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 April 27 , 2012

April Leftovers

So what’s the first musical in which the male and female leads play guitars? You’re going through your list of rock musicals, aren’t you? My guess is The Sound of Music, in which both Maria and the Captain have opportunity to strum.

This occurred to me at the marvelous presentation at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night. Laura Osnes was quite nice as Maria, although the decision to put her in a drop-dead blue gown wasn’t quite right at the beginning of the show. I wonder if adapter David Ives would include the line about how “the nuns didn’t want this” dress. Indeed he did, and I guess an argument could be made that they wouldn’t want this low-cut dazzler.

It was a hybrid of the stage show and the film. That was clear from the outset, when The Orchestra of St. Luke’s played the movie’s overture. Yes, “My Favorite Things” was done as it was originally – between Maria and the Mother Abbess – and not in the bedroom scene originally occupied by “The Lonely Goatherd.” But that, I’m sure, wasn’t because of a need to remain faithful to the original script; after all, “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good” were included. But “the movie way” demands that puppet show, and that runs into trouble and money. And who’d want to see it from Carnegie Hall’s third balcony?

Tony Goldwyn was stiff as the Captain. Brooke Shields didn’t quite hit some notes as Elsa. But everyone else was nifty. Stephanie Blythe, as the Mother Abbess, had perfect elocution on the words “can’t face.”

Finally, my most picayune observation: when Osnes raised her arms high, I wondered for the first time if novices and nuns shave under their arms. It was a question I had never before pondered, although I’d had 12 years of Catholic education.

Two members of legendary productions can be found at the Actors Temple. Gene Castle, one of Dainty June’s Newsboys, and Loni Zoe Ackerman, of the 1971 No, No, Nanette that started the vogue for Broadway revivals, now top-line Tin Pan Alley.

This former newsboy agrees with Rose: vaudeville isn’t dead. The show even has those title cards that announced acts. The songs are late 19th-early 20th century, and they’re well-done by the cast of four (that includes the able Brad Bradley and Karla Shook).

But the real thrill of the evening is Castle’s choreography. It’s expert and beautifully executed. Tap dancing and marvelous moves like this don’t grow on many stages. Here they are at the Actors Temple.

“I feel like The Miracle Worker,” James Corden says from the stage of the Music Box. Well, he should. The star of One Man, Two Guvnors accomplishes everything a great comic actor should achieve from A to Z.


Corden Astonishes with his indefatigability, Bangs into doors, Calls audience members on stage, Dances the frug, Eats paper, Farts (but somehow inoffensively), Guzzles soup, Humiliates audience members, Improvs like crazy, Jumps over those who get in his way, Kisses his adversaries, Lies through his teeth, Manages the moving of a heavy trunk, Negotiates in less-than-good faith, Opens his mouth as wide as a soup tureen, Perspires not a drop while doing it all, Questions audience members, Rolls across the stage and back again, Spits (but not offensively), Tortures his tongue not only with language but with his hands, Ululates with abandon, Vamps until he thinks of the right answer, Wolfs down food, Xylophone-plays, Yeses both his guvnors in hopes that they believe him and Zips across the stage at breakneck speed.

It’s going to be quite the Best Actor in a Play race with Corden and Philip Seymour Hoffman offering very different performances in very different plays. Serious performances usually win out, but the prestige of the British actor is always a mitigating factor. And I’ll go out on a limb and say that One Man will get a Best Score nomination because of the Beatle-inspired songs that we hear during scene changes. (They’re okay.)

I hope there’s no race at all in the Best Actress in a Play category. Yes, Tracie Bennett’s performance as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow has become the most controversial I’ve ever heard discussed in more than 50 years of continual theatergoing. Put me on the side of those who were astonished by her.

In The Boys in the Band, one character talks about “a queen doing a Judy Garland imitation.” Well, what we have here is the new Queen of Broadway doing a Judy Garland imitation. Yes, Bennett looks more like Mimi Hines than Garland. But that’s not the point, my friends, to quote a line that Ricky Martin sings (while looking terribly awkward, by the way; the poor soul doesn’t know what to do with his hands).

Some have said that Bennett’s giving a drag queen imitation. The sad truth -- and I get no pleasure from admitting it -- is that by 1968, when the play takes place, Judy Garland often did resemble a drag queen.

I thought about the scene in Call Me Madam in which Ethel Merman is wearing an elaborate gown with a train she has trouble manipulating. “Did they have to give me the Super Chief?” she asks.

