The 18-performance limited run began performances June 6 and opened June 9 to warm, appreciative reviews.
Mark Twain Tonight! is the show that launched Holbrook and perhaps hundreds of solo-show imitators. As he did in 1966 and again in 1977, Emanuel Azenberg produces. His producing partners are Ira Pittelman, Jeffrey Sine, Scott Rudin, Max Cooper, Ben Sprecher, William P. Miller, Moore/Martin/Eve Holbrook.
A Playbill note reads, "How many producers does it take to produce a one-man show? In this case, 10 enthusiastic individuals who love, honor and respect Hal Holbrook, Mark Twain and Broadway."
Mark Twain Tonight!, with Holbrook playing the crusty and funny 19th-century American novelist, essayist and humorist, opened Off-Broadway at the 41st Theatre in 1959, and soon became a hit. Holbrook, who was a mere 34 at the time, then toured the show around the country and the world. It arrived on Broadway on March 22, 1966, where it played 85 performances. Holbrook won that year's Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play. The following year, the show was taped for a CBS special. The show drew a reported 30 million viewers and won an Emmy Award for Holbrook.
Since then, Holbrook—ever associated with the person of Twain, despite a varied career on stage and film—has periodically revived the show. Azenberg brought it back to Broadway in 1977, where it had a brief life. Ironically, Holbrook is now age-appropriate for the part. He reportedly first played Twain when he was 29. He is now 79, a few years older than Twain is supposed to be in the work. The actor has impersonated the famous creator of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" more than 2,000 times.
In the two-act show, Holbrook draws on pieces of Twain's writing, in no set order. "While Mr. Twain's selections will come from the complete list below," the Playbill note reads, " we have been unable to pin him down as to which of them he will do. He claims it would cripple his inspiration. However, he has generously conceded to a printed program for the benefit of those who are in distress and wish to fan themselves."
That list in the Playbill includes dozens of excerpts from Twain's letters, autobiography, speeches, essays and fiction. Works such as "Roughing It," "A Tramp Abroad," "Letters From the Earth," "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Life on the Mississippi" and "Innocents Abroad" are cited.
Mark Twain Tonight! is widely acknowledged as the play that birthed a flood of solo biographical shows. Among them are: Give 'Em Hell, Harry, concerning Harry Truman, Will Rogers' USA, about the title humorist, and Bully, about Theodore Roosevelt, all starring James Whitmore; The Belle of Amherst, about Emily Dickinson, and Lucifer's Child, about Isak Dinesen, both starring Julie Harris; Mister Lincoln, starring Roy Doltrice as the president; Tru, starring Robert Morse as novelist Truman Capote; Lillian, with Zoe Caldwell as Lillian Hellmann; Barrymore, featuring Christopher Plummer as John of the famed acting family; Clarence Darrow, starring Henry Fonda as the trailblazing lawyer; and, more recently, 2002's The Mystery of Charles Dickens, starring Simon Callow.
Playwright William Luce, in particular, has made a living off the genre, penning The Belle of Amherst, Lucifer's Child, Barrymore and Lillian.
None of the productions has matched Twain in terms of popularity or longevity.
Richard Costabile is production supervisor.