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 June 29 , 2012

June Leftovers

It was the month when we had umpteen ceremonies for theatrical awards. Given that we're living in an age of consolidation -- fewer airlines, fewer companies at which to shop -- will the day come when we'll have a merging of all the awards under one banner? Personally, I hope  they'll be the Theatre World Awards.

Would you have guessed, by the way, that Follies now has gone 0-for-3 in Best Musical and Best Revival Tonys? In those same categories, La Cage aux Folles has gone 3-for-3. Which musical do you like better?

Bless the powers behind the National High School Musical Theater Awards – affectionately called “The Jimmys” -- for renting a gen-u-ine Broadway theater – the Minskoff --  so that 60 teen contestants could say that they’ve performed on Broadway.

While I was teaching at Arlington (MA) High School in Massachusetts many years ago, I saw the school’s basketball team, when playing for the high school championship, get to use Boston Garden -- the same parquet floor on which the NBA’s Boston Celtics played. However, our drama club, when competing for the high school championship, didn’t get to go to the Broadway-sized Colonial, Shubert, or Wilbur; we dragged ourselves to the far less impressive John Hancock Hall.

The kids were spectacular, although I knew Joshua Grosso (from American Heritage School, in Plantation, Florida) had it in the bag when he sang Fabrizio’s “Il Mondo Era Vuoto.” He’d done “All I Ask of You” during the first round, so to then follow it with something in Italian put him ahead of the pack.

I also had a hunch that Elizabeth Romero of Huntington Beach (CA) High would emerge victorious after seeing her do Lola’s “A Little Brains, a Little Talent.” Seeing her follow it up with “Disneyland” from Smile made me admire her more.

I have a feeling that Romero is a big Sutton Foster fan. For one thing, she resembles Foster, and for another, her black and white glossy shows her with her head in the precise position with the same smile that we’ve seen in Foster’s head-shot. Really: Google image it and see if you think I don’t have a case.

What I enjoyed the most about the Jimmys, however, was hearing the high-schoolers in the audience coo when they heard only the first few notes of a song’s vamp. These young savants already knew each vamp, be it from endless visits to the shows or listens to cast albums.

Man and Superman has four acts if you do the sometimes-dropped Don Juan in Hell sequence. As I went to The Irish Repertory Theatre, I inferred that I’d be seeing all four – because David Staller was directing.

Staller is the founder of The Gingold Group, which has been producing readings of all Shaw’s plays at the Players Club since January of 2006. A guy like that has just got to be a purist.

So Man and Superman would take forever, right? “Two hours and 36 minutes,” Staller told me beforehand. “Although,” he conceded, “you won’t get out until 11, because of the lines for the rest rooms.”

Please, God: allow Irish Rep to get that new theater it’s been lobbying for so that we won’t all have to wait for those two single units.

Staller started by having pre-show music that was jaunty, thus allaying the fears of those subscribers who were sorry that Irish Rep’s driving force Charlotte Moore had chosen a Shaw. Things got off to a witty start because Staller had his cast pass around a book from which they read Shavian epigrams. I’ll not tell any so that you can enjoy saying, “Oh! He’s the one who said that?!” Indeed he did, and we’re the richer for it.

What a lovely light touch Staller gave the play. How many times do you see the shoulders of audience members shaking with laughter? I saw them here.

The conflict mainly rests between Roebuck Ramsden (Brian Murray) and Jack (Max Gordon Moore). Mr. Whitefield determined in his will, that both would be named guardians of their late friend’s daughter Ann. Trouble is, Ramsden is old and conservative while Jack is young and liberal.

Truth to tell, I’d like to have met Ann’s father. What was his purpose in giving control to two disparate types? I can think of many scenarios, but I’d like to know exactly what he had in mind.

As the fuddiest of duddies, Murray pulls himself up quite a bit when telling Jack, “I take pride in your contempt.” He also knows that he must wait for a laugh after he says, “But Ann is only a woman.” See if he doesn’t remind you of Harvey Fierstein in the way that he suddenly comes out with an especially profound basso profundo statement which he follows with a confused squint.

