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 May 3, 2013

April's Leftovers and May's Brainteaser

It was the month in which the word “robbed” is used more around Broadway than any other month – for the Tony nominations were dispensed. But it is true that you could almost make an entire alternate universe list of Tony nominations that would cover the robb-ees. Such as:
Best Musical: Hands on a Hardbody
Best Play: The Other Place
Best Actor in a Musical: Matthew James Thomas (Pippin)
Best Actress in a Musical: all right, they got them all
Best Featured Actor in a Musical: John Bolton (A Christmas Story)
Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Elle McLemore (Eva in Bring It On)
Best Actor in a Play: David Strathairn (The Heiress)
Best Actress in a Play: Fiona Shaw (The Testament of Mary)
Best Featured Actor in a Play: Michael Shannon (Grace)
Best Featured Actress in a Play: Condola Rashad (The Trip to Bountiful)
Best Director of a Musical: Jeff Calhoun (Jekyll & Hyde)
Best Director of a Play: Jack O’Brien (The Nance)
Best Book: Jeff Whitty (Bring It On)
Best Score: Christopher Curtis (Chaplin, for at least some melodies)

Well, I could go on, but you get the point. Here’s the Best Factoid, however: Amanda Green has had some bad luck in her Broadway career; her three musicals (High Fidelity, Bring It On and Hands on a Hardbody) have averaged all of 73 performances. And yet, this year, she did something her daddy Adolph Green never did: in the same year, one of her musicals was nominated as Best Musical (Bring It On) and one set of her lyrics was nominated for another musical (Hands on a Hardbody).

You’re still blinking over my choosing Jeff Calhoun for Jekyll & Hyde, aren’t you? Well, long before I saw Gregory Boyd’s staging of Jekyll & Hyde in 1996 – and Robin Phillips’ vision in 1997 -- I saw the 1992 workshop directed by Vivian Matalon. May I say that Calhoun’s current production is easily the best of the four, offering the most excitement and slickly making the running time seem far shorter than it is? What’s more, while this is hardly an elaborate production, it’s more visually arresting than the sterile unit set that plagued the original.

The original production was much criticized for having Robert Cuccioli play both Jekyll and Hyde during “Confrontation” and having him swish his hair back and forth. This production has Jekyll confronting Hyde in a film high above the action. For the record, that what was Cuccioli did during the 1995 pre-Broadway tryout. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Cuccioli is much missed in this revival, for Constantine Maroulis has zero sex appeal and less charisma as Henry. He’s the type that gives your high school audio-visual club a bad name as well as someone who seems to have had multiple call-backs for Revenge of the Nerds. That said, Maroulis works astonishingly hard and sings with great force. What we have here is an American Idol graduate meeting a European idol: Frank Wildhorn, whose shows do much better overseas.

When Maroulis gets to the show’s big number, he sings “This …” and waits so long before resuming with “is the moment” that you’d almost have enough time to sing Paint Your Wagon’s “Rumson Creek” in its entirety.

Then Maroulis punches into his arms numerous tubes which extend to a group of beakers that are alternately filled with red and green liquids. Given the holiday with which these colors are associated, I thought that the formula would turn Henry Jekyll into Santa Claus.

Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics still astonish in their banality. “You’ve got your work, and nothing more,” Henry’s told in song. Um, the man is engaged to be married to a woman who seems very much in love with him. Wildhorn’s music sometimes sounds Gothic and sometimes feels contemporary. Perhaps a modern dress Jekyll & Hyde is a genuine possibility. Yes: the next time that Broadway attends the tale of Henry Jekyll it can use this approach and be retitled Henry/Unsweet Henry.

Moving on: April 16th was the birthday of Jon Cryer – Jon Niven Cryer, that is. Those who know that his parents were involved with the 1967 off-Broadway musical Now Is the Time for All Good Men can easily guess where he got his middle name. David Cryer was the star of the show and his then-wife Gretchen co-wrote it; when they suddenly needed a leading lady, Gretchen had to step in. But lest the show look too much like a vanity production, she assumed the name Sally Niven. Now you know!

