Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Razzle Dazzle

Cloud coverage above Fifth Avenue. 7:50 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, June 21, 2016.  It was another beautiful day, first day of the Summer Solstice, in New York. Midday it was in the mid-eighties with some humidity that was gone by early evening when temps began to drop into the 60s and a cool evening with dark clouds rolling in.

I was in the neighborhood for the entire day – at my desk, walking the dogs, going to market and back at my desk.  With my terrace door open throughout, my great luxury in the city. With the two girls’ schools – Brearley and Chapin -- out for the summer, the neighborhood is particularly quiet. Cars and trucks running through but never with the gridlockian traffic just two blocks west on First Avenue.
I love the sun dappling these two apartment buildings on East End separated only by time and its historical economics, a real New York to this viewer.
4:30 PM. The corner of 83rd Street and East End Avenue has just finished being prepared for demolition to be replaced by a private school building.
To The South at sunset with clouds moving in. The two towers in the distance are East 72nd Street on the block between York and the East River. On their right, closer by is the new Robert A. M. Stern luxury condominium at 80th and East End, whose limestone facade is nearing completion. 8:14 PM. To The West Sunset from 83rd and East End looking upwards at the pink and pearly clouds coming our way. 8:15 PM.
Aside from my deadlines, when I can catch a few moments I’m immersed in Michael Riedel’s “Razzle Dazzle” (“The Battle For Broadway”). Almost finished. It’s a history of the Great White Way that was recommended to me by my friend Peter Rogers who’s graced these pages more than a few times either on my page, or on Liz’, as they’re old friends.

Peter, who gave it all up a few years ago for New Orleans (he’s a Southern boy gone back to his roots), is a voracious reader and was very much a part of New York and the social/theatre scene in its glory days of the '60s through '80s. He, being the celebrated advertising man that he was -- “What Becomes a Legend Most?” ... “If You Don’t Look Good We Don’t Look Good” ... “When Your Own Initials Are Enough” -- knew a lot of the principals and not a few who are in this great book of this historical thoroughfare where dreams were -- and still are -- exercised and even realized.

Click to order Razzle Dazzle.
Riedel’s story begins with the early 20th century when the Shubert Brothers migrated to the big city from their theater ventures upstate in Syracuse. They faced a bank of producer/theater owners who were a Syndicate and had no interest in some hicks from the sticks invading their territory. History proved them short-sighted (for one thing, the Shubert brothers were young and the Syndicate guys were getting on in years). From there we move across the decades from the 1920s up to today. Riedel, who is the most-read theatre critic in New York today, gives you the story like a TV series, a history full of detail and drama and famous stars and temperaments and brilliance, and a lot of other characteristics that don’t flatter. All enhanced by the shrewd and the creative and the boys and girls with the “jack” (which was now defunct slang referring to the Money).

I love these histories anyway, and I have a personal, albeit almost obscure relationship with the street of dreams. But Riedel is an engaging storyteller, reporter, biographer and critic. It wouldn't surprise me if it inspired a major tv series as it's full of characters, large and small, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, effusive and stoney. You get a feel for all the principals, and the times, and good and the bad, not to mention the corrupt. Always mixed in with the plethora of talent, energy, imagination, personality and ambition. New York New York it’s a wonderful town.
The Shubert Theatre with Shubert Alley on the right, circa 1919 directly across West 44th Street from Sardi's, located in the Sardi Building which was built and owned by the Shuberts.
That is “Razzle Dazzle.” And if you’re a person who loves the theatre partly because it’s the Big Time in the Big Wide World out there, and maybe because it’s your own dreams igniting or delighting, you’ll love this book. If you’re a very much younger person who was born in the last two or three decades and never heard of half these people or their productions and lives, it's a primer on what it takes and where it came from in order to get there even today.

Reading it, I was reminded of that short interlude in my own life when I worked “near” it all, if only part time, at Sardi’s. I did a little search on Goog for something on the famous theatrical restaurant that was the center of the American theatre world between the '20s and the '70s. I was surprised to find a Diary I’d written several years ago when Vincent Sardi Jr. died, and had basically forgotten about.

I worked for Vincent in that part time job. Maybe you remember the piece. JH pulled it from our archive and reworked it so we’re republishing it along with today’s Diary. I personally loved the re-reading, evoking many memories and considerations a half century later. Click here to read it.

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