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A CurtainUp Review
What's My Line?-Live On Stage
By Elyse Sommer
Gone are the days when a theater enthusiasts could count on Monday for a night at home, at a movie or visiting with friends. But increasingly, special Monday night performances and Monday night only events like Broadway by the Year have turned that night into a cornucopia of theatrical offerings. The latest Monday Nights only event is an expanded, staged replay of What's My Line?, the television game show that was was as popular in its day as American Idol and which enjoyed a remarkable twenty-five-year run.
Only a sprinkling of people who were at the Barrow Street Theater in the West Village for the first New York edition of What's My Line? Live on Stage were old enough to have been around in 1950 when the show was hosted by newsman John Daly and panelists like Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen who were as well known in their day as Ophra. Neither is the show's genial host J. Keith van Straaten (who also hosted the show's previous seventy-four editions at a Los Angeles improv venue.
Since I'm a sucker for TV memorabilia, I joined the opening night crowd (the small theater was packed) curious to see how director Jim Newman and Van Straaten could stretch the simple half-hour format into an eighty-minute theatrical show. That format was to have the four panelists sit at a table and then bring on one mystery guest at a time—the mystery being what the guest's unusual occupation was? The audience was let in on the mystery. The panelists were given ten chances to guess the guest's line of work, with the answers limited to yes or no. For the final guest, a mystery celebrity, the panelists were blindfolded. (George Wendt was the surprise mystery celebrity the night I was there). No big prizes for the guests who stumped the panel ($50 was tops!—and the current show simply hands Barrow Street theater tickets to those who stump the panelists and those who don't.
I expected a few laughs to nudge forth memories of less complicated and elaborate small screen entertainment. What I didn't expect, was a brief but wonderful oboe concert by the New York Philharmonic's lead oboist (mystery guest #3), or a delicious slice of cheese cake on exiting (courtesy of mystery guest #2, the cheesecake baker at Juniors' Restaurant in Brooklyn). I can't promise you either cheese cake or an impromptu concert, since each week will feature a different set of guests as well as panelists. However, Van Straaten, and Patti Goettlicher, the pretty hostess who waves on the guests, as well as a lively musical combo will be there each week. Van Straaten ably keeps the guessing game moving along and full of fun innuendos. His interviews with the guests once they have been identified are what expands the 30-minute format and enriches the nostalgia factor. He's aided by a screen on which snapshots from the original show are occasionally projected.
While the set is bare bones, the panelists are dressed up to convey the elegance of the period, evening gowns for the ladies, and tuxedos for the gents. My evening's most endearing and delightful guest, eighty-one-year-old Betsy Palmer (Longtime regular panelist on I've Got aSecret and recurring panelist on original What's My Line?) looked smashing in a beaded gown that showed off her still enviable curves to perfection. Since long-time regular Dorothy Kilgallen was a well-known, sharp-tongued gossip columnist, the New York Post's theater scribe Michael Riedel was another apt choice. In a tux and bow tie, Riedel projected the charm of a character in a Noel Coward play more than the abrasiveness often attributed to his columns. Also on the panel were Barry Saltzman (most frequent panelist on the Los Angeles production of this show) And Stephanie (Avenue Q) D'Abruzzo. Given her incisive questioning technique, if Ms. D'Abruzzo ever tires of acting, she would probably be a fine lawyer.
I told a friend who's passionate about cheese cake about the dessert that came with my evening of What's My Line? he sighed and said "it would be my luck that if I went, they'd be passing out stuffed derma." With no guarantee of any food, or a musically gifted mystery guest, all I can promise you is a brief respite from depressing news about an endless war and a troubled economy.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide