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 September 28 , 2012

September Leftovers

It was the month that Jake Gyllenhaal made a big splash off-Broadway. Well, actually, so did his co-stars Brian F. O’Byrne, Michelle Gomez and Annie Funke in If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, because the stage became increasingly flooded in Nick Payne’s arresting play. O’Byrne played George, an academic who was so concerned with the environment that he woefully neglected his wife Fiona (Gomez) and daughter Anna (Funke). Into their lives came Terry – Gyllenhaal in a fine performance as a live-wire, bashed bundle of nerves who had all the answers while actually having none. For that matter, George didn’t, either: for what shall it profit a man if he shall save the whole world and lose his own family? And yet, Payne insists, global warming is real – hence the stage-flood – so we’d better watch out there, too. Well worth watching, too, was If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet.

You know who should be admitted to the New York Drama Critics Circle? Gerard Alessandrini. After all, isn’t he one of our pre-eminent critics? In his new hellishly clever Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking, he points out that the story of Once is badly told; that Newsies is constantly over-the-top; that Nice Work If You Can Get It has insipid humor; that Rock of Ages is junk and that the show that urges us to Turn off the Dark is suffused with wailing.

Damn lucky are the creators and stars of the 25 new musicals and 16 revivals that opened after March 1, 2009, when the last Forbidden Broadway closed. They dodged those FB bullets. Admittedly, in this new show, Alessandrini didn’t feel the shelf-life on spoofs had expired on Ghost or the recent revivals of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Anything Goes, Follies and A Little Night Music; they’re all represented. And Alessandrini’s skewering of Book of Mormon’s price-gouging will be relevant for years.

Although there have been umpteen FB editions, we may well have a first in this one: one of the sketches mentions a Tony-winner who was once a Forbidden Broadway performer: Michael McGrath, who once impersonated everyone from the Phantom to M. Butterfly. I won’t be surprised if there’s a future Tony-winner or two – or four -- in the current crop. Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Lee Stern and Marcus Stevens (who apparently has no middle name) made me again shake my head and say “How do Alessandrini and co-director Phillip George continue to find people who can be so versatile?” Pound for pound, Forbidden Broadway offers the best performers in town.

What’s printed on the cover of the new Carrie cast album is both true and false: “Premiere Cast Recording.” But there have been plenty of recordings of both Barbara Cook in London and Betty Buckley on Broadway singing the Michael Gore-Dean Pitchford score.

Yes, they’ve all been bootlegs, which many of us have heard and memorized over the last 24 years, ever since Carrie was shellacked and closed after 16 previews and five performances. One such listener was Kurt Deutsch, who admitted at 54 Below last week that he’d go over to his buddy Brad Oscar’s place to hear surreptitious Carrie recordings. (He also admitted second-acting the original 1988 production when he was young and broke.) But now neither he nor we will have to endure the bootlegged sound of audiences coughing, belching -- or laughing -- for, thanks to Deutsch and Ghostlight records, we have this CD with utterly pristine sound.

A party was held to debut the disc for the cast, crew and press over 54 Below’s impressive sound system. How the actors cheered whenever one of their own was heard to start singing. What mock-shrieks of outrage they gave whenever a profanity was said or sung.

“But there’s really very little provocative language,” said Wayne Blood, manager of music preparation for Rodgers and Hammerstein. “The authors were careful about that, because they know that there’s a high school market for the show.”

He told me this seconds before R&H president and executive director Theodore S. Chapin announced from the stage that his company had acquired the show. Applications have already been pouring in like blood from an upturned bucket. Even a production in Brussels might sprout up. (And isn’t it fitting that a guy named Blood should work on Carrie?)

Old flops never die -- and many don’t even fade away. Carrie has been the poster child for the Broadway disaster, but ho-ho-ho, who’s got the last laugh now? Marin Mazzie sounds magnificent and Molly Ranson is equally impressive.

‘Twas a classy party, too. The four specially made cocktails included a Bloody Carrie. You’d think for us non-imbibers that they’d offer a Virgin Carrie, given that the lass herself fits the description. Instead, a non-alcoholic “Eve Was Weak” drink was offered. I tasted. Ginger ale. Grenadine. I know this drink by another name, for, believe me, I’ve been through Shirley Temple, and I’m here.

