theater, ballet, opera, the symphony, readings and other performances. What I’ve especially loved is going behind the scenes and seeing the process that includes the rehearsals, the preparations of sets and costumes, the performers in their dressing rooms and their backstage warm ups. I’ve loved photographing our cultural world over the years —
Opening nights were always special with curtain calls and celebrations often held at Sardi’s where everyone awaited the arrival of the show’s press agent bearing the first reviews.
It’s sad so many live performances are now dark at the time we need them the most. What’s the Thanksgiving Day parade without young children sitting atop their parents’ shoulders? Or a holiday season without the annual “Nutcracker.” The tree has gone up at Rockefeller Center but the surrounding area is cordoned off to avoid crowds.
I miss the theater and the smell of roasted chestnuts in the air while navigating the too-crowded sidewalks. Another few months and I might feel nostalgic about the Naked Cowboy prancing around Times Square in his underpants.
In 1965, while working as a staff photographer for The New York Herald Tribune, I went to my first dress rehearsal: The Royal Ballet Production of “Swan Lake” at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1965. It was a thrilling moment to see Nureyev dancing with Fonteyn and to witness it from the third row in an almost empty opera house. I was hooked from that moment on and remain so.
Joan Baez relaxing in her dressing room at The Fillmore East.
The evening was produced by bi-coastal Rock Impresario Bill Graham. He wore a watch, very fancy back then in the ’60s, with two round clocks on it — one for the East Coast and one for the West — because Fillmore West was in San Francisco and he was straddling both worlds. On view right now through August 23 at The New-York Historical Society on Central Park West: ’The Rock & Roll World of Bill Graham” where visitors can learn more about one of the most influential concert promoters of all time.
George Abbott, Liza Minnelli, and Hal Prince on a Boston sidewalk near The Colonial Theater where “Flora The Red Menace” was in previews. Liza, 19, was preparing for her Broadway debut in the Kander & Ebb musical comedy. The 82-year-old Mr. Abbott was directing. Hal Prince producing. Hal’s wife had given birth to their daughter Daisy the previous night in New York so Hal jumped on a shuttle in time for a Sunday morning photo shoot.
George Abbott directing Act II.
Liza sitting in the wings during rehearsal.
Henry Fonda and John McGiver working on a line reading of “Our Town” at a City Center rehearsal room. The Thornton Wilder play, produced by Alfred de Liagre, was headed for a Boston tryout prior to opening at the ANTA Theater. It opened and closed in a week and for some reason, unbeknownst to me, John McGiver was no longer in the cast.
W.H. Auden and Anthony Hecht. In 1967 my friend Grace Schulman was appointed the Director of the Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y. I was her official photographer and I loved being in the so-called green room backstage while the poets relaxed by smoking and drinking whiskey. Auden said he always had the same dream the night before performing. He had lost his notes and he was in his underwear.
Poets Galway Kinnell and Anne Sexton at the 92nd Street Y.
Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter in their dressing room before a concert at Carnegie Hall.
Johnny would later do the voice over for a Folgers coffee commercial.
The man in black descending the stairs to the stage. I wear it for the sick and lonely old, For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold, I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been, Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
Before the curtain goes up, June greets two of the four Statler Brothers, Phil Balsley and Harold Reid. The Stats opened the show. Harold, the bass singer, died this past April at the age of 80. I’m such a huge fan of the Statlers that my husband once took me to their concert at Niagara Falls on my birthday.
Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter in their dressing room following their Carnegie Hall Concert. They were joined by Sara and Bob Dylan.
Bob, a long time fan of Johnny’s, asked his idol to autograph the program.
Senator George McGovern and Julian Bond backstage at Town Hall, the site for a benefit to raise money for César Chavez.
Left: Robert Ryan, Gloria Steinem, and Anne Jackson go over their scripts. Right: Mary Travers, Paul Stokey, and Peter Travers were able to perform a sound check on stage before the doors opened.
I was on assignment for The Los Angeles Times when I photographed Ike and Tina Turner at Newark State College. Before the performance they practiced off stage with their crew.
