Who's Who in Musicals:
by John Kenrick
b. April 26, 1933 (San Antonio, TX)
This beloved comedienne first won attention in nightclubs and television with her rendition of a comic love song dedicated to a famous diplomat, "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles." While appearing as a regular on Gary Moore's TV variety series, Burnett won her first Emmy Award and made her Broadway debut creating the role of "Princess Winifred" in Once Upon a Mattress (1959). She co-starred with Julie Andrews in the Emmy Award winning televised concert Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall (1962). Although Burnett won personal raves playing budding film star "Hope Springfield" in the Broadway musical spoof Fade Out-Fade In (1965), she became disheartened when the show got poor overall notices and eventually withdrew from the cast, returning only under legal duress. After this unhappy experience, she made a long-term commitment to television work.
The Carol Burnett Show on CBS was the finest variety series ever seen on American network television. An audience favorite from 1967 to 1978, it showcased almost every major talent in musical theatre and film, presenting hundreds of memorable comedy skits, song medleys and musical film spoofs. Burnett's variety team also produced a second Emmy-winning concert special co-starring Burnett and Julie Andrews at Lincoln Center's Philharmonic Hall in 1971. After running eleven seasons and winning 22 Emmy Awards, Burnett recognized that public tastes were changing and retired the series.
Burnett offered a memorable rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "I'm Still Here" in the all-star 1985 concert version of Follies. She starred in several TV specials, including a third Emmy-winning concert with Julie Andrews, filmed in Los Angeles in 1989. Burnett returned to network TV with Carol and Company (1990), which won a slew of awards but drew limited ratings. She also starred in various stage productions, returning to Broadway in the Ken Ludwig comedy Moon Over Buffalo (1996) and the Sondheim revue Putting It Together (1999). Burnett co-authored the semi-autobiographical drama Hollywood Arms (2002) with her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, who died before the show reached Broadway. One of America's most beloved entertainers, Burnett reunited with the cast of her classic variety series for several highly rated TV retrospectives.
Actress, singer, dancer
b. Apr. 10, 1896 (Minneapolis, MN) - d. May 2, 1971 (London, UK)
This attractive soprano was one of the most promising musical ingénues on Broadway when she was won the title role in Irene (1919). Day's performance as a poor shop girl who enchants a Long Island millionaire and her sweet rendition of "Alice Blue Gown" helped make the show the longest running Broadway musical up to that time. She starred in the 1920 London production, and was so well received that she permanently relocated to Britain. She starred in some of the most important West End productions of the next two decades, becoming known as "Queen of the Drury Lane Theatre." Day's most memorable London performances included the title role in Rose Marie (1925), Margot in The Desert Song (1927), Magnolia in Show Boat (1928) and the title role of Rio Rita (1930). After appearing in Sunny River (1943), she withdrew from the stage, returning to play Mrs. Sweeney and introduce "The Bronxville Darby and Joan" in the London production of Noel Coward's Sail Away (1962).
Dillingham, Charles Bancroft (C.B.)
b. May 30, 1868 (Hartford, CT) - d. Aug. 30, 1934 (New York City)
Dillingham is the only prominent Broadway producer who started out as a theater critic. While writing reviews for The NY Evening Post in the 1890s, he became a manager for several prominent performers, including actress Julia Marlowe. Although Dillingham never married, he was longtime live-in companion to producer Charles Frohman, who taught him the ins and out of stage production. Starting in 1903, Dillingham produced more than 200 Broadway plays and musicals, working with many of the top names of his time. He produced nine musicals by composer Victor Herbert, including Mlle. Modiste (1905) and The Red Mill (1906). Dillingham also brought nine of composer Jerome Kern's musicals to Broadway.
A solid businessman, Dillingham's sparkling sense of humor and elegant personal style made him one of the most admired people in the theatrical profession. On several occasions, he co-produced with longtime friend (and sometime rival) Florenz Ziegfeld. Dillingham frequently showcased comedian Fred Stone, leading ladies Fritzi Scheff and Elsie Janis, and the dance team of Adele and Fred Astaire.
