Excerpts From Edwin Wilson’s ‘Magic Time’

Melissa M. Munoz

As a schoolboy in the early 1940s,

Edwin Wilson

saw Al Jolson fall to his knees in the footlights of the Shubert Theatre and belt out “Mammy.” As a youthful guy he thrilled to the primary Broadway productions of “A Streetcar Named Need,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Oklahoma!”—the common American repertoire aborning. In his memoir “Magic Time,” Mr. Wilson, now 93, writes fondly of how these and other electrifying moments of New York playgoing led him, circuitously, to Yale Drama Faculty and a lifetime of teaching and creating theater happen—writing scripts, directing and creating performs, encouraging younger expertise, and creating or cowriting a few of the most enduring college or university theater textbooks. At the coronary heart of the book, nevertheless, is an account of his extensive tenure as The Wall Street Journal’s theater critic, from 1972 to 1994. It was perform that, with its initially-evening tickets and aisle seats, returned him to what drew him to the remarkable arts in the very first place—an viewers member’s experience of residing theater. Extra than a reminiscence, “Magic Time” is also a mini-anthology of Mr. Wilson’s most loved critiques and other writings for this paper. The critic excelled at profiles, interviews and memorial tributes, 4 of which are adapted listed here.



Magic Time

By Edwin Wilson

Smith & Kraus, 311 webpages, $19.95

Edwin Wilson.


Courtesy of the writer

On composer

Richard Rodgers,

who died at 77 in 1979: For the 1st 22 decades of his qualified existence, Rodgers collaborated with

Lorenz Hart.

With Hart, he generally wrote the audio to start with, spinning out a waltz, a ballad or a patter tune, then Hart would include his intricate, urbane lyrics: “We’ll go to Greenwich / the place modern-day adult males itch / to be absolutely free.” When Hart, owing to personal troubles, could no extended provide as his lyricist, Rodgers turned to Oscar Hammerstein II, and started a next impressive collaboration. Beginning with “Oklahoma!” in 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein turned out strike displays yr right after yr: “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of New music.” The place Hart’s lyrics had been advanced, often bittersweet, Hammerstein’s ended up honest, clear-cut and in some cases even extremely sentimental. But Rodgers altered: his songs took on a hotter, down-to-earth high quality. He even improved his composing behavior alternatively of producing the music first, he set his tunes to Hammerstein’s accomplished lyrics. By way of all of these modifications one particular matter remained continuous: Rodgers’s wonderful gift for melody and his stable musicianship.

Alec Wilder,

whose ebook “American Popular Song” is almost certainly the definitive examine of the topic, manufactured a detailed analysis of additional than a hundred Rodgers tunes. Afterward he wrote: “I am extra than impressed and respectful: I am astonished.” His songs, Mr. Wilder reported, “revealed a increased diploma of excellence, inventiveness and sophistication than any other author I have analyzed.” Sir

Thomas Beecham

when remarked, “if an opera can not be played by an organ-grinder, it is not going to reach immortality.” Richard Rodgers’s songs have been played by organ-grinders, sung by

Ella Fitzgerald,

and carried out by a thousand dance bands. They have much more than fulfilled the examination and have accomplished their own form of immortality.

From a 1987 piece on

George Abbott,

an perception into the director’s ear for expertise, elicited from the deadpan comic actress

Nancy Walker

: “I was 19 when I went to tryouts for ‘Best Foot Forward.’ The final matter in the entire world I preferred to be was funny no lady 19 desires to be humorous. But Mr. Abbott listened to me sing and later cast me. In his response to my singing individuals 32 bars he instructed me who I was. Beginning appropriate there he defined my vocation and, in simple fact, my full existence. And I am eternally grateful. . . . Mr. Abbott’s genius is that he never ever allow me know I was funny.”

A memory of seeing the 1949 London production of

Christopher Fry’s

verse participate in “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” starring

John Gielgud

: It just so took place that in the Fry perform two youthful actors were being producing their phase debuts:

Richard Burton


Claire Bloom.

Some 40 several years afterwards, when I was interviewing Claire for a tv sequence, I explained to her I experienced witnessed that manufacturing. “Every night time we had been in that clearly show,” she reported, “there was a single scene in which I could not resist wanting at the audience. It was a scene in which John, in that sonorous, unmistakable voice, would be declaiming blank verse . . . but the audience would be staring, not at Gielgud but at Richard silently scrubbing the flooring.”

From a overview of “

Jerome Robbins

’ Broadway” (1989), a comment on the narrative drive of Robbins’s dances: Each and every amount in the exhibit tells a tale that pulses with life. This is the case equally with straight dance numbers these kinds of as Irving Berlin’s “Mr. Monotony,” which was minimize from two displays out of town, and with prolonged tales these types of as the mock desire in “Fiddler on the Roof,” in which Tevye is warned not to enable his daughter marry the butcher. This reward for narrative is a reminder that Mr. Robbins is the guy most responsible for the emergence of the director-choreographer. In his first demonstrates, Mr. Robbins directed only the dance numbers. By the time he ended his Broadway vocation, with reveals these as “West Aspect Story,” “Gypsy” and “Fiddler,” Mr. Robbins was the director and the choreographer, a twin role that set the pattern for a full era of administrators who started out as dancers, notably

Bob Fosse,

Michael Bennett


Tommy Tune.

Mr. Wilson taught drama at Hunter University and the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York from 1966 to 2004. His textbooks consist of “The Theatre Experience” and, with Alvin Goldfarb, “Theatre: The Lively Art” and “Living Theatre.”

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