MY STORMY LADY
I PREDICT a hot Broadway musical comedy called My Stormy Lady. I leave plot details to the imagination (and possibly the U.S. Congress), but it could join today’s topic: other funny stories involving salacious theatre (“tre” giving the necessary class for SimanaitisSays).
Along with my usual Internet sleuthing, Brewer’s Theater, A Phrase and Fable Dictionary, An A-Z Guide to the People, Plays, Events, and Traditions of the Stage—From Ancient Greece to the Latest Broadway Hits is an excellent and entertaining source. Sir Peter Ustinov sets the tone in this book’s foreward: “For once I am grateful that I cannot understand ancient Greek. I thought, however, that I caught the word Aristophanes, enunciated with a precision suggesting derision. That old argument again, about the intrinsic superiority of tragedy over comedy, of the noble tear over the impolite, plebeian guffaw?”
Today, let’s set the bar to “plebeian.”
Historical Nudity. First century A.D. Roman theater had what would later be called ecdysiasts. H.L. Mencken coined this synonym for “stripteaser” from the Greek ἐκδύω, ekduo, to molt or strip off.
In the Middle Ages, the Church banned such goings-on, or is that goings-off? Royal pageants were exempt, however.
Beginning in the 19th century, poses plastiques of famous paintings or sculptures were permitted for the rest of us. Brewer’s notes that these displays of “discreet stationary nudity” were endorsed in Britain by a Lord Chamberlain decision as late as 1931. Loosely, he ruled, “If it moves, it’s rude.” Otherwise, I’d conjecture, it was merely plebeian enlightenment.
Hair, 1968. High or low points of Broadway nudity, depending on one’s view, came in the wild and crazy 1960s. Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, opening on Broadway in April 1968, had something to delight (or offend) everyone: pacifism, illegal drugs, environmentalism, anti-Vietnam War sentiments, a racially integrated cast—and a brief scene of nudity as an Act 1 closer. Its Broadway production ran for four years, 1750 performances; its London production, 1997 performances.
Oh! Calcutta!, 1969. A year later, Oh! Calcutta! had its off-Broadway debut. Soon, it opened in London and on Broadway. This sexy revue was a series of sketches created by Brit drama critic Kenneth Tynan. Several of its songs were composed by Peter Schickele, of P.D.Q. Bach fame.
The London production of Oh! Calcutta! aroused the interest [ed: reword] of the Metropolitan Police’s Obscene Publications Squad, which sent two officers to investigate. One of them returned twice more before recommending prosecution for obscenity. This led to a panel being sent, including two retired headmistresses; their judgment differed from that of the thrice-attending cop and the show continued.
This London production ran for more than 3900 performances. Revivals have proved even more successful. A Broadway revival ran for 5959 performances. According to Wikipedia, “As of 2018, its revival was still the longest-running revue in Broadway history, the second longest-running revival, after Chicago, and the eighth longest-running Broadway show ever.” (The Phantom of the Opera is top of this last list. The Phantom is fully dressed, with a mask even.)
Oh! Calcutta! image from original cast album.
By the way, its title comes from a painting by French artist Clovis Trouille, 1889–1975. The painting’s name is a pun on O, quel cul t’as, French for, loosely, “Oh, what a nice butt!”
Diana Riggs. Those of us of a certain age appreciate Diana Riggs as the dish playing Emma Peel in The Avengers, a TV spy adventure from the late 1960s. She’s also an actress in serious theatre.
Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Riggs, Yorkshire-born 1938, English actress. Emma Peel on The Avengers, 1965-1968, Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones, 2013–2017.
Riggs had a nudity bit in Ronald Millar’s Abelard and Heloise, a 1971 play about the twelfth-century love affair of scholastic philosopher/theologian Peter Abelard and scholar/abbess Héloïse d’Argenteuill.
These two were French, y’know.
Brewer’s cites theater critic John Simon writing, “Diana Riggs is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses.”
Isn’t there always a critic?
Porno-Erotico, 1974. My favorite Brewer’s tale concerns a frankly obscene revue, Porno-Erotico, performed in Catanzaro, Italy, in 1974. Dottore Massimo Bartolomei, the town’s public prosecutor, had already closed down six theaters and canceled 11 films in the previous eight months. He set his sights on Porno-Erotico, but its producers got wind of his plan to attend.
That particular evening, the cast juggled oranges and sang sweet Neapolitan love songs.
The audience’s other 500 businessmen were not amused. They ripped up seats and locked the doors. Brewer’s reports, “The police arrived with smoke bombs and machine-guns, but took four hours to subdue the barricaded theatergoers.”
Geez, I hope nothing like that occurs at My Stormy Lady. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018