Monday, May 8, 2017

Broadway and Ballet

Bette and cast taking their bows after Saturday's matinee performance of "Hello Dolly." Photo: JH.
Monday, May 8, 2017. A beautiful mid-Spring weekend in New York with some heavy rains occasionally interrupting, bringing cooler weather (mid to high 50s) but perfectly pleasant. Unlike the news, whatever that may be these days.
Friday's downpour.
The fallen cherry blossom petals on Saturday.
However. Saturday a friend invited me and two others, including JH, to see a matinee of Bette Midler in “Hello Dolly” at the Shubert Theater which is right across 44th Street and Sardi’s restaurant.

Readers may recall that I had a part time job at Sardi’s back when I was a kid in my early 20s. All this came back to me when I saw the long lines waiting in Shubert Alley to get into the theater, and classic façade of Sardi’s across the street.
I worked with the maitre d’ at the dinner hour and lunch hour on the Wednesday and Saturday matinee days.

This was in the mid-60s. Those were the heydays of Sardi’s, the peak of its now 90-year history. It first opened in March of 1927 on the first two floors of the Shubert Building.

Sardi’s, when I worked there, was not just a convenient before-and-after theatre restaurant for theatregoers. It was the hub of the Broadway Theatre world. All the stars of the shows came and went, all the time: movie stars, directors, producers, cast members, their families, socialites; Broadway columnists, publishers, the New York Times reporters and honchos whose offices were right next door on Seventh Avenue.

All the opening nights (black tie) ended with the after-party at Sardi’s. The red carpet was rolled out, and when the cast made their entrance, the whole room stood and applauded– while waiting for tomorrow morning’s New York Times with the “reviews” which would be delivered to the restaurant around 11:30. 

All theatre (and theater) gossip came through those doors, distributed sotte voce from the horse’s mouth, through hearsay and maybe eventually the tabloids. All of it was an exciting atmosphere for this kid. Although I was intensely dreaming of (growing up) bigger better places. Somewhere.

Barbara Harris with Alan Alda and Larry Blyden in “The Apple Tree.”
One night in the Spring of 1966, at the end dinner hour about 8:15, Warren Beatty came in alone. Since I was the only standing near the maître d’s desk and wearing the wine red Sardi’s blazer, he asked me if I’d seen Barbara Harris.

At that moment, Barbara Harris was starring in a musical directed by Mike Nichols called “The Apple Tree” directly across the street at the Shubert. You could see it from the Sardi’s entryway   with her name up in lights. Barbara Harris, a name all but unknown now, was at that moment a big Broadway star and considered one of the greatest talents of her generation.

So I told Warren Beatty, who was obviously her boyfriend at the moment – and who was my height (6’4”), and handsomer than he appears on screen -- that Barbara Harris was across the way in the show.

He then said that he knew that but she had just been onstage performing a song when she stopped and told the audience she couldn’t do it, and walked off the stage and out the stage door and went missing.

Where? No one knew. Everyone later learned that she had walked off the stage and directly out the stage door and down 44th Street where she got on a Seventh Avenue bus and went home. Somehow that theater exit marked a life did not get better for Miss Harris. I don’t know her ending but she was nevertheless a remarkable talent  which was both endearing and as vulnerable as antique lace. Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane had written the musical “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” for her).
Barbara Harris accepting the Tony for “The Apple Tree" in 1967.
I mention this recollection because Saturday afternoon, entering Shubert Alley on my way to meet my friend to see Bette Midler in “Hello Dolly,” it all came back, including the feeling of magic of Broadway that subsumed this kid’s imagination and can still trip it.

I saw “Hello Dolly” for the first time fifty-three years ago on January 17, 1964, the second night of what would be a long run — seven years and 2844 performances. Back then it won 10 Tonys — then a record — including Best Musical. The Original Cast album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. It also produced a second Number One album with Louis Armstrong’s album “Hello Dolly.”
Carol Channing descending the grand staircase.
For me it had been the first time I’d seen theatre where there came a moment when a performance electrifies the air in the theater. And it was thus when Carol Channing made a entrance descending the grand staircase while the chorus sang “Hello Dolly.” For me it was one of those “aha” moments that came to me as “wow!” Not to mention a brilliant staging and choreography of Gower Champion.

