Tag Archives: Theatre

Theatre: The Unsung Song of Ethel Rosenberg


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Ari Butler, Adrienne Moore, Tracy Michaelidis. Ethel Sings.Cold warriors of the 1950s achieved one of their most macabre victories by frying Ethel Rosenberg in the electric chair, not for sharing atomic secrets, but simply as leverage to coerce her husband Julius to reveal sources.

Joan Beber’s play, “Ethel Rosenberg Sings: The Unsung Song of Ethel Rosenberg” at the Beckett Theatre until July 13th probes gender politics and personal story. This lively and intelligent exploration doesn’t flinch at setting Ethel’s story to music, since as a smart Jewish girl from the Lower East side bursting to escape the confines of immigrant horizons Ethel (Tracy Michaelidis) saw herself on stage “hitting a high C.” Undercover Productions and Perry Street Theatricals give this rendition of “straight from the spy files” of history an imaginative twist by framing it with prison politics and interracial casting that bounces the themes in an echo chamber of past and present. Continue reading

Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama 2014 Season


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Drums Along The Mohawk Outdoor TheatreFollowing a successful debut in 2013, the Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama is expanding its performance schedule to four shows for 2014 at Gelston Castle Estate, 980 Robinson Road, Mohawk, NY.

Kyle Jenks, the writer and producer of Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama used the plotline from the famous novel Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds and adapted it for the outdoor stage. Continue reading

Green-Wood To Celebrate Florence ‘Fearless Flo’ LaBadie


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Florence LaBadieThis Sunday, April 27, the Green-Wood Historic Fund will celebrate the life and career of Florence LaBadie, an early 20th century silent film sensation known as “Fearless Flo” (because she often performed her own stunts), with a dedication ceremony at her final resting place, featuring music and remarks. A reception will follow in Green-Wood’s Historic Chapel.

Although she appeared in more than 180 films, a car accident in 1928 tragically cut her life short at the age of 28. Mysteriously, no monument was ever placed at her burial site and her resting place has remained unmarked for nearly a century. Continue reading

East Side Stories:
Plays About the History of the Lower East Side


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MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe OBIE Award winning Metropolitan Playhouse will present the fifth annual East Village Theater Festival, a three-week celebration of the life and lore of New York City’s East Village.

The festival features four different evenings of new plays and solo-performances, as well as the work of local artists, and a panel discussion on the neighborhood’s changing identity. Continue reading

Drums Along the Mohawk Expands Season, Launches Kickstarter


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DAMOFollowing its debut at Gelston Castle Estate in 2013, Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama, based on the book by Walter D. Edmonds, is expanding its performance schedule to four shows. The show opens Saturday, August 2, and Sunday, August 3, 2014 at Gelston Castle Estate (980 Robinson Road in Mohawk, NY). It continues the following weekend (August 9-10). Performance times are: Saturdays at 5:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm.

Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama is the story of Gil and Lana Martin, a young couple who settle in the Mohawk Valley of upstate NY to raise a family in 1777, only to find they are in the pathway of the American Revolution. It’s the story of Nicholas Herkimer, a patriot of Palatine German descent who carved out a successful livelihood despite living on the edge of the frontier.  The strife amongst colonial neighbors in the Mohawk Valley of upstate NY was vehement in 1777 and these events set up several flashpoints that spark a conflagration of valley conflict during the American Revolution. Continue reading

Madame Sherri: Early 20th Century NYC Show Business


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Madame SherryResearch projects sometimes take unexpected, but fascinating, twists and turns. I had reason a few years ago to look into the case of a woman called Madame Sherri. She is mostly known for an unusual castle-like house built for her in a rural area of New Hampshire–its ruins are now popular with hikers and lovers of the odd and mysterious.

My investigation dragged me far from New Hampshire–to the world of cabaret reviews in New York City, the vaudeville circuit, and “soldier shows” (popular during World War I, with Irving Berlin’s “Yip Yip Yaphank” being the most well-known). And, for good measure,  toss in a scandal involving sex and blackmail. Continue reading

Helen Redmond: Big City Star with North Country Roots


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NRedmond 3A NYHHelen Redmond’s life was that of a star, playing Broadway and touring the country for five years in the role of prima donna, but she hadn’t forgotten her family. In 1900, Helen’s mother, three brothers, a sister, and a nephew shared a Manhattan address with her. All were employed except for mom (age 64 and retired) and the nephew, who was in school. It was a far cry from 20 years earlier, when the single mother of seven toiled as a hotel servant and cook in upstate Vermont.

