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THE WORD “PLAYBILL” is both a generic, an information-filled giveaway to theatergoers, and also Playbill, the monthly magazine, most copies of which are theater- and production-specific.

Background. As described in Wikipedia, each monthly Playbill features a ‘wraparound’ section of theatrical happenings. Within the wraparound, a Playbill contains details of the particular production.

The traditional Playbill banner is yellow with black writing. Specialities have been celebrated with replacement of the yellow: October 2013, green for the tenth anniversary of Wicked; April 2018, white and red for the fifth anniversary of Kinky Boots; and each June since 2014 with rainbows honoring LGBT Pride Month.

Red Zone: Sergey Prokofiev and the Soviet Union. In Playbill, November 22, 2010, Eddie Silva asks, “Why did Sergey Prokofiev return to his homeland during Stalin’s reign?” 

Eddie Silva writes, “As an example of how a cruel irony may underscore a single life in that place and time, the composer Sergey Prokofiev figures as a representative figure.”

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev, 1891–1953, Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He is considered one of the major composers of the 20th century. Portrait by Henri Matisse, 1921.

Through two of his works, Lieutenant Kije Suite and The Love for Three Oranges, Prokofiev has been no stranger here at SimanaitisSays. Today, I glean tidbits from Silva’s Playbill essay.

Pause here, if you like, and enjoy Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite.

Why a Soviet Life? Silva notes, “Both as a composer and pianist, Prokofiev found success in the great concert halls of the world. He was even enticed by Hollywood with an offer of $25,000 per week: a fortune in the midst of the world Depression. He could have joined Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Korngold, or for that matter Thomas Mann, Bertholt Brecht, and many others who prospered in exile in southern California.”

Silva wrote, “In contrast, Prokofiev experienced enthusiastic audiences and glowing reviews whenever he returned to his mother country. By 1933, he was the toast of Moscow, rather than as he was in Paris, just one in the crowd.”

“He was promised a place in that Arcadia,” Silva says, “and believed that he would be immune to the restrictions and censorship and fear that other artists suffered.… His head full of dreams, Prokofiev entered Stalin’s terror.”

Even in Death. Silva recounts, “Prokofiev died on March 5, 1953, the same day as Josef Stalin…. Thousands gathered to view Stalin’s corpse in Moscow, and hundreds were trampled to death trying to catch a glimpse of their fallen leader.”

Yet, Silva cites Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise: “About thirty people showed up to bid Prokofiev farewell. The Beethoven Quartet was instructed to play Tchaikovsky, although Prokofiev never liked Tchaikovsky; the quartet then disappeared into the mob to play the same music for Stalin.”

Ross continued, “The hearse was not allowed near Prokofiev’s house, so the coffin had to be moved by hand, through and around streets that were blocked by crowds and tanks. As the masses moved toward the Hall of Columns [where Stalin lay in state] along one avenue, Prokofiev’s body was carried in the opposite direction down an empty street.”

As Silva notes in his Playbill piece, “If a historical period as ominous as the 20th century may be typified by a gesture, perhaps it is the ironic smile, or grin, or grimace.” 

Thoughtful writing indeed, especially in a little theater program. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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