Before this reading I hadn’t sunk my teeth into a play in 5 years.
I had forgotten how much of a leap it is to truly dive into a character for the first time, and what a thrilling rush it can be…especially when the writing enables you with infinite possibilities. I don’t believe there’s anything better than that. I was so rusty the first time we read this. I’d completely forgotten how much more challenging theater is as opposed to television. Oh but how awesome it was to be reading the words of one of my favorite playwrights with such incredibly talented people! By the second or third rehearsal I had found my stride and remembered how much fun it is to dig in and play. Especially when working with a director like Anna D. Shapiro who is my personal hero. We did a reading of ‘The Heidi Chronicles’ back in 2013. She’s the woman who taught me to stop apologizing for asking questions in a rehearsal room. I’ll never forget the moment:
We were doing table work and discussing a scene, I raised my hand to inquire about a moment I didn’t understand and when Anna caught my eye I said, “I’m sorry, but, I have a ques—“. She stopped me with this gem of a lesson, “Why are you apologizing to me?? Stop it. Are you sorry for having a question? Do you ever notice how women are the only people who apologize for asking something? It’s ridiculous. Men don’t apologize when they have something to say. TAKE THE SPACE, Tracee. STOP APOLOGIZING. Now what’s your question?”
I never forgot that. It’s stuck with me all these years. When I heard Anna was directing this reading of ‘Sisters Rosensweig’ I said yes without skipping a beat. She’s an inspiration.
Hands down the best play I’ve had the pleasure of performing is Joshua Harmon’s ‘Bad Jews’. If you know his work, you are aware of what an enormous influence Wendy Wasserstein’s writing has been to him. Because I connect so well with Josh’s plays, it makes total sense that I’d be head over heels in love with Ms. Wasserstein’s characters as well, and the world that she creates in each of her plays.
I am beyond grateful to have been a part of this. Wendy continues to enrich my soul with her magnificent storytelling.
Tracee Chimo Pallero appeared on Broadway in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles opposite Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs. Her other major credits include Harvey opposite Jim Parsons and Irena’s Vow opposite Tovah Feldshuh. She starred in the revival of Terrence McNally’s Lips Together Teeth Apart at The Second Stage and originated the role of “Daphna” in Bad Jews at Roundabout Theatre Company, for which she earned the 2014 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actress as well as nominations for an Outer Critic’s Circle Award and Drama League Award. Her television credits include The Undoing, Madam Secretary, Orange Is the New Black and Difficult People. Tracee can be seen in The Sisters Rosensweig as a part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund streaming now through Sunday.
The first time I was on stage, it was to walk a sign from stage left to right. Literally. Me, a sign, one side of the stage to the other. I was in absolute heaven. I was four. There are pictures. I loved it so much it was a problem. When I was nine, I played a willow tree in the Met’s production of Hansel and Gretel. We walked on stage as a group, in relevé, in green face paint with matching hooded onesies, waving our tree branch arms. There are pictures. It was my job to tip toe around the stage to get to my place on the other side, but one night I accidentally tripped on the witch’s cane. HEAVEN. 3,000 eyes, watching me get up. Yes, I thought. Yes. Years later, after being in every show ever made in a 20-mile radius of my hometown, I did a summer stock production of Cabaret. It’s my favorite play, my favorite movie, there are hookers and Nazis and queer people and pervy dancing. I was so thrilled to be on that stage, in that play, that on the very first dance where we dragged the chairs to their cabaret performance places – I smiled so much the director yelled at me. I was way too happy a hooker. But I couldn’t contain my glee! A corset, stockings, a chair, high heels, and messed up make-up??? Absolute heaven for my teenage self. I got it together, though, I started to learn to use all that energy in the performance and not just bounce around with it. But it’s still a wild ride. It’s unpredictable, sometimes even unreliable, but it’s in that unknowing that makes theater a place where the most interesting and wonderful things can happen. And it’s radical. People are affected differently when you put yourself out there in front of them. And when you do that because you actually have something to say, which for me was when I did my show, Positive Me, at La Mama during the height of the AIDS crisis, you feel like you are moving the world. Maybe you only moved it a micro-inch, but you did something, you pushed, and you felt other people change, at least for that moment.