Clinging to her roots, and to escape the constant limelight and media attention, Helen occasionally visited her hometown of Port Henry, sometimes spending entire summers there, accompanied by her mother. Continue reading

Helen Redmond: Theater Star from Port Henry (Part 2)


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NRedmond 2A NYHShow biz can be heady stuff, and some things never change. Quirky stories and celebrities’ habits have long been the subject of great attention. Helen Redmond was certainly not immune to it, and as always, the attention was a press agent’s dream. Nothing is or was ever too silly for stars to indulge in.

In 1899, the latest fad was to walk one’s pet in public, using a harness (some even included a bit). In Helen’s case, the harnesses were “made of the finest silver chains, with tiny bells jingling at every movement.” She hired a boy to care for her three famous pets.

And why would any of that seem eccentric or excessive? Because the pets were turtles. Continue reading

Helen Redmond, Theater Star from Port Henry


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NRedmond 1A NYHThe Adirondacks have a rich history of mountain lore, guide stories, Great Camps, and Olympic glory. But our mountain history tends to overshadow elements of the past that can serve as great attractions for locals and tourists alike: fame and achievements by regional natives and residents in non-mountain endeavors. Among the dozens of examples: one of the most popular songs ever written was penned by a native of the North Creek-Wevertown area; and two world-champions―one a beloved cyclist, and the other among the greatest regional athletes ever―were both based in the Glens Falls area.

The unusual talents and accomplishments of locals is virtual gold for area museums, but so many of these stories are overlooked. Take for instance, Port Henry’s Helen Redmond. Though you’ve never heard of her, Helen’s talents were once celebrated from coast to coast. Continue reading

Cayuga Museum Seeks Objects From Auburn’s Theater History


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largeThe Cayuga Museum is working on a new exhibit to open next month. From Gilded Stage to Silver Screen, A History of Auburn’s Theaters will tell the stories of the operas, playhouses, community theaters, parlor shows and movie palaces that once graced the city.

Museum staff are seeking the public’s help in gathering photographs, costumes, playbills, and anything else that can help tell these stories. If you have any of these objects, or you were involved in local theater and would like to share your story, please call Kirsten or Eileen at the Museum, 315 253-8051. All loaned objects are logged in, covered by the Museum’s insurance, and returned at the end of the exhibit. Continue reading

The Plantation in Brooklyn:
Nate Salsbury’s Black America Show


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Black America from Illustrated American 1895Following the run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park, showman Nate Salsbury, in the 1890s, sought another production to fill the vacant venue. His first thought–for an exhibition on Italian industry–did not get very far because his poor health prevented him from planning it.

Searching for something “purely national and a novelty,” he decided on a show that would provide a “picture of the South,” to be called “Black America.” Salsbury hired Billy McClain, a black entertainer who had already been doing a show called “The South before the War,” to manage the production. Continue reading

What Works: Flashback to Your Community’s Heritage


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Capitol TheatreOn September 30, the recently reopened historic Capitol Theatre in the village of Port Chester in the Town of Rye, in the county of Westchester, founded in the days of vaudeville, beloved by the Grateful Dead, rechristened by Bob Dylan, and just host to Willie Nelson, hosted Flashbacks. 

A musical to the history of the town written by local sisters and educators Camille Linen and Donna Cribari, Flashbacks tells the story of high school students who complete a historical multimedia project and are drawn to the local river that mysteriously produces figures from the town’s past as primary source documents. Continue reading

19th Century Celebrity Phat Boy Babbage


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EF BabbageThis is a story about a fat guy. In this politically correct and hyper-sensitive world, some of you might already be reaching for your keyboards to send me a nasty message for being so thoughtless. But without referring to him as fat, I couldn’t have written this piece. I’m pretty sure he knew he was obese, as did anyone who met him. But if there was ever any doubt, one could always refer to his professional name: Phat Boy. (Imagine … a name like that, 150 years before the birth of Rap music.)

His given name was Edward Frederick Babbage, the son of John and Frances Babbage, who emigrated from England in the early 1800s and settled in Rochester, New York. Among their five children was a pair of twins, Edward Frederick and Edwin Francis, born about 20 miles west of the city in 1841. Early on, Edward exhibited a propensity for gaining weight. He was considered large at age six, and weighed 200 pounds when he was fourteen. Continue reading

Adaptive Reuse in Rochester: Bread and Water Theatre


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6a01157088010c970b017c387a3014970bWhat follows is a guest essay by J.R. Teeter, the founding artistic director of Bread & Water Theatre. Since 2000 Bread & Water Theatre has had as its purpose the development of new dramatic works and affordable arts programming for the public. This essay first appeared on the site Preservation News.