Ike strummed while Tina warmed up her vocal chords.
Then it was off to their dressing room for hair, makeup, a change of clothes, and a snooze.
Tennessee Williams appeared at the 92nd Street Y where he was interviewed by theater critic Leonard Harris. I was invited by Leonard, a longtime colleague and friend, to join them.
A moment of reflection before going on stage.
After the performance there was a party hosted by Ruth Ford at her Dakota apartment. I know it’s hard to believe but I introduced Edward Albee to Tennessee Williams and then promptly took a photograph of the two great playwrights sitting side by side. The signature is by Edward who was one of my most treasured friends until his death on September 16, 2016.
Geraldine Brooks wearing her wig cap and getting dressed for her role in “Fiddler on the Roof.” The performance was at the Jones Beach Theater. Brooks wore a padded costume to play the role of Golde, the boisterous wife of Tevye in Joseph Stein’s adaptation of the Sholem Aleichem stories. I had been working for several days on a story about Gerry and her husband Budd Schulberg.
Terrence McNally at the Booth Theater. His two one-act plays were set in a rather kinky sanitarium. The 34-year-old playwright disavowed expensive bad habits — “only chain smoking and nail biting.”
Terrence visiting actor Michael Lombard in his dressing room.
Doris Roberts plays Lombard’s injured wife, wearing a castlike shoe.
Tammy Wynette and her husband George Jones at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. They were backstage with their musicians practicing a new song they had never sung before.
Tammy and George reading and answering their fan mail.
Tammy, a former beautician, works her magic while George rests his perennially lit cigarette on the dressing table. Jones finally quit both smoking and drinking after a near fatal car accident in 1999 describing himself as “A Honkey-tonk Orpheus returned from the dead.”
Hal Prince in rehearsal for “Candide” at the Chelsea Theater which was upstairs in the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Voltaire musical later transferred to the Broadway Theater.
Hal Prince directing Maureen Brennan and Mark Baker.
As everyone knows, Hal Prince’s eyeglasses were always perched on the top of his head.
The director with Maureen Brennan.
Hal Prince devotees will love these two books — one by Hal, the other by Ted Chapin, who spent a year behind the scenes of “Follies.”
Beverly Sills, the Met’s legendary soprano rehearsing for her role of Maria in Donizetti’s opera, “Maria Stuarda.” “Bubbles” as she was affectionately known by her friends, was joined by the Italian Tenor Tullio Pane.
I spent months backstage when I worked on my book A Very Young Dancer. It was during this time that I was able to observe George Balanchine work backstage with all the dancers. In this photograph Mr. B. is teaching Stephanie Selby how to faint.
Patricia McBride, a principal dancer, warming up at the barre with Stephanie before going onstage for Act II.
Sarah Caldwell was the first woman ever to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera. The opera was “La Traviata,” starring Beverly Sills, who had cajoled the company into engaging Ms. Caldwell. My husband Kurt Vonnegut and I had attended the performance as guests of Schuyler Chapin, the Met’s General Manager. When the curtain was about to fall Schuyler whisked us downstairs to witness the historic curtain calls. The other guests that evening were Betty Chapin, Betsy & Walter Cronkite and Ruth & Skitch Henderson. Peter Gelb, The Met’s present General Manager, recently announced the cancellation of the 2020-21 season but has vowed to have more women conductors when the Met reopens.
Poet-playwright Ntozake Shange ( front row left) with the cast and director “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / WhenThe Rainbow is Enuf.” Joseph Papp presented the musical at The Public Theater.
The choreopoem, as Shange prefers to call it, was directed by 26-year-old Oz Scott. At the time Ntozake was having trouble making ends meet. “When ‘Colored Girls’ was in a showcase rehearsal they wanted me to come and sign a contract. I couldn’t even afford the subway fare so I took a taxi and asked Oz to meet me and pay the cab fare.”
Ntozake warming up before her performance on stage as the Lady in Orange, one of the seven-member ensemble of women dressed in different colors: Yellow, Brown, Red, Blue, Green, and Purple.
