Farrago for April 12–April 18

Highlights from the week ahead.

farrago, n. — A confused group; a medley, mixture, hotchpotch.


APRIL 12

1923: Ann Miller—christened Johnnie Lucille Collier—is born in Chireno, Texas. She made tappa tappa tappa look as easy as anything, but it was always the result of hours and hours of rehearsal and discipline. One has to marvel at her longevity, doing routines in her later years that still amaze.

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1932: Herbert Butros Khaury—known to eternity as “Tiny Tim”—is born in Manhattan. Delightfully bizarre in almost every respect of his life and career, Tiny Tim fashioned a legacy out of falsetto, the Great American Songbook, and the ukulele.


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APRIL 13

“Astride of a grave and a difficult birth, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps.”

1906: Author, playwright, and theatrical titan Samuel Beckett is born in Dublin, Ireland. There is much to misunderstand in Beckett as there is to understand, and whatever his challenges, the words, images, and performances are always compelling.

HAMM: What’s he doing?
CLOV: He’s crying.
HAMM: Then he’s living.
Endgame

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1941: Dame Margaret Price is born in Blackwood, Wales.

APRIL 14

1868: Architect, designer, and artist Peter Behrens is born in Hamburg. One of the principal figures of Jugendstil (the Germanic iteration of “art nouveau), Behrens was an early member of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, leader of the School for Applied Arts in Düsseldorf, and later a crucial founder of the German Werkbund, an important entity bridging the English Arts and Crafts movement and the later Bauhaus. Behrens’s oeuvre spanned industrial and interior design, and he masterminded everything from the AEG turbine works in Berlin to the finest teapots you’ll ever see. His later expressionistic work in the Twenties continued his unique fusion of design-in-the-everyday, but his legacy is marred by a later but unrealized commission for a new AEG plant in Albert Speer’s Berlin. Woodcuts were only an occasional part of Behrens’s output, but, as with his industrial graphic design, the aesthetic is clear. “The Kiss” (Der Kuss) is my personal favorite, a fascinating display of fin-de-siècle desire and androgyny taking strong cues from Aubrey Beardsley. It is—fitting the duality of the protagonists—a frequent image associated with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, serving as cover for the Dover reprint of the Peters edition of the full score and Bernstein’s later recording.

No photo description available.
Peter Behrens, “Der Kuss.” Pan 4, no. 2 (1898).


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1932: Loretta Lynn is born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky.

APRIL 15

“There’s lots of chaff,
But there’s lots of wheat.
Say yes.”

1971: Kander and Ebb’s 70, Girls, 70 opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on this date in 1971. In telling the story of an intrepid group of senior citizens who plan a fur heist to help buy out their endangered retirement hotel (Make Mine Mink territory), the duo created one of their better scores, mired by an uneven play-within-a-play concept. Despite boasting a cast with Mildred Natwick, Hans Conreid, and a who’s who of show biz vets, the production suffered from a number of issues and ran only 35 performances before closing. Similar to Follies, which opened not two weeks prior, 70, Girls, 70 took a serious glance at aging and aging bodies, though a far more optimistic one than Sondheim & Co. As Clive Barnes closed his review, “This is a musical of gentle pleasures, which may well please most the old who are young in heart, and everyone else who likes to see old people having fun. It is certainly different from Hair.” Despite being a revival oddity, the show boasts a terrific original cast album. Get through your Wednesday with the 11 o’clock number “Say Yes.”


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1971: Igor Stravinsky’s (final) funeral ceremony takes place in at Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice before his burial on the island of San Michele.

APRIL 16

1939: Dusty Springfield, christened Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, is born in West Hampstead, London.


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1942: Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra , op. 17, premieres during a concert of “seconds” with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter. The new work was sandwiched between the respective symphonies of Dvořák and Brahms. Of Barber’s three short works entitled “essays,” this is perhaps the best, a compact movement of elegant development. My first hearing was at Valparaiso University, on a bill with the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and a stand-alone performance of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. If you only know the Adagio for Strings (good, but like most slow string movements, overplayed), this should be your next stop.

APRIL 17

“Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.”

1897: Author and playwright Thornton Wilder is born in Madison, Wisconsin.

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1940: Anja Silja, the consummate singing-actress of the twentieth century, is born in Berlin, Germany.

APRIL 18

1882: Leopold Stokowski is born in London. The most iconic podium superstar, despite many others trying—Stokowski’s theatrical image often obscured the high quality of his music-making and the breadth of his repertoire.


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1934: Tenor George Shirley is born in Indianapolis, Indiana.


Until next week!

Acid Drops from Mrs. Pat.

by Cecil Beaton bromide print on white card mount 1938 © Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby’s London

Source: Mrs Patrick Campbell – National Portrait Gallery

I came across an excerpt in Theatre Arts in 1961 from photographer Cecil Beaton’s diaries during the period when he photographed Mrs. Patrick Campbell in this pose in 1938 (full image at the National Portrait Gallery). Living in New York City under reduced—but still defiantly grand—means, the legendary stage actress insisted on paying Beaton thirty dollars for his work, which she commended glowingly: “Oh, that shadow under the jaw! You’re a genius to put in that shadow. And no one has taken such a photograph of gloved hands. Those gloves are alive. Look at the depth between the thumb and first finger. That’s what everyone wants to have!”

A few other bon mots from Beaton’s reminiscences:

Mrs. Pat on Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre: “They have no reverence, those boys. They speak the lines as if they had written them themselves. You can’t recite the Song of David spontaneously. You must recite it as David. Mr. Welles’ Brutus is like an obstetrician who very seriously visits a lady in order to placate her nerves.”

On standards of beauty: “In my day, beauties were poetic-looking. They wore long, pre-Raphaelite tea gowns. They moved and spoke very slowly, giving the impression that they had just been possessed.”

On posture and movement: “In moments of anxiety, you must never throw your head from side to side. It is foolish and restless. Raise the head and clasp it still; no, not with your hands, with your spirit! Now you’re learning all my tricks!”

Beaton took all her grande dame exhortations, at that time already redolent of a bygone age, in stride: “As a teacher she is excellent. Her criticisms are cannily apt, and one relishes her cruelty.”

And, for a guide to her vocal cadence, consult her performance in the 1934 film One More River: “They’re sure to do something stuffy!”