Louis E. Catron
Bibliography for theatre folks
Please visit my home page for descriptions of,
and links to, the many other pages on this site.
AN ANNOTATED LIST
Yes, granted, this mix of books
and topics is an eclectic mix. So is art.
Books that are out of print most likely are in your local library, and of course you can always check Amazon or eBay sorts of places to see if they are on an auction.
Categories. The books are organized by subject area. You may scroll down through the list. Or, if you wish to click to the subject that interests you, click any of the headings below.
THE "TEN MOST SIGNIFICANT
PLAYS OF THE CENTURY."
What plays should you know? That's always hard to answer. But the following two lists of "most significant plays of the Twentieth Century" can serve you as a guide of "modern plays I really must read." If you don't know these plays, they are highly recommended. All are available from Amazon and links are provided.
The First List
All of those below have links to Amazon in case you want to buy them for your own library; seven of them include a second reference, most often a critical edition giving insights into the play.
3. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee. Paperback edition .
7. The Crucible , by Arthur Miller. Paperback edition.
8. The Iceman Cometh, by Eugene O'Neill. Paperback edition.
The Second List.
All have links to Amazon, should you wish to purchase them for your personal library; four of those below have a second Amazon link, mostly to critical editions about the play.
Look Back in Anger , by John Osborne. Paperback.
The Crucible , by Arthur Miller. Paperback.
Private Lives , by Noel Coward. Paperback with two other Coward plays.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. Paperback.
, by Harold Pinter.
Paperback with two other Pinter Plays.
The following books fall into categories--(a) "How-to," which give you lessons in print, (b) "how others did" or interviews, (c) "how to market your play," and (d) "the writing life."
"How-to" Books to help you learn to write plays
I think books can help you write--but then, of course I would, having written several playwriting books. Modesty prevents me from listing them below, but I'm not hopelessly modest and so I put here a link to the various playwriting books I've done: my books.
Playwriting: The Structure of Action, by Sam Smiley. Popular in some grad schools. I think the book is best designed for advanced writers but works less well for beginners. Now out of print, but you can find it in libraries.
Playwriting , by Bernard Grebanier. Out of print, but available in most libraries. A good, solid book.
Interviews with Playwrights
Intelligent interviews--not cutsie little chats--can help us learn a great deal about the playwriting process from playwrights who are in the arena.
Contemporary Women Playwrights, ed. by
In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights, ed. by David Savran. Discover how modern playwrights think of their art. I find this a very helpful text. Amazon Link.
The Female Dramatist:
Profiles of Women Playwrights from Around the World from the Middle
Ages to the Present Day, by Elaine T. Partnow,
et al. This is an ambitious and valuable reference book,
bringing over 200 playwrights to our attention, ranging in time from Medieval
dramatist Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim to Michele Fabien.
Marketing advice--finding theatres
See also "Essential Maketing Books for All Writers," further below.
The Dramatists Sourcebook , by Kathy Sova (Editor), Tim Cusick (Editor), Samantha Rachel Rabetz (Editor). This annual is your best book when you're ready to send out your play. (The Playwright's Companion, also an annual, used to be published by Feedback Press, but unfortunately it stopped as of 1999.) The Sourcebook has excellent specific and concrete up-to-date advice about markets, agents, contests, grants, special programs and workshops for playwrights, publishers, theatres looking for new plays, and much more that playwrights find valuable. The serious playwright will buy a new copy each year because there are so many significant changes. Highly recommended. Amazon link.
Stage Writers Handbook:
A Complete Business Guide for
BOOKS FOR SCREENWRITING
Screenplay : The Foundations of Screenwriting, by Syd Field. Start with an understanding that the author is controversial. He has major fans. And major detractors. One of my former students who is an active screenwriter and teacher is negative about his books. Yet other writers rave. Perhaps before you get his book, you'll first want to look at the reviews on Amazon. Amazon link.
