Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Ramblings of an Addlepatted Old Theatre Buff

Fifty years ago this week the O'Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre) opened in Toronto - it was the performing arts venue the city had lacked and needed for many years. Though the wonderful Royal Alexandra Theatre (I grew up in the nose-bleed inducing second balcony) was used for touring shows it couldn't house some of the bigger attractions. As I mentioned not so long ago in those days the Metropolitan Opera, The Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet and even Maria Callas appeared in a makeshift theatre set up in a hockey arena. Finally we had a "theatre" where the big names and the big shows could shine.

The opening production was the world premiere of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot with Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, Robert Coote and Roddy McDowell. It was one of the most eagerly awaited events of the North American theatre season. The first night lasted over 4 hours though by the time I caught a matinée two weeks later it had been cut down to 3 1/2 hours - as one critic said almost as long as a Wagner opera but not half as funny.

The rest of the year was chock-a-block with theatrical delights - My Fair Lady (just to prove that Lerner and Loewe knew what they were doing), Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, The Metropolitan Opera, The New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet and the list went on. I saw most of them: matinées because I was 13 at the time and the hour long ride back home - two street cars and a bus - was not considered a good idea at eleven o'clock at night. Though I was allowed to go to the first performance the Met gave at the new Centre wearing a white dinner jacket my mother had made for me and given the money to take a "gasp" taxi home.

And a less starry summer season was arranged with amongst other things Stars of the Paris Opera Ballet and Carol Channing in a revue called Showgirl. This was Carol Channing's pre-Dolly days. She had come out of revue theatre and gone on to fame in Wonderful Town (replacing Rosalind Russell) and then as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In those days she was known for her uncanny timing, the siren call (in both senses) of her vocals and her ability to do some very funny impersonations. To this day I recall her Brigitte Bardot as Lady Macbeth in the Sleepwalking Scene - I only wish it were available on video.

One of the classic numbers she did in that particular revue and performed off and on for the rest of her career was the sad story of a silent cinema star: the great but forgotten Cecilia Sisson.

Sadly much of Channing's talent seemed to have gotten lost over the years under a layer of camp and mannerisms to the point where she almost became a parody of herself that often bordered on impersonation. Interestingly she has returned to the stage at 85 with an act that reveals her uncanny ability as an impersonator which featured so prominently in Showgirl. I tried to embed her Marlene Dietrich however it has been disabled - you might just want to click on the Carol caricature at the right and it will take you to one of the slyest take-off's I've ever seen on the eternally youthful Frau Sieber.

05 ottobre - San Placido monaco
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David said...

OMG - you ARE living history! Julie! Judy! Carol! I can scarce believe it.

Elizabeth said...

Brilliantly funny! Thanks for giving me a laugh this morning!