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 July 12, 2013

The Tom Swifty Goes Broadway

There have been knock-knock jokes, ethnic jokes, and how many light-bulb jokes. But 50 years ago, the joke that was sweeping the country was the Tom Swifty.

Never heard of it? Let your youth be your consolation. According to Wikipedia, “Tom Swiftys are named after the Tom Swift American adventure novels. Author Victor Appleton (or Edward L. Stratemeyer or Howard Garis in Stratemeyer’s employ) would always describe every action with an adverb. Tom never just said anything, but said it carefully, excitedly, eagerly, etc.”

Thus, each Tom Swifty that swept the summer of ’63 – America’s last innocent one -- involved a pun that focused on the adverb. To wit:

“How can I convince you to mow the lawn?” Tom asked rakishly.
“Once again, I’m on welfare,” Tom said dolefully.
“Those knives are too sharp,” Tom said pointedly.
“I dropped my toothpaste down the sewer,” Tom said crestfallenly.

It was a rare television show or radio host that didn’t snap out a Tom Swifty that summer. At parties, friends would try out new ones, to which their friends gave groans of appreciation. Three years later, The Random House Dictionary of the English Language included the Tom Swifty in its new edition, thus legitimizing it forever.

In honor of the 50th anniversary, shall we whip up some Tom Swiftys that are Broadway-centric?

“I can’t find a cast album of The Golden Apple anywhere,” said Tom fruitlessly.

“I’ll murder anyone who criticizes Streisand or Cook,” Tom said barbarously.

“I much prefer the score that Leonard Bernstein wrote before West Side Story,” Tom said candidly.

“I loathed that actor who played Sebastian in The Little Mermaid,” Tom said crabbily.

“I adore that song in Giant when they strike oil,” Tom gushed.
“I didn’t like what Cheryl Freeman did with her big song in The Who’s Tommy,” Tom said acidly.

“Don’t try to tell me that 110 in the Shade isn’t one of the best musicals ever,” Tom said hotly.
“Are you sure you want to produce Allegro simply because it doesn’t require much scenery?” Tom asked unsettlingly.
“Alphabetically, the cast album of The Zulu and the Zayda always rounds out a collection,” Tom said at last.
“I can’t say how Promises, Promises stacks up to the film on which it’s based because I’ve only seen a bit of that movie,” Tom said aptly.
“Later, I’ll cut some songs out of our production of Cats,” Tom deferred.
“It’s time that we do a show with an all-female cast,” Tom demanded.

“Oh, how I loved when Bernadette Peters stormed down the aisle and yelled ‘Sing out, Louise!” said Tom, sounding entranced.
“I better catch that production of Dames at Sea before it closes,” Tom said fleetingly.

“I’ll be happy to give everyone here one of my many extra London cast albums of Mutiny,” Tom said bountifully.

“Bet you don’t remember the name of Alan Alda’s character in the third act of The Apple Tree,” Tom said flippantly.

“What did you think of Hello, Dolly! after Carol Channing left?” Tom asked gingerly.

“I’ll never understand why Larry hasn’t won a Tony for Best Orchestrations,” said Tom blankly.

“No one’s naked at Broadway Bares,” Tom said briefly.
“Is he the best actor they could get to play Daddy Warbucks?” Tom asked baldly.
“But they couldn’t have done better than the actress they cast as Daddy Warbucks’ secretary,” said Tom gracefully.

“What will Gooch do now?” asked Tom expectantly.   
“There’s nothing sexier than that opening scene between Clara and Giorgio,” Tom said passionately.

“What magnificent performances F. Murray Abraham and Betty Buckley gave in that musical!” Tom said triumphantly.

“What an outrageous thing happened at the performance of Drood I attended,” Tom said mysteriously.

“You’re simply not good enough to play The Tin Man,” Tom said heartlessly.
“Those tickets have been scalped,” Tom said icily.
“I liked being in summer stock theaters when they had canvas tops,” Tom said intently.
“I’ve seen dozens of actors do Richard in 1776, so don’t tell me the best wasn’t Ron Holgate,” Tom said irately.

“There’s never been a worse choreographer than Michael,” Tom kidded.
Aida is the greatest Broadway musical of all-time!” Tom said, deep in denial.

“I didn’t care when Richard Rodgers and Alan Jay Lerner dissolved their partnership,” Tom said lackadaisically.
“So that sterile-looking theater in Baltimore closed down,” Tom said mechanically.
“I wish The Baker’s Wife didn’t have that ersatz French-sounding song called ‘Bread,’” Tom said painfully.
“Don’t you miss Theater Week?” Tom still asks periodically.

“Let’s have Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley revive Side Show,” was Tom’s rejoinder.

“And why hasn’t there been a revival of Irma La Douce?” Tom asked tartly.
“Did I hear that Kim McAfee and Hugo Peabody broke up?” Tom asked unsteadily.

“Don’t take me to that Moby Dick musical,” Tom wailed.
“I’ll have to close our production of Two by Two,” Tom deduced.
“So what that I didn’t get the male lead in Once upon a Mattress,” Tom said dauntlessly.
“Will you let me do Man of La Mancha one more time?” Tom requested.
“Miss Jones was absolutely and positively great in Maggie Flynn,” Tom said surely.
“Whatever happened to that musical that Harold Arlen and Martin Charnin wrote together?” Tom asked softly.
“That child actor set my teeth on edge,” Tom said tautly.
“When Sondheim and Lapine wrote Into the Woods, they stuck too close to the original source material,” said Tom grimly.

“I got a whole bunch of tickets to The Lion King,” Tom said with pride.
“I see nothing wrong with Mrs. Johnstone’s giving one of her babies to a neighbor,” Tom said transparently.

“Can’t you try to remember who was billed under Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante in Red, Hot and Blue!?” Tom asked hopefully.

“That’s all we need -- a revival of that Cy Coleman musical about 42nd Street,” Tom said lifelessly.

“I hope they never bring back Ms. Henshall to Chicago,” Tom said ruthlessly.

And why should we restrict all the fun to Tom? Here are five that use the same concept with other people matched to adverbs:

“Oh, no, not another revival of the Boublil-Schðnberg show,” said Les miserably.

 “Ah, remember when I was starring on Broadway?” Jennifer Holliday asked dreamily.

“I feared what a musical about Da Vinci would be like, but Leonardo was much worse than I expected,” moaned Lisa.

“Now Venus would seem tame,” Hero sang disarmingly.
“I love playing roles my father had,” Patrick Cassidy said sunnily.
“What?! We have to rehearse that ‘Confrontation’ number yet again?” Robert Cuccioli asked, beside himself.

And finally, one that only works on the page. Look carefully, and you’ll figure it out.

“Look, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if we’re talking about great performances, you can’t beat Patti LuPone’s ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,’” Tom said inevitably.

(Good, you got it.)

         — Peter Filichia

You may e-mail Peter at

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