David Leopold, Inventive Director of The Al Hirschfeld Basis and the artistic drive behind each the simply launched ebook and the simply opened exhibition The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld, has spent greater than 30 years finding out the artist’s work, the primary 13 of these serving as Hirschfeld’s archivist and visiting him in his studio a few times every week. A follow-up to his earlier quantity The Hirschfeld Century: A Portrait of the Artist and His Age, the lavish 256-page tome showcases 4 a long time, from 1962-2002, of virtually 300 drawings of casts, scenes, backstage portraits, and posters from essentially the most notable and lesser-known stage productions of the time, as captured by the self-described “characterist” in his signature calligraphic type.
They embody Hirschfeld’s distinctive linear depictions of such hits as Whats up, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Humorous Woman, Cabaret, Annie, Sweeney Todd, Les Misérables, Fences, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Hire, Angels in America, and Hairspray, and such theater legends as Stephen Sondheim, Neil Simon, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Tom Stoppard, and Hal Prince, within the largest assortment of Hirschfeld’s theater work that has ever been printed. Together with the pictures, the brand new version encompasses a foreword by Michael Kimmelman, and chapter introductions by Brooks Atkinson, Brendan Gill, Maureen Dowd, Terrence McNally, and Jules Feiffer.
Together with the ebook launch, Leopold curated a particular inaugural exhibition for The Museum of Broadway, which opened to the general public at this time, taking guests by means of 9 a long time of Hirschfeld’s iconic pictures of American theater in twenty-five drawings and prints courting from 1929-2002.
David generously made time throughout this busy week to reply my questions on his perspective on Al Hirschfeld and his newest tributes to the artist, his work, and the theater.
What’s it about Hirschfeld?
David: That may be a query individuals have been asking for nearly a century, and when he handed, they requested, “Who’s the following Hirschfeld?” There may be none. He was a sui generis determine, and his artwork, which we regularly name “caricature” for lack of a greater phrase, actually isn’t. It’s not pejorative, it’s exaggerated for emphasis, so we’re laughing with the themes, not at them. The joie de vivre comes by means of in his drawings – simply take a look at them! They’re recent, they transfer, they feel and appear timeless.
When did you first uncover his work and determine to make it the main target of your profession?
I’m unsure that I ever determined; it determined for me. I used to be most likely round seven or eight, dwelling in central Pennsylvania, with nothing to do, when my dad and mom, who subscribed to The New York Instances, requested me to search for the identify of Hirschfeld’s daughter “NINA” that he hid in his illustrations. I’m one in every of 5 youngsters, so we’d all compete to see who may discover it first. That led me on a path that will change my life! In school, I acquired a level in Theater Historical past and Administration and did loads of analysis. Then in the future, I used to be researching portraits by the Thirties artist Ben Solowey that appeared within the Instances and the Herald Tribune, they usually typically appeared facet by facet with Hirschfeld’s, so I believed I ought to contact Hirschfeld. I used to be stunned to see that his quantity was listed within the telephone ebook, however I used to be too nervous to name, so I wrote him a letter. I acquired a heat response, inviting me to his home for tea. I went, we hit it off (in fact he hit it off with everyone, he was genuinely a pleasant man), and he requested me to archive his work.
Al lived within the current, he didn’t assume in phrases past the up to date, so I put every thing so as, to make it simpler for him to search out. And in doing that, we each acquired to study what he had executed prior to now. Even longer than the time he spent drawing theater, some 76 years, he drew Hollywood and later TV – he did extra covers for TV Information than another artist. I might go to him at the very least as soon as every week and I maintain the document for essentially the most free lunches within the Hirschfeld residence! We talked in regards to the theater and artwork and we shared a vocabulary of his drawings, we knew what we have been speaking about and understood one another. He was a terrific raconteur; he didn’t like to speak about himself, however we talked about his artwork, typically when he was drawing as a result of he was all the time drawing, as he seemed ahead to seeing the way it turned out.
As soon as he requested me what number of NINAs I noticed in one in every of his works – 4 or 5? He may solely discover 4 and he thought there have been 5, and if he acquired the quantity incorrect there can be plenty of mail. He would get so caught up in drawing that the NINAs got here out organically, as if his pen took over, with no aware thought. They have been spontaneous drawings; he was each a spectator and a participant. There aren’t too many artists you’ll be able to say that about, however you’ll be able to about Hirschfeld.
What standards did you employ in choosing the pictures and essays for the brand new ebook?
