a dare race toward a cliff [originally, this was to be a race along L.A. transit’s Sepulveda incline, where the cars would crash into the tunnel in the Santa Monica mountains].
WB script writer and author Irving Shulman tackled Ray’s original story to create the screenplay; and Stewart Stern, recipient of a 1951 Oscar nomination for Teresa, about a troubled American soldier, was assigned to craft the final product. Stern was born into Hollywood royalty, the nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor and a cousin to the powerful Loews, who controlled MGM and a cinema chain.
Stern met Dean at a party at Arthur Loew Jr.'s home. "Jimmy and I laughed at the same things,” he recalled in a newspaper interview, “and he'd try to shock me and vice-versa, He was just one of those people you find irresistible, but he could also
be quite mischievous."
[Stern went on to a long career in film. He “became known for the psychological depth of his screen-writing.” Paul Newman, who directed 1968’s Rachel, Rachel, which Stern wrote and which starred Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward, told the Seattle Times in 1996, "Stewart's words give an actor a kind of emotional depth that you can just ride on, like a wave. He certainly stacks up as one of the best in our business."]
He stated the key to his success with Rebel was “finding a personal connection to the story. It was a story about me, as everything I've ever done turned out to be." In a 2011 interview, he stated that Rebel “was a portrait of juvenile delinquents and the family dysfunction that marred their prospects for happiness.” Even as respected as Stern was, Warner assigned second-in-command Steve Trilling to keep tabs on the budget and script. He went much further with voluminous typed notes, handwritten comments, and suggestions on Stern’s screenplay.
The writing credits were Stewart Stern (screenplay), Nicholas Ray (original story) and Irving Shulman (adaptation). In a 1999 interview, Stern claimed he never saw Ray’s treatment: “I was shocked when I learned that Ray wanted to take sole story credit, as there hadn’t been an actual story.” He admitted Ray and Shulman contributed to the story, and believed credit should have been divided between the three. And then there was Leon Uris (Battle Cry) who was brought in to punch up the script. He was responsible for the cliff top ‘chickie-run’ dare scenario “rather than having a suicidal rapture.” [The cliff was actually built on WB’s Stage 16, and Oscar-winning cinematographer Ernie Haller (Gone with the Wind) who gets kudos for making it look authentic by using various camera angles.]
Dean was Ray’s only choice to play Jim Stark, but Paul Newman, Tab Hunter, and Richard Beymer [later Tony in the screen adaptation of West Side Story] were considered. He was signed, sealed, and delivered on March 17. Natalie Wood was signed a week later, but no one knew the secret she and Ray carefully guarded.Behind the scenes tales of the production sounded right out of Grace Metalious’ novel Peyton Place. There’d already been the scandal of Ray discovering his
13-year-old son [with second wife Jean Evans] being seduced by his third wife, tempestuous actress Gloria Grahame.
However, Ray wasn’t above scandalous behavior.
Wood, 16, had been in 20 films since she was five. Being cast as Judy would be her transition to adult roles. But being considered for lovelorn Judy were Debbie Reynolds and, amazingly, Jayne Mansfield. Wood went into action, campaigning relentlessly, rarely missing a chance to put herself in Ray’s orbit. Eventually, he responded; but not as she planned – or was it?
The scuttlebutt goes that after a meeting in the studio commissary, Ray, 44, asked her out. By the time she screen-tested, the duo were entangled in a potentially career-toppling affair. They discretely rendezvoused almost daily for several weeks at the Chateau Marmont. It didn’t work. Ray felt she was “too naïve, too Hollywood.”
Pillow talk may have intervened. Ray began to envision Judy less as a trashy teen and more as a confused, hurting kid like Wood herself. Convinced that Wood was having an affair with Dean, he boiled with rage. But it was Dennis Hopper the trysts were with. Hopper was cast in Rebel, but when Ray found out about the affair, he gave nearly all of his lines to another actor. [He and Hopper reconciled later, with Hopper helping Ray, who’d hit hard times in the 70s, get work as a college instructor.]
On a late, rainy night in February 1955, Wood, out carousing with Hopper, miraculously survived a head-on collision on L.A.’s twisty Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Ray visited her in hospital, and overheard her doctor call her “a goddamn juvenile delinquent." Wood yelled to Ray: "Did you hear what he called me, Nick? He called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent! Now, do I get the part?"
Ray wrote Jack Warner: "We just spent three days testing 32 kids. There is only one girl who has shown the capacity to play Judy, and she is Natalie Wood." Then began Ray’s Vertigo-like reinvention of her, which included speech and lesson in how to walk, padded hips, and a special push-up brassiere — still known, in the annals of Hollywood undergarments, as the ”Natalie Wood bra.”
Hopper, Billy Gray (Bud Anderson, Father Knows Best), and 17-year-old TV actor Jeff Silver auditioned for the role of Plato, the loner Jim Stark meets in juvenile hall, who looks to Jim as a father/big brother figure. According to biographer Hymans, Ray spotted 15-year-old Sal Mineo at a casting call for gang members. He saw a resemblance to his son: “slight, almost pretty, with large, sad eyes” – not exactly right for a gang member.
Mineo had been on Broadway opposite Maureen Stapleton [one of the candidates for the role of Jim Stark’s mother] in The Rose Tattoo, and was one of the older children in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, as well as two films, including playing the younger version of Tony Curtis’ character in the crime noir Six Bridges to Cross.
Ray had him do improv Corey Allen, and, impressed, set up a reading with Dean, where he didn’t see much chemistry. He sent them out – where they talked about Mineo’s native Bronx and cars. The rapport was there. He got the role. When casting was announced, rumors floated that Ray cast his three leads after sleeping with them. Though it was reported that he was bi-sexual in college, Ray vehemently denied the accusations.
