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April 29, 2016

April’s Leftovers and May’s Brainteaser

Do you think that when Benjamin Walker leaves AMERICAN PYSCHO (which I reviewed at that The Naked Cowboy will take his place?

You’ve undoubtedly heard that uber-producer Scott Rudin wanted his production of SHUFFLE ALONG, OR THE MAKING OF THE MUSICAL SENSATION OF 1921 AND ALL THAT FOLLOWED to be considered by the Tony nominating committee as a revival and not a new musical. Whether or not Rudin wants to admit it, everyone who follows Broadway knows that he’s afraid to go head-to-head with HAMILTON, which has inevitably made his entry a Best Musical loser. So he’ll settle for the secondary prize.

Let’s go back a couple of years when Rudin decided to take on George C. Wolfe’s new take on the 1921 smash hit. If you went up to him and said “What’s on your docket?” do you think he would have said “Well, I’m presenting a revival of SHUFFLE ALONG.”? Or do you think he said “Oh, I’m producing a musical that’s inspired by SHUFFLE ALONG. But it’s a whole new look at the material.”?

‘Nuff said.

During this April, I wrote two columns talking about my adventures with Scott Miller, artistic director of New Line Theatre in St. Louis, at a panel discussion we did at Penn State. I only mentioned in passing that Jennifer Ashley Tepper was on the panel with us, so I’d now like to give her her due.

Because Penn State was doing a production of HAIR, our moderator Richard Biever happened to mention on our way to the show a tragic incident. One original Broadway cast member had died after a raging and unstoppable fire broke out in his apartment; he tried to escape by jumping out of his building and died from the fall.

“Lamont Washington,” I said – to which Tepper immediately (and correctly) noted “He was Sammy Davis’ understudy in GOLDEN BOY.”

I’m impressed; aren’t you? Tepper is a millennial, and few of her generation know who Sammy Davis was; fewer know what GOLDEN BOY was, and virtually NO one but she knows that Lamont Washington was his understudy. I doubt that Tepper is even old enough to run for president, but when she is, I’m voting for her.

Tepper might even win if she were running this year, what with all the commotion. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I recalled this while seeing 1776 at Encores! and heard John Dickinson call his arch-enemy from Massachusetts “Little John Adams” – much the same way that Donald Trump referred to one Florida candidate as “Little Marco Rubio.”

Something else occurred to me for the first time while I was watching this 1776. I’m amazed it took me this long, considering that this was my 17th visit to a stage production of the 1969 Stone-Edwards masterpiece that led to a 1972 film version that I’ve seen 22 times.

So I’m quite accustomed to Adams and Franklin coming down hard on James Wilson, the Philadelphia delegate whom they regard as a wimp. “How can anyone see you if you insist on standing in Mr. Dickinson’s shadow?” Wilson is asked – and indeed he does.

But if we’re going to talk about namby-pambies, how about Joseph Hewes from North Carolina? Time and time again, when Hewes is asked to vote “Yea” or “Nay” for independence, he says “North Carolina respectively yields to South Carolina” – right up until and including the final vote. What could be weaker than that?

Of course, that June and July in 1776 wasn’t the last time that some people representing North Carolina have shown a lack of gumption. But that’s another story.

That ol’ expression “I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall?” Over the years, I’ve stated that I would have gladly become a
Musca Domestica if I could have witnessed the chaos when Michael Bennett pretended to injure himself during that CHORUS LINE rehearsal or when Patti LuPone learned that she wouldn’t be playing Norma Desmond on Broadway.

I’ll add to these what happened in the Paul Simon-Edie Brickell household when she told him she was writing the score for a Broadway musical (BRIGHT STAR, as it turned out.) Simon, who composed both music and lyrics for THE CAPEMAN – the shortest-running musical of the 1997-98 season – must have had an opinion on his wife’s choice on how to spend her professional time. Was it “Good for you, honey – go out an knock ‘em dead!” or “Are you out of your mind? Who needs Broadway?” I’ll probably never know, but if I suspect the latter. I could be dead wrong about this, but if someone told me that Simon’s framed Tony nomination for Best Score is underneath the leg of a kitchen table that would otherwise wobble if something hadn’t been placed beneath it, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised.

More to the point, did Simon say to his wife and her collaborator Steve Martin, “Guys, everyone’s going to guess your story’s big surprise because you spend so much time on a certain character we know that the person must have a great involvement in the story?” Tell you this, though; whoever chose Carmen Cusack for the lead deserves a titanic amount of credit. She’s a bright star indeed.

Early in the month I heard from Remy Kirsch, mother of the terrific Charles Kirsch, one of Broadway World’s three child critics. (Do tune in and see them.) Although Charles was born during the Dubya Administration, he’s already a voracious fan of classic Broadway. Remy told me that Charles was reading one of my books in which I cited Lorena Bobbitt but gave no further explanation – causing Charles to wonder who she was. Reported Remy, “I said ‘Uh ... she’s a woman who did something mean to her husband’ to which Charles said ‘You mean like the women in CHICAGO’? I said ‘Yes!! Just like the women in CHICAGO!’ Saved by Broadway again!”

Jeff Hickman wrote in, too, to say that “I was listening to the London cast album of TRELAWNY” – meaning the Julian (SALAD DAYS) Slade musical that played the West End in 1972 – “and a quick Google search to get some background led me to a Wikipedia article that said the 1898 production of the original play had a set by E.G. Unitt. A Unitt set! It made me laugh.” I as well, Jeff, I as well.

The editorial team that produced THE SONDHEIM REVIEW for more than a decade has gone off on its own to create EVERYTHING SONDHEIM. Says editor Rick Pender, “We’ll have the same high editorial standards, but use a more contemporary medium -- online with occasional printed magazines -- to serve musical enthusiasts.”

Take a look at and see if you’d like to be a contributor, be it a financial one or a reportorial one.

Pretty ballsy of Manhattan Theatre Club to present THE FATHER, don’t you think? Florian Zeller’s play (as filtered through Christopher Hampton’s translation) deals with Alzheimer’s Disease in a most clever and unique way, and Frank Langella is once again extraordinary. But there’s no denying that the MTC audience tends to be senior-centric, and this story must give some of its Medicare-eligibles the willies; they must fear that they might be looking at their futures. Others will be unnerved by reliving the excruciating times they’d had with their own fathers and/or mothers who in their dotage ranged from recalcitrant to vulnerable and back as Langella now brilliantly displays.

There can’t be too many actors who in a 20-year-span have starred on Broadway in two different plays by two different authors that share the same title; Langella was in Strindberg’s THE FATHER during the early days of 1996. I could have structured this remark in the form of a Brainteaser, but I have another one in store.


The answer is that despite their Tony wins as Best Musical, none of these shows produced a Best Actor, Actress, Featured Actor or Featured Actress winner.

Ed Weissman was the first to get it (he got the previous month’s one, too) followed by Jay Aubrey Jones, Bryan Brooks, Tony Janicki and Christopher Connelly.

This month’s brainteaser? During the ‘70s, two revivals, playing about 15 blocks away from each other, closed on the same night. One was a musical while the other was a comedy. But the musical had a song in it that was the precise name of the comedy. What were the titles of the two shows?

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia



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