A Question for all the Old-Timers (Golden Age Broadway)

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CapnHook
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In today's day and age of Broadway where the "stars" include a chandelier, a helicoptor, a sinking ocean-liner, puppets, a turntable, flying theatrics, a jukebox of songs, a popular movie of the silver screen, and/or a B-list name from Hollywood...

Do you think we have any stars today of the golden age caliber?

There were SOOOOO many BROADWAY names back name, often playing in theatres across the street from each other. Ethel Merman, Julie Andrews, Mary Martin, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Marlon Brando, etc. etc. etc.

Just a few moments ago on television someone made a remark about "Broadway stars" on television. And I was asked who some of the "stars" are. And the only name that came to my head was BERNADETTE PETERS.

There are several names and shows that have large fan-groups. John Tartaglia, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Wicked, Spring Awakening, Wicked, etc. etc. But it's quite different today being a "fan" of someone than in yester-year when you had Mary Martin starring in a plethora of shows as opposed to John Tartaglia having only two Broadway credits - one of which only being a show he joined recently.

So all you old-timers out there, what are your thoughts about today's lack of "Broadway stars" and today's fandom? Was there a "fandom" for these stars back in the day as there is today for Idina Menzel, an actress who also only has three Broadway credits?
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John Tartaglia? Don't think so. His vast Broadway repertoire doesn't really scream Broadway Superstar.

Our Golden Age? Most definitely Kristin Chenoweth, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Nathan Lane, Christine Ebersole, Sutton Foster, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Christopher Sieber, Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Vereen, Liza Minnelli, Charlotte d'Amboise, Terrence Mann, Karen Ziemba, etc.

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Although I'm not an "Old-Timer", I'd say that Bernadette Peters is certainly one of them. Along with Patti LuPone, Ann Reinking, Kristin Chenoweth, Bebe Neuwirth & Christine Ebersole.

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Updated On: 12/31/06 at 10:25 PM
Fenchurch
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Do you think we have any stars today of the golden age caliber?

There were SOOOOO many BROADWAY names back name, often playing in theatres across the street from each other. Ethel Merman, Julie Andrews, Mary Martin, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Marlon Brando, etc. etc. etc.


History exaggerates, there are great stars today, but Peters isn't one of them.
However, also understand that in the "golden age" a lot of the broadway stars were mainstream stars, because the music they sang was pop music.

Just a few moments ago on television someone made a remark about "Broadway stars" on television. And I was asked who some of the "stars" are. And the only name that came to my head was BERNADETTE PETERS.

Some other stars I could name (regardless of my opinion of them) are Lupone, Bebe Neuwirth, Nathan Lane, Chenoweth, etc.

Also one of the reasons we dont have any stars with longevity (lots of shows) to their credit, is that they can make more money and get more notoreity doing television and film (Lane, Chenoweth, Neuwirth, Lupone all did/do television.

It's not that there are a lack of stars, its just that the media isn't giving the form enough real attention to make stars out of anyone.
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As an "old timer," I would have to say that today's "stars" are very different from those of "yesteryear." I believe the principal difference is the use of microphones. Today anyone with a reasonably attractive voice can be amplified into a Broadway role. But the stars in the 50's and 60's had vocal talents of a very different caliber. Many of them had not only beautiful singing voices but powerful speaking voices. Many of them did not even try TV or movies because their talents were so particularly developed for the live theater venue. As you can tell from my name, one of personal favorites was Alfred DRake (although I only saw him toward the end of his career - I'm not THAT old.) Hollyowood actors show up on Broadway because their voices can be manipulated to make them audible in the theater - without that help, many of them wouldn't be heard beyond the second row.
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SOmething else we should consider too... Teh Broadway stars had shows written around their talents. CALL ME MADAM for Merman. SOUTH PACIFIC for Martin. HELLO DOLLY! for Channing. KISMET for Drake, adn so on.

The trend today is NOT to write for specific stars because the shows have to run years while few stars will stay more than a year or two.

Cast albums are NOT "soundtracks."
Live theatre does not use a "soundtrack." If it did, it wouldn't be live theatre!

I host a weekly one-hour radio program featuring cast album selections as well as songs by cabaret, jazz and theatre artists. The program, FRONT ROW CENTRE is heard Sundays 9 to 10 am and also Saturdays from 8 to 9 am (eastern times) on www.proudfm.com

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I'm not an old timer but I know Nathan Lane will be considered in the years to come.

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Plus the Broadway stars back then had the status of a movie star, right?

As far as talent? First names that come to mind are Sutton Foster (for her triple-threat being) and Victoria Clarke (that's self-explanatory)
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I don't know how many of today's stars will stand the test of time. All the golden year folks Capn listed were household names in their prime and retained the status of a legend later on.

