February’s Leftovers and March’s Brainteaser
It was the month that Georgia Brown and Tessie O’Shea were back on Broadway – in a manner of speaking. The powers-that-be at The Ed Sullivan Theater decided to replicate the marquee of Feb. 9, 1964 to mark the 50th anniversary of these two ladies appearing on the program. Brown was second-billed and O’Shea third; a new singing group got first billing. As for the late Brown and O’Shea, it was, to paraphrase a popular song from the same season, so nice to have them back where they belong this February, too.
It was the month that St. Martin’s Press reissued Moss Hart’s landmark ACT ONE, with James McMullan’s logo for James Lapine’s upcoming play at the Vivian Beaumont. May it have the success that Hart’s autobiography had, for, as we learned at a mid-month launch at Barnes & Noble, the book had been on the best-seller list for 41 weeks.
On the panel, Hart’s son Christopher joined Santino Fontana, who’ll play the younger Moss Hart and Tony Shalhoub, who’ll not only portray the older Hart, but also George S. Kaufman, too, when ACT ONE begins previews on March 20.
Fontana divulged that his first line will be Hart’s belief that “The theater is not such a profession as a disease, and my first look at Broadway was the beginning of a lifelong infection.” Shalhoub pointed out that much of the memoir has been sacrificed for the play because “We’re not doing NICHOLAS NICKLEBY -- although there’s enough in the book to make it NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.”
Finally, after someone asked Hart if an ACT TWO had been in the works before his daddy’s premature death, he said “No, because he felt the best part was getting there and that a next book would be ‘And-then-I-wrote’ and ‘And-then-I-won-a-Tony.’” When asked about his father’s famous reputation for being a big spender, Hart recalled those thrilling days of yesteryear when The Lone Ranger was a popular radio series and everyone knew its catchphrase “Hi-ho, Silver!” Said Hart, “George S. Kaufman once ran into my father on the street and greeted him with ‘Hi-ho, Platinum!’”
Much more base metal than platinum is BRONX BOMBERS. It primarily deals with the Yankees in 1977, when manager Billy Martin and outfielder Reggie Jackson had a battle royale. As long as playwright Eric Simonson stays there, the comedy-drama is excellent. But he gets surreal and brings in Yankees from the ‘20s through the ‘50s and one current player, too. In this way, BRONX BOMBERS reminds me of the 2004 playoffs – when the Yankees started out strong and then limped to an awful finish.
People are always saying that baseball is a terribly slow game. Well, it’s the final hockey game of the 1980 Olympics compared to the second act of BRONX BOMBERS. Given that Simonson has directed, too, he obviously likes this tortoise-on-a-Tuinal pacing. No wonder that it’s closing on March 2.
Have you noticed that almost every time The Mint Theater Company does a show, it must extend it? That’s the case with John Van Druten’s LONDON WALL, a terrific play about an office where sexual harassment, romantic disappointments and triumphs mix and mingle. It was originally slated to run only until March 30, but now it won’t close until April 13. The Mint may not come up with winners as frequently as the United States Bureau of the Mint mints money, but it’s certainly more sound than our economy.
The Keen Company revived Paddy Chayefsky’s MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, about “The Manufacturer,” a 53-year-old widower who takes up with “The Girlfriend,” a 24-year-old receptionist in his office. In no time at all, they’re in love and we’re supposed to root for them. Alas, Chayefsky wasn’t able to convince me that they belonged together or that they’d be happy as the years went on. Nothing against Jonathan Hadary or Melissa Miller, who played the couple n admirable fashion.
The play starts out in The Girfriend’s Mother’s apartment, and when we move to The Manufacturer’s Apartment, nothing – not a stick of furniture or even a painting – changes on Steven C. Kemp’s set. This is a problem later on when The Manufacturer’s Sister says that The Girlfriend is interested in her bother because she wants to live in a better apartment. Under these circumstances, it’s no better at all.
Director Jonathan Silverstein should also rethink one scene. There’s a good deal of talk about the cold winter; in the distance, we even see substantial snowdrifts. And yet, at one point when The Girlfriend is particularly distraught, Silverstein has her sit on a hall radiator. Considering the season and the weather, that radiator would be on, and The Girlfriend would then be eligible to play the lead in any stock production of RED, HOT AND BLUE!
