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6 FREDERIC OHRINGER flesh, alive and life-size. We want to see our thespian titans. The triumphs won this season by actresses of such a high calibre, and the electricity they can and do generate between themselves and a live audience, elate us. But they do not fully explain why so many of these women are here at once. The answer is, in part, economic. For the unpleasant fact of the matter is that, with high costs choking virtually everything, it is increasingly difficult to finance a show on Broadway and, once having found backing for it, to make a profit. Probably the one producer in recent years who deliberately set out to lose money exists only in the gleefully loony imagination of Mel Brooks. The chances for coming upon a formula for ensuring the financial success of a Broadway show are roughly equivalent to finding Times Square deserted at rush hour. And so a producer must attempt to conjure up something which is "bankable"--a hot property or an even hotter star. Earlier this year, when Joseph Papp persuaded the luminous Liv Ullmann to star at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in A Doll's House, it was no wonder that every ticket for the eight-week engagement was sold long before opening night. There are simply fewer risks involved in having a Big Name above the title on the marquee. Noel Coward, directing a company that featured Maggie Smith, once said that it "could play the Albanian telephone directory." This season, however, Miss Smith has brought to Broadway something considerably more lively than a phone book: a giddy, flawlessly timed performance, in Sir Noel's sharp-edged comedy, Private Lives. The combination of popular performer and classic theatre piece is a happy one for both producer and audience. Its sources undoubtedly account, to some degree, for the recent proliferation of revivals on Broadway.A revival with a strong cast stands a better chance, initially, at least, than a new work. Theatregoers advance on Broadway like a phalanx of eager recruits, but many want to avoid the minefields of unfamiliarity. Experimental theatre, and new talent in general, is more likely to nudge its way onto Off and Off-Off-Broadway, where production costs and ticket prices are less staggering. But there are other factors responsible for bringing great actresses to Broadway now. Ironically, in a time when women are establishing a real base in business and politics, they are hard put, even during the current movie boom, to find good jobs in front of the cameras. "I feel sorry for the actresses now," says Ingrid Bergman. "There are no good parts for them. What do we see? Stories about men. Two men. Three men." And Deborah Kerr, star of Edward Albee's new play, Seascape, asks, "Who is thinking in terms of women today?" Many fault the male-dominated screenwriting world for the paucity of roles for women. It may well be that many male writers find it difficult to grapple with the image and the reality of contemporary women, and so confine themselves generally to creating parts for men. Ellen Burstyn, currently on stage in Same Time, Next Year, is one of the few actresses of late who has chewed on a meaty film role. The success of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore can be attributed, in part, to the fact that she contributed a good deal of the script. So, in a way, we have the movies to thank for making so many actresses available for work on Broadway. Most performers grab at the chance to work in the theatre, to get feedback from a live audience, to work on and subtly develop a character over a period of time. And perhaps many are drawn to Broadway because it is to them what the Metropolitan Opera is to singers: a citadel, no matter how beleaguered, to be reached. It is best summarized by Angela Lansbury, the gutsy, grabby, vulnerable Rose in the recent revival of Gypsy. "Broadway," she says, "always is and always has been the place where you had to make it--the last pin you had to knock down." Hollywood, you don't know what you're missing. [[6 images, 2 on the left, 4 on the right]] LIV ULLMANN GWEN VERDON ANGELA LANSBURY ELLEN BURSTYN MAGGIE SMITH DEBORAH KERR 7
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