Following her co-starring role for 7 seasons on the world-wide hit Fox medical drama “House,” Lisa Edelstein starred for five seasons in Bravo’s first scripted series “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” That show also gave her the opportunity to write, produce and direct and she has since written and directed two short films (“Unzipping”, “Lulu”), written a pilot and is adapting a book for her feature directorial debut. She recently appeared opposite Rob Lowe in the hit Ryan Murphy series “9-1-1: Lone Star” and reprises her recurring role in season 3 of the award-winning Netflix comedy series “The Kominsky Method” (May 28th Season Premiere). Lisa is reunited with Jason Alexander in The Sisters Rosensweig as part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund. They last worked together in 1993 in the notable ‘Risotto’ episode of “Seinfeld”.
I have long heard that the theater is a healing place, a restorative place. I think the person who first proffered that meant that watching live theater can be a healing salve. But those of us who work on the boards have seen the incredible medical miracle that is working on the stage. Yes, it drains and exhausts and demands but it also energizes and often transforms the actor.
Years ago, I was in the original cast of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound. It was where I met the great actor and extraordinary man, John Randolph. John had been a working actor most of his life despite having been blacklisted during the McCarthy years. He had a distinguished and varied career and now he was a 74 year old man enjoying what was probably the best role he ever had on the stage. He would win a Tony award for his work that season. John was simply a treasure in the role and he loved performing it but at his advanced age, the rigors of eight shows a week were a heavy challenge. So many times, especially on a two show day, I would see John in his dressing room or in the wings before the evening show and he looked utterly beaten. His eyes were baggy and heavy, his head and shoulders stooped, his legs thin and weak. Often I would think, “how can this man get through this performance”? I would actually worry that he might not make it.
But every time, he would walk out onto that stage and transform. As the lights came up, so did his life force. His legs would steady, his posture straighten, his face light up, his voice deepen and strengthen. He would radiate with a vibrancy and passion that had been totally absent a moment before. People would marvel at his performance and his stamina. Then, he would take his bow, walk to the wings and the magic spell would end. As he stooped forward again he would smile and whisper, “Man, I am tired”. I would simply marvel. I once asked him what happened that enabled his transformation. John smiled and simply said, “kiddo,that Doctor Footlights”.
Over the years, I have performed with gout, a kidney stone, a paralyzed vocal cord, bronchitis and a migraine. Traveling down to the theater, getting ready backstage it would all seem impossible. No way would I be able to make it through the pain or the challenges and give a performance. But, I was willing to try. And each time,I would step onto that stage to serve that piece, to serve that audience, to tell that story — to do my job — and each time, the pain would fade or the symptoms subside just enough to squeak one out. Doctor Footlights, there’s nobody better. So, a shout out and big thanks to my grandpa, John Randolph, for making the introduction.
Though best known for his award-winning, nine-year stint as the now iconic George Costanza of television’s Seinfeld, Jason Alexander has achieved international recognition for a career noted for its extraordinary diversity from lauded performances on stage, screen and television to his extensive works as a writer, composer, director, producer and acting teacher. His Broadway credits include Merrily We Roll Along, The Rink, Broadway Bound, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (for which he won a Tony Award), Accomplice and Fish in the Dark. Jason can be seen in The Sisters Rosensweig as a part of the Spotlight on Plays series benefitting The Actors Fund streaming this Thursday through Sunday.
One of my favorite things about working in the theater is how fiercely present it forces us all to be. How much courage is required. And what discoveries spring from that. I was playing Catherine in Tennessee Williams’ SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER at the Laura Pels Theater (alongside Blythe Danner, Becky Ann Baker, and a wonderful cast) and one night in the middle of a long speech I went ABSOLUTELY blank. I had zero idea of what I was supposed to say next. Terror struck. I looked around the stage and my cast members were looking at me with expectant eyes. Time extended. In that moment, I decided “Don’t mentally run away, witness this through Catherine’s eyes and see what happens next.” And suddenly (pun intended), my line came to me: “Where was I?” That was the actual line I had forgotten. I realized in that moment how much terror Catherine felt at losing her place (akin to losing her sanity which she was fiercely fighting to protect. Her life depended on it.)
