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UP IN THE CHEAP SEATS: A HISTORICAL MEMOIR OF BROADWAY
By Ron Fassler
Griffith Moon Publishing, $29.95

Book review by David NouNou

When first learning of the title Up in the Cheap Seats : A Historical Memoir of Broadway, I was thrilled to see that Ron Fassler took the initiative to write a book that basically mirrored the same experiences that I had 10 years earlier. His first theatrical outing was the musical I Do, I Do with Mary Martin and Robert Preston in 1968; mine was Jamaica with Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban in 1958. We both experienced what it was like to sit in the last row of the balcony for $2.90 and experiencing a thrill that would last a lifetime for us.

We both came from Jewish parents who weren’t supportive of our visions and for the most part went to the theater on our own. So I was very excited to see how our love for the theatre mirrored each other. Like Mr. Fassler, I wrote little snippets of the shows I saw; he was more detailed. We also saw the saw bombs of the 1970s: Dude, Earl of Ruston, Angela, Love Is A Time of Day, Father’s Day, Park, Shelter, etc. However, that’s where our similarities ended. He was ambitious and tenacious in that he had a paper route to pay for his tickets. To my great shame, my allowance wasn’t sustainable enough for all the shows I wanted to see. Again to my great shame and apologies, I had to beg, borrow and steal from my parents and relatives to pay for my theatrical and musical recordings addictions.

Although Up in the Cheap Seats is a charming book when it deals from the standpoint of a child’s memory of the 200 shows he saw from 1969 to 1973 and the lengths he went to to see them, it comes to a screeching halt whenever it gets into chapters rhapsodizing about each of the actors that he met. Mr. Fassler tells us that he was able to go backstage to most all of the shows he had seen during that period. I envy him for that, because the gatekeepers I encountered in those days would not allow you to get past the stage door unless someone was expecting you.

The rhapsody begins in the first chapter with his love for Robert Preston, whom his Aunt Helen took him to see in I Do, I Do. His first drama was The Great White Hope with James Earl Jones and the actor’s intensity. His favorite is Julie Harris; the gushing there is endless. I know that a favorite is very subjective. However, it’s as if Colleen Dewhurst, Margaret Leighton, Zoe Caldwell, Rosemary Harris and countless more actresses never existed.

Then comes The Obsession chapter on 1776 and William Daniels, and his “Touchstone” actor is the wonderful character actor Joseph Maher. To many, other than the theatrical community, Mr. Maher is an unknown actor. However, I will attest that I’ve seen him in many wonderful performances; my personal favorite performance of his was in 84 Charing Cross Road that Mr. Fassler omitted. Mr. Fassler also talks about Pat Hingle, Ken Howard, Hal Linden, Maureen Stapleton (one of many favorite stage actresses, if not my favorite) and John McMartin.

All these performers were indeed perfectionists in their fields and extremely talented. I am also aware that these are the performers he first experienced during the first 200 shows he saw. He also peppers the book with many testimonials from co-stars of these performers. Alec Baldwin on Joseph Maher, Jane Alexander on James Earl Jones, Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince on John McMartin.

I know Mr. Fassler came after me and missed a lot of the great performances of the 1950s and 1960s that I was fortunate to see and I’m genuinely sorry he missed out on. I still remember the harrowing performances of Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker, even though at the time I didn’t know who they were, nothing and I mean nothing could ever top that experience, to see Bette Davis and Margaret Leighton in a once-in-a-lifetime experience in The Night of the Iguana. Also Ethel Merman, the definitive Mama Rose in Gypsy. 1958 to 1962 were my glory days of the theatre, which unfortunately Mr. Fassler was either not born yet to experience or too young to have seen.

I was so hoping to be able to pick up with him where he started and share, instead of just reading kudos about some actors that have crossed his path. Regardless, Up in the Cheap Seats is an easy read of more innocent theatrical times that will please many theater aficionados.

For more information, please visit http://www.ronfassler.org/ and to purchase Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, visit Amazon.com.

 

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published August 27, 2017

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