The Screenwriter's Workbook. Syd Field. See comments above about this author. Amazon link.
Writing Screenplays that Sell. Michael Hauge. Although the title sounds overly commecial, in fact "commercial" is significant if you want to write a screenplay a producer-director will like. Amazon link .
How to Write a Movie
in 21 Days: The Inner Movie Method.
Viki King. In just 21 days??!! Maybe or maybe not, but
Viki King has an admirable "get writing, buddy!" approach. I think
it is a book that may have aspects you won't buy but you'll find that the
majority of the book is an excellent stimulus.
Three periodicals, almost certainly in your local library--or perhaps you'll want to subscribe--contain excellent advice and inspirational articles for writers, with a focus on fiction. You will find many articles geared to your needs.
ALL CREATIVE WRITERS
A Dangerous Profession : A Book About the Writing Life, by Frederick Busch. While not about playwriting specifically, you will enjoy reading about the dangers (!) in writing. Amazon link.
Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. Paperback. This is a charming and insightful book. Out of print unfortunately, but sometimes available in libraries.
Writing Down the Bones : Freeing the Writer Within, by N athalie Goldberg. Zen and eroticism. Connect with yourself. An excellent book. Amazon link.
Letters to a Fiction
Writer, by Frederick Busch. Here are
33 writers giving advice--"Write it all goddamn down" is one theme.
Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents [current edition]: Who They Are! What They Want! and How to Win Them Over! (Annual) by Jeff Herman. I highly recommend this excellent marketing guide. If you buy just one such guide, this is the one. You'll want to get the most recent edition. My only complaint is that Herman ought do the same sort of book for periodicals. Amazon link .
T he Basics of Writing Bestsellers : Your Guide to Writing & Selling Today's Hottest Books (Writer's Digest Guide, Vol 17). Thomas Clark (editor). Amazon link .
[Year] Writer's Market : 8,000 Editors Who Buy What You Write. Kirsten Holm (Editor), Donya Dickerson (Editor). Or editors you hope will buy what you write! This is an annual collection of markets, the sort of book all writers use as a primary reference. Amazon Link.
Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, [Year] : 2.000 Places to Sell Your Fiction. Barbara Kuroff (Editor), Tricia Waddell (Editor). More specialized than the book above--this focuses on fiction--it is a standard annual reference. Amazon link .
2002 Writer's Market
Online. Kirsten Holm (Editor).
This certainly indicates modern trends: it lists over four thousand
online sources to publishers, etc.
GOOD PLAY ANTHOLOGIES
Read plays, read plays, read plays!
For directors seeking one-act plays to present, or playwrights who want to read examples of the short form, sometimes it seems difficult to find good one-acts. Luckily, there is an excellent annual anthology of plays called The Best Short Plays of...[year.]. The series started in the late 1930s, but I select more modern books.
If you're looking for details about plays or playwrights, this is the definitive source. A labor of love, this is an excellent list of short plays--not merely a list but an amazingly thorough description of the play, often with contact information for the playwright. Your reference library should have it, and if it doesn't, request they purchase it. Amazon sells it, but it is pricey ($62.00) for most individuals. 1/2/3/4 For the Show: A Guide to Small-Cast One-Act Plays, by Lewis W. Heniford. Amazon link.
Best Short Plays 1989 . Ramon Delgado (editor). Hardcover (December 1991). Amazon link.
The Best American Short Plays, 1990. Howard Stein (editor), Glenn Young (editor). Paperback (August 1991). Amazon link.
The Best American Short
Plays, 1991-1992. Howard
The Best American Short Plays 1992-1993. Howard Stein (editor), Glenn Young (editor). Hardcover (November 1993); for some reason, the paperback apparently isn't published. Amazon link.
Best American Short Plays 1993-1994. Howard Stein (editor), Glenn Young (editor). Paperback (March 1995). Amazon link.
The Best American Short Plays 1994-1995. Howard Stein (editor), Glenn Young (editor). Paperback (December 1995). Amazon link.
