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November 27, 2015

November’s Leftovers and December’s Brainteaser

Oh, how I wanted at least one of the characters in SHEAR MADNESS to mention Queen Latifah, XANADU and Zoosk. Because after hearing a few up-to-now contemporary references that either didn’t exist or weren’t yet in the public consciousness when the murder-mystery farce began its still-current mammoth run in Boston in 1980, I thought, “Hmmm, is there one post 1980-item for each letter of the alphabet?”

Almost: Anthony Weiner; Ben Carson; Christian Mingle; De Blasio; E-mail; FULL MONTY; GO, DIEGO, GO; Hillary Clinton, “If you see something, say something”; Jared Fogel; KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS; LAW & ORDER; Multitasking; NUNSENSE; ON YOUR FEET!; Phil (as in Dr.); Rush Limbaugh; Shia LaBeouf; Taylor Swift; University of Phoenix; Viagra; Williams (as in Brian) and “Yada, yada, yada.”

And yet, you can see that some plot elements can’t be updated without turning the plot out of whack. “Don’t touch that telephone!” everyone warns Mrs. Shubert, who’s intent on making a call on a land line. Today she’d simply pull out her cell phone. Some audience member asked about DNA and was pooh-poohed by Detective O’Brien as if to say it wasn’t relevant. Oh, yes it is, but it would solve the mystery too quickly and we’d all have to go home. This audience wouldn’t have wanted that.

Although a joke about Lamar Odom died, very little else did, especially every character’s tendency to mangle words. (Mrs. Malaprop would feel right at home.) The New World Stage theatergoers had a helluva time, enjoying the part of the show where they could squeal on the potential murderer or just sit back and enjoy the fast-paced antics by a gifted and committed cast. As a murder mystery, SHEAR MADNESS is hardly THE LAST OF SHEILA, but this New York edition might well match the Boston run in 35 years – when Boston’s SHEAR MADNESS celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Well, of course I wish that Joanna Rush, the author and star of KICK, had told us more about her first Broadway musical: POUSSE-CAFÉ. The 1966 three-performance flop caused then-Times critic Stanley Kauffmann to start his review “What’s new, POUSSE-CAFÉ? Answer: Nothing good.”

But Rush is something good -- wonderfully entertaining and endearing in telling her life story. What an irony that she’s at St. Luke’s, because she examines her early years struggling with Catholicism and nuns who insisted that minor infractions were mortal sins.

Suddenly I thought about the catechism I was given as a child. It contained a picture of a man and woman getting married, topped by the line “This is good.” Next to it, we saw “This is better” above the picture of – a woman becoming a nun. (I don’t expect you to believe me. Photocopies available upon request.)

Under these unenlightened circumstances, no wonder that Rush thought she was experiencing stigmata when that flowing blood was actually her first menstrual period. Rush also tells of a woman who became a saint through unorthodox means. Seems that her father wanted her to marry a man she didn’t care for, so she purposely made herself ugly and didn’t shave her wustache. (If men can have moobs, women can have wustaches.) “So,” says Rush, “her father had her crucified.”

Rush, who looks like a Jules Feiffer drawing, wound up at Radio City for a while, and learned that when you’re in the Christmas Show, you don’t follow the camel. She also did 463 performances of that prestige hit LET MY PEOPLE COME, but her apotheosis came in her role in THE CONCORDE … AIRPORT ’79. She’ll do her scene for you, and you’ll be glad she did.

As for the entertaining STEVE at – wait for it – The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center, I’m sorry I arrived just minutes before showtime. As I approached the entrance, I could hear wafting through the doors the familiar (at least to me) lyrics to “Bosom Buddies,” sung by what seemed to be a chorus of men and one female voice.

As it turned out, I was right. There was the cast of STEVE – Ashlie Atkinson, Mario Cantone, Jerry Dixon, Francisco Pryor Garat, Malcom Gets and Matt McGrath -- singing the MAME hit. They followed it with a brace of eleven o’clock numbers: “Two Lost Souls” from DAMN YANKEES and “Friendship” from DU BARRY WAS A LADY.

I have a feeling that if I’d arrived earlier, I could have heard five, ten or even fifteen minutes more of show tunes. Let the punishment fit my tardiness! Just don’t be late for the show, which has at least as many references to musicals as HAMLET has had Broadway productions.

It was the month we celebrated the 65th anniversary of what many call the perfect musical: GUYS AND DOLLS. Listen, I love it, too, but we’ve got to face the show’s one enormous flaw: Adelaide’s been telling her mother, a Rhode Island resident, that she’s had five children -- meaning that mom’s a five-time grandmother. Now the most distant point in Little Rhody is at the most 186 miles away from New York, which is a mere four-hour ride by car or train. You mean that a grandmother wouldn’t have enough curiosity and affection to make at least ONE single trip to see a grandchild, let alone five grandchildren, in these last fourteen years? As a marvelous Maltby-Shire song from STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW goes, “I don’t believe it.”