I spent a few months photographing “Annie” when it opened on Broadway starring Andrea McArdle and produced by Mike Nichols. I had planned to do another Very Young book but in the end the fees demanded by the actors and stage hands union made the cost prohibitive. I was making less money than the dog. I did finally write and publish A Very Young Actress when “Annie” opened at The Goodyear Theater in Massachusetts. The new production starred 10-year-old Lauren Gaffney. Still, I had a lot of fun hanging out with the original cast and crew.
The orphans playing jacks backstage.
Left: Andrea, aka Annie, playing with Sandy. Right: Every actor has to sign in for every performance just inside the stage door before going up to the dressing rooms. Daddy Warbucks was played by Reid Shelton.
Opening night as evidenced by the flowers in Andrea’s dressing room.
The sound booth for the album recording at Columbia Records Studio. Left to right: Martin Charnin (director of “Annie” as well as lyricist), producer Mike Nichols, actress Dorothy Loudon (Miss Hannigan), Thomas Meehan, who wrote the book, and composer Charles Strouse. Bottom right is Buddy Graham, engineer from Columbia Records, who is “working the board.”
Howard Ashman and Kurt Vonnegut during a rehearsal of “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.” The theatrical production was originally presented at the WPA Theater and moved on to the Entermedia. Howard Ashman directed and wrote the musical’s book and the lyrics. Alan Menken (not pictured here) wrote the music. It was the beginning of Howard and Alan’s long collaboration which lasted until Howard died of AIDS. There is an excellent documentary about Howard Ashman airing on Netflix.
The cast of “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” posed for a photograph on stage during a rehearsal. Middle row: Edwin Coffin (Elliott Rosewater) holding a tennis racquet with Kurt. Front row second from left: Howard Ashman. Alan Menken on far right. The play was recently revived as part of the Encores! program at City Center — but keep scrolling — more on that later.
Harold Pinter, the British playwright was at work in a rehearsal room at the Minskoff Theatre where “Betrayal” was in rehearsal. The play, starring Blythe Danner, Raul Julia, and Roy Scheider was set to open in early January on Broadway at The Trafalgar Theater. Kurt Vonnegut and I got married on November 24th, the day after I took this photograph.
For Jim Dale, the star of “Barnum,” even Central Park was backstage for him — a place to warm up on the way to the St. James theater.
Dale’s role is so demanding physically that he relies on a massage from cast mate and friend Navarre Matlovsky. Jim and Navarre appeared previously in “Scapino,” a musical version of a Moliére farce.
Jim, wired up with his mic, applies makeup.
Paying homage to P.T Barnum. Onstage, Dale was catapulted into the spotlights by a trampoline early in the first act and later walked the length of the St. James stage on a tightwire. In between all of this he juggled having practiced his art with oranges. For all his hard work and showmanship, Jim lost 16 pounds and won a Tony.
Darci Kistler in a rehearsal studio at NYCB with dancers Christopher d’Amboise, and Chris’s father, Jacques D’Amboise. This was the first time I photographed Darci. I was working on a story for People magazine which was about the young Chris D’Amboise. My caption sheet which is in my archive says: “You should definitely use a picture of Darci Kistler … that is if you don’t do a separate story on her. She is the hottest dancer now with NYCB and Balanchine is choreographing separate ballets for her. She opened the Washington season dancing lead in Swan Lake. She’s only 16.”
I finally got to do a story on Darci. Here she is in class and once again, there is Jacques d’Amboise who is behind her.
Costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge and her husband Tom Aldredge in Shubert Alley before dashing off to their respective theaters. Their roles — she as a top costume designer and he as a leading man — have garnered them Obies, Tonys, an Emmy, and an Oscar.
Theoni’s Manhattan studio is filled with silks, satins, bugle beads and sequins. Her clients have included Annie, A Chorus Line, Barnum, 42nd Street, and Woman of the Year.
