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 February 1, 2013

January Leftovers and a New Brainteaser

It was the month that I made Page Six in the New York Post for my altercation with a “Fanilow” at Manilow on Broadway.

It is true that the woman in front of me was standing during much of the show. Given that she was, sad to say, as wide as I, that left me precious little room to see.

I was, as the article suggested, furious. I commanded her to sit down – over and over again. It was futile. But I did not, as the article stated, “berate” the woman, and was very careful not to name-call. The closest I came to threatening her was to say, “I’ll make a deal with you: if you sit down for the rest of the show, I won’t tell house management that you’re taking picture after picture.”

But I never did call an usher, as the article stated. One did come down the aisle to see what was going on, but by then I’d given up, and, yes, two nice young men had switched seats with her and her friend and the guys pretty much stayed seated for the rest of the show. No house manager that I could see came down and confronted the woman. Yes, she was in tears – but those came solely because she was so moved by her fervent love for Manilow.

And Manilow himself? That he performed at all is impressive, considering that he has been ill with bronchitis. Still, I was reminded of what William Goldman in The Season reported about the 66-year-old Marlene Dietrich: “The mouth doesn’t work right anymore.” The 69-year-old Manilow now only seems able to wince out lyrics which he punctuates with moves that seem animatronic.

Few, including my nemesis, cared. Many others too pulled out cameras, both video and still, and fearlessly took pictures. When Manilow sang the lyric, “When can I touch you?” some in the audience swooned as if to say, “Now!” Manilow grinned as best he could with that tight mouth and responded, “Still!” Most everyone cheered so long and loud that the next day they probably awoke to find that their voices all sounded as raspy as his.

That was especially true after “I Write the Songs,” the final number. As you may know, the “person” who writes the songs is actually Music. Yes, Music personified. Now really: wouldn’t you think that Music would come up with a substantially more beautiful melody than “I Write the Songs” to show his immense ability?

It was the month that Elf and A Christmas Story closed – but shouldn’t have. Both had excellent word of mouth, which is more than we can say for Here’s Love, Meredith Willson’s musical version of Miracle on 34th Street. It opened on October 3, 1963 and didn’t close until July 25, 1964 -- 334 performances later. Now if “a Christmas show” not nearly as good as Elf and A Christmas Story can run, so could those two. Many of us, thanks to technology, watch the films on which these musicals are based long before and after the holidays. So why can’t we see the shows themselves between mid-winter and late autumn?

It was the month that Leslie Uggams was given a Nightlife Legend Award. I agree, although I also saw her be very good at matinees of Hallelujah, Baby! toward the end of the run when some of her castmates were, shall we say, phoning it in? No – that’s aggrandizing them; they were phoning it in via two Dixie cups connected by string.

Similarly speaking, late in the run of Thoroughly Modern Millie, the production was slogging along for a half-hour in which the half-house fell half-asleep. Then Uggams arrived, sang “Only in New York,” worked so hard to put life into the song and production, gave a super-human effort to an audience that had already given up on the show and continued that sparkle as the wan performance continued. Only someone worthy of a legend tries that hard and cares that much.

It was also the month that Charles Busch played – what else? – an elegant woman in The Silver Cord. Sidney Howard’s 1926 searing drama is today’s campfest, as a dowager runs the lives of her two sons – at least until a wife and a girlfriend come on the scene. Busch was masterful as the oh-so-innocent mater who makes blithe “suggestions” that she expects everyone to follow to the letter; Wesley Taylor was equally marvelous as one wussy-whipped son. Bless Dan Wackerman and The Peccadillo Theater Company for taking this warhorse and horsing around with it.

At Resonance Ensemble, Richard Manley’s The Truth Quotient takes place in the near future, when David, an adult orphan, hires a company to build computers that identically replicate his dead parents. This time, however, they’re programmed to say what he wants them to say.

Great idea! I’d love to hear my mom or dad ask, “Do you think that Michael Bennett was too hasty in firing Lainie Kazan from Seesaw?” or “Should the producers of Merrily have tried to run?” or “What now-razed theater would you have most liked to have been in?” If they’d said such things, I’d still be living at home.
The Truth Quotient is aridly acted and directed by Eric Parness, but that fits the sterile world it represents. Meredith Howard is especially accomplished as David’s new “girlfriend.” She seems so plastic that she must be cast when Hollywood decides to do the next remake of The Stepford Wives.

And if Tinseltown gets around to The Ann-Margret Story, Morgan Weed must play the title role. She was enchanting and sensual while never seeming sleazy in The Fig Leaves Are Falling. No wonder that businessman Harry Stone (and everyone else in his office) fell in love with her.

