Monday, October 23, 2017

Hey Abbott

Having recently read the memoir of Harold Prince, one of the most important producer/directors Broadway has ever known, I figured I'd go back and read the memoir of his mentor, George Abbott.

It's called Mr. Abbott--not George's idea, but his publisher's.  That's what everyone called him, after all, so why not?

I had the same problem with this book that I had with Prince's.  It's not a long book, and considering how many shows he had a hand in--as actor, author, director and producer--I wish he'd devoted practically every page to these productions.

Instead, we get lengthy discussions of his personal life (not to mention occasional short essays on some subject of interest to Abbott) while practically no play gets more than a page of discussion.  I'm not saying no personal stuff--some of it is fairly interesting--just a smaller percentage (or a longer book).

I actually glanced at Mt. Abbott many years ago. It's been around a while--it came out in 1963.  At that point, he'd been earning a living on Broadway for 50 years, and was still at the top.  In fact, his last three plays--Take Here, She's Mine, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Never Too Late--had been hits.  He had no idea he was about to suffer through 20 years of flops (that's how theatre works sometimes).

Not that he didn't do interesting stuff after 1963, but he didn't snap out of the string of failures until he directed a revival of an old hit, On Your Toes in 1983. (I saw the production, which featured a friend of mine.)

If you're the mathematical type and think I got the dates wrong, let me note he directed the revival of On Your Toes when he was 95.  He died in 1995 when he was 107.

His credits read like a history of 20th century Broadway.  Some highlights (in chronological order): Broadway, Chicago, Coquette, Twentieth Century, Three Men On A Horse, Boy Meets Girl, On Your Toes, Room Service, The Boys From Syracuse, Pal Joey, Best Foot Forward, On The Town, High Button Shoes, Where's Charley?, Call Me Madam, Wonderful Town, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Once Upon A Mattress and Fiorello!.

What I like best about Abbot is his no-nonsense approach to theatre, as well as life.  He had plenty of ups and downs, but he's not sentimental.  You just do your job and keep going.  And when you're directing a play, if something isn't working, you change it, or take it out.

He didn't think he was making art.  He was in the commercial theatre, which meant his job was to attract an audience.  If some art leaked in, fine, but that wasn't his focus.  It's true, some people who were going for something deeper might have surpassed him, such as Harold Prince or Jerome Robbins (both of whom he mentored), but I'm not sure if anyone on Broadway was ever responsible for so much entertainment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How was his sex life?

4:28 PM, October 23, 2017  

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