BROADWAY RECALL: Shakespeare As We Like It

June 16
8:23 AM 2012

Welcome to BROADWAY RECALL, a bi-monthly column where's Chief Theatre Critic, Michael Dale, delves into the archives and explores the stories behind the well-known and the not so well-known videos and photographs of Broadway's past. Look for BROADWAY RECALL every other Saturday.

If the Tony Awards annually strike the final chord for each New York theatre season, then the overture for the next one is undoubtedly trumpeted by The New York Shakespeare Festival's free performances at the Delacorte Theater.  Presented by The Public Theater, Shakespeare in the Park has become such a beloved New York tradition that many are unaware that it was a radical idea back in the 1950s, when Joseph Papp got into a legal battle with parks commissioner Robert Moses over the free Shakespeare performances he was producing on the grass near Turtle Pond.  Moses insisted that Papp charge something, even a penny, so that the money could be used to cover the erosion of the grass, but Papp stuck to his belief that free access to great theatre is a civic necessity.  Finally, the frustrated Moses declared, "Well, let's build the bastard a theater," and designated city funds to build the Delacorte, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year.

Here's a brief history of Joseph Papp's vision, and how it's being nurtured in the 21st Century by the Public's artistic director, Oskar Eustis:

New Yorker theatre-goers are well known for being willing to patiently wait in line for a bargain, and a big hit at the Delacorte often means those eager for tickets camping out on the street before the park opens and waiting in line all day, as depicted in this fun video from 2010:

Shakespeare in the Park attracts some of the world's finest stage actors to an environment that is not always hospitable to the performing arts.  Here's Tonya Pinkins describing some of the natural hazards regularly encountered:

Occasionally, the Public goes a bit beyond the bard's repertoire.  Along with the popular As You Like It, this season will feature Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into The Woods.  After 1971's production of the musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona, the first completely non-Shakespearean offering at the Delacorte was a raucously funny reimagining of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance.  This clip from that production features the late Tony Azito, who fascinated audiences with his rubbery physical skills playing the sergeant of police:


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Michael Dale After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.

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