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August 30, 2013

August’s Leftovers and September’s Brainteaser

Memo to all the young people who saw LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST at the Delacorte and adored it: the reasons you adored it were among the 1971-72 Tony voters’ motivation for choosing TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA over FOLLIES as Best Musical: it was a really good time.

Onto other matters. Because the new book I’m writing deals with the 1963-1964 Broadway season, I read James Baldwin’s BLUES FOR MISTER CHARLIE. It tells of a Southern white man who murdered a young black man and yet was found not guilty.

Given the recent outcome of the Trayvon Martin case, how about at least a benefit reading of the play? Yes, The New Black Fest will produce a festival of six short plays about race and privilege in the United States, but that’s a bit down the road. Let’s have a reading of BLUES FOR MISTER CHARLIE – an all-star one -- as soon as we can.

Is it kosher to mention TENDERLOIN when reviewing the musical SOUL DOCTOR? After all, tenderloin is treif. But so much of the evening is spent with Orthodox Jews telling poor Shlomo Carlebach to stop this silly singing and become a good rabbi that I recalled the problem with the 1960 Bock-Harnick musical: the preacher is such a pain that we wind up rooting for the ladies of the evening.

SOUL DOCTOR reminds us that it’s too late to be seeing a new variation on THE JAZZ SINGER, especially when Shlomo’s mother blames him for “killing” his father by not toeing the religious line – and for hanging around with that black woman Nina Simone. Bookwriter Daniel S. Wise stages it very well, however, and while Eric Anderson is fine, oh, that Amber Iman as Nina!

Oh, that Zachary Levi as Aaron on his FIRST DATE! And what smart, all-inclusive perceptions from Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner on the miseries of meeting someone new and hoping that this is the one. I thought they’d covered every possible up, down and faux pas of a blind date – Aaron even Googled Casey (the excellent Krysta Rodriguez) -- but then the authors really shocked me with one detail.

One of my male readers who’s been in the dating market for a long, long time has told me of something he looks for in a woman. Once their food arrives, he hopes she’ll say, “Here, have a little of mine” and that she’ll slide him over a hunk. “It’s not a deal-breaker if she doesn’t do it,” he says, “but it is a plus.”

Frankly, such an action isn’t remotely important to me, and in my long life I never heard anyone make such a statement. And yet, there it is in FIRST DATE, proving that the authors really know about dating quirks (or know my reader).

My heart bled for the good people of Revolve Productions who produced Rebecca Gilman’s THE GLORY OF LIVING at the Access Theatre. Never heard of the place? For good reason: it’s at 380 Broadway – which is where, you ask? Not far from Canal Street. But once you get there, you must climb three flights of steps to reach the “theater.” Don’t have it in you to climb? Then, as the scotch-taped sign on the door says, go around the corner, find the outdoor elevator, ring three times and Katie will come right down to get you.

Here’s the thing: Ashley Kelly Tata’s production was extraordinary, and I was so sorry to see no more people in the audience than there were on stage. Hannah Sloat and Hardy Pinnell were amazing as Lisa and Clint, who meet while his friend is fornicating with her prostitute mother. If that doesn’t sound potent enough, while Lisa and Clint were getting to know one another, we heard buyer and seller sexually moaning throughout.

Clint, to say the least, did not turn out to be a good influence on Lisa, and what they did could have brought death sentences to each. That didn’t quite happen, but watching Sloat let us see that she didn’t have the interest or energy to live any longer was powerful.

Here’s hoping that Revolve Productions can survive in this atrocious real estate market. We’ve all seen not-for-profits list their donors and the amounts they gave in the back of their programs, but have you ever seen a company so hard up that a FIVE dollar donation merits a listing?

Yeah, money is always an issue for all of us. But with off-Broadway about to offer its annual “20 at 20” promotion – meaning you can buy $20 tickets to many off-Broadway offerings 20 minutes before curtain from Sept. 3-22 – HARBOR, running only through the 8th, mind you, will become the greatest deal in town. Chad Beguelin’s play about a gay male couple – one of whom wants a child and one who definitely does not – takes an unexpected turn that makes marvelous sense. Bravo Randy Harrison and Paul Anthony Stewart! Brava Erin Cummings and Alexis Molnar as the mother and daughter who change their lives in ways they could have never foreseen.

RUBBLE was the best show I saw at THIS month’s Fringe Festival. (New York’s got a million of them.) The audience roared at line after line, greatly enhanced by a terrifically funny cast head by Bruce Vilanch as Alvin Gordon, an aging TV writer who’s pitching his idea for a network series when an L.A. earthquake hits. Alvin has many a hallucination, one of which introduces him to Jesus Christ. The audience was laughing non-stop until the line “Prove to me that You’re divine: change my water into wine.” Only one person laughed, and the actor broke character and the fourth wall to point to him and say, “He got it!” My, has JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR faded so much?