From 1914 to 1923, Dillingham ran the massive Hippodrome Theatre, staging some of the largest stage spectacles New York has ever seen. He also built and managed The Globe Theatre (now called The Lunt-Fontanne), the only Broadway house ever to have a removable central roof. Wiped out by the Great Depression, Dillingham made a successful comeback by producing the hit revue New Faces (1934) just before his death at age 66. He inspired "Billings," the fictional character played by Frank Morgan in MGM's The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
b. Nov. 5, 1891 (Philadelphia) - d. June 5, 1969 (New York City)
Born to relative wealth, Freedley was among the last of that once-respected breed known as "gentlemen producers." After getting his start as a musical comedy performer, Freedley met Alex Aarons, with whom he would co-produce eleven Broadway musicals. They presented seven shows with scores by George and Ira Gershwin, including Lady Be Good (1924), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927) and Girl Crazy (1930). Aarons & Freedley built The Alvin Theatre, which combined their first names (Al + Vin) it is now called The Neil Simon. The costly failure of Pardon My English (1933), combined with the financial pressures of the Great Depression, forced Aarons into retirement at age 45. Freedley retreated to a yacht for several months to hide from creditors and plan a comeback. Freedley then put together a dream team musical, with a score by Cole Porter and an all-star cast that included Ethel Merman, William Gaxton and comedian Victor Moore. Freedley's tactic was simple he lied, telling each of these prominent figures that he had already signed all the others. After a tempestuous gestation, Anything Goes (1934) became one the biggest musical comedy hits of the 1930s.
Over the next sixteen years, Freedley single-handedly produced seven Broadway musicals, including the Porter hits Red Hot and Blue (1936), Leave It to Me (1938), and Let's Face It (1941). He also produced the innovative Vernon Duke-John LaTouche musical Cabin in the Sky (1940), and directed a short-lived HMS Pinafore update called Memphis Bound (1945). Active in many philanthropic causes, Freedley was a longtime president of The Actor's Fund of America and the Episcopal Actor's Guild. His last Broadway production was the short-lived musical Great to Be Alive! (1950).
b. Oct. 11, 1948 (New York City)
In an earlier age, this gifted performer would have been an international star as it is, Kaye is one of the brightest musical talents contemporary Broadway can call its own. With a breathtaking opera-sized soprano and a flair for hilarious comedy, Kaye won immediate acclaim taking over the role of Lily Garland in On the 20th Century (1978). She earned great reviews in the short-lived Moony Shapiro Songbook (1981) and Oh Brother! (1981). As the egotistical diva in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera (1988), Kaye won a well-deserved Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She has starred in regional and opera house productions of Annie Get Your Gun, The Merry Widow, Brigadoon, Candide and other classic musicals.
Kaye returned to Broadway as Emma Goldman in the epic Ragtime (1998), and scored a triumph (and a Tony nomination) as one of the stars of the lighthearted Mamma Mia (2001). She received fresh acclaim portraying the infamous soprano Florence Foster Jenkins in the off-Broadway comedy Souvenir (2004), receiving a Tony nomination when that show moved to Broadway the following year. Kaye triumphed in several City Center Encores presentations, including Face the Music (2007), Bells Are Ringing (2010) and Little Me (2012).
(b. Bernard Kotzin)
b. Nov. 11, 1918 (New York City, NY) - d. Dec. 14, 1997 (Los Angeles, CA)
This rotund and much loved comic actor got his first break on the Major Bowes Amateur Radio Hour in the late 1930s. After touring in vaudeville and USO shows, he took Broadway by storm originating the role of "Nicely-Nicely Johnson" in Guys and Dolls (1950). His bubbly rendition of Frank Loesser's "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" stopped the show nightly. Kaye repeated his triumph in the 1953 London and 1955 film versions. He had a similar iconic success as "Marryin' Sam" in the Broadway musical adaptation of the comic strip Lil' Abner (1956), where he introduced "Jubilation T. Cornpone" and "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands." He repeated this performance in the 1959 screen version.