Russ Dunlap, a veep at Platinum Travel in Louisville, wrote to comment on my comments on CRAVING FOR TRAVEL, in which I mentioned how travel agents have been dinosaured by technology (the way we journalists have been). Wrote Dunlap, “Just wanted to let you know that our travel agency (as well as many others) is doing quite well, thank you! Our sales and revenue, year to year, are actually going up, not down, so the whole comment about ‘the fading travel agent industry’ and ‘those who still use travel agents’ shows that many people still don’t have an understanding of what a travel advisor can do for their clients and that we are very much alive and kickin’.” PLATINUM bombed on Broadway, but nice to know that Platinum Travel is more than golden in Louisville. I apologize.
Every now and then around Times Square you’ll see someone dressed in dull green from crown-to-toe, aping the Statue of Liberty. Now each impostor must fear for his job, for at Radio City Music Hall, there’s a much more impressive Miss Liberty. She’s the 26-foot-tall animatronic centerpiece of HEARTS AND LIGHTS, and she pretty much fills the Radio City stage, which, as you know, is not a small one. Doug (I AM MY OWN WIFE) Wright has penned the story of two cousins who are on a quest to learn about their grandmother. Along the way, they’ll find plenty of action-filled puppets and the Rockettes, whose precision will give the animatronics stiff competition. Previews begin March 27 prior to an April 3 opening and a run that will last until May 4.
Have you see the logo for HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL? The lettering is almost SWEENEY TODD-like, which is fitting for a musical version of this oh-so-dark movie. At a press preview that made the show seem to be a sure-fire hit, co-bookwriter-composer-lyricist Kevin (REEFER MADNESS) Murphy told of the first airing he and his collaborator Laurence (LEGALLY BLONDE) O’Keefe did for Daniel Waters. “We didn’t watch the show,” said Murphy. “We just watched him watch the show, and we were so upset because he kept writing in his little notepad. Afterward, when we met, we found that he was making notes of everything he thought we’d improved from the film.”
I’ve often thought about this when reviewing actors. Usually, I’m seated close enough where they can see me, and whenever my head swoops down and I start writing a note, I wonder, “Does that actor think he’s just done something wrong? For all he knows, I could be writing ‘What a magnificent voice!’ or ‘This is the best Senator Joe I’ve ever seen!’” Memo to all: don’t assume that what’s being written about you is a criticism; it could be a lovely compliment.
Finally, it was the month in which Randie Levine-Miller held a Drama Desk panel called “You Gotta Have a Gimmick … or a Star.” She asked me as well as press agents past (Josh Ellis) and present (Leslie Baden Papa, Susan L. Schulman) to give our suggestions on how shows could drum up business.
I suggested that the producers of the long-running but flagging NAKED BOYS SINGING do what David Merrick did in 1967 when HELLO, DOLLY! was running out of gas: replace the cast with an All-American one. When I suggested NAKED BLACK MEN SINGING, Levine-Miller’s eyes lit up like the marquee over the Music Box as she gurgled with pleasure at the thought. She nodded forcefully when I pointed out that the gay audience the musical revue has been getting would be increased, thanks to women who have seen all they can see at Chippendale’s and want more – or, as Luisa says in THE FANTASTICKS, “Much more.” Said I, “I can picture an ad campaign that says ‘Bigger and Better than Ever!’” Another of my friends named Ellis -- John -- did even better when he suggested that the ads for NAKED BLACK MEN SINGING also include the word “Extended!”
Last month’s brainteaser: I asked for the name of a non-fictional person who’s probably mentioned more times on Broadway than anyone else, thanks to two shows, each of which at one time held the crown of Broadway’s longest-running show. The answer was Troy Donahue, thanks to GREASE (“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”) and A CHORUS LINE (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love”) – allowing him at least 12,400 mentions; in the past 41 years, Donahue has “been on Broadway” for 26 of them.
Ken Bailey was the first to get it, followed by John Bacarella, Joe Miller, Ed Weissman, Jack Lechner, Brigadude, Robert Armin, Greg MacKellin, Christopher Berg, Mana Allen, Joe Keenan, Chris Stonnell, Rick Schulman, AnyaToes, Chuck Prentiss, David Spencer, Karen Valen and Ian Ewing.
This month’s brainteaser: What do these musicals have in common? CABARET; FANNY; FIDDLER ON THE ROOF; FUNNY GIRL; THE GAY DIVORCE; HELLO, DOLLY!; THE KING AND I; LES MISERABLES and THE MUSIC MAN.
You know where to find me.
— Peter Filichia