At the end of March, Rebel Without a Cause began shooting, starting with a knife fight outside the Planetarium in Griffiths Park.Studio chief Jack Warner was not in the habit of viewing daily rushes of his films,
following the opening grosses of East of Eden and critical acclaim for Dean, he was checking up on a commodity he was banking on. He came by twice. Pleased, especially with how it appeared Ray was getting Dean to toe the line, Warner issued a bulletin. Production was to stop. At once!
Rebel without a Cause was quickly about to get a make-over and not only segue from a B-picture to a feast with all the cinematic trimmings, but also to “the boss’” pet project.
END OF PART TWO
February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955"Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be what you want to be," James Dean has been quoted as saying. "Because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do." Another time, he stated, "The only success, the only greatness is immortality."By that standard, Dean has achieved immortality. Long after his untimely death in 1955, the fascination with Dean lives on. It’s almost unthinkable, given the boldly handsome images we have of the actor, that on February 8, 2018, the forever young Dean would be turning 87.Most tend to think Dean made only three films: Elia Kazan's production of Steinbeck's East of Eden, Nicholas Ray's Rebel without a Cause, and George Steven's production of Edna Ferber's Giant— all shot within 18 months from 1954-1955. But he'd long been paying his dues for quite a while.
Dean, an only child, was born in Marion, Indiana, but early on the family relocated to Los Angeles. Friends have noted how close he was to his mother. When she died of uterine cancer, he became a lost child. His father sent him to live on the Fairmont, Indiana farm of his Quaker aunt and uncle. Sources close to the family reported that Dean “came under the influence of a Methodist minister and became engaged in a sexual relationship for several years.”
He was active in high school sports, was in a drama class, and competed in debate. Following graduation, he returned to California and enrolled in college with a major in pre-law. He transferred to UCLA, changing his major to drama. Dean acted in college, but dropped out after a semester. He did readings, workshops, and made the rounds auditioning. Friends said he “always stood out as someone uniquely different” and casting directors didn’t know what to think of him “because of intensity.”He worked countless jobs, including being a parking attendant, until he finally got a break doing commercials. His first speaking role was in a TV Easter special where he played a disciple; then, was cast to play Malcolm in Macbeth. This led to an invite to join James Whitmore’s acting workshop.
From 1951-1953, he had uncredited roles in five features. In 1951, Dean became bi-coastal. In New York, he was a hit with the Bohemian crowd in Greenwich Village, where he frequented the coffee houses and jazz clubs. He hung with actors at Rockefeller Center’s long-gone Cromwell’s drug store who were auditioning for NBC Television. He secured a behind-the-scenes job in TV, but was soon in front of the camera. In the age of live TV dramas, he co-starred in over 20 programs and a made-for-TV movie.
Constantly told he was “unique” and “different,” Dean became convinced that the Actors Studio was the one place he'd fit in. He began showing up and, according to the late Eli Wallach, hung around so much that he was granted membership.
Dean wrote to his father Winton and aunt and uncle that "It's the greatest school of the theater. It houses people like Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Arthur Kennedy, and Mildred Dunnock." He noted that "very few get into it" and that "It is the best thing that can happen to an actor." He was one of the youngest to be accepted.
He performed with Brando, future co-stars Harris and Carroll Baker [respectively, East of Eden and Giant], Herbert Berghof, and became not only quite close to but also quite attracted to Montgomery Clift, and mesmerized by a young Marilyn Monroe.Wallach knew something of method acting. He studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse under Sanford Meisner before becoming a charter member of the Studio at its founding in the late 40s by Kazan [later joined by Lee Strasberg. He spoke in glowing terms about Dean: "We knew we were in the presence of a blithe spirit, someone unique."
Martin Landau, who met Dean there, said, "As young actors, we walked the streets, talking about theater and wondering about our next job; reading books and discussing them; seeing plays and films; doing workshops; and being serious about the thing we loved: acting. Jimmy and I had an amazingly instant rapport … We became part of a sort of a surrogate family."Colleagues were in awe of Dean’s "uniqueness, extreme concentration, and exceptional imagination." Dean, however, was in awe of Brando.
The techniques he learned at the Studio enabled him to make even minor roles his own. Dean made his Off-Broadway debut in 1953, in the short-lived The Scarecrow (seven performances) at the Theater de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel) in a cast that included Wallach, Anne Jackson (Mrs. Wallach), 22-year-old Bradford Dillman, Albert Salmi, and Tony winner Patricia Neal. Directing was Frank Corsaro, later an esteemed opera director [who was the original director of Broadway’s Jesus Christ Superstar, until sidelined by an automobile accident].
In an interview, Neal said, "Jimmy was an unknown, but was jolly good in every way — such a refreshing presence. We immediately bonded at the first reading. I knew he was born to become an actor. But I also quickly learned you never knew what to expect from him. Playing opposite him wasn’t always easy."
In fact, he soon became a director’s nightmare – thinking his instincts and insight into character were better than theirs. Usually, he was right.
Next, came Broadway. His debut was in N. Richard Nash's 1952 play See the Jaguar at the Cort Theatre – co-starring with Arthur Kennedy, Constance Ford, and Cameron Prud'homme. The play closed after five performances. Playwright Nash was later famous for The Rainmaker and the musical Wildcat.
