Richard Seff has been fortunate to be allowed to spend his entire working life in a field he discovered professionally when he was 19, but to which he'd been exposed as a boy of 6 when he said his first words onstage and later at 11, when he saw his first play on Broadway. Those early 11 years were spent in a conventional manner in Brooklyn, which in the 1930s was a quiet suburb of bustling Manhattan. He'd become a film fan at 7 when he was taken to Radio City to see Shirley Temple in Little Miss Marker. He is still a film fan, but his home is the live theatre, and he's worked in it as actor, playwright, librettist, agent, production associate, and now memoirist. His point of view is his own, that of a supporting player, in every sense of the word. There really was no other title for his book - Supporting Player. My Life Upon The Wicked Stage.
That life began with the aptly named What A Life, a George Abbott comedy to which he was invited in 1938. He felt an instant connection to the play, the players, even to the Biltmore Theatre, which housed them. From that matinÃ©e afternoon on, he knew where he had to be. And he's been there ever since! His journey has been a long one, on a road that has pitched and swerved over decades, but the journey has served him well for on it he has learned all he ever needed to know about life onstage and off.
In plays ranging from farce to light comedy to drama to musical play he has played characters as diverse as Shamraev n The Sea Gull, Colonel Pickering nMy Fair Lady, Father Bill Doherty n Angels Fall , Baron de Hirsch n Herzl, the Reverend Winemiller in Summer And Smoke and Bradley n The Cocktail Hour. As a playwright his comedy Paris Is Out! enlivened the Broadway season of 1969-70, and his musical Shine! won a National Music Theatre Festival in Award in 2001 and has been recorded and published. His first play, The Whole Ninth Floor, starred Alan Alda in summer theatre and his second, Consenting Adults, opened a summer festival for A.C.T. in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
For twenty one years, from 1953-1974, he represented artists in the musical theatre. His early clients included Chita Rivera, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Nancy Dussault and Julie Andrews and in later years he worked closely with Ethel Merman, Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins. He takes us backstage with him, on the road to the try-out cities, through a Broadway season and a national tour with the Critics' Prize Winning playDarkness At Noon, to London's West End, to the theatrical haunts of Sardi's, Joe Allen's and the once upon a time Downey's in New York's theatre district. No cover, no minimum, just come on along.
His recent years have been devoted to the writing of his book. His last long run on stage was for nine months of 1999-2000 in The Countess at the Lamb's in New York. In 2006 he briefly appeared in a series of readings of a two-character one-acter, The Dakota, which was written for him by a young playwright, Bill Fowkes. In 2004, he created an award to be given each year in his name to a character actor and actress, supporting players, who have devoted at least 25 years to their profession. It is intended to honor those who have remained featured actors, like himself, without whose support the stars would have to recite monologues. Actors like Jane Houdyshell, Margo Martindale, Tom Aldredge, Larry Bryggman and others who have been doing wonderful work, often without suitable recognition, except from their fellow players and the far too occasional critic. This giving back to the theatre that has so nourished him for sixty years gives him great pleasure indeed.
Three years ago he took up his pen to write reviews of New York theatre for a Washington web site. To see them, click here.