A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 04, 2012
“A bad play saved by a bad performance” (Broadway saying)

The playwright and drama critic George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) has been said to have reviewed the comedic play Skylark (1939), by Samson Raphelson, that starred the English actress Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952). Kaufman like neither the play nor the performances and is credited with writing:

“A bad play saved by a bad performance.”

The line “A bad play saved by a lousy performance” was mentioned by newspaper columnist Walter Winchell in 1942, credited to George Abbott (1887-1995).


Wikipedia: George S. Kaufman
George Simon Kaufman (November 16, 1889 – June 2, 1961) was an American playwright, theatre director and producer, humorist, and drama critic. In addition to comedies and political satire, he wrote several musicals, notably for the Marx Brothers. One play and one musical that he wrote won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: You Can’t Take It With You (1937, with Moss Hart), and Of Thee I Sing (1932, with Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin). He also won the Tony Award as a Director, for the musical Guys and Dolls.

Internet Broadway Database
Skylark
Play, Comedy
Description: A play in three acts
Setting: The living-room of Tony Kenyon’s country house near New York City.
Written by Samson Raphelson.
# Opening & Closing Dates Type & Version Theatre
#1 Oct 11, 1939 - May 25, 1940 Play / Original Morosco Theatre, NY, USA

Google News Archive
19 October 1942, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “On Broadway” by Walter Winchell, pg. 6, col. 1:
It was the above mentioned Mr. Abbott who once summed up a show this way: “A bad play saved by a lousy performance.”
(George Abbott—ed.)

Google Books
George S. Kaufman:
An intimate portrait

By Howard Teichmann
New York, NY: Atheneum
1972
Pg. 124:
When asked his opinion of the play Skylark, which starred Gertrude Lawrence, he said, “A bad play saved by a bad performance.”

Google Books
A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory
By John A. Cuddon and Claire Preston
Oxford: Blackwell
1998
Pg. 110:
capsule criticism A term used by Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943) as the title of an essay on dramatic criticism. It denotes a clever, witty, epigrammatic one-liner (usually damning). Examples are: ‘I watched this play at a disadvantage; the curtain was up’; ‘A bad play saved by a bad performance’; ‘Business was so bad they were shooting deer in the balcony.’

Playbill.com
Of He She Sings: Anne Kaufman Schneider Protects George S. Kaufman’s Legacy
By Mervyn Rothstein
04 Feb 2011
Kaufman was known for his one-liners. Once, when he reviewed a comedy, he wrote, “There was laughter in the back of the theatre, leading to the belief that someone was telling jokes back there.” He said that Skylark, a play starring Gertrude Lawrence, “is a bad play saved by a bad performance.” He once sent a telegram to an actor he disapproved of: “Saw your performance tonight from back of house. Wish you were here.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • (0) Comments • Saturday, February 04, 2012 • Permalink