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 October 12 , 2012

Get with the Program

Something occurred to me as I was writing about Allegro for my Tuesday column. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical celebrated its 65th anniversary this week, as you well know from all the champagne-soaked commemorative parties that you attended.

As I started writing about “So Far” – which young Beulah sings on her first date with hero Joseph Taylor, Jr. -- I pictured the fetching young miss I saw do the song on April 28, 1966 at Boston University.
Yes, I can still see her smiling, pretty and open-faced look.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re not wond’rin’ why I chose her out of all the ladies in the world. You’re expecting me to say “And that girl turned out to be Madeline Kahn” or Sandy Duncan or Tovah Feldshuh.

No. I have no idea who she was.

I no longer have the program.

It wasn’t much of a program: one page. And I remember how long I had it after I left the show: 65-or-so seconds. There was a trash can right outside the theater and I used it.

“Why are you throwing that away?” asked my friend Bill Martin in disbelief.

“Well,” I said pointedly. “It’s only a program from a college production.”

“The next Gwen Verdon could be in that program,” he rebutted. (Bill didn’t arbitrarily choose Verdon; he knew I’d seen her three months earlier at my first Broadway opening in Sweet Charity.)

I shrugged. I knew such a scenario was possible, but this was only my second college production, and as good as it was – and indeed it was – and as fine as the first one was – Mother Courage and Her Children at Emerson – I didn’t feel the need to keep college programs.

Soon after, I changed my policy and kept college programs, too, and I’m glad I did. Some years ago, when eBay started, I decided to test the waters by selling a college program from a 1968 production of Coriolanus at Harvard University. The program was literally one piece of paper folded over in half to make “four pages,” but I got $157.50 for it. Of course, that the then-unknown Tommy Lee Jones’ picture was the entire front cover was the reason for the hefty price. It even yielded $57.50 more than I got for my Broadway opening night program of Anyone Can Whistle.

I stopped eBaying after that; as I said, I only wanted to test the waters. I realized that with the thousands upon thousands of programs I had, I no longer had to worry about my economic future.

“Don’t be so sure, Pete,” friends have since told me. Apparently, the bottom line is that the bottom has fallen out of the program market. So be it. But keeping old programs is worthwhile for another reason.

I learned that when I was filing away the program for the 2006 Broadway revival of Awake and Sing. Because I file alphabetically – don’t you? -- I saw the program for the production of Awake and Sing that I caught at the Charles Playhouse in Boston in November, 1967. It’s definitely a period piece: an ad for Tareyton 100’s cigarettes is on the back cover. (“Now get even more of the taste worth fighting for.”)

I opened it to see who was in the show. The first line of the cast list stated “Ralph Berger … Al Pacino.”

Yes, this makes the program worth a few sheckles, too. But the real fun was had by looking at Pacino’s just-starting-out biography. It’s the sixth in “Who’s Who in the Cast,” and not because of alphabetization; John Seitz and Bernard Wurger came before him.

Seeing what Pacino had to list at the time is fascinating. I assure you that much of it won’t appear in his upcoming Glengarry Glen Ross bio.

“Al Pacino was with the Living Theatre,” it starts. “In New York he played in the Establishment Theatre’s production of The Peace Creeps and Why Is a Crooked Letter. At the Berkshire Theatre Festival, this summer he appeared in ‘Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?’ …”

Okay, although there’s more to the bio, I’ll take a pause here to admit that that last credit wound up bearing a good deal of fruit. Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? was a play about recovering drug addicts that made it to Broadway 15 months later and lasted only 39 performances. Nevertheless, Pacino made enough of an impression to win a Tony as Best Supporting Actor in a Play. He was on his way.

But that was in the not-so-foreseeable future. Back to November, 1967:

“ … and at Provincetown in The Indian Wants the Bronx. Mr. Pacino is a member of the Actor’s Studio …”

Another caesura: the program says “Actor’s.” The actual name of the esteemed organization is The Actors Studio with no apostrophe to be found. Whether this was Pacino’s error or someone else’s is a question we can all ask God when we get to heaven.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming of the program:

“ … and will be in the soon-to-be-released film What’s So Bad about Feeling Good?”

Sorry – I must interrupt again. Do you know this movie? It’s about a bird that has the ability to make people happy once they get close enough to it. I suspect that it was a metaphor and endorsement for marijuana; it was made in 1968, after all.

Anyway, if Pacino’s in it, he gets no mention in either his or the film’s imdb listing. Cleavon Little, Moses Gunn, Barbara Minkus and Louis Zorich are all listed as “Uncredited,” but Pacino doesn’t even get that.

Did he wind up on the cutting room floor? I’ll have to pull out my taped-from-TV VHS cassette and see if I can see him. I like the film, anyway, and especially enjoy Jerry Keller and Dave Blume’s title song, which became a production number once everyone got “infected” by the bird. It was choreographed by another up-and-comer: Michael Bennett.

There’s only one line left in Pacino’s bio: “Mr. Pacino played in America Hurrah.”

Wait a minute – America Hurrah in New York, or the America Hurrah I saw at this same Charles Playhouse two months earlier in September, 1967? I check iobdb, and there’s no off-Broadway credit for Pacino, so I go back a bit alphabetically in my programs and find that, yes, I still have that America Hurrah. Here Pacino has the same bio, down to the apostrophe in “Actor’s” – minus, of course, the America Hurrah credit. \

And two bios down, what else do I find? “Jill Clayburgh played the Beatnik Witch in Macbird at the Playhouse and appeared in Love for Love, The Balcony, Inadmissible Evidence and Oh What a Lovely War last year. She has also played at the Merry Go Round Theatre in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, studied acting with Uta Hagen, and received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. Miss Clayburgh …”

(Yeah, it’s a little early for Ms.)

“ … acted in the independent film productions of Wedding Party and Night on the Town.”

The former is listed on imdb, but not the latter.

And that’s it. Not as interesting a bio as Pacino’s. But his isn’t as interesting as the bio for an early ‘60s summer stock program for Gypsy.

“Bernadette Peters, who plays Dainty June, doubled in this role as understudy while she played Agnes in the national company for eight months last year. Her experience in these roles was unique in that she was called upon to portray both parts one evening due to an accident backstage.”

When you think of it, that performance made for a more interesting Gypsy. After all, when Rose was auditioning Toreadorables, if someone who looked like Dainty June came along, don’t you think that she’d hire her?

So just for the fun of it, take a stroll down Memory Lane and check out all your programs that have sitting dormant for years. There may be a lot of life in them yet.

And don’t throw any out. I wish I could check out that Boston University Allegro. Did “Beulah” become a star? Or is “Beulah” in Ashtabula, now married and fat? There’s another question to ask God when I get to – whoops, if I get to heaven.

         — Peter Filichia


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