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Critical Moments

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Things are beginning to perk up on Broadway once again. The depressing sight of darkened theatres with their light-boards bare of bulbs, the sockets almost eloquent in their nudity, will be seen no more. The second half of the 1934 theatrical season is under-way. During the past week two musicals and one comedy moved into action and before the next seven days have passed a like number of attractions will have rolled up the opening night curtain.

Leading this week’s procession is the Shubert extravaganza, “Life Begins At 8:40” which the Winter Garden houses. Although only opened since last Monday night the management is already beginning to rub its collective hands as business has been surprisingly brisk. Bert Lahr, loud, uncouth and pretty ridiculous received the most prominent billing, but, to me, the oustanding hit of the show is the clever thoroughly enjoyable antics of Ray Bolger. This young man is a peer among the hoofers and in addition is a natural comedian. Yet “Life” lacks the dash, veer and originality of “As Thousands Cheer,” it is after all a Shubert production, and since Al Jolson left the managerial wing of that firm things have never been quite the same.


The other musical comedy of the week is a conglomeration of variety entertainment called “Saluta,” which is playing at the Imperial Theatre. It is not as elaborate a production as “Life,” but what it lacks in externals, it makes up in dirt. Milton Berle is the leading character and he manages to stay on the stage constantly.

There are moments when this young man is amusing but most of the time his clowning wears pretty thin and his sense of decency is almost entirely absent. Although there is a plot to “Saluta,” it has something to do with a group of New York racketeers who go to Italy to run an opera, what entertainment there is to be found will be discovered outside this feeble framework. Chaz Chase, the fire-eater is part of the proceedings of and this “hot stuff” eating gent, he nibbles at burning papers with relish, is easily the hottest thing in the show. It has been some years since Mr. Chase and his warming diet were seen in this vicinity but he does not seem to have lost his appetite. The songs and dances are regulation.


For comedy, “Kill That Story,” by Harry Madden and Philip Dunning is the week’s offering. This play, which has been staged by George Abbott at the Booth Theatre, had its premiere in one of the barnyard playhouses during the summer. As you would suspect it concerns newspapers, reporters, advertisers and other species of public-print character.

If “Kill That Story” is indicative of the type of play coming to Broadway it is going to be a sad season. The authors have pieced together a rather melodramatic plot about the young intrepid reporter who is able with the aid of an honest editor to thwart the dishonest intention of a couple of publishers to get hold of a newspaper and turn it into a sheet of praise for a crooked politician. What interest there is in the play may be found in the background which pictures how newspaper executives and advertising men act when they get away from home and let loose at a convention. Pretty feeble stuff.


Tomorrow night at the Martin Beck Theatre, the D’Oyly Carte company named after the original producer of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, will put on the first in its series of G. & S. revivals. For a starter the English players are offering “The Gondoliers.” This is one of the lesser known Gilbert and Sullivan pieces and it will only be played until Thursday when another minor work Gilbert’s “Cox and Box” and the favorite “The Pirates of Penzance” will take the stage until the end of the week. “The Gondoliers” or “The King of Barataria” is of historic importance in the annals of Gilbert and Sullivan. First produced in London on December 7, 1889, it was the last effort of the team before their first real quarrel which lasted until 1893. During this period no new Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations were forthcoming. The result was that D’Oyly found himself with a theatre and acting company on his hands but with nothing to produce. Wisely he began the first series of revivals and proved conclusively that people were willing to listen to a G. & S. operetta more than once. “The Gondoliers,” one of the kindest and sweetest musically of the G. & S. pieces, has been missing from most of the series of revivals given in this country. Its re-introduction should be greeted with pleasure by the real Gilbert and Sullivan addicts.

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