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May 2, 2014

April’s Leftovers and May’s Brainteaser

Off-Broadway had as busy a month as Broadway. Stephen Cole’s INVENTING MARY MARTIN was there to remind us that such a great star once walked among us and, more importantly, on stage. Cole wisely chose the less famous songs from Martin’s hits (“I Got Lost in His Arms”), lest we complain that “We’re sick of that song!” David Krane made old tunes sound new by making “Cockeyed Optimist” into a virtual jazz waltz and “I’ve Gotta Crow” into a tango. Jason Graae is a charming host and Emily Skinner was as wonderful in “Flaming Agnes” as Martin was. How nice to discover a new star in Cameron Adams, too.

During my March Leftovers, I made a point about ALADDIN’s excessive anachronisms by noting that there was almost one for each letter of the alphabet. And THE HEIR APPARENT at Classic Stage Company, a play set in the 17th century? David Ives, who adapted Jean-François Regnard’s comedy, added A-fungool, Bromo-Seltzer, consumerism, dating pool, eat crow, fucked up, Godzilla, hot to trot, I.D., jackpot, kemo sabe, Levis, man up, National Health Insurance, Ouija board, porno, quibble, restraining order, shyster, 24/7 – you get the point. Shouldn’t a company called Classic Stage be doing the classic text?

Being an actress isn’t hard enough, but you have to do housework, too? In ANNAPURNA, Megan Mullally goes to see her ex-husband in his rustic hovel and spends much of the show cleaning up the mess he’s made over the years. The irony is that Nick Offerman, who plays the ex, is Mullally’s hubbie in real life. She’s got to be thinking, “I don’t do enough cleaning up after you at home, Nick – and now I have to do it here, too?”

I finished up moderating four post-play panel discussions at CHARACTER MAN (for which Drama Desk winner Jim Brochu is now up for another Drama Desk Award). Favorite moment: after Maureen Stapleton was mentioned, Jim told a story about her. Joe Gilford (Jack’s son) told another. After Josh Mostel told yet another, I joined in with mine. And each of those stories ended with a sentence that involved the word “fuck.” And no, none of them was the famous Ann-Margret one. Stapleton apparently had a million of them.

My favorite moment in HEATHERS occurred when Veronica and Jason wrote a mock-suicide note to cover up their murder of Heather Chandler. Now that wouldn’t seem to be anyone’s favorite moment, but I liked the two words they used to start the faux suicide note: “Dear World.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum – on Broadway -- while I was watching IF/THEN, I was amused to hear the audience mockingly laugh after a mention of Hootie and the Blowfish. How well I remember a 1995 dinner with Frank Wildhorn and the look of astonishment-cum-contempt on his face after he mentioned the group and I said I’d never heard of them. Now the quartet is a punch line. Maybe I wasn’t so deprived for missing its art.

As for another rock group, albeit a fictional one -- HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH – may I make a most atypical observation? If you’re currently enduring a breakup that you did not initiate (or are still hurting from one), you’ll find a kindred spirit in Hedwig and feel his pain. That’s another way of saying how terrific Neil Patrick Harris is.

Oh, and the Tonys? What a sad slap in the face to BIG FISH, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, IF/THEN and ROCKY that none was deemed worthy of that fifth Best Musical nomination slot. If even ONE of them had received a nod, the other four could have said, “Well, they liked the others better.” But an empty space means, to paraphrase Sally Fields’ most famous line, “They didn’t like us. They REALLY didn’t like us.” That has to hurt.

And yet, and yet … at the performance of BULLETS that I attended, a burst of laughter was only heard from an occasional patron or couple. Pockets of mirth – small pockets – greeted Woody Allen’s dialogue. Well, can you laugh at hearing someone’s cologne was named “Moonlight in Bensonhurst”? The best comedy is true comedy, and no company would give such a name to such a product.

Anyway, the laughs continued at a modest level and at infrequent intervals. But then came the line “It’s no curse to be a total mediocrity” and the crowd gave a sudden and distinctive intake of breath before going stone-cold silent. It knew it was hearing the truth. Allen admitted as much in another of his lines: “The audience knows. They don’t know they know, but they know.”

Theatergoers had already heard Julian Marx, the play’s producer imploring Helen Sinclair to star in David Shayne’s play but then stating “You’re better known as a drunk and adulteress.” In the film, her agent said that. That’s believable, but a producer hoping to entice a star would use much softer soap.

The Olive in the film isn’t stupid enough to think that trotting out a vulgar number she did in a seedy club would be the right way to impress David and Julian that she’d be right for a serious drama. She wouldn’t sing a double entendre filled song about a hot dog, but would be -- to use a then-current expression -- putting on the dog.

Remember all the scuttlebutt last fall on who’d get the plum role of Helen? For every actress of a certain age, it was the most coveted of the season. And yet the role -- no fault of Marin Mazzie, by the way -- makes little impression. I wasn’t surprised that no Tony nomination resulted.

But I was a little surprised that Daniel Radcliffe didn’t get a nod in THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN. And yet, what can a Tony committee do with a genuine over-the-title star who has a role that keeps him offstage much of the time? Radcliffe belongs in the Featured category – and among the nominees. Just adopting that twisted stance should have been enough to get him nominated, but Radcliffe also created a kid who has long been inured to insensitivity from all the dolts around him but still is amazed that these mental cripples of Inishmaan seem to believe “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say it baldly and don’t think twice about it.”

Well as for the nominations, this is, as the song goes in VIOLET, “the luck of the draw.” Will Sutton Foster win? Her reviews have been strong, partly because she’s deglamorized herself and looks the way I see her when she’s eating breakfast at our local restaurant. I feel that Violet doesn’t have the show’s most compelling songs, so Foster doesn’t get all that much opportunity to make a strong impact. Others obviously believe otherwise.

Instead of giving you another sentence with the word “snubbed” or “robbed” in it, I’ll tell you what nominees I was glad to see that weren’t foregone conclusions: Best Play nominees ACT ONE (with a emotion-wrenching second-act curtain that alluded to a first-act curtain) and CASA VALENTINA (which was equally fair to transvestites, a woman who loves one and a daughter who hates what her father became) and its leading man Reed Birney who was a real lady in it. (Didn’t I once hear that after a show closes, actors are allowed to keep the shoes they wore on stage? Will the men in CASA want to keep theirs?)

But I would have loved to have seen who would have been omitted in the Best Actress in a Musical category if Audra McDonald had rightfully been placed there. No one can tell me that anyone who sings more than a dozen songs in a show that celebrates a famous singer is in a play.

Last month’s brainteaser: I asked if you noticed anything interesting about these Sondheim works: “Tonight,” “Happily Ever After,” “Everybody Says Don’t,” “Love Is in the Air,” “Agony,” “Silly People,” “Take the Moment,” “On the Steps of the Palace,” “Four Black Dragons,” “Still Got My Heart,” “How I Saved Roosevelt,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “I’m Still Here,” “Loving You” and “All I Need Is the Girl.”

Answer: The first letter of each song spells out THE LAST OF SHEILA. I’ll say no more -- and those who know THE LAST OF SHEILA will know why.

Jon Delfin was the first to get it, followed by Brigadude, Ingrid Gammerman, Donald Tesione, Chris Davies, Andrew Milner, John Bacarella, Ian Ewing and Peter Alfano.


You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia

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His book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks: A Very Opinionated History of Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award,
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