Best American Short Plays 1995-1996. Howard Stein (editor), et al. Paperback (November 1996). Amazon link.
T he Best American Short Plays 1996-1997. Glenn Young (editor), Howard Stein (editor). Paperback (January 1998). Amazon link.
The Best American Short Plays 1997-1998. Glenn Young (editor). Paperback (January 2000). Amazon link.
The Best American Short Plays 1998-99. Glenn Young (editor.) Amazon link .
2 Character Plays for
Student Actors : A Collection of 15 One-Act Plays.
Robert Mauro, Gary Burghoff (Introduction), Arthur L. Zapel (editor).
10-MINUTE PLAY ANTHOLOGIES
The short-short play--ten minutes in playing time--is becoming increasingly popular, due in large measure to the Actors Theatre of Louisville, which has popularized the form, and which sponsors an annual contest with significant prizes for ten-minute plays. In form it is like fiction's short-short story: a single incident, small number of characters, excellent craft, and close observation of time, place, and action. Playwrights might want to read some to decide if you'd like to write them; directors may wish to present them.
T ake Ten : New 10-Minute Plays. Eric Lane (editor), et al. Paperback (April 1997). Amazon link.
Thirty 10-Minute Plays for 4, 5, and 6 Actors from Actors Theatre of Louisville's National Ten-Minute Play Contest. Michael Bigelow Dixon (editor). Paperback (August 2001). Amazon link .
Hb Playwrights Short
Play Festival 2000 : Sixteen 10-Minute Plays the Funeral Plays, 2000 (Contemporary
Playwrights). William Carden (editor).
FOR DIRECTORS AND PLAYWRIGHTS
Mis-Directing the Play. Terry McCabe (former Artistic Director of the Stormfield Theatre). Highly recommended. All theatrical directors should read this book! College directing students may need the book to correct asinine concepts all too often taught in directing courses. Chapters include "The Myth of the Director," "What Plays Are and How They Work," and "The Show That Needs a Dramaturg Has a Bad Director." I flip over that last title because I've long thought that a dramaturg's responsibilities actually are the director's. McCabe's point is that the playwright's work has been reduced to "a found object to be reshaped to express the director's concerns," an idea he finds repugnant. He says that instead of carefully analyzing the playscript, "it has been an article of faith that a play is about what the director chooses to have it about"--an idiotic and self-indulgent attitude that infects modern theatre practice. He builds his case with citing the American Repertory Theater, whose 1984 production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame so incensed the playwright that he sought an injunction to shut it down. Why? Director JoAnne Akalaitis wanted to place Hamm and Clov in an underground subway station, ignoring Beckett’s description of a featureless room with two windows. Beckett objected. Violently. McCabe challenges the ever-so-mod (and damned arrogantly egotistic) notion that a play is the director’s vehicle for self-expression. Right on, McCabe! "Mis-Directing," indeed! The very worst theatrical experiences I've had were a result of idiotic directors who don't give a damn about the play itself and instead play fool games to prove how ever-so creative they are. It is a special curse of the college-university theatre scene. Plah. Amazon link.
Scriptwork : A Director's Approach to New Play Development. Donna Breed, David A. Kahn, Lanford Wilson. Amazon link.
Working on a New Play: A Play Development Handbook for Actors, Directors, Designers & Playwrights. Edward M. Cohen. Amazon link.
The Stage Director's
Handbook: Opportunities for Directors and Choreographers.
David Diamond (Editor), Terry Berliner (Editor).
BOOKS FOR ACTORS
Respect for Acting. Uta Hagen, Haskel Frankel. As a director, often I want to say to an actor: "Go read Ms. Hagen's book. Carefully. Absorb it. Then come back to rehearsals." Highly recommended . Amazon link .
