The Overlook Press


fetchclayOur son, Paul Sugarman, is Production Manager at Overlook Press, an independent publishing company that prints a wide variety of books, fiction and non-fiction. Paul  was on our program to talk specifically about the theatre books that Overlook Press publishes. These include play scripts as well as books about theatre. He talked about the process by which plays are selected to be published. as well as some of the books about theatre and theatre people. Having read and enjoyed some of the books, we were eager to hear more about them.

Click below to listen to the interview.

Overlook Press Part 1

Overlook Press Part 2

Then click below to go to Overlook’s website

The Overlook Press

The American Musical: On Broadway and Off

american-musicaldownload-7Bob and I are fans of the American musical. The second radio  program that we did for Theatre Talk in 2011 was about the American musical. Later we talked about musicals with Steve Stettler, a program we have already posted on this blog. We are fortunate in our area to have wonderful musical productions at affordable prices. Each year Barrington Stage has a classical musical on its main stage and new musicals on its second stage. Weston usually has two musicals a season on its main stage, one classic and one contemporary and a smaller musical on its second stage. Oldcastle Theatre has been doing wonderful small productions of musicals, like last season’s Big River. The Berkshire Theatre Group also offers musicals at the Colonial and on its other two stages. Then there are high school and community theatre productions which are delightful. It may take a while before we see Hamilton,  but meanwhile we are enjoying the wonders of the American musical in our own backyard.

While waiting for the musicals to begin again we recommend reading Jack Viertel’s book The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built.  Viertel, who is a Broadway producer, has worked at the Mark Taper Forum and produced the City Center Encore series, is a perfect guide to the musical and its evolution over time. The book starts with the early days of the musical and goes up to and includes Hamilton. Viertel shows what makes a successful musical, song by song, giving examples from many musicals. As he talks about the changes, he also talks about what is constant, what engages audiences and what is special about the musical form. His discussion of primary and secondary plots is enlightening. He highlights those musicals that changed the form. What is essential over time is not only the music, but a story and characters that engage the audience. His discussion of the eleven o’clock number, the I Want song, the second act opening number are all informative. He writes with humor as well as knowledge that comes from his years of experience and his pleasure in the form and the great performers.   As an added bonus, Viertel reviews available recordings of the musicals he discusses as well as some outstanding musicals that he does not discuss. This is a must read for anyone who cares about the unique contribution of the  American musical to world culture.

Click below for our radio program

American Musical Theatre 2/7/11


Maya Cantu and Musical Theatre

6182247The United States is credited with having developed musical theatre as a unique art form. Revivals and DVDs keep many of the older musicals fresh in our memories. New and innovative musicals are continuously being produced, many of them in our area for the first time. Bob and I have delighted in sharing our enthusiasm about the productions of professional, community, college and high school productions we have enjoyed. We also like reading about musical theatre. Recently, there have been several good books on the subject. Imagine how pleased we were to discover that one of those books was written by a faculty member at Bennington College, Maya Cantu. Her book  American Cinderellas on the Broadway Musical Stage also touched on another favorite theme of ours,  women in theatre. Naturally, we contacted her for an interview.Click below to hear what she had to say

Maya Cantu Interview


You might also want to check out her website.


Maya Cantu’s website

Frank Langella

Bob and I first saw Frank Langella at Williamstown Theatre. He played opposite Blythe Danner in The Sea Gull. as well as in  a number of other productions over several seasons. We took our young son, Paul to see him in Cyrano. As a result Paul came home and dressed up as Cyrano, using my old foil as his sword. (I  had taken up fencing at one point in my life.) When a student of Bob’s at Bennington  who was working as an apprentice at the theatre saw pictures Bob had taken, she said Paul must meet Frank. We took him to see the play again, the meeting with Frank occurred and Frank gave him one of his noses from the production. The next time Langella did Cyrano, Paul who was studying theatre at NYU had a roommate who was working at Williamstown and once again met Frank and told him he was the reason, the went into theatre. The third time Langella did Cyrano, Paul, now a married man and publishing theatre books at Applause Books also encountered Frank. He was always very nice to Paul but did think he should stop encouraging young men to go into theatre.

Dropped Names

This is a memoir about all the famous men and women Langella has known. Well, all of the ones that are now dead. He includes one, his good friend Bunny Mellon who at 102 is still alive.

This is his first book and it is very good. The people are recorded in the order that they died. His first encounter is with Marilyn Monroe when he was fifteen and had saved up his money for a trip from his home in New Jersey to New York City. He happened to encounter Marilyn as she was getting out of her car and she said Hi to him and it transformed his young life.

The memories are anywhere from two to six pages long and they bounce all over in terms of time since they are in order of the people’s deaths, an intriguing idea in itself. He refers to his marriages but Wikipedia lists only one so I need to do more research. He did have two children that is clear. He also had lots of lovers. Jackie Kennedy seems to have been one of them and Rita Hayworth definitely was as was Dinah Shore. Some of the memories are of people he knew relatively slightly and others of dear close friends like Raul Julia and Alan Bates. He did like older women although he resisted the charms of an older Elizabeth Taylor.