Kaye made frequent film and television appearances in both Britain and the US. He won a new generation of fans by hosting the ABC children's game show Shenanigans (1964-65), and appeared as club owner Herman in the big screen version of Sweet Charity (1969). Kaye starred in a long-touring US revival of Good News (1974) which died a quick death when it reached Broadway. He appeared in the unsuccessful London musical Dear Anyone (1983) and did a final bit of Broadway scene-stealing as a dying burlesque comic in the short-lived Grind (1985). His last featured screen role was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Despite a series of debilitating strokes, the ebullient Kaye remained in good spirits and gave occasional interviews through his final years. Kaye somehow never received a Tony nomination.
b. Jan. 10, 1949 (Mansfield, OH)
This former graphic designer began working as a director off-Broadway in the late 1970s, collaborating with composer-lyricist William Finn to develop the one act musical March of the Falsettoes into a surprise off-Broadway hit. Lapine next collaborated with Stephen Sondheim, providing the book and direction for Sunday in the Park With George (1984) for which he shared the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He fulfilled the same tasks for Into the Woods (1987), receiving a Tony for Best Book. Lapine then re-teamed with Finn for the one act musical Falsettoland, which they eventually linked with their earlier effort to create a full-length two act show, Falsettoes. After opening downtown, it moved to Broadway in 1992 bringing Lapine his second Tony for Best Book. He received a third Tony for the libretto to Sondheim's Passion (1994), which also earned the Tony for Best Musical. Lapine provided the libretto for Lapine's off-Broadway musical A New Brain (1999), came up with an all-new staging for a revival of Into the Woods (2002), and directed the short-lived Michel Legrand musical Amour (2002).
Married to screenwriter & director Sarah Kernochan, Lapine has also been active in film, directing Impromptu (1991) and Life With Mikey (1993), among other projects. He has directed various non-musical stage projects, including the Broadway revival of The Diary of Anne Frank (1997), Golden Child (1998), and the Mae West tribute Dirty Blonde (2000). He directed the original Broadway production of Finn's long-running The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2005) and the Broadway revue Sondheim on Sondheim (2010).
Composer, lyricist, librettist
b. Feb. 4, 1960 (White Plains, NY) - d. Jan. 25, 1996 (New York City)
Larson combined his passions for musical theater and contemporary rock, and tried to bring these disparate forms together in his writing. While a student at Adelphi University, he collaborated with David Armstrong on Sacrimoralimmortality, a musical look at the hypocrisy of the Christian Right. After graduating, Larson worked at a series of non-theatrical jobs (including waitering in a diner) while developing new musicals, including Superbia. He starred in workshop productions of the autobiographical musical tick . . .tick . . . BOOM in the early 1990s, and showed such promise that he received the Richard Rodgers Award. (An expanded version of tick . . .tick . . . BOOM would have a brief off-Broadway run in 2001.)
Larson worked on and presented several environmental pieces, but was intrigued by the idea of a contemporary rock-pop musical that re-set Puccini's grand opera La Boheme on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Rent received its first experimental staging at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994, and was rehearsing for a full scale production there in 1996 when Larson died of a brain aneurysm. His tragic passing at age 35 drew tremendous media attention, which combined with rave reviews to help bring Rent to Broadway that same year. Larson posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Obie, and Tonys for Best Book, Score and Musical. Although legal challenges raised some questions as to how much of Rent was Larson's own, few doubt that it was his creative talents that made the show memorable.
b. May 28, 1832 (New York City) - d. Aug. 26, 1908 (NYC)
The man who invented vaudeville began his career as a boy, singing at P.T. Barnum's NYC Museum in 1846. Over the next few years, Pastor sang in circuses, minstrel shows and variety revues. Short, rotund and boasting a massive handlebar mustache, he developed a large and affectionate following by introducing such songs as "The Band Played On." Pastor started producing variety bills, sending out touring troupes and opening his first Manhattan theater in 1865.
A devout Catholic and dedicated family man, he wanted to clean-up variety entertainment. In 1881, he opened a new theatre on 14th Street, promising "cultivated and aesthetic pure music and comedy" designed for family audiences. He alternated operettas with clean variety bills the beginning of what became known as vaudeville. For the next two decades, an evening at Tony Pastor's remained one of the most fashionable ways for New Yorkers of all classes to spend an evening. Pastor showcased the finest talents on the variety stage, giving crucial opportunities to such future stars as Lillian Russell and George M. Cohan. Although a shrewd manager, Pastor never expanded beyond his small theatre near Union Square. In time, those who developed large circuits of vaudeville houses were able to pay performers more and charge audiences less. Unwilling to accept change, Pastor was forced to give up his theatre just months before his death at age 76. Despite a long career in show business, the father of vaudeville left a meager estate of $9,000.