Rochester, New York has fallen on hard times, not unlike many of the cities across the nation. The Erie Canal, once a major shipping route, is now considered obsolete. The city’s biggest employer, Kodak, is now bankrupt. Major businesses have either downsized, moved out of town, or both. When a new company takes an interest in the city, the red carpet is rolled out and tax breaks are doled out, sometimes at the cost of the city’s legacy. Continue reading

Local History Collaboration Leads To Annual Theater Event


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547569_600954409922681_354691017_nThree organizations – Colton Historical Society, Grasse River Players and Colton-Pierrepont Central School – have announced new collaborative work for 2013 following the successful production of Sunday Rock—The Folk Musical in 2012.  Last year, when they first combined their historical, theatrical and educational interests to produce the show along with author and Colton resident Evelyn Riehl and her family, they received lots of support and encouragement to continue.

The partnership has now committed to presenting a theatrical performance addressing a dimension of history each July around the time Colton celebrates its history. Over the winter plans were made to produce The 1940’s Radio Hour and to also pursue an oral history project in conjunction with it focusing on World War II. Continue reading

Unique Stoneware Jug Depicting Entertainment Acquired


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acrobat jug detailA four-gallon stoneware jug manufactured by Fulper Bros. in Flemington, New Jersey during the 1880s is now part of the New York State Museum’s Weitsman Collection of American Stoneware. Now on display at the State Museum, the historically significant piece of stoneware was recently acquired for the Museum by stoneware collector and benefactor, Adam Weitsman.

According to an announcement release to the press today, “The acrobat jug, a sought-after example of decorated American stoneware, has been breaking stoneware record prices at auction for decades and Weitsman had wanted the piece for over thirty years.” Weitsman recently purchased the jug from Allen Katz Americana the statement says. Continue reading

Bryan O’Byrne: From Plattsburgh to Hollywood


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In late July, 1941, a young Plattsburgh boy received permission from his parents to visit the movie house just a few blocks away. Hours later, he had not returned home, and Mom and Dad hit the streets in search of their missing son. Soon they were at the Plattsburgh Police Station, anxiously seeking help. Two patrolmen were immediately put on the case, which, unlike so many stories today, had a happy ending.

The two policemen obtained keys to the theater building and began searching the interior. There, curled up in his seat near the front row, little Bryan Jay O’Byrne was fast asleep. He later explained that he enjoyed the movie so much, he decided to stay for the second showing and must have drifted off into dreamland. When the theater closed for the night, no one had seen the young boy lying low in his seat.

Perhaps no one knew it then, but that amusing incident was a harbinger of things to come. Bryan O’Byrne was born to Elmer and Bessie (Ducatte) O’Byrne of Plattsburgh on February 6, 1931. Life in the O’Byrne home may have been difficult at times. Six years earlier, Bryan’s older sister was born at the very moment Elmer was being arraigned in Plattsburgh City Court on burglary and larceny charges.

Still, the family managed to stay together, and after attending St. Peter’s Elementary School and Plattsburgh High, Bryan went on to graduate from the State University Teacher’s College at Plattsburgh. After stints in the army and as an elementary school teacher, he pursued acting, studying at the Stella Adler Studio.

He appeared on Broadway with Vivian Leigh in “Duel of Angels” (the run was cut short after five weeks due to the first actors’ strike in forty years). Other jobs followed, but he soon surfaced in a new, increasingly popular medium: television.

In the early 1960s, Bryan began appearing in television series, becoming one of the best-known character actors in show business. Most people recognized his face from numerous bit parts he played in television and in movies, but few knew his name. That is true of many character actors, but ironically, in O’Byrne’s case, it was that very anonymity which brought him fame.

It all took place in the 1966–67 television season with the launch of a show called Occasional Wife. The plot line followed the story of an unmarried junior executive employed by a baby food company. The junior executive’s boss felt that, since they were selling baby food, it would be wise to favor married men for promotions within the company.

So, the junior executive concocted a plan with a female who agreed to serve as his “occasional wife.” He put her on salary and got her an apartment two floors above his own. Hilarity ensued as a variety of situations in each episode had them running up and down the fire escape to act as husband and wife. This all happened to the obvious surprise and bemusement of a man residing on the floor between the two main players. That man was played by Bryan O’Byrne.


O’Byrne’s character had no name and no speaking lines, but he became the hit of the show. Usually he was engaged in some type of activity that ended up in shambles as he watched the shenanigans. The audience loved it. The show’s writers had such fun with the schtick that O’Byrne became somewhat of a sensation. His expert acting skills made the small part into something much bigger.