He starts the book by saying how actors love to drop names of the people that they know, running across so many as they do and this is his way of structuring his memoir. He is very strong in his feelings about people. He hated Lee Strasberg, thinking that he was a phony. Evidently, the feeling was mutual since Langella turned down the opportunity to work at Actors Studio. He also did not fall completely under Kazan’s spell. His take on Arthur Miller was fascinating as he did two productions of After the Fall. He kept asking Arthur to have some insight into Quentin and reflect on what the reasons were that people did not like the character that represented Miller. He saw Miller as lacking insight into himself almost stubbornly. He talks about how he learned to shed his New Jersey accent by listening to Geilgud’s Clarence speech over and over again in his attic room. There is a great deal of sadness in many of the ends of the actors such as Oliver Reed and Richard Burton. He also recognizes when he has been a rude jerk. He is quite stubborn in terms of some of the famous people like Anthony Quinn to whom he will not pay tribute. He says Paul Newman was so beautiful it was a limitation and that essentially he was a very dull man.

One gets glimpses of the days at Williamstown although there is no mention of his Cyranos, but again that is because the focus is on the famous people he has known. Through his relationship with the Mellons he knew a great many wealthy and well positioned people. He had a strong friendship with Anne Bancroft that soured after thirty years which he regrets. Besides the interesting insights into these people, there is also this theme of how people live their lives, particularly creative people. The Brits seem to do somewhat better than the Americans with some exceptions. The book is dedicated to his daughter which is nice. This was a book well worth reading. It was not an angry book like Patti LuPone’s. In some ways it is sad because everyone in it dies, but it also provides an interesting perspective as we see people over time and how they change. So many of the movie stars he met were at the end of their peak which happens quickly for many women, not so fast for the men.

More recently Langella played Lear. Having seen his Prospero, I regret not seeing his Lear. However, our son Paul saw it and was impressed as he always has been by Langella.

Langella on Lear

Patti LuPone


Bob and I saw  Patti LuPone at SUNY Albany  when the Acting Company was touring and later summers in Saratoga.   We were very impressed with the then unknown actors and particularly  with Patti LuPone. The first show we saw her in was The Hostage where she played the tuba.  One season they did The Cradle will Rock with her in it and it was a thrilling experience. Therefore reading her autobiography was particularly intriguing.  I have included an interview she did five months ago as well.  The theme of women in theatre is worth revisiting.

Patti LuPone: A Memoir  with Digby Diehl

Published in 2010, this is Patti’s story of her life until then. It is very honest and direct and one believes that one is hearing her voice. At first, it seems like everything was painful for her. When she is having a good time, she says that, of course, something terrible is going to happen and it does. I kept thinking that she spent her life being miserable. She had a lot of difficulty with Juilliard, particularly John Houseman who didn’t like her and who was very insulting to her continuously. She did enjoy the Acting Company and being in Saratoga. She also had a good romantic relationship with Kevin Kline for a good number of years. However, she had problems galore with Evita, in terms of singing and it seems that she was always storming out of situations or leaving or threatening to leave.  There seemed justification for her reputation of being difficult. She is clear about whom she likes and whom she doesn’t. That is putting it far mildly than she does.

In the middle of the book, however, everything changes. First, she meets her husband whom she adores and who seems like a steadying influence on her. Even though Le Miz had its problems, she enjoyed the work. Then there is the Sunset Boulevard fiasco. Andrew Lloyd Webber is so obnoxious that you are all on Patty’s side.  She was always getting bad reviews from the New York Times despite her success with audiences. One feels for her and understands why she wrecks her dressing room. Then she has really wonderful professional experiences. She loved doing Sweeney Todd. Working with Arthur Laurents in Gypsy was great and she even gets a good review from the New York Times. This time it is from Ben Brantley and not Frank Rich. She loved working with Mandy Patinkin and really enjoyed North as a director. Being a mother and a wife certainly mellow her a great deal in the course of the book. One ends up appreciating her.

Life in the theatre is hard. She also did a television program with a costar who hated her and whom she hated. She played Lady Bird Johnson with Randy Quaid. So, her experience has been varied. She was even in a Steven Spielberg movie. She really likes Sondheim and was happy doing his shows. Glenn Close comes across as really insensitive even though Patti never meets her. It becomes clear that acting is hard work, but that when it works, there is a sense of companionship and trust that is unique and quite special. Bob was surprised at my initial negativity about the book because he liked it and by the time I finished it I did too and had a lot of admiration for Patti, not only for her talent which was evident when we first saw her with the Acting Company in Saratoga, but in her work since then, but also for her spirit and her honesty.

Patti LuPone

Tina Packer

Tina Packer is a remarkable individual whom we have had the pleasure of knowing for many years. She was the founding director of Shakespeare and Company and continues with the company as an actress and a director and an inspiration for everyone. She was also recently appointed as Monan Professor in Theatre Arts at Boston College for the 2014-2015 academic year. She has previously lectured  at many different colleges and has received many awards for her acting and directing.