Moore is even more enjoyable as Jack, for he constantly doesn’t see any problem in the problems that others see in morality. “The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is,” he says frothily. When he takes on the role of Don Juan, he deliciously delivers a line that resonates in this election year: “I am a gentleman. I live by robbing the poor.”

If Jack is a free spirit, Octavius is spirit-free. Will Bradley deftly plays the lovesick minor character who says of Ann “I want her to eat me!” He only means it in the digestive sense. We see what he sees when we spend some time with Janie Brookshire. Brian Sgambati excels as Straker, the ordinary man who’s dropping “h’s” everywhere as much as Eliza Doolittle ever did.

It used to be said that an intellectual is one who can listen to “The William Tell Overture” and not think of the Lone Ranger. This show proves that an intellectual is someone who can hear Shaw’s line “the father of Superman” and not think of Jor-El. But one doesn’t have to be an intellectual to have a helluva time at Staller’s Man and Superman. 

Does one need to know the seven Harry Potter books and eight movies to enjoy Potted Potter? Not really. Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner provide the fun by knocking themselves out for 70 minutes while working with a joke shop’s worth of props. Wigs, just as they always have at Forbidden Broadway, carry the day.

Granted, watching the audience slam a beach ball from spectator to spectator for minutes at a time isn’t great theater. Taking a poll on whether Snape is good or bad isn’t, either. Little kids are pulled from the audience and prove to be charming in their inadequacy.

The biggest laughs came from pre-pubescent vocal cords, which were mightily tickled. But two jokes that minimized teachers weren’t greeted warmly by the adults. We can assume that many were teachers. They’re often the theatergoers, so Clarkson and Turner should appreciate them.

The thrust and approach is very reminiscent of The 39 Steps. If thatshow, based on a far more obscure property, can be a countrywide smash, so should Potted Potter. Given that I don’t know Harry Potter from Ethel Mae Potter Mertz, I would have had just as good a time if the two guys were mimes.

Last month’s brainteaser was deemed much easier than the previous month’s. What do all these Broadway plays that were turned into films have in common: The Moon Is Blue; The Tender Trap; A Hole in the Head; Two for the Seesaw; Alfie; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Lovers and Other Strangers; Same Time, Next Year; Yentl; Shirley Valentine and Sabrina Fair? The order in which I’d listed them provided a bit of a clue.

Jack Lechner was the first to get it, followed by Ira Rappaport, Ian Ewing, Brigadude, AnyaToes, Amy Walters, Richard Rennes and Gale Burleson. The answer: all of the films spurred songs that were nominated for Oscars. In fact, the ones from A Hole in the Head and Lovers and Other Strangers even wound up winning them.

This month’s brainteaser: A major league sports team – including BOTH the name of the city AND the cute little nickname -- can also be found on the window card and on the original cast album cover of a very famous musical. What is it?

Finally, it was the month that No Second Acts: A Collection of Short 

American Lives played at the Brick Theatre in Williamsburg. As the press release stated, "F. Scott Fitzgerald said there were no second acts in American lives." Well, yes, he did, but according to Tom Burham in his The Dictionary of Misinformation, Fitzgerald didn’t mean that nobody gets a second chance, as is often inferred. Burnham says that the “experienced playwright and scenarist surely was not accustomed to thinking of plays as being written in two acts” in his era of three-act plays. The second act was “the one that builds or develops the plot and prepares the audience for the resolution or denouement of the third and final act.” Burnham believes what Fitzgerald meant “is that American lives rush too quickly to their resolutions whatever they may be; there is no time to explore possible solutions, to build, or progress in orderly fashion.” Yes, time does fly, and it’s time to close the column.

         — Peter Filichia


You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at

and each Friday at His book, Broadway Musical MVPs, 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons,

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