A Challenge for the Actor. Uta Hagen. Ms. Hagen has said this book corrects errors in her earlier Respect for Acting . Much as I am unable to disagree with anything she says, I think Respect for Acting needs absolutely no corrections. This book has new ingredients; it is not a re-hash of Respect for Acting. Excellent. Amazon link .
Audition : Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part. Michael Shurtleff, Introduction by Bob Fosse. About keys to succesful auditions? Yes, emphatically. But the book is more, for you'll discover secrets of acting, too. Highly recommended. Amazon link .
Next : Auditioning for the Musical Theatre. Steven M. Alper. This is short and probably over-simplified, but it does offer advice, "do's and don'ts," pitfalls to avoid, good suggestions, and rules that you should never break. Amazon link.
An Actor Prepares. Constantine Stanislavski, Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. One of the essential books for all actors. Amazon Link .
Building a Character . Constantine Stanislavski, Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. Amazon link .
Creating a Role. Constantine Stanislavski, Elizabeth R. Hapgood (Translator). Amazon link .
Sanford Meisner on Acting. Sanford Meisner, Dennis Longwell (Contributor). A necessary step following Stanislavski. Amazon link.
The Sanford Meisner Approach : An Actors Workbook (A Career Development Book). Larry Silverberg. Amazon link .
The Actor's Encyclopedia of Casting Directors: Conversations with Over 100 Casting Directors on How to Get the Job. Karen Kondazian, Eddie Shapiro (Contributor), Richard Dreyfuss. Amazon link .
Improvisation for the Theater : A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques. 3rd Edition. Viola Spolin, Paul Sills (Editor). Ms. Spolin is the recognized expert in Improv, and Mr. Sills (her son) won great praise for his work in the field. Amazon link.
The New York Agent Book : Get the Agent You Need for the Career You Want . K. Callan. Well, maybe. But if the book doesn't help you get the agent you want, it does give you good guidelines. Amazon link.
The Los Angeles Agent Book : Get the Agent You Need for the Career You Want
. K. Callan. Like the New York Agent Book (above), this
may be helpful for general ideas, but the title promises too much.
BOOKS FOR DRAMATURGS
Dramaturgy in American Theatre: A Source Book. Susan Jonas, Geoffrey S. Proehl, and Michael Lupu (Harcourt Brace College Publishers). Within its 50 chapters and 600 pages are excellent guides. Highly recommended. Amazon link .
BOOKS FOR TECHNICAL THEATRE
The Lighting Art: The Aesthetics of Stage Lighting Design. Richard H. Palmer. Palmer is an excellent college teacher and theatrical director as well as lighting designer. He brings his keen sense of theatre to bear on this book, which is about the art of theatre as shown through lighting. It therefore deals with aesthetic choices and the art of lighting, not with lighting machinery. It will help you develop your sense of aesthetics. Amazon link.
The Stage Management Handbook.
Daniel A. Ionazzi. The Stage Manager is "in charge of everything"--or
damned close to everything (maybe "everything that goes wrong"?). Here's
a neat practical guide. It is divided into four parts: pre-production,
rehearsals, performance, and human behavior in organizations. At the
end of each chapter are reproductions of forms the stage manager should use.
BOOKS FOR ALL THEATRE FOLK
Aristotle's Poetics. S. H. Butcher (Translator). There simply is no single better place to start. If you're in theatre, you've encountered books and professors who tell you what Aristotle said. A better idea is to find out for yourself. Amazon link.
Shakespeare : Audio Collection. Of course we should see Shakespeare on stage, but audio versions let us focus on that magical sound, undistracted by visual display, and encourage us to "see" the play in our imagination. Produced by the Shakespeare Recording Society, these are full-cast, unabridged performances of As You Like It (starring Vanessa Redgrave), Much Ado About Nothing (starring Rex Harrison), and The Winter's Tale (starring Sir John Gielgud and Dame Peggy Ashcroft). Amazon link .
