All week long, I’ve been reminded of when I was a kid and my mother would come into my room. She’d immediately shriek in horror before exclaiming, “It looks like a cyclone’s been in here!”
So does my apartment right now. I’ve been redecorating, which has meant day after day after day after day of moving stuff around: the books, the records, the CDs, the videotapes, the DVDs – even the 8-tracks.
Yes, I still have my 8-tracks. You think I’d ever get rid of Darling of the Day or By Jupiter? How else could I ever prove to people that these were actually manufactured?
Moving things to new locations is a more harrowing and time-consuming job than I expected it to be. But the consolation is that by coming face-to-face with everything I own, the memories come flooding back.
When I ran into my New Faces of 1952 and 1956, I was reminded of when I was a teenager and just getting into musicals. Seeing those LPs for the first time made me assume that the store was out of New Faces of 1953, 1954, 1955 and every other year. I just naturally inferred that it was an unwritten Broadway law that each year there’d be a new New Faces on Broadway. (This was also when I assumed that every Broadway theater was located on Broadway and nowhere else. Didn’t you at one time?)
Here’s my Italian cast album of Rugantino. When it moved from Rome to the Hellinger in 1964, guess who translated the book and lyrics for the electronic sub- or supertitles (I forget which) that ran across the stage? Why, Alfred Drake – yes, the star of Kiss Me, Kate, Kismet and Kean – who was born Alfred Capurro.
But there are quite a few people who have Broadway credits that you wouldn’t expect. Harvey Milk assisted director Tom O’Horgan on Jesus Christ Superstar and was an associate producer of Inner City. Donald Trump co-produced Richard Seff’s 1970 comedy Paris Is Out! – “although,” Seff has told me, “I only recall seeing him once.” George M. Steinbrenner III, who bought the New York Yankees in 1973 for $8.8 million, was less successful with his other venture that year: co-producing Seesaw.
We might expect that Maya Angelou would be a Tony nominee if she’d written a drama or two – but who’d expect that she’d get a nod for Best Featured Actress in a Play? Look it up: Look Away netted her a 1972-1973 nod.
At the time, this infuriated many. The show ran one performance, and some said that there was no sense in nominating someone that the vast majority of voters didn’t see -- and couldn’t see. But isn’t the point of giving nominations simply to honor excellence, and not just to narrow down potential winners? It’s like in politics when you vote for someone who isn’t expected to win and people say, “Oh, you threw your vote away!” No, you didn’t: the point of voting is not to endorse the eventual winner, but to state who, you believe, should win.
While rummaging around, I also see some Broadway names that have Hollywood credits that we wouldn’t expect. The various cast albums, script and Meredith Willson’s memoir for The Music Man makes me recall that 16 years before Willson hit it big with that show that he’d composed the background score for the film version of The Little Foxes. I have a similar thought when I happen upon my hardcover of Barnum. You’re aware that Jim Dale won a Tony for performing the title role, but did you know he’d already nabbed an Oscar nomination for songwriting? Indeed, Dale wrote the perky lyrics for the title song of Georgy Girl.
Here’s my taped-from-TV copy of Dear Ruth, a film of a play that wound up naming one of the most famous characters in literature. For in 1947 when J.D. Salinger passed by a circular marquee that advertised the film, he only saw the last name of star William Holden above the last name of co-star Joan Caulfield. That’s when he named his main character for his upcoming novel The Catcher in the Rye.
Ah! My two cast albums of Sail Away: both the Broadway one in which Elaine Stritch stops singing in the middle of “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?” to let the brass blare out a note, and the London one where she keeps singing. Seems that the producers of the Broadway album thought that Stritch shouldn’t sing all seven words in Noel Coward’s lyric about Pompeii being “up to its ass in molten lava.” You know it wasn’t Stritch’s idea to drop the “ass.” Glad we got the unexpurgated version from London.
“Why Do the Wrong People Travel?” is not only one of the great eleven o’clock numbers, but it also has one of the best built-in encores. Don’t you love songs whose composers and/or lyricists know they’re so good that that write encores, for they’re very much aware that the audience will demand them? Coming to mind are
“Always True to You in My Fashion,” “You’re the Top,” “Nobody’s Chasing Me,” “Brush Up your Shakespeare” – hey, wait: can anybody besides Cole Porter do this? Yes: Larry Hart in “The Lady Is a Tramp” and Kander and Ebb in “City Lights.” (In fact, the second time that I saw Liza Minnelli do the latter, she actually got a standing ovation before she came out to do the encore.)
Did Kander and Ebb have another in 70, Girls, 70? I missed the original production, but I hope that it had the encores that we saw in Encores! in 2006. Bob Dishy and Anita Gillette coyly sang “Do We?” which made us wonder if seniors still had sex. After the two exited into the wings, they returned seconds later to do their encore – with cigarettes in their hands. That answered the question!
When I sawAnnie Get Your Gun in 1966, I swear that Ethel Merman and Bruce Yarnell had to do six encores of “An Old Fashioned Wedding.” Could it be that Irving Berlin hadn’t anticipated how well the number would go over – for he wrote no new encore lyrics? Of course, he was 78 at the time, so he simply might not have had the energy.
(Speaking of The Merm, isn’t it nice that she and Ernest Borgnine are together again? Here’s hoping that now in the great beyond they can work out their differences.)
I seethe with envy when I encounter my empty paper sleeve of Lena Horne’s 45 single of “Where Is Love?” backed with “Come on Strong.” The latter was the Cahn-Van Heusen title song for Garson Kanin’s 1962 flop; it was actually played over the sound system during the show. Many moons later, I read in Back Stage that an off-off-Broadway troupe would be presenting the play. So I thought I’d be a nice guy, call and offer them my single in case they didn’t have it. They didn’t – and didn’t even know that it existed. Soon a young man associated with the production came by and got the record – which, as you’ve inferred from my mentioning the empty sleeve, he never returned. And no one from the production even offered me a single comp for the show!
The seething gets more intense even more when I find the empty VHS case for Who Killed Teddy Bear? a 1965 film that showed the exterior of the now-razed George Abbott (a/k/a 54th Street) Theatre. What Makes Sammy Run? was then playing there, and the shot was obviously included because Joe Cates, the film’s director, was also the co-producer of Sammy. But most seething occurs when I come across my empty VHS case for Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall. To each person who has each of these items: I want them all back! As for the rest of you, stop reading right now and return everything you’ve ever borrowed from anyone. And I’ll get back to making my apartment look as if a cyclone wasn’t in here.
— Peter Filichia