Back in 1960 Toronto got a new theatre – the O’Keefe Centre – a huge barn of a place that was meant to be a multi-purpose performance centre. Until then there had only been the Royal Alexandra a lovely Edwardian theatre but limited and limiting in size. It was a heady time - the new venue opened with the out of town premiere of Camelot – Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, Learner and Lowe, Moss Hart, Oliver Smith – the list was Broadway’s best. I went to a matinee half way through that six week run and the show was still clocking in at three and a half hours – the old Rudolf Bing comment comes to mind: Half as long a Parsifal but not half as funny.
But that was only the beginning: we got My Fair Lady, Judy Garland, The Paris Opera Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera and Marlene Dietrich. I saw them all that first year. Yes I saw Judy Garland and yes, as a budding Broadway baby I screamed I LOVE YOU JUDY. But ultimately I’ve never been a really big Judy fan.
Marlene now that’s a different story. She wasn’t a great singer – a great actress yes or perhaps a good actress with great directors – yet when she stepped out into the carefully arranged lights in her form fitting beaded gown and began you were immediately transported.
There was one number that she always sang which seemed a little unusual for a sophisticated cabaret artiste but she performed it like no one else, not even its creator Pete Seeger. She spoke-sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone with all the bitterness, wistfulness and heart break of someone who had heard the unheeded warning time and time again. Her anger, frustration and desperation are subtle but compelling.
Sadly it seems they never learn.
5 marzo - San Giovanni della Croce