It Happened on Broadway : An Oral History of the Great White Way. Myrna Katz Frommer, Harvey Frommer. If we're in theatre, Broadway--that "fabulous invalid"-- fascinates us. Here a chorus of more than 100 voices--including stars, celebrities, producers, costume designers, critics, sons and daughters of Broadway greats -- report on the history of Broadway theater over the past 60 years. Amazon link.
The Theatre of the Absurd. Martin Esslin. This is the classic and definitive text (how definitive? Esslin gave the movement the name "absurd," and the book shows you that "absurd" doesn't mean silly) about what was an avant-garde movement, back in the 60s, that had Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Edward Albee among its practioners. Amazon link.
The Dramatic Imagination:
Reflections and Speculations on the Art of Theatre.
Robert Edmond Jones. A classic. Jones, one of America's outstanding
theatrical designers, here looks at the totality of our art. This is
one of those books that motivates us to go beyond what we've been taught
theatre "ought" be and makes us dream of what it can be. You may, like
me, make this a permanent part of your library so you can return to it to
cleanse yourself of the mediocrity that too often haunts theatre.
FOR STUDENT ESSAYS
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. William Zinsser. Amazon link. "Classic" is the word. This is an absolutely excellent book for anyone writing essays or non-fiction. Highly recommended.
The Elements of Style. The famous and beloved "Strunk and White" is--or should be--on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to write. Most writers have well-worn, dog-earred copies. This is probably Number One on any "Read This!" list compiled by writers. Highly recommended. Amazon link .
Adios, Strunk and White: A Handbook for the New Academic Essay. Gary Hoffman, Glynis Hoffman. Amazon link . A strong adaptation of the classic Strunk and White. Recommended.
Writing to Learn
. William Zinsser.
Quite elegant and a strong companion to
Elements of Style.
MOVIE-VIDEO VERSIONS OF
There are genuine classics you should want
to see if you are interested in theatre. Yes, of course, seeing the
actual live performance is much, much better. But when that isn't possible,
a movie version may be a good experience, providing of course the movie
stays reasonably true to the play. That sometimes happens. The
following list gives you suggestions. Your local video store or library
may have them, or will order them. Alternatively, some are available
The Amazon links tend to be for VHS. If you're a DVD fan, quite possibly you'll find those versions on Amazon, too. Because reading the script will greatly enhance your understanding and enjoyment, for these plays you'll also see Amazon links to published versions.
Hamlet. We are, I think, still waiting for "the" film of this classic. My memory tells me that the Richard Burton version came closer than any other, but I understand that Burton demanded the film of his stage performance be withdrawn after X number of years on the premise that styles and tastes change a great deal and his Hamlet would look outdated. I wish he hadn't made that choice. At any rate, you have choices. You can see Mel Gibson ( Amazon link ), Kenneth Branagh ( Amazon link ), Ethan Hawke ( Amazon link ), Laurence Olivier ( Amazon link ), or Kevin Kline ( Amazon link ). For me, I'd rank those in this order: 1: Branagh (Julie Christie seemed strange casting), 2: Olivier (a style now dated but deserving attention), 3: Kline (a good actor, no mistake, but God didn't mean for him to play this role), 4: Gibson (although Glenn Close elevates the movie). (Yup, you're right. I didn't put Hawke in there anywhere.)
Macbeth. I demand a great deal from any production--stage or film--of "the Scottish play" because it is my nominee for the best play ever written. Sadly, I've not seen versions that mount to that challenge. I'm certainly captivated by the Orson Welles version--he directed and starred--which is richly full of dark shadows and visual poetry ( Amazon link ). Roman Polanski directs Jon Finch in an angry, bleak version (Polanski made this after the "Manson Family" murdered his wife, Sharon Tate) with kick-you-in-the-gut violence, a nude Lady Macbeth, and an inventive, chilling ending. ( Amazon link ). The Royal Shakespeare Company--one of the theatre world's exciting groups--tries but I think doesn't quite make it ( Amazon link ).
