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Back To The Sixties – Politics, News, Polls, Economy, Wellbeing, and World
Art & Culture
Back To The Sixties

By George Heymont

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On May 24, 1966, one of my favorite musicals opened on Broadway. Not only did Mame receive rave reviews from critics, Jerry Herman’s musical catapulted Angela Lansbury into a new phase of her remarkable career. As we look back from a vantage point of 50 years, it becomes obvious that the success of Mame stood smack in the middle of a golden age of musical theatre.

Not only did 1966 begin with several long-running hits packing in audiences, some great talents were entertaining audiences.

  • Over at the St. James Theatre, Carol Channing was nearing the end of her appearances in the original Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly! (Ginger Rogers would take over the title role in August of that year).
  • Fiddler on the Roof was still selling out at the Imperial Theatre.
  • Funny Girl (with Mimi Hines starring as Fanny Brice) moved from the Winter Garden to the Majestic in March and would remain there until November.
  • Holdovers that would close during 1966 included Half A Sixpence at the Broadhurst, Skyscraper (starring Julie Harris) at the Lunt-Fontanne, and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (starring Barbara Harris) at the Mark Hellinger.
  • During 1966, Sweet Charity (starring Gwen Verdon) was the opening production of the newly-restored Palace Theatre and the Music Theatre of Lincoln Center’s hit revival of Annie Get Your Gun (starring Ethel Merman) transferred to the Broadway Theatre for a limited run. Although there were some notable musical failures (Pousse-Cafe, Chu Chem, A Time for Singing, A Joyful Noise), new musicals included It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman, Cabaret, The Apple Tree, Walking Happy, and I Do! I Do! (starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston).
  • Of the 16 new musicals playing on Broadway in 1966, nine received film adaptations.
  • Composers (and composer/lyricists) represented on Broadway that year included Irving Berlin, Jule Styne, Cy Coleman, Jerry Herman, Oscar Brand, Jimmy van Heusen, David Heneker, Jerry Bock, Burton Lane, John Morris, Duke Ellington, Charles Strouse, John Kander, Mitch Leigh, and Harvey Schmidt.
  • Lyricists represented on Broadway in 1966 included Sammy Cahn, Bob Merrill, Dorothy Fields, Sheldon Harnick, Alan Jay Lerner, Gerald Freedman, Lee Adams, Fred Ebb, and Tom Jones.

Ironically, two musicals whose stories are set in the 1960s recently received back-to-back opening nights in San Francisco. Instead of looking back at the turbulent decade which most of us remember for its race riots, political assassinations, and the birth of the LGBT movement, these two shows offered a chance to revisit the 1960s through the lens of musical theatre.

* * * * * * * * * *

Many people have fond memories of 1987’s Dirty Dancing, a film set in a Catskills resort which starred Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. The film was subsequently adapted for the musical stage, premiering on November 18, 2004, at the Theatre Royal in Sydney, Australia.

Following national tours of Australia and New Zealand, productions of Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story Onstage have been staged in Hamburg, Berlin, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and London (as well as touring to theatres across the United Kingdom and Ireland).

Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and Jenny Winton (Penny) in
a scene from Dirty Dancing (Photo by: Matthew Murphy)

Dirty Dancing’s first North American tour began in Toronto in 2007 and continued on to Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles but never made it to Broadway (most likely because of the Great Recession of 2008). On September 2, 2014, a 31-city tour premiered at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. Although several new leads have stepped into the roles of Johnny Castle and Baby since the show left the nation’s capital, when Dirty Dancing touched down at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco it was greeted with high-pitched screams of approval from a welcoming audience with fond memories of the film.

The action takes place in the summer of 1963, several months before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated (followed by the assassinations of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.) and the Gulf of Tonkin incident on August 2, 1964 — which dramatically escalated America’s military involvement in the Vietnam War.

For Dr. Jake Houseman (Mark Elliot Wilson) and his wife, Marjorie (Margot White), a three-week vacation at a popular resort owned by their friend, Max Kellerman (Gary Lynch), offers a welcome escape from suburban boredom as well as a chance for their two teenage daughters, Frances “Baby” Houseman (Rachel Boone) and Lisa Houseman (Alex Scolari), to meet some nice (hopefully Jewish) boys.

Christopher Tierney and Rachel Boone in a
scene from Dirty Dancing (Photo by: Matthew Murphy)

Although Kellerman’s has been a popular resort for many years (and Max was the first in the area to integrate his staff), as Bob Dylan warned, “The times they are a’changing.” Instead of going into the family business, Kellerman’s son, Neil (Jesse Carrey-Beaver), wants to join some of his friends on Freedom rides through the Deep South after the summer season ends. While the waiters and entertainers have strict rules against socializing with the guests, there’s no stopping the wealthy widows and horny cougars who are willing to tip generously in exchange for a young man’s sexual favors.

The set-up is obvious. Baby can’t wait to lose her virginity and, when the star dancer’s partner, Penny Johnson (Jenny Winton), gets knocked up and needs an abortion, the 17-year-old “Daddy’s girl” rushes to the rescue. In addition to getting Dr. Houseman to lend her the money for Penny’s abortion, Baby also agrees to learn Penny’s dance routine and perform it with Johnny Castle (Christopher Tierney) at the neighboring Sheldrake Hotel.

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Jenny Winton (Penny), Rachel Boone (Baby), and
Christopher Tierney (Johnny), in a scene from
Dirty Dancing (Photo by: Matthew Murphy)

Smoothly directed by James Powell (with choreography by Michele Lynch), Dirty Dancing is a well-oiled entertainment machine that stays lean and tight throughout the evening. What impressed me most was the show’s production values, beginning with the set design by Stephen Brimson Lewis, costume design by …read more

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