It changed the trajectory of that speech for every performance thereafter. I now understood her on a deeper level than I ever would have had that not happened. It was such a gift.
Carla Gugino made her Broadway debut in After the Fall. Other Broadway credits include The Road to Mecca and Desire Under the Elms. Gugino is best known for her portrayal of Amanda Daniels in TV’s Entourage and Sally Jupiter in the 2009 film Watchmen. She recently appeared in the supernatural horror series The Haunting of Hill House, the crime drama series Jett, and The Haunting of Bly Manor. She can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.
It wasn’t until I got backstage that I officially fell in love with the theater, and that was when I was 11 years old. I was born in the city but our family moved to Denver, Colorado when I was very young… We took yearly trips back to NYC and got to see Broadway shows but it felt like a different world and I had never really thought about the making of them. I never considered all of the work and all of the people involved in creating that magical few hours for my family and me. When I was in 4th grade I began to sing in a choir, and the following year the director of the choir recommended me to the Denver Center Theater when they asked him for a child who could sing and perform on stage in their upcoming production of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. I went in and auditioned at the Denver Center and got the part. Little did I know what I was about to be a part of. From the first rehearsal I knew I had found a world where I wanted to spend a lot of time. Incredibly bright, funny, supportive, creative and irreverent professionals. The set designer showed us incredible models of what the set would look like, the costume designer showed us pictures and materials and drawings of what the costumes would look like. There was a wig maker, there were stage managers keeping track of everything. There was a musical director. Eventually there were dressers, and ushers and light and sound board operators. Everyone working to put our show on! I got to be on stage with Mercedes Ruehl and the other incredible actors who were part of the company (back then many regional theaters had companies who played many different roles for years)… Yes, I loved being on stage and feeling the stillness and focus and magic of a theater full of people all willing a story into being. But what I remember even more, and what gave me the itch to make my life in the theater, was the backstage. The greenroom where all of the actors hung out before the show in their various costumes and makeup, smoking (!) and joking and telling incredible stories, and treating me like a fellow collaborator and colleague. I was 11 and I’m sure many stories went over my head with the smoke, but what I gleaned was happy artists, working hard on their craft, making the show better and better. It was a giant family back there, and though the characters and settings and plays have changed, that feeling has never gone away.
This 15 months has been hard for our community, for our theater family. I include audiences as part of that family, because live theater is not live theater without them. We all miss being in a space together making a story come to life. Until that happens, we are so lucky to have opportunities to create and watch shows however they happen and I feel so pleased to have been included in Watch on the Rhine. I got a little taste of that backstage fellowship and the audience will get a taste of a great story told. Until we are lucky enough to be together let’s revel in the chance to soak up any “theater” we can! I know I’m happy to be “backstage” again if even in a Zoom box!
Watch Jeremy zoom into your living room, den, kitchen, wherever this weekend when Spotlight on Plays presents Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine”.
Jeremy Shamos has been seen off-Broadway in Corpus Christi, Engaged, Miss Witherspoon, Race, Gutenberg! The Musical!, 100 Saints You Should Know, Hunting and Gathering,The New York Idea and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). His Broadway credits include Reckless, The Rivals, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Elling, and he earned a Tony nomination for playing two roles in Pulitzer Prize-winner Clybourne Park. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.
It was a wonderful opportunity to explore Lillian Hellman’s classic play with such a dream cast as part of this series of online performances. The themes of liberal America and its imperative to combat fascism in all its manifestations feels all too pertinent to the needs of our present times. When Watch On The Rhine premiered in 1941 it served to bring to the theatre-going public a sense of the turmoil that was brewing in mainland Europe and its potential impact on the global stage.