b. Dec. 1, 1897 (Sydney, Australia) - d. Dec. 18, 1977 (Chicago)
Although he insisted his vocal range was "no more than three notes," this superb comic actor is best remembered for his many musical stage and television roles. After working as a chorus performer in his native Australia, he made his Broadway debut in the short-lived revue Puzzles of 1925 moving on to two London revues that same season. He co-starred with wife Madge Elliott in ten West End musicals, and appeared in a series of period comedies. After directing John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953) in New York, Ritchard was chosen by Mary Martin to co-star as Captain Hook in her musical version of Peter Pan (1954). Ritchard's gurgling comic giggle and gleeful rendition of "Hook's Waltz" ("Who's the swine-iest swine in the world? Captain Hook!") delighted audiences and earned a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. Preserved in a 1960 TV production, this delicious performance is still enjoyed today.
Ritchard appeared in several network television musicals over the next three decades, including Cole Porter's Aladdin (1958). He returned to Broadway in numerous comedies (including Visit to a Small Planet and The Pleasure of His Company) and several notable musicals. He directed and starred as the god Pluto in the short-lived Happiest Girl in the World (1961), and originated the role of Sir in The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd (1965). Ritchard won fresh raves as Osgood in Sugar (1972), and in the Bicentennial revue A Musical Jubilee (1976). He was performing as narrator of the national tour of Side by Side by Sondheim at the time of his death at age 80.
b. New York City, 1958
The only new American composer to enjoy multiple Broadway productions in the 1990s, Wildhorn debuted on the Great White Way by contributing several melodies to the stage version of Victor/Victoria (1995), with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. He had already spent several years developing his next three projects as concept recordings, shepherding them towards Broadway. Jekyll and Hyde (1997), with book and lyrics by Bricusse, toured the US for several seasons before its long (but unprofitable) New York run. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1997), with book and lyrics by Nan Knighton, underwent several major re-writes and re-openings during the course of its two year (and also unprofitable) run. Wildhorn was composer and co-librettist for the short-lived The Civil War (1999), which gave him the rare distinction of having three new musicals running simultaneously on Broadway. Since then, his Dracula (2004) and Wonderland (2011) have both closed after brief runs. From 1998 to 2004, Wildhorn was married to singer/actress Linda Eder, who has been an active proponent of his music.
(b. Isaiah Edwin Leopold)
b. Nov. 9, 1886 (Philadelphia) - d. June 19, 1966 (Beverly Hills)
For more than half a century, this lisping comic with a gift for inventive silliness was one of the world's most beloved clowns. He ran away from home at age 16, dividing his middle name "Edwin" to create his stage moniker. Describing himself as "a man who doesn't do funny things, but who does things funny," Wynn rose to stardom in the early 1900s with a vaudeville act built around zany inventions like a typewriter carriage modified for eating corn on the cob. Wynn was part of the opening bill at New York's Palace Theatre in 1913, where his rapport with audiences led to his becoming vaudeville's first master of ceremonies.
Wynn starred in sixteen Broadway revues and musical comedies. After making his musical debut as "Jupiter Slick" in The Deacon and the Lady (1910), his stage appearances included Ziegfeld's Follies (1914-15), Over the Top (1917), The Shubert Gaieties of 1919, and a show that took its title from Wynn's professional nickname The Perfect Fool (1921). As one of the leaders in the Actor's Equity strike in 1919, he endeared himself forever to his colleagues. Resentful producers tried to blacklist Wynn, but he produced his own hit touring revues until Broadway managers were forced to welcome him back. He starred in Ziegfeld's Simple Simon (1930), as well as Hooray For What (1937) and the revue Laugh Town Laugh (1942). An occasional presence on the silver screen, Wynn turned down the title role in The Wizard of Oz (1939), which gave lasting fame to actor Frank Morgan.
Wynn became one of the first stars of network radio, headlining a weekly musical comedy revue from 1932 to 1937. He was a frequent presence on early network television, and launched a new career as a character actor in films from the 1950s onwards. His musical screen roles include Uncle Albert in Disney's Mary Poppins (1964), where he won a new generation of fans introducing "I Love to Laugh" while floating in midair. His last role was as one of the little people in Disney's The Gnomemobile (1967), which was released soon after his death at age 79. His son Keenan Wynn (1916-1986) enjoyed a long career as a stage and screen actor.