Betsy Palmer, stage/screen/TV actress, acted in live TV with Dean. Not only that, but she revealed they had an eight month affair – she even lived with him -- before her 1954 marriage. “Jimmy was very mercurial,” said Miss Palmer, who passed in 2015 at 88. “He could be very high and he could be very, very low. He could be very sweet and he could be very, very funny. And he could be very nasty. He was all of those things and you never were quite sure just how the lay of the land was going to be. On set, Jimmy took so much time to do all these nuances, and only he seemed to know what they meant. The viewing audience may have caught it and might not. He had an inner story going on. That’s what made Jimmy the most fascinating performer he was.”
Dean was back to TV in 1954. On the General Electric Theatre, hosted by future California Governor and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, he performed live opposite Mr. Reagan in Dark, Dark Days. “Jimmy was an intelligent young actor who seemed to live only for his work,” Mr. Reagan recalled. “He was completely dedicated and although a shy person, he could hold a good conversation on many wide-ranging subjects. He was at the top of his game. You always knew you were with a formidable presence.”
Mr. Reagan was instrumental in bringing Dean back on the program to star in I’m a Fool opposite Eddie Albert, Roy Glenn [an early African-American on TV shows and later a long-working character actor] and 16-year-old Natalie Wood, with whom he was to spend a lot more time with.
The same year, onstage, Dean was cast in The Immoralist, directed by Daniel Mann; and adapted from the French Nobel Prize winner Andrè Gide’s 1902 controversial autobiographical novel [set in Normandy and North Africa] by Augustus and Ruth Goetz (The Heiress). Producing was none other than Billy Rose. Dean appeared opposite suave French idol Louis Jourdan, making his Broadway debut, and Geraldine Page, in her second Broadway outing. They portrayed a couple honeymooning in Tunis, as the husband recuperates from tuberculosis.
While Dean and Page hit it off immediately, Jourdan complained to Mann that Dean, ever exasperating, “ignored his blocking and was a distraction moving about the stage a lot and upstaging me.” He may have been peeved that Dean, in the role of an as a "pandering an Arab houseboy and prostitute, got better reviews. Mann spoke to Dean, but it did little good. The Frenchman and the rebel only spoke onstage. It wasn’t an ideal situation because Jourdan’s character becomes romantically obsessed with him – and his obsession with Dean was in a whole other direction.
Frustrated, Dean gave notice after two weeks. The play, way ahead of its time, didn’t attract audiences. It folded after 96 performances.Dean’s timing was fortuitous. Back at the Actor's Studio, Kazan was about to set off for California to cast East of Eden, as adapted and sanitized for the screen, a sort of Cain and Abel allegory loosely based on the second half of John Steinbeck’s 1952 best-seller, and told the screenwriter and Broadway playwright Paul Osborn that he was looking for "another Brando" to play moody, insecure Cal Trask. Osborn responded, “You have someone exactly like that right under your nose here at the Studio.”
"It was perfect casting," stated Wallach, who recalled Kazan's notes on Cal. "He said, 'Everything this kid does should be delightfully anarchistic, odd, original, imaginative, eccentric, full of longing, and with sudden mood alterations. He is the unexpected personified. He goes directly to the heart of the matter.' That was Jimmy, always reaching out."
Kazan went with his instincts. "I had this intuition about Dean,” said the director. “He had a real sense of himself. He wasn’t polite. He didn’t try to butter me up. When I discussed the role with him, he found it difficult to talk. His auditions were filled with bold choices, which really attracted me. I saw his as this twisted, extremely grotesque figure.”
When Dean got the job, added Kazan, “He invited me for a ride on his motorbike. That was his way of thanking me.”When the director and Steinbeck met to discuss the arc of the script, the author whom didn't care for Dean, after hearing Kazan describe Dean, shift the focus of the onscreen story to Cal instead of Adam [the stern, religious father]. He wrote Kazan: "Cal is the character [whom] the audience has got to know and understand. This moody, complex young man is perfect for the part."
Dean and co-star Harris bonded quickly. Their scene on the Ferris wheel is one of the most poignant in moviedom as Dean, classically serious, digs deep for the heartfelt emotion he shows her.
In an interview, Harris, who plays Abra [Aron’s love interest who falls for Cal], stated, “Jimmy was very exciting – not only enormously charismatic, sweet, and kind but also a very intelligent, gifted actor. He reminded me from the very beginning of Tom Sawyer, a guy who’d always get you to paint the fence and get you in terrible scrapes. It’s was all ‘What’s life for?’ It’s not just to go plodding in the same places. It’s an adventure.
“I likened him to a star or a comet that fell through the sky,” she continued, “one everybody still talks about it. Ahhh! Remember that night when you say that shooting star! He had enormous appeal and magic.”
She spoke of a moment in their screen test where he questioned her about a hand movement. “I wanted to say “You son-of-a-bitch,’ but I didn’t. From then on, it got into my head that things like that were a device to keep you off guard so that everything was alive.”
Miss Harris and co-stars Burl Ives and Albert Dekker reported that Dean often surprised everyone by doing the unexpected, which led to some rough going. Raymond Massey [Adam], an Oscar nominee and one of movies most acclaimed actors, was quite disciplined and had little patience with Dean, who found him stern and inflexible. Massey complained he was throwing him off by changing lines and doing them as he felt. He called Dean “shameless” and told him “I can’t stand your Actors Studio mentality” – which didn’t faze Dean one bit. Time and again, he flummoxed Massey. You can see one particular and intense moment in a take that crafty Kazan left in the film.
In the scene, Dean pulled what Massey called “one of your sudden mood alterations.” Dean/Cal has amassed a large amount of money in a slick business move and goes to present it to his father in hopes that Adam will love him more than favored son Aron. But Adam accuses him of stealing the money.