After the opening night performance of Lee Roy Reams’ stint as Dolly in HELLO, DOLLY! in Boca Raton, his Vandergelder – one Lewis J. Stadlen -- made a notable observation: “I wind up playing a lot of parts that David Burns did,” he said, before ticking them off: “Banjo in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, the gangster in DO RE MI at Encores!, Senex in FUNNY THING and this one.” Fine, Lewis, but please don’t do 70, GIRLS, 70.

If I get to London and can’t get tickets for FUNNY GIRL -- the Menier Chocolate Factory is terribly small – I’ll still visit the lobby. Given that Sheridan Smith will be singing “I’m the Greatest Star” and the song contains the lyric “One shot – one gunshot, and bam!” do you think a sign in the lobby will warn us that “A gunshot will be mentioned at this performance”?

Natives of Arlington, Massachusetts will represent a full third of the cast on stage at VILLAIN: DeBLANKS on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Triad. First and foremost, there’s entertaining playwright Bobby Cronin as Aaron Matires and then there’s, well, ME as Orson Buggy. Zip code 02474 can be proud!

Billy Mitchell’s show asks six of us to go into the audience, get “mad-lib” like answers from the crowd. We then saunter on stage and read Mitchell’s murder mystery text with the audience’s words added. (Can’t wait for someone to offer us “smegma.”) If the Arlingtonians aren’t enough to get you there, how about Geneva Carr as Rhoda Pony, Daisy Eagan as Fonda Jewels, Lauren Elder as Lynn O’Liam and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Bob Frapples?

We have more than “Twelve Days to Christmas,” but with all of us so busy, that doesn’t mean that we have “plenty of time to do our Christmas shopping.” I have two mail-order suggestions.

For a new holiday CD, you won’t do better than THE HOPE OF CHRISTMAS with the heavenly Ann Hampton Callaway singing William Schermerhorn’s nifty new lyrics about the events leading up to and including Dec. 25. Seven composers provided music to the 12 songs, including Callaway herself and Matthew (ELF) Sklar.

This marks the first time I’ve ever heard shepherds and wise men referenced in a (terrific) jazz waltz (called “Discovery”). “I Believe” is mentally healthier than the song by the same name in THE BOOK OF MORMON. My favorite, however, is the thoroughly unsentimental “Santa Doesn’t Like Me.” What a funny perception! “The Big Guy may have heard me say ‘His wife is too fat.’ I’m just concerned about her health. What’s so wrong with that?”

Amazon, of course, has this as well as DEAD IN GOOD COMPANY, co-edited by John Harrison and Kim Nagy. This handsome new book deals with Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts and its occupants both under the ground (the deceased) and above it (the wildlife).

The latter provided Harrison with the opportunity to take stunning photographs. So why are you telling me this, you ask? I’ve noticed over the years that many theater enthusiasts are into bird-watching. David Schmittou, currently playing Mr. Banks in Arts Center of Coastal Carolina’s MARY POPPINS, is an inveterate birder. And do you know TUESDAYS AND FRIDAYS, the book by legendary New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson, which offers as many essays on Broadway shows as it does on Atkinson’s favorite pastime: bird-watching?

Harrison and Nagy asked everyone from famous authors to just-starting-outers to write about many buried in, as aficionados like to call it, “Sweet Auburn.” Because Harrison has been my best friend since the Eisenhower administration (despite my taking him to SKYSCRAPER, HOLLY GOLIGHTLY and SHERRY!), I took the opportunity to write about Elliot Norton, the longtime Boston theater critic. See how, upon out meeting, I at first impressed him – and then distressed him.

Last month’s brainteaser asked why these musicals were listed in this specific order. The answer was that each one doubled the number of performances than the one before it: A BROADWAY MUSICAL (1); HURRY, HARRY (2); BRING BACK BIRDIE (4); DRAT! THE CAT! (8); MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (16); KWAMINA (32); LEGS DIAMOND (64); VIOLET (128); OH, KAY! (256) and XANADU (512).

Al Koenig was the first to get it, followed by Ken Bailey, Ed Weissman, Karen Valen, Stuart Ira Soloway, Bryan Brooks, Rick Thompson (who got October’s, too, although I stupidly neglected to give him credit), Ian Ewing, Warren Jones, Donald Gibbs, Ira Rappaport, George Connolly and Tony Janicki.

This month’s brainteaser: What do these Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated songs have in common? “The Continental,” “Lovely to Look At,” “Our Love Affair,” “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” “Pig Foot Pete,” “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,” “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” and “Pass That Peace Pipe.”

         — Peter Filichia



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