August’s Leftovers and September’s Brainteaser
Summertime, and the traveling isn’t always easy: plane delays, security lines, a crying baby in the seat next to you. But plays and musicals call from across the country, and so, I must go.
In Wooster, Ohio, at Ohio Light Opera, Steven Daigle directed a production of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, which has a statue turn into a live goddess after Rodney, a barber, puts a ring on her finger. The original production had a statue, then a blackout, and then Mary Martin in place of the statue. Budgets today being what they are, Daigle decided to have Sarah Best stand immobile in place until the magic moment occurred. Then she came to life and became the woman of Rodney’s dreams.
Not a bad idea, and as the statue, Ms. Best didn’t move a fiber of a muscle. But there was a problem at show’s end, when Venus turns back into a statue and leaves Rodney alone and disconsolate. What bookwriter S.J. Perelman added (although not until the Boston tryout) was that Mary Martin would return as “Girl.” And because she bore a great resemblance to Venus, Rodney felt that she may well be the real girl of his dreams. He crooked his arm, which she took, and off they went.
In Ohio, when Best had to return to statue status, another actress came on as “Girl.” And when Rodney took off with her, it seemed that he got over women very quickly and any replacement would do. If you’re planning to mount ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, spring for a statue.
Down the road a piece in Dayton, Ohio, I celebrated along with The Dayton Playhouse on its 25th anniversary of FutureFest. This new play contest annually gives six playwrights the chance to see either full productions or at least readings of their works.
Twenty-five years means a hundred and fifty new plays. Now think of all the theater companies that have gone bust in the past quarter-century. There’s an alphabet’s worth: All Souls, Basic, Changing Space, Dramatis Personae, Encompass, Flock, Glines, Home Grown, IRT, Jean Cocteau, Kaliedoscope, Lincoln Square, Meat & Potatoes, No Smoking, Off-Center, Pelican, Quaigh, Ring of Fire, Shandol, Tosos, Urban Arts, Vocal Arts Foundation, Wonderhorse – and one called XYZ for which I’ll use dramatic license to count as the final three.
But FutureFest goes on, and lucky for playwrights that it does. Everywhere else, a playwright who’s just finished a new play must endure endless rounds of phone tag with actors and directors to arrange a reading. Some will give excuses, some will accept and one may very well leave for a better job two days before the reading, if not the morning thereof.
Meanwhile, the playwright has been struggling to find affordable space and printing flyers and programs. Even if it’s a bare-bones first-read at the playwright’s apartment, the place has to be clean – and that involves time that would be better spent focusing on the work.
FutureFest playwrights instead get free airfare, hotel and most meals. They’re chauffeured back and forth to the theater, where a packed lobby of theatergoers treats them as if they were theatrical royalty. Each playwright is given glossy program, sits comfortably and relaxed as dedicated actors far more often than not give dynamic performances. No muss, no worry. Look into this, playwrights.
Winner John Morogiello was certainly glad he did when submitting THE CONSUL, THE TRAMP, AND AMERICA’S SWEETHEART. It tells of a Nazi higher-up who wants Charlie Chaplin to shut down production of THE GREAT DICTATOR, lest Der Führer be offended. The Nazi goes to the studio head, who not only just happens to be a woman, but also is no less than Mary Pickford, the erstwhile star. Great concept, no?
Then it was off to Wichita. Now we all love Carol Channing, but I take issue with what she wrote in her memoir. In bragging about her native San Francisco and its great art museum, she decreed, “When I was little, I saw Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Seurat and a big Gauguin exhibit. Could you find that in Wichita?”
Channing should NOT have used Wichita as an idiom for a culturally-deprived city. All right, those five artists probably can’t be found in any of the city’s museums, but there are equally magnificent artists -- Rodgers, Hammerstein, Lerner, Loewe, Berlin, Porter, Loesser and plenty of others – who have all been exhibited to hundreds of thousands of Wichitans since 1972, when Music Theatre Wichita began operating.