I was first exposed to the epic dimensions of the American drama when I made my professional theatrical debut in a revival of Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill. Written in the shadow of the Great War, this Pulitzer Prize winning drama features the theatrical convention of characters speaking their innermost thoughts as asides. In deploying this classical device in a contemporary setting, O’Neil shows that despite the privileges of modern education, human beings still struggle to communicate directly and truthfully with one another. However, my lasting impression of this masterpiece is not as profound as I would wish. I was thirteen years old at the time and my hair had been bleached a platinum blonde to evoke the archetypal Golden Child. The abiding memory I have is of the cast, which included Glenda Jackson and my father Brian Cox, gently but firmly urging me to go easy on the gold hairspray that I had applied to my side parting when the dark roots began to show. Luckily, I don’t think my besmirching of the beautifully tailored 1920’s costumes could be glimpsed past the front row.
Thirty seven years later and one of the benefits of being involved in the remote capture of an online performance of a classic play is that this actor can transform himself without having to make a trip to the hairdresser.
Alan Cox recently played Uncle Vanya at the Hampstead Theatre in London and Claudius in Hamlet for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. He played David Frost in the national tour of Frost/Nixon, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination. He made his Broadway debut in Translations. He made his motion picture debut as Watson in Young Sherlock Holmes. His film work includes Contagion, The Dictator, Mrs. Dalloway, and An Awfully Big Adventure. Alan’s television credits include The Good Wife, John Adams, and The Odyssey. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s Watch on the Rhine streaming this Thursday.
During my Signature season, I discovered I would be missing a producer/artistic director, Jim Houghton, who took a much needed sabbatical. And so I found myself perching in the position of “all hands on board:” parking the car for the habitually late music director on my first show, and apologizing to critics when our electricity went out on critics night (the old signature theatre shared electricity with a medical office that did MRIs so the circuit somehow always tripped on opening nights). There was a director I couldn’t fire, because there was no artistic director, and who refused to quit, so I needed to be at every rehearsal. The women cast members and the stage manager ended up staging the play, and their spirits saw me through. My directors Mark Brokaw and Les Waters saw me through the rest of the season.
And so one night I was keeping vigil in the lobby during “Hot ‘N’ Throbbing.” As we watched through the monitor, the house manager and I saw something…not right. A woman got up from the audience, and tried to make her way up the side aisle, weaving and stumbling. A heart attack? A stroke?
We rushed into the back of the theatre, up a flight of stairs, and caught her at the top of the stairs as she passed out in our arms. We quietly carried her out of the theatre—the audience didn’t even notice. We laid her down on the lobby floor. The house manager ran to the phone and dialed 911, while I stayed with the woman, leaning over her. She suddenly opened her eyes and exclaimed: “Who wrote this play?!”
“Oh!. Are you a professional?”
(I thought she was talking about being a professional playwright). “Yes, I am.”
“I thought so! Only a professional could know this stuff! “. She chatted as she sat up, and we gave her orange juice. “I used to do films, too. But…it got too rough….and when I heard the whir of the camera, the sound effect kinda of….well, I knew I had to get out of there. My John is still inside.”
“Do you want me to get him?”
“Nah! He’s enjoying it.”
She refused to go to the hospital. I insisted on walking her to tenth avenue to get her a cab.
She chatted, happy to find that a professional sex worker was engaged in playwriting. But does it pay? she asked. Not really, I admitted. By this point I realized what she meant by being professional, and I didn’t want to dash her enthusiasm.
“I am so glad you are out of the trade!” she told me as the cab neared. “I’m gonna leave it soon, too.”
With the cab door open, she gave me a hug.
“I’m so proud of you!”
I hope she got out of the trade. One day, I’m gonna leave my trade, too. We all do.