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). This Tennessee Wiliams classic is given a very strong movie adaptation by Director Elia Kazan (who was primarily a theatre director and who directed many of Williams's plays) and Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. This is the young Brando, and his explosive style of Actors Studio performance started a new wave of acting. Don't let yourself think of the later Marlon Brando who turned in poor work, because those inferior movies will obscure the fact that the young Brando was quite possibly the greatest actor of his generation. I am, I confess, suprised and even shocked that so many theatre people haven't seen this movie. You should. Highly recommended. Amazon link . Read the play: Amazon link. Critical interpretations of the play: Amazon link.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Tennessee Williams's stage play given movie treatment, which (in keeping with moralistic restrictions of the 50s) considerably watered down the homosexuality aspects. It stars Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, and was directed by Richard Brooks. The "no neck monsters"--I absolutely love that description of the kids!--do well. Amazon link . Read the play: Amazon link.
Suddenly Last Summer. Homosexuality. Cannabalism. Incest. Lobotomy. While that list of ingredients makes this film sound like one of those "Friday The Thirteenth Haunted High School Slashing Cheerleaders" sort of bad Z-flicks, this actually is a sensitive study of psychological problems. It is also a good adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play. There's a quite strong cast: Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor (yes, in yet another film of a Williams play), Montgomery Clift, and Mercedes McCambridge. The director is Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The odds of you ever having a chance to see this on stage are, sadly, slim. This movie version is a viable substitute. Amazon link. Read the play: Amazon link.
The Crucible. Arthur Miller's powerful drama is given fairly decent treatment by Daniel Day-Lewis as John Proctor, although the way movies want to "open up" a playscript with many camera changes and scenes hurts the intensity, and Day-Lewis seems to lose Proctor's gigantic quest to find correct moral action. Too rarely do you have opportunity to see an excellent stage production of this riveting drama, so the movie version can help you discover why the play is so deeply respected. Amazon link . Read the play: Amazon link.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee sky-rocketed into fame with his first plays such as The Zoo Story and The Sandbox. When he moved to full-lengths, his fame grew. This movie version is directed by Mike Nichols, at one time known as a superior improvisational artist (with Elaine May) at Chicago's "Second City." He then became an outstanding Broadway director. Nichols gives the Albee play its full due and this movie version is faithful to the stage play. Elizabeth Taylor reportedly deliberately put on 40 pounds, maybe more, to play Martha. Richard Burton is George. Amazon link . Read the play: Amazon link.
Death of a Salesman & Private Conversations (1985). When I heard that Dustin Hoffman was going to play Arthur Miller's Willy Loman, I admit I was quite doubtful. I always envisioned Willy as older, heavier. Bad thinking. Hoffman is an excellent Willy. He gives the part an intense energy that is magnetic and captivating, and after seeing Hoffman's approach I directed Crucible with a similar intensity. Kate Reid does a fine job as Willy's wife, Linda, a role that is similar to that of the old Greek chorus in that the actress must lead us to see Willy more clearly. John Malkovich is Biff Loman, and comes close to the target. Charles Durning does better with his Charley. You seldom have a chance to see a vitally alive stage production of Miller's classic so see this movie instead. Amazon link . Read the play: Amazon link.
Cyrano de Bergerac. Edmond Rostand's sweepingly Neo-Romantic poetic play is a beautifully extravagant story about an extravagant man--Cyrano, who is the world's greatest swordsman, greatest poet, greatest lover from afar...and has the world's greatest and most grotesque nose. If you want to understand what is meant by "purple writing," this play illustrates it--the language is extravagant, but in this larger-than-life story, the language also is beautifully appropriate. Jose Ferrer plays the role adequately; I'd like him better if I didn't keep thinking he listens to his voice more than thinks of the character. Ferrer got a "Best Actor" Academy Award, so what do I know? The movie is appropriately sweeping, and because you probably will never have a chance to see the play on stage, the movie is an acceptable substitute. Amazon link. Reading the play requires finding a good translation/adaptation--there are some dreadfully poor translations that would make you think the play is dreadfully poor. I like the Brian Hooker version: Amazon link.
