Sunday, November 4, 2007
The Automat is Gone And So is Brando - Does That Really Mean That Broadway Is Dead?
If you are a fan of theater or of acting, Broadway The Golden Age is a not-to-be-missed love song to the Broadway of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It consists of reminiscences of many people of the theater - Ben Gazzara, Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Mary Rodgers, Lanie Kazan, Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Ashley, Maureen Stapleton, Anne Margaret, Martin Landau, Kaye Ballard, Uta Hagen, Frank Langella, Gena Rowlands, John Raitt, Barbara Cook, Elaine Stritch - I could go on and on.
The anecdotes are marvelous and, as usual, I wish there had been more actual footage to accompany them - although there are some gems - Brando in Streetcar on sound recording, footage of Kim Stanley in Bus Stop and a short moment from Lee Strassberg's production of Three Sisters with Stanley, Geraldine Page, and Sandy Dennis (Stanely's reaction to Vershinin leaving in the last act is one of the most devastating things I have ever watched), and a Hollywood screen test of the legendary Laurette Taylor, most remembered for creating the role of Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Her performance in that play and in Outward Bound have had such profound impact on those that saw them that the shock waves still seem to ripple down Broadway. I somehow feel I can get close to what that must have been like just by watching Ben Gazzara, and Maureen Stapleton tear-up as they remembered the multiple times they returned to the theater to watch her. Although it made me almost fiercely jealous too. I wanted to be there. I recalled as I watched it some of the memorable performances I have seen - John Raitt in Carousel (even in the 1960s, he was still fantastic in the revival), Maureen Stapleton as Birdie in Little Foxes, Roger Rees as Hamlet, Angela Lansbury in Sweeny Todd (wow), I'll even say Liev Shreiber in Betrayal, and of course the great Geraldine Page in everything I saw her in, on stage that included Agnes of God, Clarence, Viva Vivat Regina, and The Madwoman of Chaillot.
I found myself agreeing with some of the film's outlook - the golden age is dead, it will never come again, Broadway is all hype and helicopters now, it's impersonal, it's too expensive, the theater is not an integrated part of our culture any more, microphones ruin all the music. Yes it's all true. I mourn it. Miss Saigon is not West Side Story. Just the little clips we got of the golden oldies had me in tears sometimes with their immediacy, the guts that seemed to pour off the television screen, but it made me kind of resentful too - are there any great theatrical experiences out there? I've seen some, although I tend to see them off-Broadway now or in Europe. There was a part of the nostalgia of the film maker - a kid who was hoping to find 1940s Broadway when he came to New York from Indiana in the 1980s - that just struck me as whiny. Alright, coffee cost a nickel - I get it already. There are no more automats - I liked them too. Times change. We still drink coffee. We still like it. We can never see Brando as Stanley - is the theater really dead?
Anyway, what is marvelous about the film are the stories and the clips, so if you love the theater - I recommend it.