December’s Leftovers and January’s Brainteaser
I didn’t get what I really wanted for Christmas.
An original cast album of THE UNDERCLASSMAN.
My, can Peter Mills write music and lyrics! The score he penned concerning the early life of F. Scott Fitzgerald was the best of 2014. Please! Someone get on the ball and give us a permanent souvenir of this roaringly good Roaring ‘20s score.
December was the last full month for the PIPPIN revival, which I recently revisited and found in good shape. Memories took me back to October 7, 1972, when I saw the Washington tryout. How it spoke to us Baby Boomers who wanted to find our “corner of the sky.” Of course, as the years went on, a vast percentage of us turned out to really want a corner office in the skyscraper.
And December was also the last full month for THE REAL THING, which disappointed, seldom if ever even selling 80% of its seats. The stage was too wide for the cast to have much impact in this intimate drama; it appeared to be playing not at The American Airlines Theater, but The American Airlines Hangar.
Weren’t you surprised that three words weren’t changed? THE REAL THING has a play-within-a play, which back in 1982 Tom Stoppard called HOUSE OF CARDS. Well, needless to say, since then we’ve had another property by that name – one that’s more popular than THE REAL THING, despite three Broadway productions in 30 years. Don’t look for another one a decade from now.
Meanwhile, for the fourth year in a row – starting with the 2011 pre-Broadway tryout in Hershey, PA -- I was able to see A CHRISTMAS STORY, this time courtesy of Richard T. Dolce’s solid production at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, Long Island.
Truth to tell, as much as I adore the Benj Pasek-Justin Paul-Joe Robinette musical and still laugh like a seal at so many scenes and lyrics, I attended because my buddy, the wonderfully talented and appealing David Schmittou, was playing Jean Shepherd. He was as winning as I’d expected, but what I couldn’t have anticipated was that such an equally major talent as Ethan Eisenberg would be playing Ralphie Parker. This kid seized his role with a grip that was stronger than the frozen flagpole’s hold on Flick’s tongue.
After the show, David introduced me to Ethan before adding “And do you know his kid’s favorite song is from FUNNY GIRL?” I assumed it’d be “I’m the Greatest Star,” for Ethan certainly has the potential to be. But no. Said Ethan with great assurance, “‘The Music That Makes Me Dance.’
Is this lad amazing, or what? For one thing, how many pre-pubescents are aware of FUNNY GIRL? Of those who are, how many only know the film and/or the soundtrack? Ethan obviously sought out the cast album, and his ability to appreciate such a sophisticated song tells us quite a bit about him.
Who says a critic can’t write a good play? David Cote, the eminent appraiser for Time Out New York, proved it on Dec. 22 when his hilarious comedy OTHERLAND was read at The Leonard Nimoy Thalia. The estimable Jeremy Shamos portrayed Edgar Numby, who was no longer in his back yard, but in Ethiopia where he’s heading a botanical convention. Meeting mothers, would-be mothers and natives makes this a 21st century DON’T DRINK THE WATER, but with far more brainpower. For example, the Chinese security guard can’t wait to get to America and become assimilated. To that end, he only wears America clothes. “Of course,” he says, “they were made in China ….”
Do you know the website www.deadoraliveinfo.com? Here’s where you can check to see if certain people are still with us such as
two-time Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland (yes, although she’s 98) and ANKLES AWEIGH star Jane Kean (no). This inspired me to think of a website I’d like to see called “Which came first: the music or lyrics?” Every show song that was written by two (or more) collaborators would be alphabetically listed and would tell us if the composer first handed the recording of his melody to his lyricist or if the lyricist gave the composer a sheet of paper that had the lyrics all set.
Even with the one-set comedy BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, leave it to Trinity Repertory Company in Providence to go the extra mile – or at least several yards. Set designer Daniel Zimmerman built an exterior brick wall that split apart at the center to reveal Corie and Paul Bratter’s new and woebegone apartment and all the first act shenanigans in Neil Simon’s first smash-hit. The walls closed again at the end of Act One, but Zimmerman or director Michael Perlman should have thought to bring down shades on the many windows so that those theatregoers who stayed in their seats during intermission wouldn’t have seen techies transforming the place into a much prettier one. The “Oooooooh!” that usually comes from audiences when the second-act curtain rises just wasn’t there.
This crowd loved the show, though. And Perlman had a great idea that saved money on actors and paid for the wall. Because a delivery man has little more than a minute of stage time – and because the play takes place in a freezing February -- Perlman had Stephen Berenson, who’d later play the substantial role of Victor Velasco, bundle up and double as the delivery man. Berenson, as well as Rebecca Gibel (Corie), Phyllis Kay (Ethel Banks, her mother), Charlie Thurston (Paul) and Uche Elueze (Telephone Man) served the play well, if not brilliantly. But didn’t anyone notice that Kay has black hair, which is at odds with the line in which she considers dyeing it black?
You-Can-Always-Discover-Something-New Dept. More than 50 years of seeing five productions of BAREFOOT and 28 viewings of the excellent film had to pass before I noticed what seems to be a flaw. After the telephone is installed, only FOURTEEN lines later, Corie gets a phone call. Could someone really get a brand-new phone number so fast from what was then called Information? Well, maybe service WAS better in those days …
So what does a Jewish musical have in common with Jesus Christ? Both were resurrected, the former much more recently, as the 66-performance 2013 Broadway flop resurfaced at the Actors Temple.
But SOUL DOCTOR remains as boring as a summer outdoor historical drama. Shlomo Carlebach wants to spread Judaism by folk music, which infuriates his orthodox father. Why is dad is so intractable, given that Shlomo still wants to spread the word of Judaism? After all, it’s not as if Shlomo’s singing “Goodnight, Sweet Jesus.”
Here are a few questions for you. 1) What shows do you know virtually line-for-line? Pick a comedy, a drama and a musical. 2) What cast album have you played the most? 3) What soundtrack album (if any) do you prefer to the original cast album?
Not that any of them is this month’s brainteaser. Before we get to it, let’s deal with last month’s: What do these musicals have in common? ANNIE, BIG, HAIR, BABY, ONCE, DREAM, ROCKY, SATURDAY NIGHT and FOLLIES?
The answer is that all those titles of musicals are contained in other titles of musicals: ANNIE GET YOUR GUN; BIG RIVER; HAIRSPRAY; BABY, IT’S YOU; ONCE ON THIS ISLAND; DREAMGIRLS; THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW; SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES. (There are of course other permutations as well.)
John Bacarellla was the first to get it, followed by Brigadude, Chris Davies, Donald Tesione, Jack Lechner and Fred Abramowitz.
This month’s brainteaser: What do these 10 musicals have in common? CAMELOT, DARLING OF THE DAY, FOXY, GRAND HOTEL, THE LITTLE MERMAID, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, MARIE CHRISTINE, NINE, SHERRY! and SKYSCRAPER.
You know where to find me.
— Peter Filichia