WHEN EVERYTHING WAS INDEED POSSIBLE
“We wanted to honor all who are no longer with us.”
So we hear Kurt Peterson tell the audience at the end of the newly released compact disc WHEN EVERYTHING WAS POSSIBLE. It’s the show he did with Victoria Mallory at City Center on April 29, 2012.
Yes, several of the people with whom one or both of them had worked had died: Michael Bennett, Leonard Bernstein, Alexander H. Cohen, Hermione Gingold, Arthur Laurents, Joe Layton, Bob Merrill, Ethel Shutta, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
But the sad irony is that on that night, Victoria Mallory – the original Young Heidi in FOLLIES and the actress who created the role of Anne Egerman in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC -- had no idea that she had only 853 days to live. On August 30, 2014, Mallory succumbed to pancreatic cancer.
She died heroically. Once she was diagnosed, Mallory decided not to endure life-extending treatments. Why spend the little time you have remaining with daily and doleful visits to the hospital in a losing cause? Better to experience life as best you can, far away from tests, treatments and the inevitable bad news.
Here, however, Mallory is the picture of health and in great voice, easing her way through CARNIVAL’s “Love Makes the World Go Round” and “Yes, My Heart,” reprising her Anne in “Soon” and delivering “If I Were a Princess” from ALADDIN.
Those who know the show currently at the New Amsterdam or have the ALADDIN cast album may be scratching their heads trying to remember an Alan Menken, Howard Ashman or Tim Rice song by that name. No, it’s a song from The Prince Street Players’ version of ALADDIN, which Mallory did as a child. Everybody has to start somewhere, as Peterson proves, too, with his jaunty rendition of “Woe Is Me” from THE FROG PRINCE.
(These are not the only unfamiliar songs on the album. Peterson wrote lyrics and Jesse Wiener composed a fetching opening song and a solid closer, each of which has a lot to say about our two stars.)
We learn that after such juvenilia, Georgia resident Mallory and Wisconsin native Peterson came to New York, met at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and started a friendship that went romantic for a while. That was in keeping with their not only playing Romeo and Juliet at the school but also Tony and Maria in you-know-what at the State Theatre in 1968.
Of the several shows presented by Richard Rodgers for Music Theatre of Lincoln Center in the ‘60s, this WEST SIDE STORY was the only one that went unrecorded. At least that’s semi-remedied here as we get a taste of what their audiences heard through their “Tonight.”
Two and a half seconds of kettledrums is all the audience at City Center needed to hear in order to prompt their appreciative applause. The low, booming sounds made by drummer Kory Grossman signaled the start of the unforgettable FOLLIES Prologue.
As we all know, anyone associated with the original production of that 1971 masterwork will always be musical theater royalty. So here is the original Young Ben and the original Young Heidi here to entertain. “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow,” they sing, but this recording proves that the audience had already come to love them and the song for 41 years’ worth of yesterdays.
Many Broadway studies say that The Golden Age of Musicals ended with FIDDLER (1964), LA MANCHA (1965) or CABARET (1966), but we must extend the deadline to at least April 4, 1971, when FOLLIES opened – hell, to July 1, 1972 when it closed.
Knowing what we know now, the most heartbreaking moment of the disc comes when Mallory plays FOLLIES’ adult Heidi Schiller. Hard to believe – especially when one sees her radiant and glowing picture on the back cover of the CD booklet -- that Mallory, then 63, was actually older than Justine Johnson, who was merely approaching her 50th birthday when she originated the role. And how did Mallory seem so much younger?
Listening to her do Heidi’s shining moment in FOLLIES makes for some poignant moments. Look at those lyrics: “One more kiss before we part, One more kiss and farewell. Never shall we meet again … One more glimpse of the past … One more souvenir of bliss knowing well that this one must be the last … All things beautiful must die … One more kiss and goodbye.”
The song urges us to “Never look back,” but even Stephen Sondheim, whose congratulatory letter to Peterson and Mallory was recited to the audience (and is included on the disc), would have to allow this one exception to the rule.
Actually, Mallory said goodbye to Broadway after A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, for life imitated art. Just as Anne ran off with Henrik in the Sondheim-Wheeler masterpiece, Mallory married original Henrik Mark Lambert and relocated in California, where she did one TV series and a few guest spots. Mostly, however, she mothered a daughter Ramona who – another irony – took on her mother’s role (and her mother’s last name) in the 2009 revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.
Peterson appeared in DEAR WORLD with Angela Lansbury (who attended and took a bow) and sings from Jerry Herman’s most ambitious score. But his “Too Many Mornings” and “Being Alive” in a still-resonant voice aren’t the only Sondheim references for the still-handsome entertainer.
For Peterson had set the wheels in motion for SONDHEIM: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE on March 11, 1973. The astonishing evening is still remembered and discussed more than 40 years later, mostly thanks to a still-available cast recording affectionately known as “The Scrabble Album” for the many beige tiles on its cover.
Those Sondheim songs that none of us knew before that concert or album? We might have never heard them if not for this night, for it did spur Sondheim to open his trunk. So let’s thank Peterson for that, too.
The recording also tacitly gives us some advice. As it turns out, Peterson and Mallory drifted apart and didn’t speak for 35 years. To cite another Harold Prince musical: “All the Wasted Time.”
As a result, if there’s someone who used to be a good and important friend but has somehow faded out of your life, perhaps it’s time to make that phone call or find that Facebook page. Do it now as long as everything is STILL possible.
— Peter Filichia