On the passing of stage greats

March 20, 2008
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When a great movie actor dies, there tends to be a rush to screen his films. But when a great stage actor dies, there’s not much you can do besides mourn the performances you missed.

Paul Scofield — by all accounts one of the world’s great actors — died Wednesday. News channels and Web sites paying attention to his passing tended to pull out clips from “A Man for All Seasons,” for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award in 1966.

While that great film will no doubt air soon on TCM (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor), there’s no way to experience his acclaimed stage work as Salieri in the original production of “Amadeus” or as Hamlet, Henry V, or Macbeth.

Scofield’s AP obituary quotes Richard Burton, who said, "Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's.” But I’ll have to take Burton’s word for it, having never seen him in his proper habitat.

One of the things we miss here in Indiana is seeing the true greats on stage — and I’m not sure how both audiences and young actors can develop to their fullest without that opportunity. Having seen the likes of Peter O’Toole, Derek Jacobi, James Earl Jones, Uta Hagen, Christopher Plummer and a handful of other true greats, my standards may not have risen, but my understanding of what an actor can do has.

Seeing these performers is one of the reasons why, in my IBJ reviews, you’ll rarely hear me use the word “great.” That’s a superlative I save for very special performers.

Your thoughts? Or care to share a great performance you've seen?
  • Lou, your post today made me a little weepy, I confess, but in a good way. It's a cherry blossom thing: the most exquisite beauty (or greatness) is inherently transient, not to be captured, but to be fully, deeply, and wildly appreciated when the opportunity presents itself.

    That's why I love live theatre, or really any kind of live performance art.

    Do I wish I had more chances for cherry blossom viewing in Indy? Absolutely. I am sorry that I never got to see Paul Scofield in person.

    I am writing this hurriedly on my lunch break. More thoughts later, maybe...

    Hope Baugh
  • theatre great? assuming musicals count - gotta go with ben vereen in pippin. years after seeing him, knowing we almost lost him in a terrible accident, makes the memory that much more significant. mr. vereen came out after the show and asked if he could do some his cabaret act he would be performing. i imagine you can guess the audience's answer... it was a beautiful 30 minutes after a fantastic performance. bravo to this theatre great.
  • Anyone who remembers Starlight Musicals, like me, was able to see a number of stage greats, right here in Indianapols. As a high schooler, I was able -- in one summer -- to see Angela Lansbury in Mame, Yul Brynner in The King and I and Shirley Jones in Showboat. I also, over the years, remember seeing Ben Vereen in Pippin, Robert Goulet (at the peak of his alcoholism, so he wasn't very good - but he was here) in Carousel, Jim Dale in Music Man, Judy Kaye in Kiss Me Kate, Robert Morse in Sugar, and the list goes on, and on, and on. I can't remember them all.

    Echo your comments, Lou. And boy do I have fond memories of Starlight.
  • I caught the tail end of Starlight and remember seeing John Raitt (Bonnie's dad to another generation) in Shenandoah. He was okay, well past his prime, but what made the show for me was our own Jerry Hacker - who sang a beautiful rendition of The Only Home I Know. I can still picture the scene. Thanks, Jerry.
  • Jeff,
    I moved to Indy after the Starlight era. But a late 70s tour of Shenandoah (at a tent theater in New Jersey) was the first professional theater production I saw--and Raitt and company helped turn me into a stage junkie.

    Which begs the question: How come Shenandoah isn't staged more often?


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