As Massey pleads with him to be a good son, Dean contorts, turns away, and crumbles into a ball. Waving the money, he approaches Massey and, in an unscripted moment, lunges at him, jabbing him into a wall. He begins sobbing, throws his arms around Massey in a tight bear hug.
Massey, fuming, exclaims “Cal! Cal!” but Dean doesn’t let go. The camera caught the shock on Massey’s face.
“I’m sure Jimmy respected Raymond Massey,” said Miss Harris in an interview, “but he was always trying to make him feel upset and flustered. Just for the fun of it.”
Dean, however, was totally unapologetic. Massey threatened to walk. He complained to Warner Bros. studio chief Jack Warner, who advised Kazan to tame Dean. When Kazan addressed the matter, however, he told Dean, “Raymond’s getting really irritated. Keep it up! That’s what I want.” [Whether Massey changed his opinion of Dean isn’t known, but at the New York premiere, as he’s interviewed upon arriving, he highly praised him.]
Lois Smith, who was making her feature debut at 24, had the role of Anne, a shy bordello worker. Dean insisted on screen-testing with her. She has her own complex memories of him. "When Jimmy looked at you with those gorgeous blue eyes, you melted like ice cream sitting in the sun. He was a sweet, rustic person. I used to imagine him sitting on the porch at the family farm back in Indiana. On the other hand, there was this suspicious, taunt, guarded young man. Both seemed always present. There was this thrilling tension within him. Jimmy brought a new sensibility to acting.”
Kazan, viewing the daily rushes, saw “Dean’s star power exploding” and “jumping off the screen.” Dean’s performance overshadowed his co-stars, especially the soft-spoken, delicate Harris, and Richard Davalos, playing his brother. It even came close to overshadowing Jo Van Fleet, in a fierce role as his morphine-addicted mother Kate, a madam, whom his father said was dead. [The role won her a Supporting Oscar.] Though cold to Dean at first, they began to bond. She told friends that she felt Dean saw her as a mother figure.
On location in Mendocino, California, in the Salinas Valley on the Pacific coast near Fort Bragg, Dean, in his first starring role in a major motion picture, often acted as if he was already one of Hollywood’s greatest stars. With his moving about sets, he drove Oscar-nominated cameraman Ted McCord, already beset with problems of shooting in the new wide-screen CinemaScope, crazy. He thought nothing of going off on his motorcycle, holding up production for hours. Search parties would be sent to get him back to the set. He’d be found bonding with young townspeople. Kazan later admitted, “Dean was quite a handful.”
In an interview, Julie Harris spoke of Dean’s emotion on the last day of shooting: “I wasn’t certain I’d be able to attend the wrap party, I went over to Jimmy’s trailer to say goodbye. He was crying. I tried to comfort him and asked why he was so upset. He said, ‘The production is over.’ It was his first starring role, and all, but there was already so much talk and publicity about him that I knew this wouldn’t be the end.”
Dean’s “date” for the star-studded and televised New York premiere of East of Eden at the long-gone Astor Theatre [taken over by the Marriott Marquis Hotel] was supposed to be Marilyn Monroe – but she didn’t even show. However, for reasons unknown, neither did Dean, which so angered WB studio chief Jack Warner, already “fed up with his antics and all the trouble-shooting during filming, who stood outside the theatre on the red carpet awaiting his arrival. Warner was so angry it almost cost Dean the lead in Rebel without a Cause.
End of Part One
One of Broadway’s most famous sopranos and a darling of the concert world, Barbara Cook died Tuesday morning of respiratory failure at her Manhattan home. According to publicist Amanda Kaus, at her last meal she was served vanilla ice cream, a nod to one of her most famous roles, shop clerk Amelia Balash, and oft-quoted songs in Bock and Harnick’s 1963 She Loves Me. Lauded as the “singer’s singer,” she was 89.
Barbara Cook's pure soprano tone and warm presence have delighted audiences around the world just short of 70 years. Considered a favorite ingénue during the heyday of the Broadway musical, Miss Cook launched a second career as a concert and recording artist. She was blessed with the ability of sustaining mesmerizing and lengthy high notes with great clarity. It's amazing how very personal she could make lyrics. You’d see that she was feeling them and that made for an affecting performance.
In her trademark black pants, black pull-over that was a cross between a chemise and a poncho and those oh-so-comfortable sandals, Miss Cook was equally at home on international stages, such as London's Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall or intimate cabaret settings, such as Cafe Carlyle, where she often rang in Spring with long-time collaborator and accompanist [the late] Wally Harper, and Feinstein's at former Loews Regency.
She had a much-lauded career with Tony, Grammy, New York Drama Critics Circle, and Drama Desk Awards. Miss Cook is a Theatre Hall of Fame inductee. In January, 2007 Miss Cook became the first female pop singer to present a full concert at the Metropolitan Opera in its 123-year history.
The person who often told Miss Cook what to do and the one she trusted most, Harper, whom she called her rock, “someone who understood me better than I understood myself.”
His death in 2004 was a devastating blow. Theirs was an incredible partnership “where we knew what the other was thinking before we thought it. That's not to say we didn't argue and disagree,” she laughs. "Just like old friends, we went at each other over just about everything under the sun. In spite of that, we got along quite nicely. Now that I think about it, maybe it was because we actually rarely disagreed. On those occasions when we did, I listened to him. The best I can say about Wally is that he was simply a musical genius!"
From their first meetings in the 70s, Harper wanted to add another "element" to Miss Cook. She explained he really pushed her, not always willingly, to experiment to see what she was capable of doing. The result was the addition of a strong rhythmic pattern to her vocals.