PAULA VOGEL is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright whose plays include INDECENT (Tony Award for Best Play), HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE (Broadway production set for spring 2020; Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Lortel Prize, OBIE Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle and New York Drama Critics Awards for Best Play), THE LONG CHRISTMAS RIDE HOME, THE MINEOLA TWINS, THE BALTIMORE WALTZ, HOT’N’THROBBING, DESDEMONA, AND BABY MAKES SEVEN, THE OLDEST PROFESSION and A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS.
2016-2017 is what I would have called my “breakout” season as a young director, I was working on three shows: Lucas Hnath’s Red Speedo at NYTW, Alice Birch’s Revolt. She said. Revolt Again. at Soho Rep and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play War at LCT3. I was thrilled!
So I’m known for being rather enthusiastic in rehearsal rooms, and the energy of this season was apparently really sending that enthusiasm into its extremes – hah!
I’m in rehearsal for Red Speedo at NYTW, a lovely sunny room on the third floor… I’m standing with Lucas Hnath and the actors…essentially hyping them up about the fight scene near the end of the play…..as I’m running around the room I joke that it would be amazing if they bounded off the wall in the stage in epic fight mode and proceeded to run to the wall as if to kick off it to punch my imaginary co partner…but instead of kicking off elegantly in epic style….my foot…. explodes through the other side of the wall.
…I was mortified. Luckily the room erupted in laughter and NYTW was ever so gracious about my overenthusiastic mishap.
Needless to say…I don’t kick walls anymore!
But the memory brings me joy about returning to rehearsal shenanigans.
Lileana Blain-Cruz is a recent recipient of a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award and an Obie Award for Marys Seacole at LCT3. Recent projects include Anatomy of a Suicide at The Atlantic Theater Company, Fefu and Her Friends at Theater For a New Audience, Girlsat Yale Repertory Theater, Faust at Opera Omaha, and The House That Will Not Stand at New York Theater Workshop. She won an Obie Award for her direction of The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead at Signature Theater. She also directed Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz for the Spotlight on Plays series which will stream on April 29th.
This may come as a surprise to some, not so much to others, but Othello is a complex role to accept for the 21st century black actor. On one hand, he’s an incredibly deep, densely drawn character and one of the few that are built specifically for actors of color in the Elizabethan canon. On the other hand, he’s been reduced to some pretty nasty stereotyping. The character has a well documented history of blackface, and the optics of a white woman being strangled by a black man brings to mind the gut-dropping feeling we got in those last moments of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (Daniel Kaaluya hands wrapped around the neck of his captor/honeypot/devil in a white dress, Allison Williams, when suddenly red and blue lights wash the screen). So in my second year of graduate school, when I was called into my department chairs office to talk about playing Othello in the spring…I wasn’t sure what to do. I mean sure; in the name of the pedagogical experience, in the name of practice (because inevitably it wouldn’t be my last time playing the character) and well, the thing looks good on the resume, so why not? But does taking the part make me a sellout? Or worse…is it a full on soul sell?
Around this time, I was reckoning with myself, my artistry and this liquid prison I was attempting to construct. Growing inside me was this festering shadow of insecurity, imposter syndrome, and the ever present doom of letting everyone down, one I tried to bar up with Whiskey, Tequila and Rum. Little did I know, this shadow loved a drink, and despite my attempts to drown it, grew gills. I’ll spare you the rest of the bloody details but I can tell you with confidence that some people do indeed crack their skulls open on rock bottom. Others, however, bounce off stones of despair (it’s my band name, you cannot have it) and are given a chance to change direction.
I started writing letters to Othello in between classes, outpatient treatment, rehearsal and AA meetings on cold Sunday mornings (so much coffee and the squeaking of grey slush on the bottoms of winter boots). It’s not a ritual I had experienced before, but one of my Sunday Morning Crew was like “I write letters to myself and found xyz”. I thought that was a corny thing for a person to do, so I wrote letters to the characters I was cast as (a practice I still carry with me and yes, it is a far cornier endeavor).
We all “know” the play, and in that “knowledge” Othello is this larger than life character who looms over the canon/performer. If the past were to be prologue, he “should” be this gravitational force, the embodiment of strength and “manly-ness”. He’s jealous and angry or something along those lines. So rather than fall in lockstep with the mythic barnacles of the play, I re-read it with the fresh young eyes of a curious child at Disneyworld for the first time.
