New York Label Carries Clout If a Play's Hot on Broadway, It Eventually Shows Up on Television, Film, or in Classrooms

By Tony Vellela, | The Christian Science Monitor, May 29, 1992 | Go to article overview

New York Label Carries Clout If a Play's Hot on Broadway, It Eventually Shows Up on Television, Film, or in Classrooms


Tony Vellela,, The Christian Science Monitor


THOSE viewers tuning in Sunday night to the annual Tony Awards, telecast from the Gershwin Theatre in New York, may not realize that Broadway theater comes into their lives more than once a year, influencing the films they see, their local arts economy, and even what their children study in school.

"The vast majority of people tend to be most interested in plays that have succeeded on a tiny island off the northeast coast of North America," says Lawrence Harbison, an editor at Samuel French, the play-publishing company founded in 1830.

"The most successful plays on our list," which is used by community, amateur, regional, and school groups to lease the rights to produce their own plays, "are always the most recent New York hits," Mr. Harbison says.

Current favorites are "Lend Me a Tenor," a Broadway smash from three years ago, and "Other People's Money," a major off-Broadway hit of the same period. The all-time champion, particularly among high school productions, is another original New York hit, "Our Town." Theater influences TV

"All across the country," says Isabel Stevenson, president of the American Theatre Wing which originated the Tony Awards in 1948, "in high schools, two different plays a month are studied - not two movie scripts, or two television scripts, but two plays." The organization also sponsors locally televised panel discussions among actors, playwrights, producers, directors, designers, and stage managers, tapes of which are sent to school drama departments around the United States. "The interest in learning about theater is tremendous."

New York theater supplied most of the original resources, from actors and writers to technicians, to the early stages of both motion pictures and television. New York stage actors were recruited to work in the early pictures, and again when sound was introduced.

In its early years, television often broadcast live dramatic performances from New York. The trend continued, with film adaptations of New York plays such as "Amadeus," "Children of a Lesser God," and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Recent examples include Alfred Uhry's Oscar-winner "Driving Miss Daisy," based on his off-Broadway play, and the most recent Hallmark Hall of Fame, "Miss Rose White," adapted from Barbara Lebow's successful New York production of "A Shayna Maidel." The PBS dramatic series "American Playhouse" frequently finds its material on the New York stage.

The list of performers now famous worldwide through films and syndicated television programs, who began their careers on the New York stage, is endless. …

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