For the pictures, I seemed to Al’s authentic first quantity of The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld, which he designed, curated, and printed in 1961, that includes 250 works from the primary 40 years of his profession that have been each of well-known reveals and nice drawings of flops. There have been sure drawings that needed to be within the new ebook, like Fiddler on the Roof, Humorous Woman, Whats up, Dolly! I additionally went with the best drawings, those that would stand on their very own toes, even when the present solely lasted every week, like It’s Good To Be Civilized; the drawing is stupendous, even when the present wasn’t profitable! I seemed on the drawings for the aesthetics – each single one, then narrowed it down, restricted by what number of pages the ebook can be. As an editor, it’s as a lot about what you allow out as what you place in! I additionally wished to have a complete coloration part, together with Magnificence and the Beast – the primary coloration illustration he did for the Instances – since most individuals solely know his black-and-white drawings.
Do you’ve gotten one favourite Hirschfeld drawing that encapsulates every thing you’re keen on about his type?
No, as a result of that’s like asking a mother or father who’s your favourite baby! I curate loads of reveals, and it normally takes three years or longer; I’ve been Hirschfeld’s work professionally for 32 years now and I nonetheless get very excited once I see it. A few of my latest favorites are those he drew for the Instances Friday theater column for fourteen years, for an inside web page, one column (6 x 3”) format. He cleansed these works of any pointless element, although some are nonetheless complicated. They’re gorgeous; I feel they’re a few of his greatest work, and a portrait of Chita Rivera is one in every of my favorites.
How did you change into concerned with The Museum of Broadway?
About three years in the past, the Basis heard about it and we reached out to them. You’ll be able to’t inform the story of Broadway with out Hirschfeld! We began to study in regards to the recent take of the Museum – an actual expertise with dynamic shows which can be each informative and interesting, which is able to electrify and encourage the theater group. They might ask us, “Did he ever draw . . .?” and the reply was all the time “YES!” so we have been consistently feeding them pictures. There are about twenty Hirschfeld works hung all through the Museum, after which additionally they provided us the primary present of their particular exhibition area, which options drawings from the 9 a long time of his profession.
What can guests anticipate within the exhibition?
You will notice every thing from Hirschfeld’s sketchbooks, along with his preliminary impressions of reveals like Whats up, Dolly! and Ready for Godot, to his drawings of such legendary stars as Patsy Kelly, Ethel Merman, and Jimmy Durante, scenes from in style reveals like Magnificence and the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, and Kiss of the Spider Lady, a collage of the 1936 season of summer season theaters on the Jap Seaboard, and a portrait of Nina at 21, together with her dad and mom’ names hidden within the drawing as a substitute of hers. We’ve additionally created an app that lets guests make their very own Hirschfeld portrait, and there’s a reproduction of the barber’s chair that Al sat in and drew all his work in. For a person with loads of hair on his head, he positive spent loads of time in his barber chair!
Along with the ebook and the exhibition, The Al Hirschfeld Basis is providing a collection of prints, signed by the celebrities depicted, in a web-based fundraising public sale that closes on November 20. Are you able to inform us about it and the way it helps the mission of the non-profit group?
Through the years, individuals have requested about getting prints of their favourite Hirschfeld drawings, however we by no means did posthumous prints earlier than. Then in speaking with Broadway Cares/Fairness Fights AIDS, we thought that since Al couldn’t signal the prints himself, what if the performers in them did? We first organized an public sale of twenty very limited-edition prints to help Broadway Cares and our Artwork Training Program in July of 2021, and it raised over $100,000. For this sale with Heritage Auctions, we’re providing restricted version prints, offered one after the other, of 21 completely different items. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. The choice contains Bernadette Peters in Sunday within the Park with George, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Joel Gray, and my favourite, Chita Rivera in The Rink – every with a certificates of authenticity and the superstar’s signature. It’s a terrific alternative for individuals to get essentially the most requested pictures, whereas elevating funds for an necessary trigger within the theater group that Hirschfeld liked and immortalized in his artwork.
Many thanks, David, for giving us an inside take a look at Hirschfeld and his work, and your thrilling new ebook and exhibition.
The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld runs by means of Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at The Museum of Broadway, 145 West 45th Avenue, NYC. For tickets (priced at $39-49, plus tax and costs), name (212) 239-6200, or go on-line. The museum is open 10 am-10 pm, seven days every week. Everybody should present proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a photograph ID to enter the constructing.
For extra info on the ebook and the best way to order it, you’ll be able to watch the trailer beneath: