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September 26, 2014

 

September’s Leftovers and October’s Brainteaser

Apologies to Angela Lansbury. She hardly belongs in “Leftovers,” but yesterday I DID have the chance to interview the legend and wanted you to know about it as soon as possible.

The reason for the chat was Ms. Lansbury’s involvement as National Chairperson for “The Career Transition for Dancers’ 29th Anniversary Jubilee.” Rolex annually sponsors the event that this year is called “NEW YORK NEW YORK: a helluva town,” with which none of us would disagree.

Actually, at first glance, Lansbury would seem miscast as the honorary chair of a dance organization. “I can’t dance anymore,” she admitted before brightening with, “but I can move across the stage and hope to do yet another musical.”

What a trouper! That spurred me to say that “That’s How Young I Feel,” a song in which she danced superbly in MAME, should be her theme song. The lady who’ll soon be 89 simply has not stopped; her upcoming tour of BLITHE SPIRIT is incontrovertible proof. (Hey, how about HIGH SPIRITS next?)

Lansbury would also seem wrong for an organization that helps dancers who feel they must leave show business; after all, she’s never had to transition out after two Oscar nominations in her first three pictures established her career.

“No, I never did have to work a job after I made GASLIGHT, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY and that picture with Elizabeth Taylor (NATIONAL VELVET),” she said. “But a great many friends I have made doing musicals reached the day when they felt they could no longer dance professionally. They worried so because they’d trained to do nothing else. That’s why this organization is so important, and that’s why I wanted to be involved. It finds the talents that dancers didn’t even know they had. Through this program, I’ve seen good friends become expert massage therapists, teachers as well as a very successful broker at Merrill Lynch. The devotion that dancers gave to their first career prepares them very well for a second one.”

We did, of course, take a few seconds to talk about her musicals: ANYONE CAN WHISTLE (“It came at the right time, for the studios were throwing me into any old movie”), MAME (“Three auditions, and each time I had to travel from Los Angeles to New York to do them”), DEAR WORLD (“I did my own make-up, as I’ve always done, to play this fascinating old bird”), PRETTYBELLE (“That was a hard-sell, but I can still sing ‘The No-Tell Motel’ for you”) and GYPSY (“You have to be more than a singer for that one”).

Oh, yes: SWEENEY TODD. “I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it, considering that the title suggested it was the man’s show,” she admitted. “Then Steve played ‘The Worst Pies in London’ for me at his Turtle Bay home, and that was that.”

And to think that we may yet hear another comment from Angela Lansbury on yet another musical. In the meantime, see her in
“NEW YORK NEW YORK: a helluva town” on Monday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. at City Center, 131 West 55th St., New York City. Tickets are $45-$140. Visit www.nycitycenter.org or call 212-581-1212.

There’s an excellent production of THE WAYSIDE MOTOR INN at Signature. Singling out one actor out of 10 that deserve an ensemble award seems unfair, but I will go to bat for Marc Kudisch. He plays an intractably single-minded parent intent his son’s making a good impression on a Harvard grad who could endorse him. If only the lad wanted to go to the school!

Set designer Andrew Lieberman ignored A.R. Gurney’s stage directions that the motel room should be Early American in design. Instead, he made it look like a typical room in every Holiday and Ramada Inn that was ever made. And how do I know? Because I worked my way through college as a desk clerk in a Holiday and Ramada Inn.

Those days came flooding back to me while I watch the action unfold – quite a bit of action, in fact, for Gurney’ premise is that we’re in different rooms, yes, but his five couples play out their dramas in the same space.

Seeing that concept reminded me not only how often in those days were we overbooked – too many reservations for not enough rooms – but on one Saturday in September, 1965, by 4 o’clock, every room had already been registered for and occupied. Yes, filled to the brim. What would I tell the dozens of people who were now traveling long distances and expected we’d have rooms for them?

My story is much too sad (and long and, I hope, funny, too) to be told here. If you want to hear it in its entirety, call up the podcast I do most every week with James Marino and Michael Portantiere at www.broadwaystars.com. Scroll down a bit, and on the extreme right, you’ll see “Broadway Radio.” Click on the September 15th edition that includes THE WAYSIDE MOTOR INN. You’ll also get our endorsements for the wickedly funny BOOTYCANDY at Playwrights Horizons, too.

Frankly, if you listened to the three of us each week, I don’t think you’d be harmed in any way. Most every Monday – Tuesday at the latest – there’s a new one.

But just in case you don’t, let me repeat what I said about BOOTYCANDY. When the show ended and only five people came out for curtain calls, I was astonished. I would have sworn that I’d just witnessed seven or eight actors. Many Tony-watchers say that there should be a Best Ensemble Award. I say the one that should get it is the one that surprises you ate the curtain call with fewer people than you thought had been on stage.

THE MUSIC PLAYING wasn’t just a musical; it was a birthday present that Noel Katz presented at the Roy Arias Studio and gave to his wife Joy Dewing as part of the birthday party. If she were like that Jason Robert Brown character who’d rather have a yacht or champagne, she certainly didn’t seem it.

Some of Joy’s joy had to be the result of the show’s being so good. Katz can really write. I’m still kvelling over his musical SUCH GOOD FRIENDS about the blacklist; New York only saw it at NYMF, probably because it was too good for the average man.

Dewing also had to enjoy THE MUSIC PLAYING because she recognized herself and Noel in the characters of Lizzie and Chuck, parents to newly born Abigail. Chuck is SO intent on being the perfect daddy that Lizzie wishes he’d pay as much attention to her. She gets him to vow that despite the baby and how busy their lives are, they’ll make time for sex once a week no-matter-what.

(This has the ring of truth, at least to me. I remember when my now-ex-wife suggested we have a sex schedule as well – only she suggested every 18 months.)

Lizzie and Chuck also make time for a trip alone to Bermuda – but wouldn’t you know that the moment they get there, they get a call from the babysitter that Abigail has had an accident. I hope you get to find out what happens by getting a chance to see THE MUSIC PLAYING. Perhaps the day will come when it’s deservedly on Broadway and someone will take you as your birthday present.

While THE MUSIC PLAYING may turn out to be the season’s best musical, Janine Nabers’ SERIAL BLACK FACE may well become its best play. I’m not the only one to feel this: Marsha Norman judged it the winner out of 1,638 entries for the Eighth Annual Yale Drama Series Award and praised it in a nice ceremony at the Claire Tow a couple of weeks ago. Francine Horn, who created a foundation in order to honor her late husband David Charles Horn, presented Nabers with a $10,000 check. Yale University Press will publish the work, which we got to see in a dazzling reading staged with punch by Carolyn Cantor.

Nilaja Sun, who won the Lortel, Outer Critics and Theatre World Awards for her 2007 show NO CHILD … was magnificent in playing a single mother who wars with a teenage daughter and finally finds some happiness with a lovely guy. We saw how long that lasted – in a play that breezed along with such certainty and strength that we felt as if we’d been in the theater for nine minutes.

My favorite moment at The Annual Broadway Flea Market? On one table was my book STRIPPERS, SHOWGIRLS, AND SHARKS for sale. I asked the clerk manning the table “Would you like me to autograph it?”

His answer: “No.”

Last month’s brainteaser: I asked “What famous line that Tevye says could also be said by Captain Hook?”

The answer is Tevye’s ultimate response to Chava: “There is no other hand!”

I’ve got to hand it to Meish Goldish for being the first to get it. He was followed by Ben McLaughlin, Marc Castle, Carol Page, Rick Thompson, Laura Frankos, Brigadude, Jacob Shoesmith-Fox, Donald Tesione, Fred Abramowitz, pbrnnyc, Bryan Brooks, Mark Somers, John Petrikovic, Silky Pitterman, Karen Valen, Amy Sue, Michael Dale, William Cox, Marc Bonnani and Kevin G. Shinnick.

But John Bacarella, that most happy fella who also knew the answer, did me one better – or shall I say eight better, given that he found eight other Tevye-isms that could apply to other characters in musicals: “Another dream?” (Rose Hovick). “You can keep your diseased chickens.” (Miss Mona). “Sounds crazy, no?” (Diana, NEXT TO NORMAL). “If I try to bend that far, I will break.” (Paulette, LEGALLY BLONDE). “I won’t insult you by saying no.” (Ado Annie). “But if he did nothing wrong, he wouldn’t be in trouble.” (Javert). “I am sick and tired of pulling this cart.” (Porgy). “My daughter is dead” (Mr. Duarte).

This month’s brainteaser: What do the ORIGINAL PRODUCTIONS of these musicals with TITLE CHARACTERS all have in common? ALADDIN; ANNIE; CAROLINE, OR CHANGE; COCO; FANNY; MATILDA; THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD; PIPPIN and THE WIZ.

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia




You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com.

Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com

and each Friday at www.mtishows.com.

His book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks: A Very Opinionated History of Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award,
is now available at www.amazon.com

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