The first Act is the portrait of a man in love, a man with purpose, a man who has a grasp on what he wants the world to look like and how he can nudge the paradigm a bit closer to the shores of that promise. In my letters, I asked Othello to teach me what love was; specifically, to teach me what it was to be in love with oneself and one’s purpose (he later taught me that once you do that, falling in love is relatively easy). I asked him to remind me of what it means to see beyond what “is” into the realm of what “can be”. I asked him to demand my radical honesty. For a time it felt as though the letter went unheeded. Instead of waiting, I worked my ass off. I scanned and rescanned text, I battled tooth and nail for text to be re-entered into the cut, I linked arms with my castmates/peers to honor the work put in to tell the story as written. I fought for the story in the hopes that it would fight for me. And then, out of that big, looming shadow shrank there emerged a man. He looked a bit like me; a little stockier, a whole lot wiser and a generous smile. And we walked side by side through the play and he revealed things to me. Little secrets other people overlook.
Jealousy seems to be a trait oft associated with The Moor of Venice. I ask…where though? He’s one of the highest ranking generals in the nation, he’s got the hand of one of the most sought after bachelorettes in the nation, he talks business, pleasure and war with the Duke. Iago mentions jealousy, sure…but when does Othello? On the page, he wants to be the change he wants to see in the world. He chooses to partner with the only other human who sees him as such: who sees the sensitivity and the vulnerability in Othello, rather than upholding the expectations of manhood set upon him. With this realization, I felt a little hydrophobic daemon, resistant to my attempts to drown him, squeal away in a puff of brimstone and smoke. I dug deeper: when it is made known to him the possibility of deceit on the part of Desdemona, there is no time for jealousy when your heart is shattered. When you’ve been duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled, how can you blame anyone else but yourself? You can only perform the confusing task of picking up the shards of your heart and fighting through the wincing pain of putting it back together…even though you know it will not refract light the same way. Huh. That’s not jealousy. That’s good old fashioned world weary heartbreak and disappointment. In understanding a bit about him, I understood a bit more about myself. He wasn’t a monolith looming over me, he was right there, next to me, ensuring I honored every step in his shoes.
It’s a cliché to say that Theatre saved my life…so I won’t (it did though, *insert eyeroll*). I know that the characters aren’t actually leaping off the page to rescue me (I’m fully aware it’s my imagination+therapy+the work doing some heavy lifting). As much as I say that the characters are teaching me things, I know that ultimately it’s me, a room full of people, blood, sweat, tears, imagination, and ink on paper. Nor am I here to suggest that Theatre is a replacement to therapy, psychiatry, and/or AA/NA meetings (it isn’t, shout out to my therapist). But it can be a supplement (like B12). The gift and wisdom of the playwright is their ability to teach us lessons about what it means to be human. Sometimes those lessons are about success. They are often about failure; but always, there are lessons to be excavated, digested and shared. There are empathetic bridges to be built; within ourselves, to each other, and to the world into which we wake. And while that sounds like a gushy Barney sing along, the work is hard. It requires dedication, it requires an open mind and an open heart. Building empathetic bridges to truly see each other can be painful. Much like a journey to sobriety, it can feel pretty ugly (ha, I did one of those Shakespeare things). Much like nudging social norms and our existential paradigm towards a just and verdant society, you take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time.
It’s worth it.
Brandon Burton is a 2020 graduate of The Yale School of Drama Master of Fine Arts program. He can be seen in Spotlight on Play’s reading of The Baltimore Waltz streaming April 29th
The sun is shining, cherry blossoms are blooming, and many world economies are opening up (slowly but surely). It seems like spring 2021 has finally arrived, bringing with it the seasonal sense of joy, promise, and new beginnings that has long been lauded by writers and artists throughout history. While many people may associate springtime with Shakespeare sonnets, Impressionist paintings, or even madrigals, spring has also been the focus of many Broadway composers and lyricists.