In the early 90s, Miss Cook was beyond thrilled to be named to the Theater Hall of Fame. Though concerts and cabaret became her bread and butter, "Broadway," she said, "is still my first love."
In 2011, she became an honoree at the 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors and, with her fellow inductees Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins, and Meryl Streep, feted at the White House by President and Mrs. Obama. "With her sublime voice and rich performances,” said Kennedy Center chair David Rubenstein, “Barbara Cook has defined all that's best and brightest in the Great American Songbook.”
Her 2004 engagement on the West End was SRO. Returning stateside, she took the show to the Lincoln Center’s Beaumont for 14 sold-out weeks, and received critical raves. She was Tony-nominated for Best Theatrical Event. Miss Cook and Harper, a team for over 30 years, were recipients of MAC Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Three years earlier, she premiered Mostly Sondheim at Carnegie Hall and took it to the West End, where she was nominated for Olivier Awards for Best Entertainment and Best Actress in a Musical.
Her last Broadway appearance was in 2010, for 76 performances, in Sondheim on Sondheim, co-starring with Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Erin Mackey, Euan Morton, and Matthew Scott.
Morton, currently appearing in Hamilton, says, “I was blessed to work with the very best, but I cannot sing the praises of Miss Cook enough. I simply fell madly in love with her. She was 83and stunning. I couldn’t help but marvel at how she sounded. Her voice was mesmerizing, simply exquisite. She told me she hadn’t done eight shows a week in over three decades and that she was concerned, worried about her physical stamina. We watched her closely, but she soldiered on gloriously!"
Miss Cook related that she never thought of Sondheim tunes as songs, “but as gifts. I love the simplicity and the clarity of Irving Berlin, and Stephen's work has that also. There's something so rich about his work that I never tire of his songs. The more I do them, the more I'm finding different things and subtleties. Quite simply, nobody writes as he does."
She became one of the finest interpreters of the composer’s work, and he had high praise for her: “No one sings theater songs with more feeling for the music or more understanding of the lyrics than Barbara Cook.”
Barbara Cook graduated in 1945 from Girls High in Atlanta, where she remembered how students poked fun at her because she wore the same clothes over and over. She sang for troops at the U.S.O. and many local organizations. Everyone was wowed by her voice. She worked three years as a typist to fulfill her dream of moving to New York.
Three years later, “I was on my way to seek my fame and fortune" with no plans to return. “Mom thought it was just going to be a visit,” she laughs, “but I packed everything I owned. I wanted to see what I can do with my singing. She didn't believe me, but after two weeks she was on her way home alone. Now, looking back, because we were so close, she must have been devastated. She lost a daughter [complications from pneumonia], but accused me of being responsible – something that haunted me for years. As far as Mom was concerned, we were one person with no separation, no boundaries. Thankfully, I am a strong person or I might not have survived that."
She continued as a typist and went to as many auditions as she could squeeze in. The summer of 1950, she worked in the Poconos at Tamiment resort. “It was a wonderful time, and I learned so much,” she noted. “There was Danny Kaye, Side Caesar, Herbert Ross, and Jerry Robbins. I was the ingénue, and Jack Cassidy was the juvenile, and we did songs from Broadway shows. People kept encouraging me and I gradually built confidence.” She would in the not so distant future cross paths again with Cassidy.
A long-term cabaret experience in Boston prepared her for Broadway and clubs. "I spent nine months doing revues with small casts. The music was Porter, Gershwin and Berlin.
It took three years before luck struck, but romance beat luck to the door. Miss Cook met acting teacher David LeGrant in 1952 when they worked the same resort. After marrying, they hit the road in a 1953 national tour of Oklahoma! [The couple had a son, Adam, born in 1959.] They divorced in 1965, one of the incidents that led her to begin drinking to find solace.
The tour brought her to the attention of casting directors. She made her Broadway debut at 23 in 1951 as the ingénue lead in Sammy Fain, Yip Harburg, and Fred Saidy’s Flahooley, which co-starred the exotic Peruvan singer Yma Sumac.
"Considering the great talents in theater at that time," she said, "that was pure luck. However, we closed after 40 performances."
She was back to auditioning, which soon paid off with limited engagements of musicals at City Center and went on to roles in Plain and Fancy, the original Candide as Cunegonde, The Music Man as Marian the Librarian, The Gay Life, She Loves Me!, The Grass Harp and, less we forget, Carrie on the West End.
"In 1956, when I heard who was putting Candide together," she pointed out, "I wanted to be cast, but never thought I'd get a part. My vocal instructor insisted I learn Verdi, Puccini, and Mozart, even though I kept telling him it wasn't the type of music I wanted to sing." As it turned out, that insistence was a huge pay off. “When I arrived at my first audition, I was surrounded by opera singers.
“Leonard Bernstein was late, always late,” she continued, “but I used the wait to look over the sheet music. With all those high notes, you could have mistaken it for grand opera."
Audition she did, and Bernstein was impressed enough to want to hear more, but not what she was prepared to sing. In what she called quite a brazen and foolhardy moment, she told the maestro that she would do an aria from Madama Butterlfy if she had the music.
"He said, 'I don't need the music! I know it.' And Mr. Bernstein sat at the piano and started playing - at a different place than I knew. He was playing a part of the aria I didn't know! But we got on the same page and I gathered all my strength and ended with a D Flat and, boy, did he perk up!"
Candide lasted only 73 performances. “But,” noted Miss Cook, “what a pedigree it boasted: the only musical libretto by Lillian Hellman and one of Leonard Bernstein's best scores. Lyricist, John LaTouche, sadly, died prior to rehearsals and Richard Wilbur took over. No less than Dorothy Parker came in to make a few contributions.