Seeing it again for the first time in all those years
was interesting because of the natural inclination to compare productions and also Dollys. However, as soon as the curtain went up, I was immediately hooked on the show. A great old-fashioned Broadway musical with a highly memorable (and singable) score and a wonderful story (originally by Thornton Wilder) and beautifully produced.
Looking north from 44th Street and 7th Avenue. 1:45 PM.
Outside the Shubert Theatre.
The Will Call line in Shubert Alley.
Even though the crowd swelled, everyone was in great spirits.
That's DPC (red arrow) making his way through the line.
The theatre filling up.
In our seats, ready for the show!
Many women have played that role since Channing left it – including Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Martha Ray, Pearl Bailey (who many say was as great if not greater than Channing in the part); Phyllis Diller and Ethel Merman (for whom it was written but originally turned it down).
Bette at the end of the famous dance sequence on Saturday.
Bette Midler has made it her showHands down. Take a bow! I would guess maybe 75% of the audience on Saturday afternoon never saw Carol Channing in it, or Pearl Bailey or even heard of either star – and they were STARS. Bette Midler, they have heard of and actually were there to see. And they were not unhappy but rather thrilled to ovation after ovation. She’s made it her  role now, and the Dolly  they’ll remember with great fondness. It’s amusement, a joyous event, a relief.  Because “Hello Dolly” is one of those creative endeavors that from birth to Broadway, somehow came together and everything worked beautifully, and it still does. Midler is Midler, and she not only makes you laugh but she makes you want to laugh because it’s so much fun. And so often so true.
Bette walks the stage ...
... and congratulates her cast.
The cast taking their bows.
Last Thursday night The New York City Ballet held its 2017 Spring Gala, and featured the World Premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Odessa” and works by George Balanchine, Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon.  These included Martins’ 1992 work Jeu de Cartes (Card Game: A Ballet in Three Deals) set to a Stravinsky score; Christopher Wheeldon’s 2005 work After the Rain Pas de Deux with music by Arvo Pärt; as well as George Balanchine’s classic Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.
Exiting the theater.
The Playbill.
The World Premiere of Mr. Ratmansky’s work is part of a FourWeek Here/Now Festival celebrating 30 years of New Work featuring choreography made for NYCB since 1988, including 43 ballets created by 22 different choreographers, as well as music by 42 different composers, including 7 scores commissioned by NYCB. Odessa was set to a score by Leonid Desyatnikov and featured costumes designed by Keso Dekker and lighting by Mark Stanley.

The black tie evening was attended by 700 guests, including JH and Danielle, and raised more than $2 million for the Company.
The guests making their way upstairs to the Promenade for dinner.
The promenade was decorated with huge branches of forsythia and ferns.
The table centerpieces alternated between white and green.
The view of the promenade during dinner.
The evening featured champagne by Ruinart, the official champagne of New York City Ballet, catering by Glorious Food, and décor by Cait & Jules. The 2017 Spring Gala was sponsored by Cartier. Gala Corporate Chairman was Mercedes Abramo, President & CEO, Cartier North America.

Among those attending: Vanessa Williams, Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, Carlos Souza, Jill Kargman, Rachel Antonoff, Amy Astley, Lesley Stahl, Michelle Smith, Jacques d'Amboise, Myla Dalbesio, Lais Ribeiro, Arie and Coco Kopelman, Will Kopelman, Julia Koch, Charlene Shorto, Jared Hoffman, Clara McGregor, Ulla Parker, Indre Rockefeller, Tom Murrow, Sasha Cohen, Gillian Attfield, Chelsea Leyland, Leonard and Judy Glickman Lauder, Jean Shafiroff, Jesse and Cordelia Zanger, Emily and Len Blavatnik, Earle and Carol Mack, Barbara Slifka, Emma Myles, Michelle Hebert, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Charlotte Moss, The Honorable Gale A. Brewer, Judge Kimba Wood, Elyse Newhouse, Barbara and Donald Tober, Frederic Fekkai, Shirin von Wulffen, Anjali and Prakash Melwani, Mary Cronson, Daisy Soros, Zoë Baird, Jon Stryker, Slobodan Randjelovic.
NYCB Board Vice Chair Barbara Slifka, NYCB Principal Dancer Gonzalo Garcia, Amy Astley, NYCB Principal Dancer Sara Mearns, Ezra Hurwitz, and Josh Bergasse.
NYCB Board Member Stephen Reidy, NYCB Soloists Troy Schumacher and Ashley Laracey, and Slobodan Randjelovic.
Ken Triwush, Aedie McEvoy, and Riccardo Salmona.
Cartier bellhops handed out the gift bags (Cartier stationary) in the lobby of the David H. Koch Theater.

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