James DeVita is enchanting, too, in telling his story of being a workday guy who attends a community college but is transported into a new and beautiful world – the theater, of course -- when he sees Ian McKellen’s Acting Shakespeare. His tribute show, In Acting Shakespeare at the Pearl, takes us through his many false starts as a classical actor. We laugh at his early amateurishness, but, oh, does he show us how far he’s come when he delivers a Shakespearean monologue at show’s end. So DeVita wasn’t born great, but he does achieve greatness. We’re lucky to have that greatness thrust upon us.

I must be the only one who recalled two songs from Irving Berlin’s Mr. President while watching Picnic. As always, I wished that Madge wouldn’t go off with Hal, a fugitive with no prospects. As Berlin wrote, “Empty pockets with a heart full of love” also means that “you can’t eat love, you can’t drink love, you can’t wear love … love flies out the window when there’s nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to wear but a frown when the chips are down.”

Sam Gold’s new production suffers more because Sebastian Stan doesn’t have the underbelly of sincerity that William Holden had in the film. Here, Stan is almost Starbuck from 110 in the Shade. And because Maggie Grace is so nicely vulnerable, I feel bad that she’s making this enormous mistake. All right, she shouldn’t marry Seymour –

Let me interrupt myself. “Seymour” is what Hal continually calls his rich college chum Alan Seymour. This was playwright William Inge’s mistake: with all the surnames at one’s disposal, why pick one that makes the guy sound as Jewish as Seymour Krelborn? (Smart of screenwriter Daniel Taradash to change the last name to Benson.)

Back to my point: indeed, Madge shouldn’t marry the wealthy, going-places Seymour because she doesn’t love him. But, to quote Mr. President again, “Is he the only man in the world?”

Betty Corwin, the founder of the Theatre on Tape and Film Archive at Lincoln Center, finally caught up with my book about Broadway M(ost) V(aluable) P(layer)s and was pleased that I cited her as the 1986-1987 winner. As I wrote, Corwin got a call from Rags associate producer Madeline Gilford, who begged her to tape the show before it closed the next day. Corwin had little more than a day to get four unions to agree to tape it, but she did it – on a Friday afternoon in summer, yet.

Corwin doesn’t feel she’s entitled to all that much credit. “I was repaying a debt that had started 39 years earlier,” she wrote to explain. “On August 15th, 1947, the day after my first child was born. Madeline came to see me. When I said that if I didn’t urinate by two o'clock, I’d be catheterized, Madeline exclaimed, ‘I won't let them!’ She got me out of bed in an era when that was unheard of for a new mother. You weren’t supposed to do that for two or three days after delivery. But a determined Madeline got me into the bathroom, where she turned on the water full force in the sink and the shower. Then she sat on a stool opposite me and commenced to sing every ‘water song’ she could think of: ‘Rain, rain, go away,’ ‘When April showers may come your way,’ ‘I'm singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain’ and so on, until SUCCESS! I said, ‘Madeline, I owe you one!’ -- and that’s one reason why I had to do Rags.”

If Corwin owed Gilford for that one gesture, what do we all owe Corwin? In 1970, she started recording Broadway, off-Broadway and regional productions, and now more than 2,500 are available at TOFT. Haven’t you been up to Lincoln Center to see and learn from these? If we want to talk “debt,” we are all in hers.

Last month’s brainteaser asked what a certain dozen musicals named had in common. Jack Lechner and Peter Alfano guessed that each had a song with a city’s name in it, but  Joe Miller was the first to guess that those cities were state capitals. David Kanter, Brigadude, Ingrid Gammerman, AnyaToes, Donald Tesione and Laura Frankos soon followed. The answers: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (“Little Girl from Little Rock”), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (“Beautiful People of Denver”), A Tale of Two Cities (“Dover”), Parade (“The Dream of Atlanta”), The Cradle Will Rock (“Honolulu”), New Faces of 1952 (“Boston Beguine”),Rent (“Santa Fe”), Fosse (“Christopher Columbus”), The Happy Time (“St. Pierre”), A Joyful Noise (“I Love Nashville”), The Boy Friend (“Won’t You Charleston with Me?”), Hairspray (“The Madison”)  and almost The Book of Mormon (“Sal Tlay Ka Siti”).

This month’s brainteaser: What do the following songs have in common? “Ac-cen-tchu-ate the Positive” (Dream), “Cornet Man” (Funny Girl), “Elliot Garfield Grant” (The Goodbye Girl), “Humming” (Carnival), “Ice Cream” (She Loves Me), “If Momma Was Married” (Gypsy), “It Takes Two” (Hairspray, not Into the Woods), “A Night in the Ukraine” (A Day in Hollywood), “Penniless Bums” (Sugar), “Roxie” (Chicago), “So What Else Is New?” (Woman of the Year),” The Truth” (Little Me), “Will-a-Mania” (The Will Rogers Follies) and, most pointedly, “The Little Things You Do Together (Company)?

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia


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