I’m glad that I attended Mary Broome, too, and am delighted that director Jonathan Bank and the Mint Theater Company have made us take notice of yet another neglected but worthy play. Allan Monkhouse’s 1911 London hit, which has been extended until Oct. 21, tells of a stiff-upper lip Edwardian family. Leonard, the rakish son, has impregnated Mary, the maid. So the highbrows blame her, no doubt, for seducing their simon-pure son? Not at all. How nice to see high-class people taking the high road. Both paterfamilias and materfamilias side with Mary, especially the mother, who’s as wonderful, caring and level-headed a character as Mother in Ragtime.

Although Leonard seems worthless, every now and then he comes out with a remark that makes us take his side. Oh, not everyone will agree when he says that the Bible is like “a medieval instrument of torture,” but many will agree with his assessment that his so-called upstanding brother Edgar is an unmitigated bore. (He shows everyone an album of pictures of his honeymoon – the turn-of-the-century equivalent of home movies.)

Here’s a shout-out to set designer Roger Hanna for creating a nice enough home for the rich family in the first act, and later bringing us to Leonard’s now-impoverished home. It’s a small detail but a telling one that the chair with the sumptuous back in the earlier scene has now had the back removed, leaving an empty void. Nice.

Movie of the Month: Just 45 Minutes from Broadway, Henry Jaglom’s latest winner. The film is dedicated to “all actors and actresses – and the families who have refused to disown them.” We meet the Isaacs family: actor Grisha, actress-wife Vivien, actress-daughter Pandora, actor-brother-in-law Larry – and financial-planner-daughter Betsy, whom the rest brand as a “civilian.” The conflict is obvious and inevitable, but Jaglom plays fair to both sides, showing the family scrambling for a buck and devastated when parts don’t come through. Still, they wouldn’t trade it for a sack of gold.

We also get to hear a song from each of Frank Loesser’s first two hits and a glimpse of a framed window card that says “Theatre de Lys” (the former name of the Lucille Lortel Theatre). For the rest of the film, I hoped the camera would allow me to see the entire object, but it never did. Or did I miss it? Meantime, don’t you miss this film – and see if you can identify the Theatre de Lys show for me.

In the days of LPs, it was common to have two Columbia cast albums alphabetically nestled next to each other: Kismet and Kiss Me, Kate, among many others. Ditto RCA Victor (How Now, Dow Jones and How to Succeed) and even Capitol (Top Banana and Tovarich). But Kapp, which only did a handful of cast albums? Yes, indeed, thanks to Man of La Mancha and Man with a Load of Mischief.

Don’t know the latter? Here’s your chance to discover John Clifton’s glorious 1966 score at the York Theatre, where it receives rare Monday and Tuesday matinees at 3 p.m. on Oct. 1 and 2, and an evening performance on that Monday at 7:30 p.m. Go to and prepare to be charmed and acquainted with many lovely songs.

Last month’s brainteaser: Oscar-winners have had a checkered Broadway history, but none as much as this great actress. She had a mere five Broadway credits to her name, and only one of them was for acting – when she took over the lead in a household-name hit that was quite unlike the role for which she won her Academy Award. Otherwise, she co-produced one of the most famous plays of the last 40 years as well as two one-person shows, one of which was successful enough to warrant a return engagement. Who was she?

Marc Castle was the first to guess correctly, followed by Ed Weissman, Joseph Miller, Stuart Ira Solloway, Cary Winslow, David H. Cohen, Steve Rosenthal, Carol Page, Michael D. Shayne, David Kanter, Ian Ewing, Ron Fassler, Dan Langan and Patrick Barnes. All knew that Greer Garson, an Oscar-winner for Mrs. Miniver, took over for Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame and much later co-produced On Golden Pond, The Playboy of the Weekend World not to mention St. Mark’s Gospel twice.

This month’s brainteaser: All these Broadway musicals have something in common. What? (To say that they are in a certain order can be construed as a hint, but it may lead you off track, so forget I said anything.) The Wild Party; So Long, 174th Street; Bells Are Ringing; The Boy Friend; Wonderful Town; Side by Side by Sondheim; Sweet Charity; My Fair Lady; John Murray Anderson’s Almanac; 110 in the Shade; Legs Diamond; Chicago and Evita.

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia


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