Like everyone else, I adored Michael Urie in Buyer & Cellar, the newest marvelous concoction by Jonathan Tolins. He truly is excellent as the latest in Barbra Streisand’s the long line of employees (and equally good in playing the diva herself, with a very Brooklyn-ese accent). But what I loved best was Tolins’ imagining that downstairs in Streisand’s manse is a machine that dispenses coffee frozen yogurt. Those of us who were on the ground floor of Streisand’s trajectory to fame and fortune then read many an article about the lady’s penchant for coffee ice cream -- to the point where she kept a little refrigerator next to her bed should the need to indulge arise. Good for Tolins, whom I’ve admired since Twilight of the Golds, for doing his homework.

A trip to Paris allowed me to see The Full Monty in French – although the English title was used. Now I don’t speak French, but know the show well enough that I didn’t need any translation (and none was provided). But two words leapt out at me: “Merde,” which was used in place of “Scrap.” And the French title for the song “Man”? You’re thinking the equally one-syllable “Homme,” and so was I – but it was actually “Mec.” Now that’s the first time I’ve heard that word employed since I encountered the cast album of Irma La Douce many generations ago. In fact, I thought that “mec” was a word made up by the show’s creators. Now I know that it wasn’t – either that, or Jerry Lukowski is a big fan of Irma La Douce and refers to it when frustrated.

And while we’re on the subject of foreign languages: “You don’t have to speak Yiddish to understand the whole megilla” said the ads for The Megilla of Itzik Manger, the musical that played the Golden and Longacre during the 1968-1969 season. You still don’t have to speak Yiddish to understand the slightly retitled The Megile of Itzik Manger thanks to the supertitles that are displayed above the action at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. The wondrous cast of eight rips through Yiddish as if English were their second language. And while I can’t speak for everyone, Stephen Mo Hanan tells me he learned his (considerable number of) lines phonetically. I’m impressed!

And yet, I was surprised by one supertitle that said, “A glass of tea couldn’t hurt.” Shouldn’t that be “glass tea?” I was even more astonished to see what we might call “the k-word” in the anti-Semitic parts of the script. But there’s a better k-word on hand: klezmer. Zalmen Mlotek’s teeny-tiny band gets the sound just right, and Dov Seltzer’s music is superb.

On April 23 -- the 449th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – I saw Alan Cumming play Macbeth and all the other characters in the Bard’s hit. This was less a tour de force than a tour de fuss, for Cumming could not clearly delineate everyone in the dramatis personae.

The concept was that Cumming was committed to an asylum, and so, to pass the time, he recited the play. Although it is one of Shakespeare’s shortest, Cumming still gets credit for memorization. But as his character was slitting his wrists and attempting to drown himself, I thought, who is this guy to call the three sisters “weird”? Inmate, heal thyself. Would that the eighteen producers had simply mounted the real play with a cast of actors. How expensive could it be? After all, they wouldn’t have to pay royalties.

Last month’s brainteaser: If a certain prediction turned out to be accurate, how many performances at the very least did Musical Husbands run?

The answer: The mythical musical mentioned in Merrily We Roll Along would have lasted at least 7,434 performances -- because it’s “Funny Girl (1,348 performances), Fiddler (3,242 performances) and Dolly (2,844 performances) combined.” That, by the way, would make Musical Husbands the third-longest-running show in Broadway history, right behind Phantom and Cats. It would, however, have the distinction of being the longest-running American show in history (at least until November, 2014, when Chicago could very well pass it).

Ted Zoldan was the first to get the answer, followed by Ira Rappaport, Arthur Robinson, Stuart Ira Soloway, Brigadude, Laura Frankos, John Griffin, Patrick Barnes, Chris Stonnell, John Bacarella, David Kanter, AnyaToes, Thomas Lucy, Rob Witherwax, Joe Keenan and Michael Dale.

This month’s brainteaser: What do the following musical Tony-winners have in common? Yul Brynner, Alan Cumming, Alfred Drake, Joanna Gleason, Joel Grey, Steve Kazee, Kevin Kline, Beth Leavel, Patricia Neway, Jonathan Pryce, Sara Ramirez and Ben Vereen.

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia


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