If Ms. Channing came to MTW, as it’s chummily called, she’d never want to sing “So Long, Dearie.” Over 200 musicals, including 35 Tony-winners have been mounted in so-called “Cowtown” – including shows with plenty of cowboys: ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES, OKLAHOMA! and – here’s a nice surprise – DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. Congrats to producing artistic director Wayne Bryan, his staff, crew (especially the indefatigable Mary Sue Dymak, Nancy Reeves and Angela Cassette) and to its theatrically supportive audience.
Music Theatre Wichita usually builds its own productions from scratch, plays them for the better part of a week and sells out most if not all of the 2,197 seats. The audience was enraptured here with a fine BILLY ELLIOT. Never mind that England’s Northeast is far, far away from America’s Midwest. The crowd got the idiomatic British jokes and tied into the tale of a father-vs.-son (and older brother-vs.- younger brother) struggle.
In Stoneham, Massachusetts, I had 45 minutes to kill before a dinner date at a restaurant that just happened to be near the Stoneham Theatre. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I arrived just in time to catch three-quarters of an hour of DAMN YANKEES as done by children in the troupe’s educational youth division.
There may have been a boy cast among the Washington Senators, but it seemed to me that every one of its players was a girl. Now wouldn’t you think that the Yankees would be ashamed for clobbering the Nats, as newspaper headline-writers succinctly used to call them? All I could think of was giving a disgusted expression to the damned Yankees and saying “Ohhhhh … so you beat a bunch of girls … aren’t you proud of yourselves?” Actually, all the kids could be pretty proud at how well they handled what I saw of the Tony-winning musical.
Boston Common has Shakespeare in the Park, too, although most everyone must sit on the lawn. Given that KING LEAR takes three hours to perform, you’d think that plenty of picnickers would watch until they’d finished dessert, and then they’d get up and split. After all, KING LEAR will never be compared with summer fun.
But Will Lyman’s Lear and Fred Sullivan, Jr’s Gloucester kept them there. If anyone left, I didn’t see that happen, even after the intermission.
New York is a great place for a staycation, unless you find yourself at the Beckett Theatre where HAPPY 50ISH is ensconced. I didn’t laugh once, but I’ll admit to smiling twice during this intelligence-insulter. It offers plenty of bad taste with mentions of unsavory body fluids and the like.
But the audience a-d-o-r-e-d it from start to finish. They laughed like seals and were utterly delighted that they’d been “invited” to Bob’s 50th birthday party. This could be the I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE of the middle-aged set.
And HAMILTON? I did a lengthy review for www.broadwayselect.com, for which I review a show each Monday.
(Do drop in! I could use the business.) But one thing I didn’t include in the review brings me to the podcast I do most every week at www.broadwaystars.com.
Thanks to James Marino’s “Broadway Radio,” I give a brainteaser there not merely every month like here, but every week. Someday I hope to ask “What do THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, John McGlinn’s SHOW BOAT and HAMILTON have in common?” – for I want the answer to be “Each got a highlights album.”
I’m not saying that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rhyming couplets incorporated into rap and hip-hop aren’t worth hearing, but an inclusive cast album of HAMILTON will mean careful, do-nothing-else listening. Let’s have a chance to hear its glorious songs on their own.
As for last month’s Brainteaser, Rob Witherwax was the only one to know what was on my mind. I asked what seven certan songs had in common, and the answer was that each of them has a triple rhyme in which each of the words has a different spelling. To wit:
“Ah, but Underneath” (FOLLIES): “reliance ... science ... giants.”
“Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!” (ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER): “hole … toll … soul.”
“It’s an Art” (WORKING): “gentle … again ‘til … Oriental.”
“Magic to Do” (PIPPIN): “study … bloody … everybody.”
“Necessity” (FINIAN’S RAINBOW): “menace ... tennis ... Venice.”
“Together” (GYPSY): “boos ... choose ... use.”
“What Do the Simple Folk Do?” (CAMELOT): “shyness ... highness ... minus.”
This month’s brainteaser: What did these performers once achieve as a result of their stage appearances that they couldn’t achieve as a result of their film appearances? Bea Arthur, Ray Bolger, Carol Haney, Judy Holliday, Kevin Kline, Walter Matthau, Ethel Merman, Robert Morse, Zero Mostel, Robert Preston, Phil Silvers, Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon.
You know where to find me.
— Peter Filichia