Well, End of the Rainbow doesn’t just show what a train wreck Judy Garland was at the end of her life, but a Super Chief train wreck. Having to watch two men – Mickey Deans, her new intended (the excellent Tom Pelphrey), and Anthony, her loyal longtime pianist (the extraordinary Michael Cumpsty) -- cope (or try to) with her incessant demands makes her far worse than the super-demanding boss we “met” earlier this season in Assistance. Her behavior reminds of what would later come out of the mouth of Judy’s babe: “Well, that’s what comes from too much pills and liquor.”

I’m not saying that the play is historically accurate. I know beans about Deans, so whether he was a hang-er-on or worse in real life, I cannot say. But for true or false, this play gets audiences to sympathize with him. He makes every attempt to keep her away from anything in a bottle or pillbox -- and that’s no easy task.

When Garland sings for her London audience, Bennett makes the lady’s performance unpredictable from one line in a song to the next. It’s as if Bennett got footage of every Garland concert --- Carnegie Hall, the Palace, et al. -- cut them into bits, threw them into the air like confetti, picked them up and reassembled them helter-skelter.

That’s the chaos we see. On one line, you can see Garland think, “Let me do this gesture that I did in 1951.” On the next line, it’s “Isn’t this what I’ve always done with my arm on this lyric?” And on the next, “Why don’t I try this and see if it works?” All this is supported by Garland’s belief (or at least her assumption) that she’ll get away with any type of performance because her audiences adore her and are just thrilled to be in the same room with her.

The result is the most exhausting show on Broadway, and not what many people will want to see after a hard day at work. Bennett rarely sits, and when she does, she even-more-rarely sits still. I’d like her to wear a pedometer so we can see how many miles she clocks around the stage. My heart bleeds for her that twice a week she must do this twice a day. In an era where performers call in sick for paper cuts -- or feel that their roles are so demanding that they couldn’t possibly do more than six -- how do you explain Bennett’s resilience?

Or Angela Lansbury’s for that matter. She recently fell, and that would seem to be enough reason for the 86-year-old to miss performances if not bow out of The Best Man. But leave it to Lansbury to not disappoint her fans and instead play it with a cane.

It’s a terrific production. Eric McCormack made his reputation by playing an out gay man, and now he’s adding to his impressive resume by playing a closeted one. Love that he vaguely resembles Rick Santorum or, as my buddy Michael Portantiere pointed out, John Edwards.

Last month’s brainteaser was “What do these five songs have in common? Sondheim’s “Buddy’s Blues,” Styne and Harburg’s “He’s a Genius,” Cole Porter’s “No Lover,” Lerner and Loewe’s “I Am on My Way” and Adler and Ross’ “Six Months out of Every Year.”

David Kanter was the first to realize that the lyrics to each contained the names of shows from which they sprang: Follies, Darling of the Day, Out of This World, Paint Your Wagon and Damn Yankees. Others who made the same observation were Christopher Berg, Michael D. Shayne, Joseph Miller, Laura Frankos, Noel Katz, Ira Rappaport, Dan Liebman, Thomas Lucy, Ian Ewing, Peter Alfano and David H. Cohen.

But only Jack Lechner, Tony Janicki and Arthur Robinson got the other facet that I wanted: that none of these musicals has a title song, and that the inclusion of the show’s title in the lyric is the closest each got to one.

This month’s brainteaser: There’s a reason why these musicals are listed in this specific order. Can you guess? The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd, Into the Woods, Rags, Pacific Overtures, Minnie’s Boys, Damn Yankees, Camelot, She Loves Me, 42nd Street, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Merrily We Roll Along, The Who’s Tommy, Newsies and Let’s Face It. (Need a hint? You might get it if you take a look at Ain’t Misbehavin’, Evita, West Side Story and Hair.)

Finally, thank-yous to all who have been asking about my girlfriend, whom you saw sobbing uncontrollably as we left Death of a Salesman. Let me tell you what she said afterward: “Well, her name is Linda and my name is Linda, so when she was mourning at Willy’s grave, I just flashed ahead and started dreading the day when I’m at your grave.” That made me take pause, look into her eyes and softly say, “Who says I’m goin’ first?”

           — Peter Filichia


You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at His newest book, Broadway Musical MVPs, 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons, is now available through Applause Books and at

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