Gérard Depardieu also made a movie version of Cyrano with English subtitles. They just can't keep up with the dialogue. Amazon link .
The Piano Lesson . August Wilson's play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. The playwright adapted his play for this version that originally was a PBS TV show. The story looks at the 1920s when a young boy gets a family treasure--the piano that their ancestors carved with images of slavery. He wants to get rid of it; his sister wants to preserve it as a constant reminder of their legacy. The performances are uniformly strong throughout, and the result is a powerful experience. Amazon link . Read the play: Amazon link.
Harvey. The stage version, by Mary Chase, can have more power to make you imagine, but Jimmy Stewart makes this an absolutely charming movie. Harvey is--in case you somehow missed this--a rabbit. Over six feet tall. With mystical powers. And he is invisible. The marvelous thing about the play / movie is that his invisibility makes you see Harvey extremely clearly. When your imagination is stimulated so strongly, I think that's pure theatrical magic. Stewart is a perfect Elwood P. Dowd, who goes to bars and for walks with his buddy Harvey, and their close friendship and respect is beautiful. Josephine Hull is an excellent character actress who plays Dowd's sister who is unable to deal with her "crazy" brother. The rest of the cast is so-so, but not to worry: Stewart (and Harvey!) make this a happy delight. I'm often impressed with Stewart's strong versatility. Here's one reason. DVD. Amazon link. Read the play: Amazon link.
The Member of the Wedding.
Julie Harris (as the young tomboy,
Franki) and Ethel Waters (Bernice Sadie Brown) are outstanding in this movie
version of the play by Carson McCullers. Harris turns in an absolutely
brilliant performance as the young-girl-woman full of angst and excited love
of life; Waters is perfectly cast as the housekeeper--and this is the first
time a Black played anything other than "the maid." The movie takes
us to small town Georgia of the 1950s, with all the atmospheres of small
town life and prejudices. Somehow this movie has fallen belong the
radar screen. It shouldn't. It may well be a Classic. Harris,
by the way, holds more Tony Awards than any other actor in history; she's
done stage, film, and television performances. I wish I had a time
machine to go back to the late 1970s to see her play poet Emily Dickinson
in the full-length stage solo play, The Belle of Amherst. She
played Frankie in the stage version of Wedding. This was her first
major film role and she was nominated for an Oscar for best actress.
See the movie and you'll understand why; study it, and you'll get an intense
lesson in acting.
Read the play:
My Fair Lady. I thought everyone in the world had seen this Lerner and Lowe classic, and I'm constantly amazed by the number of people who haven't. If you're one who hasn't sung along with "The Rain in Spain" and the other great songs, please do yourself a favor and watch this. It was a marvelous Broadway production, and this is a lavish movie version that stars Audrey Hepburn as the street-urchin-turned-proper- lady Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins. (Marni Nixon, one of the best-known unknown singers, sings for Hepburn and really should be given credit.) Harrison played Higgins in the Broadway show; Julie Andrews played Eliza but wasn't cast in the movie version because Jack Warner said--one of LaLaLand's great dumb comments--she "wasn't beautiful enough." He needed glasses. George Cukor directs with loving touches. The story is based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion . Amazon link.
Into the Woods - Original Broadway Cast (1988). Bernadette Peters. Bernadette Peters. Bernadette Peters! And Stephen Sondheim! (Okay, so I'm highly prejudiced.) This is the musical that won the 1988 Tony. The movie version is close to the theatrical production. I don't think this is Sondheim's best work--I watch the show thinking, "Hey, I've heard them sing 'Into the Woods' quite enough but...yikes, they're gonna sing it AGAIN?" Amazon link for the VHS version; link for the DVD version.