Miss Cook related that she learned a lot about music working with Bernstein. "He was wonderful and made me feel as if I could do anything. He loved to catch you off guard. There was, however, one time I could have strangled him. He came to my dressing room and took great delight in telling me Callas was out front. 'That's not what I need to hear before a performance,' I shot back. He laughed and replied, 'Watch out! She'd kill for some of your E Flats!'"
She observed when starting out, that she didn’t put a lot of thought into acting a song. “That’s something that evolved. In time, I came to understand how to absorb the lyrics, inhibit and feel them as if they’re part of me. I live inside the songs I love, and sing my way out.”
For The Music Man, Miss Cook won a 1958 Tony. Strangely, it was in the Featured category when she was the co-star opposite Robert Preston and even billed above the title. “There were compensations,” she said. “It was a wonderful show and I couldn't have asked for a more outstanding, easy-going, or nicer co-star than Robert. It was such a pleasure to come to work and hard to believe I was enjoying every day as much I was. Robert was the engine of the show, the spark. Onstage, he had enough electricity to light Chicago for ten years!
"It was nice being in a show that was such a hit," she adds. "Everyone who was anyone came, and came back after. One night Robert came into my dressing room for our usual chit chat and said, 'Coop's out front.' I replied, 'Coop?' He said, 'Yes, Coop. Gary Cooper.' That got my attention. I told him if I didn't meet him there'd be hell to pay. After the curtain, there was a knock on my door. I opened it and there he was – all six foot three of him. I looked up and said, 'Oh, Mr. Cooper, it's so wonderful to meet you. I'm a huge fan.' And he replied, 'Gosh.' And that was it. Yes, there are some disappointments in life."
In 1961, she was cast in the much-anticipated Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz musical The Gay Life, with book by the Fay and Michael Kanin – based on a cycle of late 1890s Viennese short stories by Arthur Schnitzler that focus on a womanizing playboy, who ultimately marries Liesl. The score is a mixture of traditional Broadway tunes and operetta. As Liesl, Miss Cook had two memorable tunes: “Magic Moment” and “Something You Never Had Before.” “It was such a lovely show [directed by Gerald Freedman, choreographed by Herbert Ross]. Walter Chari and Jules Mushin were so wonderful to work with.” The show closed after 113 performances. Another disappointment.
She went on to become a memorable Anna in the City Center revival of The King and I and was a stunning Magnolia in a New York State Theater production of Show Boat. She ventured into non-musical roles during the run of Any Wednesday, in Jules Feiffer's Little Murders, and Lincoln Center Theatre’s production of Gorky's Enemies.
Miss Cook was known to have a temper. She also had a long memory. “However,” she recalled, “whenever I was asked how it felt to work in Broadway's so-called ‘Golden Years,’ I said I didn't know. I didn’t. I was just walking, one foot in front of the other, wondering where my next job would come from. Do you think, one day, the actors working today will look back at this time as the 'Golden Years' of musicals?"
On second thought, rolling off names such as Ethel Merman, Gwen Verdon, Rex Harrison, and Julie Andrews and the shows they were appearing in at the time, she opined, "I guess those were golden years. And I was lucky to be where I was. It was just the right time and I was the right package. I was so fortunate to have worked with such amazing people."
There was a huge disappointment in 1964. Her She Loves Me! co-star Jack Cassidy was nominated for a Tony for his portrayal of Stephen Kadaly, but in her integral role as Amalia Balash, in one of the great mysteries for theatrical history books, she – who had become a musical theater darling -- was inexplicably overlooked, in spite of rapturous reviews, by the Tony nominators.
She did win featured Tonys for The Music Man and Sondheim on Sondheim.
There is one theatrical experience she preferred to talk about. However, she eventually came round.
“Tastes had changed,” she said. “My style of music was out-of-favor with audiences that count. Work was hard to find. In 1988, when Royal Shakespeare Company director Terry Hands offered me the co-starring role in Carrie at Stratford, it seemed like a good idea. It would be a new start. And the show was set to move from London right to Broadway.”
Barbara Cook playing Margaret White was quite unusual casting [the part was played on Broadway for a few nights by Betty Buckley]. Throughout her career, Miss Cook said she played those nice girls Broadway audiences loved. She certainly wasn't your vision of a rabid religious fanatic, “but I dug in and gave it my all. There were more than a few creative differences during rehearsals.” She and Hands got into heated arguments. She wanted to quit but thought that would be unprofessional, so she courageously stuck with the show.
"Courageously" is not used casually. "On opening night," reported Miss Cook, "in one of those freak stage accidents, I literally almost gave it my all. I was nearly decapitated when one of the props malfunctioned!" She wanted out as soon as possible, and leave was granted. "I did absolutely the right thing in leaving. It was a debacle. There were some good songs, but as a whole it was...Oh, God!"
Hands, then a leading light of the RSC, she explained "had a good vision - in the beginning. But he was used to directing works by dead authors. He'd never done a musical [actually, he had]. Carrie was a whole different can of worms. And I think we may have had a few cans of them onstage! I don't know if it was so much ill-conceived, or just problem-plagued. The biggest problem was that not one person working on it had done a show from scratch. No one had a clue as to how to fix it. I thought if a scene didn't work, Terry would see it. He didn't."
Miss Cook's new theatrical beginning was not to be. Though she stopped drinking in the late 70s, she developed manic depression, which led her to step away from the limelight and out of public life. “Then, somewhere, somehow when I saw how I was spiraling to that point of no return, I pulled myself up and sought help."
Part of her "recuperation" was getting back onstage and singing. And her concert appearances and new recordings led to rediscovery from new audiences.