She is also an author. In 2001 she applied her knowledge of Shakespeare to management with her co-writer John Whitney in the book  Power Plays: Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership & Management. She also wrote a book for children  Tales from Shakespeare (2004) which  received the Parents’ Choice Award. She as a new book coming out in 2015 Women of Will based on her wonderful theatrical presentation of the various women in Shakespeare’s plays and how he evolved in his understanding of them.

There is a very readable book about the founding of Shakespeare and Company called Companies She Keeps: Tina Packer Builds a Theatre by Helen Epstein.  This book was published in 1985 when Shakespeare and Company had been in operation for eight years. This was about when we started going to it..

Tina’s quality comes through clearly in this book. All that I have always loved about her is evident. She is a vital force and her ideas about Shakespeare as vital and funny come through. I could hear so much of what our son Paul learned from her and Kristin Linklater as I read this book. It is also fun to see mentioned people that we have gotten to know more recently being referred to, such as Tony Simotes and John Hadden.  We see pictures of  the children Jason Asprey, Tina’s son  and Hamish LInklater  who are now actors in their own right, carrying on the wonderful traditions of their parents. .

The energy that is Tina shines on every page. She was an excellent fund raiser and grant writer because she believed so fully in what she was doing. It is interesting to learn that she has directed Learned Ladies a number of times. She wanted to be a director more than an actress. She wanted to play women who killed or were killed, so her Women of Will givers her that opportunity. She wanted to make Shakespeare’s language accessible and from the beginning clowning was also important in bringing Shakespeare alive. “Dropping in” is described in great detail and there are examples of Kristin’s and Tina’s classes. Much that is now in operation was there from the beginning, including Shakespeare in the Schools program, as well as the Winter Workshop. I am glad I finally got to read this book. It read quickly because it is smoothly written and because it was so meaningful to me personally, knowing the company as we do.

There is a women of will website

Meanwhile here is a trailer of when Nigel Gore and Tina performed Women of Will in New York

Women of Will

Reading about theatre

Besides going to theatre and talking about it afterwards as we drive home, Bob and I like to read about theatre and this blog provides an opportunity for me to report on some of the books that have given me insight into the lives of those engaged in theatre as well as the history of theatre. One of the books I found particularly valuable was Original Story By  by Arthur Laurents;

This is a fascinating book giving rise to much thinking about our history as a culture and about how things have changed. This is a memoir of Broadway and Hollywood since Laurents was both a playwright and a screen writer. His name originally was Arthur Levine. Being Jewish is one of his problems, being homosexual at a time when it was condemned was another. He does seem to have had an incredibly active sex life. Fortunately, AIDS was not a problem at the time but one of the characteristics of these autobiographies of theatrical folk, particularly by men, is a full account of all their sexual adventures. Laurents did also have affairs with women such as Nora Kaye, who was a dear friend as well as a lover. He tried to cure his homosexuality by going into psychoanalysis with Theodore  Reik who sounds like the fraud that he was. He had a fairly long affair with Farley Granger . The only other man that he lived with for many years was Tom Hatcher who became his life-long companion.

It was interesting to catch glimpses of people that I knew such as Mike Gordon and Ralph Alswang in this chronicle. It is fairly chronological in its telling although there is some jumping around as he records different aspects of his relationship with people like Jerome Robbins. Laurents’ problem with the House Unamerican Committee came about because of a casual remark by Russell Crouse. Laurents was never a communist although he knew some and was left leaning. The Communists did not approve of homosexuality. He makes the observation that people were not evil because they informed. They informed because they were evil. Their nature was to be self-serving and ambitious. He provides detailed accounts of West Side Story and Gypsy. He really liked the performances by Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly better because they could act which Merman couldn’t. One of his great directorial successes was Les Cage aux Folles.

The book concludes when he is 81 and in good health. He died at age 93. He was directing into his nineties much like the famed George Abbott. One gets a sense of the changing Hollywood and New York scene, particularly since his play Jolson Sings Again  opened regionally and not on Broadway. We catch glimpses of Katherine Hepburn who seems not very nice, Anatole Litvak, George Cukor, David Merrick and others . Laurents brief discussion of celebrity is interesting and is well demonstrated in the actions of the various people in this book. This leads one to want to read more biographies and autobiographies. I don’t feel that this summary does justice to the complexity of the book and the questions it leads to in terms of our culture and of the role of theatre. One great moment is when he talks about the most wonderful sound in theatre and that is silence when the audience is so raptly attentive that not a sound is heard. Actors like that first laugh but all theatre people know the quality of this sound of silence. There is such a difference between the playwright and the screen writer. One of Laurents’ functions at MGM was to refuse to work on scripts. When he discusses Rope  and Alfred Hitchcock, he makes the observation that James Stewart probably didn’t know that his character was gay.