The most obvious example of springtime making its way into the Broadway canon is the song “Younger Than Springtime” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Sung right after Lieutenant Cable and Liat first meet (and make love), “Younger Than Springtime” has all the classic markers of a spring love song. Cable compares Liat to spring – favorably – saying she is “younger than springtime,” “gayer than laughter,” “sweeter than music,” and “warmer than the winds of June.” But the song also has a great “turn” – certainly one of the reasons it’s still so well-known today. While Cable begins the song by saying that Liat is like springtime, halfway through, he implies that she is also transformative: “when your youth/and joy invade my arms/and fill my heart as now they do/then younger than springtime/am I.” Through Liat’s love, Cable argues that he becomes someone who is “gayer than laughter,” “softer than starlight,” and “younger than springtime,” too.
Another well-known use of spring in the lyrics, title, and imagery of a Broadway song can be found in “It Might As Well Be Spring” from State Fair, another Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration. The song plays with some of the springtime tropes and patterns used in “Younger Than Springtime.” The singer, Margy, makes clear that she hasn’t seen any of the typical, physical signs of oncoming spring. In fact, it’s decidedly not spring: “I haven’t seen a crocus or a rosebud/or a robin on the wing,” Margy sings, “But…it might as well be spring.” This is a prime example of Oscar Hammerstein’s genius use of conditional thinking. In the same way Hammerstein implies in Carousel that Julie Jordan is madly in love with Billy Bigelow using the conditional “IF I loved you,” and that Laurie and Curly in Oklahoma! are similarly destined to mate with the conditional “people will SAY we’re in love,” Hammerstein is able to write a spring love song that’s not actually sung during springtime.
The song grows even more rich and complex in its associations with the season. While the characteristics of springtime that Cable lists in “Younger Than Springtime” are all positive, for Margy “it might as well be spring” not only because she’s “starry-eyed,” “giddy,” and “gay,” but also because she feels “restless,” “jumpy,” and “vaguely discontented.” In “It Might As Well Be Spring” you get both sides of the coin: the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, perhaps best summed up by the lyric: “But I feel so gay/in a melancholy way/that it might as well be spring.” Here, spring is being used as a metaphor for the “nameless” discontent Margy feels with her life at the moment – a vague restlessness which sets up most of the action of the play: while Margy is dating Harry, who wants to marry her, she “keep[s] wishing [she] were somewhere else,/Walking down a strange new street./Hearing words that [she’s]…never heard/ From a man [she’s] yet to meet.” These lyrics foreshadow her meeting, and falling in love with, Pat at the (titular) state fair. It’s also hard not to read these lyrics without picking up something of a sexual edge. When Margy starts the song, she sings of “want[ing] a lot of…things/[she’s] never had before.” Given the traditional associations of birth, new beginnings, love, and even sexuality, with springtime, “It Might As Well Be Spring” could easily speak to Margy’s desires as a newly minted young woman.
Many Broadway songs focus on this deeper side of spring’s transitions. In Rodgers and Hart’s I Married an Angel, for example, Willy sings “Spring Is Here” when things with his angel-wife (yes, you read that correctly) have gone sour. “Spring is here/why doesn’t my heart go dancing?/spring is here/why isn’t the waltz entrancing?…Maybe it’s because nobody needs me…Maybe it’s because nobody loves me,” he sings. It’s another clever inversion of the springtime myth: spring may be here, with its gentle “breezes,” and “lads and girls…drinking May wine,” but because Willy has fallen out of love, he can no longer enjoy it. It’s a springtime love song that depends on negative space rather than positive space: without “love,” “desire,” or “ambition,” there can be no spring.