I told my buddy Josh Ellis about a bad review I got from a reader on Broadway World who said I “trashed” ZORBA in my latest book, STRIPPERS, SHOWGIRLS, AND SHARKS. (Do take a look at pages 246-247 and see if you remotely agree.) Josh gave me some sound words of advice that he had learned from Lena Horne, and I’m passing them on because we could all profit from them. “Ignore the top 10% and bottom 10% of all criticism,” Horne said, because “the top 10% will inflate your ego and the bottom 10% will make you take the criticism too much to heart.” Napoleon may now be only a pastry, but this Horne will always shine solid gold.

I see that the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles is offering to sell its naming rights. This would bring no pleasure to the man who built the theater: Pericles Pantages. Yup, Pericles was his first name. And how do I know? Because Carolyn Quinn, in her extraordinary forthcoming book MAMA ROSE’S TURN, provided me with this nugget of information among hundreds of others I didn’t know. When people ask you what you want for your birthday or your favorite December holiday, you have an answer. (I mean Quinn’s book. I don’t expect anyone to buy you the rights to rename the Pantages.)

Seeing the PBS taping of THE NANCE reminded me that Bruce Doctor was one of the production’s MVPs. Don’t recognized the name? He was the production’s drummer who had to pay close attention to each line, because he had to punctuate dozens upon dozens of burlesque punch lines by slamming the pedal on his bass drum. THE NANCE had to be grateful that there was a Doctor in the house.

Ravioli. Meatballs in marinara sauce. Would you serve these at a party celebrating New York’s Annual Festival of Irish Theater? Never you mind; the bash brought attention to the Sept. 2-29 array of more than two dozen Irish-written and/or Irish-themed productions that will be around town. Some sound as if they’ll be silly fun (THE MORONS, anyone?) while others promise to be far more earnest (I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW THE WHEELCHAIR ON MY FACE). My favorite title is the one given to the collection of 10 10-minute plays: THE BIG GREEN APPLE. Faith and be goin’!

By far, the most moving experience I had this month – this year, this lifetime – was attending SEUSSICAL in Newtown, Connecticut – where madman Adam Lanza killed 20 schoolchildren last December. On stage -- placed between pro John Tartaglia (as The Cat in the Hat) and plenty of teens from Newtown High School -- were the Sandy Hook Elementary School students – 20 of whom were at the site of Lanza’s rampage.

Seeing children of all ages working together to present a terrific SEUSSICAL made me wonder what might have happened if Lanza’s misguided mother hadn’t chosen to share with him the guns that she cherished, including the one that he used to kill her. Mrs. Lanza would have been better advised to have bought her son original cast albums and theater tickets, wouldn’t you say?

Last month’s brainteaser: I asked “What do the following songs from Broadway musicals all have in common?” and revealed that the answers would be in alphabetical order. The answer: each song mentions the name of a Broadway theater. To wit: “Mrs. Sally Adams” (CALL ME MADAM), Ambassador; “The Worst Show in Town” (THE PRODUCERS), Booth; “The Man Nobody Could Love” (LEGS DIAMOND), Broadway; “How about You?” (THE 1940’S RADIO HOUR), Gershwin; “Much More” (THE FANTASTICKS), Golden; “Charlie Welch” (MR. WONDERFUL), Helen Hayes; “Everyone Has Something to Hide” (MATA HARI), Marquis; “Very Soft Shoes” (ONCE UPON A MATTRESS), Palace; “It’s a Business” (CURTAINS), Richard Rodgers; “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” (KISS ME, KATE), Shubert; and “Just You Wait” (MY FAIR LADY), St. James. I also mentioned that there was a time when the title song from ANYTHING GOES and “Country House” from FOLLIES would have qualified, too, but no longer; the former mentioned Plymouth (now the Schoenfeld) and the latter ANTA (now the Wilson).

John Bacarella was the first to get it, followed by Ted Zoldan, Brigadude and Jack Lechner. That’s fewer than usual, but it was a hard question. So’s this month’s, although at first glance it may appear easy. Ready?

She made her Broadway debut in the original SOUTH PACIFIC. A little more than 15 years later, she originated a role in one of the 20th century’s most famous plays. While her work wasn’t rewarded with a Tony nomination, the actress who played her part in the play’s subsequent musical version received one.

A little more than two years after she’d debuted in this drama, she originated another role in a comedy. Once again, she didn’t get a Tony nomination -- but once again, the actress who played her part in the subsequent musical version got a Tony nomination – not to mention a Tony Award.

This esteemed actress has, sadly enough, never been nominated for a Tony, but she has won a couple of Drama Desk Awards. Who is she?

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia

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His book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks: A Very Opinionated History of Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award,
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