Capalbo, Carmen

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1925-11-01
Death 2010-03-14

Biographical notes:

Theatrical producer and director, born in 1925. Attended Yale Drama School and moved to New York after World War II. Best known for directing the off-Broadway revival of The threepenny opera (1954-1961), he had several successes on Broadway, notably O'Neill's Moon for the misbegotten in 1957. He also produced and directed Weill and Brecht's Mahagonny off-Broadway in 1970.

From the description of An oral history interview with Carmen Capalbo / conducted for the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music by Donald Spoto, New York City, 1986 March 7 : recording and transcript. (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison). WorldCat record id: 122379426

Original director for The Chosen, A Musical.

From the description of Correspondence to Chaim Potok, 1986-1988. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 695986749

Carmen Charles Capalbo was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on November 1, 1925. His theatrical career began during his childhood when he acted and later directed in local community theater. While still in high school, the precocious Capalbo was producing, directing, and performing in a Harrisburg Sunday morning radio show called "The Children's Playhouse." Capalbo served in the Army during World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded in a mortar attack. He received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. After the war, Capalbo briefly studied Drama at Yale University, but left his studies in 1946 to pursue a career in the New York theater.

In New York, Capalbo and a Yale classmate, Leo Lieberman, started a theater company called the Spur. They put on shows at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, where Capalbo directed four productions, including Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock and Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! Capalbo got his first Broadway work in 1952, stage managing three imported French Productions, Les Fausses Confidences, Occupe-toi d'Amelie, and Hamlet, from the Compagnie Madeleine Renaud / Jean-Louis Barrault. His career also included a brief foray into the world of Hollywood, where he worked as a reader and story editor for the CBS television program, Studio One in Hollywood. He directed The Power and the Glory for the Play of the Week series.

While at Studio One, Capalbo met Stanley Chase, who would become his producing partner. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's blockbuster The Threepenny Opera, which had opened in Berlin in 1928 and proceeded to sweep the rest of Europe in the prewar years, had failed on Broadway in 1933. In 1952, Capalbo attended a concert of a new translation of the show, written by Marc Blitztein. The concert, held at Brandeis University, was conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and featured Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, in the role she had originated the in the 1928 Berlin production. Capalbo became obsessed with the idea of mounting a production of this new translation, starring Lenya.

Capalbo and Chase approached Lenya, and despite their inexperience, she allowed them to produce the show with Capalbo directing, and agreed to play Jenny once again at the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucile Lortel Theatre.) The show debuted in a limited engagement in 1954, but received such a strong response from audience and critics that it came back for a return engagement in 1955, running for 2,611 performances, setting a record for off-Broadway. Besides Lenya herself, who received the only Tony Award ever given for an off-Broadway performance, the cast also included Scott Merrill, Bea Arthur, and Jo Sullivan.

Capalbo followed up this success by directing a half season of three premieres of plays by prominent authors at Broadway's Bijou Theatre. The three plays, produced by Capalbo and Chase, were Graham Greene's The Potting Shed, Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten, and William Saroyan's The Cave Dwellers. In 1962, he directed the hit comedy Seidman and Son.

Capalbo spent many years working on a version of another Brecht and Weill opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, adapted by Arnold Weinstein. The production opened at the Anderson Theatre off-Broadway in 1970, starring Barbara Harris and Estelle Parsons, but received a negative critical response and closed in a week. Another project Capalbo devoted many years to was a re-vamped version of Cole Porter's Nymph Errant, which was never produced in New York. He was also attached to a musical, Notre Dame de Paris, adapted from Victor Hugo's novel by Faith Flagg, Cherney Berg, and Phil Springer, which was not produced

Capalbo directed a musical adaptation of Chaim Potok's novel, The Chosen, with book by Potok, lyrics by Mitchell Bernard, and music by Philip Springer. After working closely with the authors for years, Capalbo quit the production during its preview period. The show opened in January 1988, with Mitchell Maxwell directing.

Capalbo was married to dancer Patricia (Pat) McBride (later Lousada), but they later divorced. They had a son, Marco, and a daughter, Carla. Capalbo died of emphysema in New York City on March 14, 2010.

From the guide to the Carmen Capalbo papers, 1936-1991, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

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Subjects:

  • Theater--Production and direction
  • Theater--Finance

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