David Bruce: The Funniest People in Theater: 250 Anecdotes — Critics, Dance

Critics

• After seeing actress Diana Rigg in a brief nude scene in the play Abelard and Heloise, caustic critic John Simon wrote, “Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses.” The next day, as Ms. Rigg went to the theater, she hoped that no one would recognize her. Fortunately, all of the cast members knew better than to mention the review. After a few weeks, however, she began to think the review funny and soon started quoting it. (By the way, Ms. Rigg knows an actress — not herself — who saw Mr. Simon in a New York restaurant and took the opportunity to dump a plate of potato salad on his head.)

• Robert Benchley was asked to become drama critic for Life, a humorous magazine, but he was reluctant to accept the job. Workers at Life therefore asked him to stop by and look around. When Mr. Benchley arrived, they shoved him into the critic’s office and locked the door. Mr. Benchley worked for Life for eight years.

• For years, Percy Hammond was happy as a feared drama critic for the Chicago Tribune. Upon being invited to move to New York City and perform criticism upon Broadway productions, he hesitated, saying, “I’m 47, and it is very difficult for me to make new enemies at my time of life.”

• Drama critic Robert Benchley once watched a play that used dialect. Mr. Benchley could stand it no longer when these lines were spoken, “Me Nubi. Nubi good girl. Nubi stay?” He stood up to leave, and told his neighbors, “Me Bobby. Bobby bad boy. Bobby go.”

• The critics hated Mae West’s controversial stage success Catherine Was Great. Ms. West commented, “The way the boys wrote up the show, I’m surprised they weren’t raided. And to think I took out the stronger lines — on account of Lent.”

Dance

• Lee Schubert produced the Broadway show Americana, which featured some of Doris Humphrey’s dances. Mr. Schubert came to a rehearsal, watched for a while, and then said, “Some of the dances are too long. Why can’t they be cut down to the high spots?” Ms. Humphrey replied, “Your contract said these dances are to be intact.” Later, at a dress rehearsal, Mr. Schubert again said, “Miss Humphrey, too long!” This time, she replied, “Mr. Schubert, please keep your predatory hands off my dances.” Mr. Schubert shouted, “I’ll see you never have your dances done on Broadway again.” She answered, “That will be just fine with me.” Then she asked, “Do you know what ‘predatory’ means?”

• Grover Dale was hired to dance the role of Snowboy on Broadway in West Side Story. However, the success of Chita Rivera singing “America” caused a problem for his “Cool” dance, which followed it. Mr. Dale starts the scene doing pushups, and the applause for “America” was so prolonged that instead of doing three or four pushups, he found himself doing 10, then 20, then 30, then 40 pushups. Worried about whether he would have enough energy left to dance, he knew that he had to do something — so he collapsed, seemingly exhausted by the pushups. The audience laughed, and choreographer Jerome Robbins congratulated him afterward on his quick thinking.

• When Simon Robinson became a personal assistant to ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, one of the first things he says he learned is that “dance is pain.” Mr. Nureyev was dancing in The King and I in Cleveland, and a female dancer danced for a few minutes, then exited — and collapsed in great pain. Mr. Robinson came forward to help her, but she told him, “F**k off. Get out of my way.” With a great effort, she straightened up, made another entrance, danced a few more minutes, then exited — and staggered to her dressing room. The other dancers paid little attention to her — such a scene was not new to them.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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