From BrodyFosse's list, the only stars that the general public may have a faint familiarity with is Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Nathan Lane, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth and Liza Minelli (and half of those folks are probably more famous because of their mainstream movie/TV roles).
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"there are great stars today, but Peters isn't one of them"

fenchurch, why do you think that? I would think Peters is one of musical theatre's biggest stars right now.
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Of all the people mentioned in that list, Peters is probably the only one folks will associate with "Broadway". She's stuck with it for three decades now, so she has longevity if nothing else. Streep and Close are movie actors, guys; when they come to do a play, it's pretty much slumming because they're between films. Lupone is a disco diva these days, far better known for her concerts than her performances. Nathan Lane? Hard to say, because his career in general has been so scattershot -- he did great in "The Producers", then followed that with the vastly inferior "Frogs" and the abortion that was the film version of "Producers". He's trying a bit too desperately to be the next Mostel (another Broadway legend that deserves to be on that original list), and it aint working for him. Chenoweth right now is a flash in the pan, with a couple of successes under her belt. But she's pretty much just starting her career, and frankly she's a bit of a one-trick pony at the moment because her approach to everything is more or less the same. She's almost like the Britney Spears of Broadway.

The rest? No one outside NY would recognize them, partially because Broadway has become more and more an insular world unto itself and partially because, as noted, the media reports more on blockbuster movies that will be seen by millions worldwide over a Broadway show that's more and more just a blockuster film with a bad score jerry-rigged onto it. I find it interesting that when the news weeklies report on professional theatre these days, it's more likely a straight play than a musical.
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It's a whole different environment now on Broadway, as far as "stars."

On the positive side, the Internet has given added life to special interest audiences. So those of you who like Broadway can be exposed to SO many things you wouldn't have been, even 15 years ago. This web site talks about the third replacement for so-and-so in a mediocre show that runs less than two years. People know their names, their resumes, attendance records, spouses, and everything about them. They are treated by this relatively small, fiercely loyal group as mega-stars in their own rights.

So people who really care about all things Broadway now have access to detailed information about "who and what" whenever they want it. The Internet has created more buzz and a much wider audience for these performers who in a different era would have gone forgotten, simply because the information wouldn't have been readily available.

But, as far as "real" Broadway stars that "everyone" knows... if you're running a general popularity contest with the masses, stop someone on the street (outside of NY) and ask them if they know who Bernadette Peters is. Probably more than half (not all) would say yes. Ask them who Kristin Chenoweth is? Most of them (not all) would say they don't know. Bernadette is from a different era though. Not the Golden Age, but she also had a TV and film career first, before returning to Broadway in the '80s. She arrived in Sunday in the Park with a nationwide recognizability-factor that had nothing to do with her previous stage appearances.

Kristin created a role, had songs written for her, etc., in the biggest hit show Broadway has seen in the past decade. But that show was never sold to the public as a "Kristin Chenoweth/Idina Menzel" show. It was sold as a commodity. A machine. The producers didn't want it to matter who you saw in pink or green. They sold the spectacle and the story... not the stars.
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Updated On: 1/1/07 at 09:15 AM
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But the allure to TV/Hollywood is strong - Alan Cummings in addition to the others stated here. And if you're going to put Glenn Close in, why not John Lithgow?

Lastly, as to shows written for performers, I'd heard that Hello Dolly was originally written for Merman and there were several songs written just for her voice and when she finally did perform it on Broadway she stopped the show, said "Ya wanna here more?" and launched into the songs.
Updated On: 1/1/07 at 10:34 AM
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If you watch Rick McKay's film the question of whether or not the Golden Age existed is raised. The past always seems better than the present, and I believe that we do have Broadway stars now - though not as widely known as those in the past.
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Hello Dolly was written for Merman. Channing auditioned for the role and got it, when Merman turned it down.

Andrews was in three golden age shows: The Boyfriend, My Fair Lady and Camelot. When she starred in the TV musical of Cinderella (while she was simultaneously on Broadway), it was the highest rated TV special in the history of television (to that point).

...And this was all before she made her first film "Mary Poppins."
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you can kiss my old-time ass, you pollywog.... ;oP