Eventually, in early 1967, a nationwide contest was held to give the “Man in the Middle” an actual name. Much attention was heaped on O’Byrne, but the high didn’t last for long. Occasional Wife went the way of many other promising comedies that were built on a certain premise, but were not allowed to develop. It survived only one season.

O’Byrne’s career continued to flourish. Among his repeating roles was that of CONTROL Agent Hodgkins in the hit comedy series Get Smart, starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Over the years, O’Byrne remained one of Plattsburgh’s best-kept secrets, appearing in 45 television series, 22 movies, and several Disney productions.

Among those television series were some high-profile shows and many of the all-time greats: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Batman, Ben Casey, Get Smart, Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, Happy Days, Maverick, Murder She Wrote, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Sanford and Son, The Big Valley, The Bill Cosby Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, The Partridge Family, The Untouchables, and Welcome Back Kotter.

Advertisers discovered the appeal of Bryan’s friendly face, and he was cast in more than two hundred television commercials. His experience in multiple fields and his love and understanding of the intricacies of performing led to further opportunities. He became an excellent acting coach. Among those he worked with, guided, or mentored were Bonnie Bedelia, Pam Dawber, Nick Nolte, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jimmy Smits, and Forest Whittaker.

Writer Janet Walsh, a friend of O’Byrne’s since the early 1980s, noted that, early on, he recognized the talent of young Nick Nolte. According to Walsh, “Nick slept on Bryan’s couch for a year. Bryan cast him in his production of The Last Pad, and that launched Nick’s career.”

Besides working as an acting coach for the prestigious Stella Adler Academy, O’Byrne also served on the Emmy Nominating Committee in Los Angeles. He spent nearly forty years in the entertainment business, working with many legendary stars, including Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Wayne. His television resume covers many of the best-known, most-watched series ever. And through it all, he remained a nice, unpretentious man.

Quite the journey for a ten-year-old movie fan from Plattsburgh.

Photos: Bryan Jay O’Byrne; Bryan O’Byrne and Vivian Leigh; Michael Callan, Bryan O’Byrne, and Patricia Hart from Occasional Wife.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

New Drama to Bring Roebling, Brooklyn Bridge to Stage


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A new drama Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge is in development for a New York City Equity Showcase Production to be produced by special arrangement between the author Mark  Violi and Theater to Go. Plans are underway to present this show in March 2013.

Based on the true story of the Roebling family who helped conceive, design and finally build the New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, the play has been endorsed by the Roebling Museum and by descendants of John Roebling. “Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge” brings to the stage the human drama surrounding the construction effort to complete one of the most enduring engineering icons in the world. 
The play examines the beginnings of the project to build the Brooklyn Bridge in1869, through its completion in 1883. It is a play about a forward thinking family on the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution. The play shows how this project foreshadowed the 20th century in its huge ambition, the revolutionary construction techniques developed by John Roebling and implemented by his son Washington, and in the recognition of the invaluable role that a woman, Emily Roebling, played in the completion of this enormous project. 
“Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge” has had two widely acclaimed non-equity productions in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey. The New Jersey premier was produced in 2010 by invitation of the Roebling Museum to open the restored Roebling Auditorium and it was because of the overwhelming response to this play that plans were implemented to bring it to NYC. 
Fundraising has begun through IndieGoGo. Through a special arrangement with Fractured Atlas, Theater to Go is able to accept tax deductible contributions and has arranged to offer some incentives donated by the Roebling Museum including artifacts from the Roebling factories. With the success of the fundraising, this showcase production is seen as a first step toward a larger New York production. Theater to Go is well known throughout the Mid-Atlantic region for their  unique interactive theater events. At the helm is Ruth Markoe who has produced, directed and performed throughout the region for many years and who brought the NJ premier to the stage. 
Photo: Mark Violi and Ruth Markoe holding original cable from the Brooklyn Bridge (provided).  

Roxy Rothafel: Legendary American Showman


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American Showman chronicles the life of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882–1936), the prolific movie palace showman and radio star who helped transform the moviegoing experience, radio broadcasting, and American popular culture to become an international celebrity.

Ross Melnick’s American Showman: Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel and the Birth of the Entertainment Industry (2012, Columbia University Press) is the first book devoted to Rothafel’s multifaceted entertainment career. Among Roxy’s notable popular culture contributions include the first showings of Robert Flaherty’s documentary “Nanook of the North” and the German film that reinvigorated the a genre, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” – oh, and there was also those Rockettes, and that mention in Cole Porter’s “You’re On Top.”

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