Candide, She Loves Me! and The Music Man were great experiences. “Though I haven't done musical theater since 1971's The Grass Harp,” she observed, “there's nothing like being in a Broadway show. I loved everything about it, especially the rehearsal period and being with people all working toward one goal. I made bonds that will last forever. Theater offers a wonderful sense of family and camaraderie. Even when you don't always get along!"
What? Not get along with Cunegonde, Marian the Librarian, and Amalia Balash? "No, when they didn't get along with Barbara Cook," she retorted. "It happened occasionally. But usually it was like we were all fighting on the same side, in the trenches, watching out for each other.
On those rare occasions when there were serious falling outs or a problem with a fellow performer, Cook said it was difficult to leave hurt feelings backstage, especially when she had to go out and sing a romantic ballad and do a love scene. "A couple of times it was quite the most difficult thing! Most of the time, however, I just went out and did it. I didn't have a choice. Thankfully, the problems I had didn't last long. I'd try to patch things up quickly.
"It all comes down to the fact that you're not out there alone," she continued. "Some actors thrive on that. I never did. I hate that! I always tried to keep things cool because it's hard to work if you feel you can't trust the other person.
Miss Cook was greatly influenced in her approach to concert and cabaret music by the legendary song stylist Mabel Mercer. "I owe so much to Mabel for all I learned from her."
Surprisingly, Miss Cook never did warm-ups or vocal exercises. When I asked why, she stated, "I was fortunately born with a naturally sweet soprano. I had a wonderful vocal teacher who helped me build my voice. I learned good technique and I've always done what I was supposed to do. A lot of it has to do with the genes."
At the end of an interview promoting her 80th birthday concerts with the New York Philharmonic, I asked Miss Cook if she knew how much longer she could go on. She
replied, “Singing is something I love doing, so, as long as I can do it, why stop?"
Miss Cook taught master classes around the world. Finally, in 2015, after being promoted to do so for years, she sat down in her apartment on Riverside Drive and began telling her story, co-written with Tom Santopietro. Her brutally honest autobiography, Then and Now, A Memoir (2016), details the working relationships she shared with the key composers, musicians, and actors -- among them Bernstein, Harper, Elaine Stritch, Preston, and Sondheim, Bernstein – and even reveals the long-kept secret of her affair with actor Arthur Hill, when they were both married.
With aging, her crystal soprano changed. She gained weight and wasn’t in the best physical shape. She occasionally forgot lyrics to songs she's sung a thousand times and often worked with sheet music on a stand. The voice became a shade darker, but not in a blatant or perceptible way. However, when she sang, it was magic. At the last performance I caught, at Queens College, she was down with a bad cold, but soldiered on. She had amazing voice control and only coughed a bit between songs.
In 2011, I was asked by the late American Theatre Wing president Isabel Stevenson to watch for Miss Cook’s arrival at a pre-Tony Awards luncheon at the Waldorf. She arrived with an assistant by taxi, and I greeted her. She didn’t remember my name, but said she knew my face. I told her we had spent three occasions doing interviews. She replied, “Oh. Okay, so, where do we go?”
I informed we’d be heading for the ballroom, but the one elevator on the Park Avenue side which went there was under maintenance – and, oh no!, that we’d have to walk up a flight of stairs and cross to elevators on the Lexington Avenue side. She was having none of that. Before suggesting a cab to go around, I ran up to the bellman’s desk and asked if there was a way to use the elevator. There wasn’t. I returned to the entrance with the news.
Guests were arriving, and a bellman was putting luggage on a cart. Miss Cook looked at me. I looked at her. Her eyes darted to her assistant, then back to me. “Are you sure?” She replied, “Honey, I’ve done just about everything, but this’ll be a first!”
We were brought a cart, she boarded, and, accompanied by her assistant and a bellman, we went on a block and a half journey laughing all the way. We took the escalators to the elevators and I escorted her to her table in the ballroom. I went to leave and she blurted, “Where are you going? Aren’t you going to help me to the stage?” I asked to be prompted a few minute before she was to be onstage. When I got the signal, we made our way to the stage in the dark. Someone was singing. There were stairs. I got in front and went up backwards, guiding her up. She wouldn’t let me leave. At the appointed time, I walked her out in the dark to the microphone.
Afterward, we did everything in reverse, but went to the Lexington Avenue exit, where her assistant hailed a cab. “Was I terrible?” she asked. “No,” I said, “but I was worried we’d have an accident and I’d be responsible for your injuring yourself.” She laughed, “So was I! That’s why I held on to those brass poles for dear life!”
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Especially later in her life, I believe this was the motto Barbara Cook lived by.
Broadway is big business on London’s West End, and not just because of U.S. and Asian tourists. Soon there’ll be 11 musicals which originated here.
Currently on the boards are: Disney’s Aladdin and The Lion King; An American in Paris, which just opened to across-the-boards raves; Beautiful; The Book of Mormon; Dreamgirls, in its West End premiere; Kinky Boots; Motown; Wicked; and, not to be forgotten, Stomp. Jersey Boys just closed after nine years. The first revival of 42nd Street is in previews and opens in a week.
Coming in May is a Annie revival; Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, a 12-week engagement beginning June 17; and, on September 28, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, choreographed and directed by Susan Stroman.
In November, and quite eagerly anticipated, the groundbreaking Tony-winning Hamilton opens at the 1,500 plus seat Victoria Palace, now undergoing a multi-million pound top-to-bottom renovation and reconstruction.
The two American musicals currently all the buzz are former Royal Ballet dancer Christopher Weldon’s An American in Paris, which one critic called “an instant classic”; and the first revival of Gower Champion’s 42nd Street.It appears the West End will have a highly competitive battle of American musicals.