Nathan, Bernadette, and Patti
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I don't understand how Marlon Brando is a big Broadway name, but that's for another time.
The Merman legacy was done a great service by her having done the Hollywood thing. People generally do associate her with Broadway, but they're more likely to go for a copy of There's No Business Like Show Business to begin their explorations of her work before they get an OBC of Gypsy. There are, of course, exceptions to that, but I've generally noted that to be the case.
Mary Martin was fabulous, but I don't think she'd be as widely known without the telecast of Peter Pan. Though everyone who was witness to Jean Arthur's Pan just a few years before said hers was the best they'd ever seen or would see, it is Martin that we remember because of the magical whirr of a camera. And of course, though Jean did quite a few shows in her time (and gained notoriety for getting in trouble with Equity on more than one occasion), who immediately thinks of the plays she did in the 30's when she escaped typecasting in Hollywood and went to the Great White Way? She's Jimmy Stewart's girl in Mr. Smith for all time. Wait, hold on, the true question would be, "Who remembers Jean Arthur?" but I digress.
Christine Ebersole has bounced from New York to Hollywood and back again, and as great as she has been in any role she's played, no one I've told about her in Grey Gardens has made the connection when I say, "She won a Tony in 2001 for 42nd St." They know who she is when I finally say, "She was Richie Rich's mom." If, as years go by, she is deemed "Golden Age" quality, of being widely known, it'll be partly because of her movies.
It's like writing "Norma Shearer for the win!" in a Joan Crawford biography.
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Rodgers and Hammerstein would have written for Sutton Foster and Nathan Lane. As would Cole Porter (he'd have loved Natan at a dinner party) and Irving Berlin. I think Gershwin would have been moved by Audra MacDonald and Kurt Weill would have thrown Lotta over for Bebe Neuwirth.

Our big stars would have flourished back then, but what we lack are the Robert Prestons and Phil Silvers. Matthew B. is not THAT talented and Nathan Lane can't do everything.

We need two more Nathan Lanes.
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Updated On: 1/1/07 at 03:21 PM
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(Rodgers and Hammerstein would have written for Sutton Foster and Nathan Lane. As would Cole Porter (he'd have loved Natan at a dinner party) and Irving Berlin. I think Gershwin would have been moved by Audra MacDonald and Kurt Weill would have thrown Lotta over for Bebe Neuwirth.)

That's an interesting take on it. Perhaps it's not the stars that are different, it's the material?
It's like writing "Norma Shearer for the win!" in a Joan Crawford biography.
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Good points, Miss.Vanessi!

I would say that Ethel Merman and Bernadette Peters have had similar career paths. They both did theatre in NY early on, but then were taken away to Hollywood. Both made national names for themselves on film (and for Bernadette on TV as well) before returning to NY as major Broadway stars. People do forget that both of these ladies had film careers. Just as Jean Arthur did. (Although Jean's biggest and most-remembered successes came on film, as you have said.)

There are very few Broadway stars that have worked exclusively in the theatre, and yet maintained a nationwide "star" status. The Lunts made only a couple of rare film appearances. Katharine Cornell barely at all (except as herself in Stage Door Canteen). Same with Laurette Taylor, who made a couple of silent films. Gertie Lawrence and Noel Coward made a handful of film appearances.

Helen Hayes won an Oscar as Best Actress in the early '30s, even though she was "The First Lady" of the American Theatre. She also toured the country in most of her Broadway shows, so she had a nationwide exposure as a theatre actress that few (if any) achieve today.

We have only a few theatre stars today who have made "box office" names for themselves without gathering steam via other media... and before getting their name-above-the-title treatment.
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Today, there are too few actors who can command stages the way the Mermans and Channings of yesteryear did. Those were people who did show after show, year after year, season after season. They had no pressure to be anything more than "theater stars" - some tried to make it in other mediums, others didn't.

The "theater stars" of today are people like Victoria Clark (who finally got her due in Piazza), Debra Monk, Christine Ebersole, Kelli O'Hara (to a certain extent), Michael Cerveris, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Nathan Lane...I don't want to say they've never tried - Ebersole was on Saturday Night Live, Monk does TV guest shots every now and then, Stokes was recurring on Frasier.
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The Times do change everything.
In "The Golden Age" there were no coperate sponsers on shows (that I can think of) and I agree most shows today are produced to exist without a "star".
I think a good example is MARY POPPINS, as beautiful and talented as Ashley Brown is, she is basically an unknown in the entertainment business.
If this show was done in "The Golden Age" it would have probably been shaped on a performer like Mary Martin who already had a theatre following. After her stay she would then have been replaced by an up in coming name like Florence Henderson or Shirley Jones and they would have made a name for themselves in future shows.
Most shows today are looking at the long term and as has been stated, must work whoever plays the leading role.
That said I believe their are many young and not so young performers who are just as charasmatic and talented as those that came before them.
Like Ms. Brown, Sutton Foster, Cheno, Gavin Creel, Michael Arden, Jenn Collela, Will Chase, Chris Seiber, John Tartaglia come to mind as talents who would have fit right in back then.
(and many more also)
Updated On: 1/1/07 at 04:32 PM
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Brian Stokes Mitchell became pretty well known as a regular on television first in the '70s on "Trapper John MD" (along with Gregory Harrison) before making a name for himself in the theatre world.
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When my family saw Brian Stokes Mitchell's solo CD ads in my Spelling Bee playbill, the only thing they recognized him from was The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
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Bernadette Peters has starred in more Broadway musicals than any other performer in history-- golden age or not.
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