Tom in his dressing room getting ready for The Little Foxes where he plays the role of Elizabeth Taylor’s mortally ill husband.
What a thrill it was for me to take this photograph of playwright Charles Fuller (far right) and the cast of A Soldier’s Play on stage when he won the Pulitzer. The telegram reads: You were awarded the Pulitzer Drama Prize today for A Soldier’s Play. Congratulations, Michael I. Sovern, President, Columbia University. Of course I should acknowledge the dearth of black playwrights in this Photo Journal but the sad truth is that there was a real lack of black talent represented on what was aptly called The Great White Way.
It was always a pleasure to photograph Jacques d’Amboise and his National Dance Institute. While teaching kids how to dance, Jacques often redefined the law of gravity.
Jacques with folk singer Judy Collins who was an early supporter and participant of NDI. I photographed them in a rehearsal room at the New York State Theater.
Everyone having fun.
In addition to teaching young kids to dance, NDI included other hoofers — including numerous Manhattan policemen happy to work a different beat.
Zubin Mehta rehearsing a Young People’s Concert at Philharmonic Hall. 50 young children had performed before other members of the Philharmonic and violinist Anne Meyers was one of five chosen to perform with the orchestra at a future concert. People always ask me if there’s anyone I’d still like to photograph. The answer is conductor Gustavo Dudamel because I love it that he, like Mehta, is devoted to encouraging children to play a musical instrument.
Playwright Tom Stoppard and Director Mike Nichols on January 5, 1984 at Tavern on the Green following the Broadway opening of The Real Thing. I’m nostalgic for the days when opening nights were black-tie affairs.
Actor Ben Kingsley following a performance of Edmund Kean at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. The play was based on the flamboyant 19th-century Shakespearean actor. Kingsley had recently won the Oscar for his performance in Gandhi. After being knighted on his 59th birthday by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, Kingsley stated; “I told the Queen that winning an Oscar pales into insignificance — this is insurmountable.” The ghost light is left on all night in case someone is in the theater working late. It allows them to see where they’re going. Stages have so many hidden places, bumps, and holes. But according to theater lore, it is said that every theater has a ghost. The ghost light provides light at night for any spirits to be able to see and even “perform” or dance on the stage.
Maurice Sendak on set for American Repertory Ballet’s Where the Wild Things Are, which was performed in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Sendak, in addition to writing the narrative, was scenic and set designer. One could safely say Maurice did everything but dance.
Wendy Whelan is one of my favorite ballerinas. Prior to Ms. Whelan taking her final bow as a Principal Dancer with NYCB on the night of November 9, 2000, I photographed her during a rehearsal for a Christopher Wheeldon ballet, “After the Rain,” in which Wendy was partnered by Jock Soto. She told me that as a three-year-old girl living in Kentucky she had been given A Very Young Dancer for Christmas and because of that she began taking ballet lessons.
Christopher Wheeldon with Wendy and Jack Soto rehearsing “After the Rain.”
After 30 years with New York City Ballet, Wendy Whelan says farewell. Standing on stage behind her are students from the School of American Ballet.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Shepard, and John C. Reilly on the opening night of the revival of “True West.”
October 18, 2013: Rosanne Cash exiting the stage door at The Rubin Museum following a concert performed with guitarist John Leventhal (her husband) and singer-songwriter Cory Chisel. Since 2004, Rosanne and her husband, Chelsea residents whose townhouse is only a few blocks away from the Rubin, have performed more than a dozen concerts there. Guest performers have included Elvis Costello, Mark O’Connor, and Loudon Wainwright 111. Rosanne, like many performers, has continued to perform virtually, most recently at the Met Museum. This past year she was awarded the annual MacDowell arts medal. The ceremony has been postponed to August 2021, due to the Covid epidemic.
James Earl Jones in his dressing room after the revival of Kurt’s “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater” at City Center. I wish my husband could have been there but our daughter Lily was, as were many of our friends. I miss the live performing arts; we all do. But I’m grateful to have seen many curtains rise and to have been witness to much of the process involved.