“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf’s 1955 tune which was then incorporated into the 1959 musical The Nervous Set, similarly focuses on the “have-nots” of spring rather than the “haves.” A send-up of the first lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” (“April is the cruelest month…”), “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” implies that spring can actually be the worst time of the year – if you’re single, that is. “Spring this year has got me feeling like a horse that never left the post;/I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling/Spring can really hang you up the most!” the lyrics read. The song reverses traditional springtime psychology and implies that the singer was happy and in love in the winter, and now, during the joyful spring season of rebirth, is experiencing loneliness. “Love seemed sure around the New Year,” she sings, “Now it’s April, love is just a ghost;/ Spring arrived on time, only what became of you, dear?” It should be noted that this song, as well as “It Might As Well Be Spring,” became jazz standards, covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. The season’s failure to deliver on its promise is clearly a recurring theme on Broadway and beyond.
But no discussion of spring on Broadway would be complete without “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ The Producers. The major song in the musical’s show-within-a-show, a favorable retelling of WWII from the perspective of a disgruntled Nazi, “Springtime for Hitler” shows Brooks’ thoughtful understanding – and appreciation – of spring’s metaphorical function in Golden Age musicals. As the tap-dancing, sausage-wearing Nazis sing lines like “And now it’s springtime for Hitler and Germany/Deutschland is happy and gay,” Brooks is sending up the positive traits associated with springtime in musicals like South Pacific and State Fair. And to the Nazis represented in the show, “springtime for Hitler” is indeed positive: it encapsulates their military campaign to take over the world. Brooks makes clear, however, that this seasonal rebirth is actually extremely dark. Peppered in with the image of a “happy and gay” Germany are lyrics about “U-boats…sailing once more.” In the song, springtime equals gaiety, but it also happens to equal “bombs falling from the skies again.” Combined with the schmaltzy musical style, movie-musical tap-dancing, over-the-top costumes, and of course the late, great Gary Beach’s acting, springtime in “Springtime for Hitler,” repeated over 20 times in the eight-minute song, becomes an absurd (and incredibly funny) dramatic irony.
Brooks’ hilarious treatment of springtime is similar to the season’s representation in a lesser known E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy song, “Springtime Cometh” from the 1951 flop Flahooley. Like “Springtime for Hitler,” “Springtime Cometh” relies on and leans into the audience’s positive associations with spring and its traditional representation in Golden Age musicals. Sandy/Penny and her genie (truly – don’t ask) sing about “lilacs growing on the clothesline,” “roses growing in the ashcan,” “hummingbird[s],” “merry maidens,” and repeat the word “springtime” six times in the short song. Harburg went one step further and even wrote the lyrics in a sort of faux Olde English: “Springtime cometh,” the characters sing. “Hummingbird hummeth,/little brook rusheth,/merry maiden blusheth…springtime cometh for love of thee.” Harburg pushes this construction even further for comedic effect with “Sugarplum plummeth,/Heart, it humpty-dummeth,/And to summeth up,/The Springtime cometh for the love of thee.” The faux Olde English language reaches its zenith with Harburg’s tongue-and-cheek reference’s to spring’s inherent sexuality: “Lad and lass/In tall green grass/Gaily skippeth,/Nylon rippeth,/Zipper zippeth…which is to say/Spring cometh.” Harburg’s ironic send-up of springtime is sexual, funny, self-aware, and, most importantly, irreverent.
Broadway clearly has a long-time fascination – and infatuation – with all things spring. From the huge number of songs with “spring” in their title (and chorus) – to ones that rely on springtime imagery like the lilac trees in My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live” – lyricists have used the season to convey and inspire romance, joy, lust, restlessness, loneliness, humor, and personal transformation in equal parts. So in this close-to-post-pandemic moment: crank up the Broadway show tunes, smell the flowers, and look forward to a new (and hopefully, better) day. As they say: “springtime cometh!”
Katie Birenboim is a NYC-based actor, director, and writer. She’s performed and directed at Classic Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Group, Barrington Stage, City Center Encores!, The Davenport Theatre, and Ancram Opera House, to name a few. She is a proud graduate of Princeton University, member of Actors’ Equity, and hosts a weekly interview show on YouTube with theatre’s best and brightest entitled “Call Time with Katie Birenboim.”