Guys and Dolls. Frank Sinatra wanted to play Sky Masterson but Marlon Brando out-clouted him and got the role (Brando? In a musical??!) so Sinatra is Nathan Detroit. Jean Simmons is Sarah Brown and looks adorable in her Salvation Army outfit. Vivian Blaine (re-creating her stage performance) is a marvelous Miss Adelaide. A special delight is Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a role he played on Broadway, and as you watch and listen to him you can tell in an instant that he is a stage vet. Guys and Dolls has to be one of the top musical comedies of all times because of an excellent book based on a Damon Runyan short story (if you've not read Ruynon, you really should), strong characterization, and marvelous music. And great comedy, thanks to Abe Burrows. Amazon link for the DVD version.
Cats. In this "Commemorative Edition," Ken Page is Old Deuteronomy, Jacob Brent is Mr. Mistoffelees, and Elaine Paige, Grizabella. Amazon link .
Victor/Victoria (1995 Broadway Production). Okay, so it takes a big willing suspension of disbelief to think Julie Andrews could be a "Victor." But if you buy into the premise of the show, it all works. The movie attempts to replicate the stage. Nice try. Amazon link.
West Side Story. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (now that's an interesting marriage!) wrote the score of this modern version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The movie cast has strengths and weaknesses. Richard Beymer (Tony) is a mystery--why did he get cast? Natalie Wood is less of a mystery because of her beauty, but she again does a goodly (badly?) amount of indicating. The movie should, but doesn't, credit Marni Nixon for singing for Wood. Marvelous are Russ Tamblyn (Riff), Rita Moreno (Anita), and George Chakiris (Bernardo). Amazon link.
Fiddler on the Roof. To life, to life, la chayim! Sholom Aleichem's writing is magnificent, human, touching, comic. Norman Jewison directs this movie version with due homage to the play---and let it be said that the stage version has to rank high on any "best musical" list. I'm not a particular fan of Topol's Tevye. To me, he hides his character behind a thick wall. But if you don't get to see this great musical on stage, see the movie. Amazon link .
Cabaret. Come to the cabaret, old chum, life is a cabaret! The movie won eight Academy Awards--Bob Fosse, for Best Director (yes!), Liza Minnelli for Best Actress (h'mmm), and Joel Grey for Best Supporting Actor (supporting?? lead, surely!). This is an effective movie of the Fred Ebb-John Kander Broadway musical, which was based on John Van Druten's play, I Am A Camera. No light-weight cutsie-pie froth here, we see the people who prefer to party when the world is collapsing as Nazism rises. "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes" has to be one of theatre's outstanding kicks in the ass. Amazon link .
Kiss Me Kate. Cole Porter's music certainly gives this show a nice impact, although the script has some strange problems and inconsistencies. The story is a play within a play: a theatre company is presenting Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. The movie version stars Howard Keel as Fred Graham/Petruchio and Kathryn Grayson as Lilli Vanessi/Katherine. Both have marvelous voices. That doesn't mean marvelous acting, but they do a decent job in the tradition of Hollywood musicals. Ann Miller, praised often for her legs, shows them off in "Too Darn Hot" in an apartment, a number that the stage version gives to a male plus the company in an alley outside the theatre. No matter: there's no inherent reason for that song to be in the story anyhow. Amazon link.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Not surprisingly, the movie eliminates the stage show's neat intimacy. A well-done stage presentation requires a spontaneity, and of course the movie lacks that. The camera is quite busy here, too busy for me to get into the show. Amazon link.
The Sound of Music.
I admit I'm grumpy about this show--on
stage or as a movie--because it is so cloyingly saccharine, but it
has its fans. The best part of the movie is Julie Andrews singing,
but even she can't save that opening helicopter shot, which strains my willing
suspension of belief past the breaking point. Christopher Plummer,
often a very good actor, walks stiffly through this movie and seems disinterested
in the goings-on, but maybe he just doesn't like sugar.
Louis E. Catron
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