The Tony-nominated Best Musical (with 14 nominations) An American in Paris stars Broadway and Paris leads New York City Ballet's Robert Fairchild, Royal Ballet principal Leanne Cope, and a company of 40 plus, is at the former large cinema, the Dominion. Fairchild, Cope, and the production received rapturous notices. It won for Choreography, Director, Orchestrations, Scenic Design (Bob Crowley), and Lighting (Natasha Katz). In addition, there were thirteen Drama Desk nominations, including for Musical -- with, among its three wins, Weldon for Choreography. Joyous, and sometimes dark, it’s a blend of ballet, jazz, and tap, stunning design, and memorable Gershwins’ classics such as “I Got Rhythm,” “But Not for Me”, “Liza,” “The Man I Love,” “Shall We Dance,” “'S Wonderful,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and the soaring Mittyesque fantasy filled with ostrich-plumed chorus girls, “Stairway to Paradise.”
Set in post-war Paris, it takes liberties with the 1951 Academy Award-winning film that inspires it. Army veteran Jerry Mulligan falls in love with the City of Love, where he’s keen to begin a new life and nurture his passion as a painter, especially after he falls for ballerina Lise, who’s spoken for by Henri, the son of the family who protected her from the Nazis.
The musical co-stars David Seadon-Young as the war-maimed, acerbic Jewish composer Adam Hochberg (one of his great lines: “Who says music needs to cheer people up?”), who’s also in love with Lise; Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, who hides a secret passion to be a nightclub singer; Zoë Rainey as rich American arts patron Milo Davenport, who has eyes on Jerry; and former child star with a later career on TV (including Doctor Who) and in film (including 1966’s Alfie) and best-selling author Jane Asher as Madame Baurel (she was formerly engaged to Paul McCartney, whom she met at 17 when she interviewed the Beatles).
42nd Street, billed as “Broadway’s biggest show on London’s biggest stage,” opens next week at the historic (1812) Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where it premiered in 1984, winning the Olivier for Best Musical.
Its score of Tin Pan Alley hits include “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Dames,” “Getting Out of Town,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Keep Young and Beautiful,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “With Plenty of Money and You,” and those four showstoppers “42nd Street,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and “We’re in the Money.”
Based on the 1931 musical film noir directed by Lloyd Bacon with groundbreaking choreography by Busby Berkeley, it’s headlined by two-time Grammy winner with over 200-million records sold Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock. The plot is set against a producer’s comeback effort with a big musical, which on the eve of its opening loses its leading lady – portrayed by former chart-topping recording artist Sheena Easton; and how the ingénue steps in and becomes a star.
There’s a stage-filling cast of 55 plus, which includes the largest dance ensemble ever, and orchestra of 20 plus. Co-stars are Clare Haise as Peggy Sawyer; Tom Lister as Julian Marsh; Stewart Neal as tapper Billy Lawler; Jasha Ivir as brassy co-composer Maggie Jones; and Christopher Howell as her partner.
Directing is Mark Bramble. Todd Ellison is music supervisor, with music direction by the lively veteran Jae Alexander. Sets are by Douglas Schmidt.
To say it’s is merely a revival would be incorrect. It features enhanced production numbers, more songs, bigger sets, non-Depression era lavish costumes, and an unforgettable tap finale that explodes in razzle dazzle.
There’s Champion’s choreography and new choreography by four-time Tony and three Drama Desk-nominee Randy Skinner, who with Karin Baker, was Champion’s tap associate on the Tony-winning 1980 Broadway premiere. Skinner was choreographer for the Tony and DD-winning 2001 Broadway revival, as well as national tours and numerous international productions.
American musicals received just-announced Olivier Award nominations: Best New Musical: Dreamgirls at the Art Deco Savoy Theatre, with Amber Riley getting a nod as Best Actress; and Groundhog Day [in previews here], which played at the Old Vic – with Andy Karl and Andrew Langtree nods for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. In the Best Actress category, Glenn Close was nominated for the Sunset Boulevard revival, which played at the huge Coliseum, and is now on Broadway at the Palace. The Awards are announced April 9.
London’s West End, Equity not-for-profit, and first-class Fringe theatres total over 75, compared with 50 here [which would include the top Off Broadway houses]. At the moment, American/Broadway musicals are dominating the West End. Where plays in smaller houses are concerned, limited runs are the thing. Before one production is loaded out, another loads in.
Revivals, especially of the works of stellar British playwrights, are always on; and London boasts some prestigious Fringe houses, such as the Royal Court and Really Useful Company’s The Other Palace [formerly the St. James (it’s neighbor is the historic Victoria Palace)], which focuses on new musicals and revivals. They just closed a revival of Michael John La Chiusa and George C. Wolfe’s The Wild Party. April 4-15 will be This Joint is Jumpin’, a celebration of Fat Waller’s music, which will headline Tony winner Lillias White. From May 30 – July 8, TOP will present Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s production of Benji Bower’s La Strada, based on the Fellini film (not to be confused with Lionel Bart/Charles Peck’s 1969 one-night-only Broadway production which starred Bernadette Peters and Larry Kert). Directing will be Sally Cookson (National Theatre’s Jane Eyre).
The Royal National on London’s South Bank across Waterloo Bridge, which was founded by Sir Laurence Oliver, is publicly-funded as is the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera. In that vicinity, across Blackfrairs, Millennium, and London Bridges, you’ll find the Young Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe. In the area is also the Menier Chocolate Factory, known for its innovative revivals (most recently: Into the Woods; Funny Girl, which transferred to the West End; and She Loves Me).
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