STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: 229 out of 1,000 Ain't Bad

News   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: 229 out of 1,000 Ain't Bad
Have you seen the new book, 1,000 Years -- 1,000 People by Agnes Hopper Gottlieb, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers and Brent Bowers? They subtitled their tome, "Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium."

Have you seen the new book, 1,000 Years -- 1,000 People by Agnes Hopper Gottlieb, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers and Brent Bowers? They subtitled their tome, "Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium."

Fascinating how many people have a theatrical connection or two.

27 who regularly worked in the theatre were cited: Shakespeare (4), Bernhardt (154), Ibsen (167), Moliere (175), Chekhov (192), Racine (389), Aphra Behn (393), O'Neill (426), Konstantin Stanislavsky (465), Irving Berlin (469), Edmund Kean (495), De Vega (551), Oscar Wilde (567), Corneille (561), William S. Gilbert (764), Johann Strauss (803), Ben Jonson (811), Laurence Olivier (820), Richard Rodgers (841), George Gershwin (857), Luigi Pirandello (871), Alexandre Dumas (874), Cole Porter (900), Paul Robeson (922), Samuel Beckett (927), Federico Garcia Lorca (929), and Marcel Marceau (934).

22 others may be better-known for what they did outside the theatre, but they did dabble at least once or twice in legit: Machiavelli (40), Goethe (131), James Joyce (171), Stravinsky (183 -- who, don't forget, contributed to The Seven Lively Arts), Paul McCartney and John Lennon (327 and 328 -- who provided the score to Beatlemania), John Dryden (366), Ezra Pound (367), Agatha Christie (382), Hemingway (388), Yeats (521), Duke Ellington (526 -- who wrote a few musicals), De Vega (551), Henry James (557), Pope John Paul II (627 -- who wrote a play), Muhammad Ali (681 -- the star of Buck White), T.S. Eliot (720), Camus (752), Langston Hughes (844), John Philip Sousa (924), Cary Grant (952 -- as Archibald Leach, he acted on Broadway in the '20s and '30s). As for Katharine Hepburn (951), she scored higher than the woman she once portrayed, Coco Chanel (972).

But what's also nice is how many of the people cited have been celebrated by our librettists, composers, and lyricists. First names were used for musicalizations of the lives of Leonardo Da Vinci (9), Elvis Presley (352), Robert Browning (608) and Elizabeth Barrett (759), Brigham Young (812 -- Brigham! is an annual attraction in Utah), Mahalia Jackson (984), Marilyn Monroe (997); last names were employed for Martin Luther King (56), Phineas T.Barnum (94), Meyer Rothschild (262), Giovanni Boccaccio (321) Colette (721), and Charlie Chaplin (795); nicknames for Winston Churchill (38; Winnie) and Ben Franklin (54; Ben Franklin in Paris); and full names for Hans Christian Andersen (550) and Mata Hari (940). Others may not have had their musicals named for them, but they were prominent characters in shows: Joan of Arc (83), Queen Victoria (91), Henry VIII (100), El Greco (283), Jackie Robinson (442), Pancho Villa (938), Theodore Roosevelt (700), Matthew Perry (707), Juan Peron (753), Catherine of Aragon (852),and Che Guevara (941).

There are others that you may not know inspired theatrical projects. Louis Armstrong (322) was the subject of a 1987 musical that shuttered in Boston. Catherine the Great (138) was the subject of the best Hasty Pudding Show I ever saw, the 1968 entry, All the Queen's Men. ("No one has seen a / more charming czarina"). And we wouldn't have had Bloomer Girl without Amelia Bloomer (500).

Christopher Columbus (2), Wilbur and Orville Wright (23, 24), Queen Isabella (117), Rosa Parks (944), and Louis Braille (956) were all subjects of musicals for Theatreworks USA, the nation's foremost purveyors of young adult musicals.

A few also-rans: Francisco Jose de Goya (340) at least made it to Maury Yeston's concept album. Horatio Nelson (624) was to be celebrated in a musical that Bock and Harnick never finished (alas!). Ralph Chicorel, whose Great Expectations musical has been recorded, made his living as a Weight Watchers franchise holder and wrote an unproduced musical about the organization's founder, Jean Nidetch (751). I also remember an NYU Musical Theatre student telling me that a classmate was writing a musical about Alfred Hitchcock (746). As he said, in an astonished voice: "Now can you see Alfred Hitchcock singin' and dancin'?"

The musical with the most names on the list? Not surprisingly, it's 1776, where Thomas Jefferson (64), John Adams (214), Abigail Adams (563) and the aforementioned Ben Franklin are on stage characters, while George Washington (22), Samuel Adams (263), and Thomas Paine (311) at least rate a mention. Meanwhile, Henry Ford (51), J.P. Morgan (435), Emma Goldman (886), Harry Houdini (970) are in Ragtime.

In addition to Meyer, The Rothschilds featured Metternich (179); Annie not only had FDR, but also Frances Perkins (902). John Jacob Astor (529) is in Titanic; James Monroe (708) was in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the other named presidents; and Marie Antoinette (781) was in the 1969 London musical Two Cities, where she sang, "If they have no bread to eat, then let them eat cake, yes, let them eat cake, till their stomachs ache" (at least for a few backers' auditions).

Some of the chosen 1,000 had works adapted into musicals: Tolstoy (34),Voltaire (36), Cervantes (44), Chaucer (62), Dickens (70), Hugo (163), Austen (168),Twain (188), Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (272 and 273), Blake (315 -- through the British musical Tyger), Whitman (318 -- through an Off-Broadway musical, Leaves of Grass), Alcott (372 -- through an Off-Broadway musical, Jo; Harriet Beecher Stowe (457 - without whom we'd never have had "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," Verdi (476 -- via My Darlin' Aida), Swift (492), Verne (519 -- through Around the World in 80 Days), Washington Irving (544-- through Sleepy Hollow), Robert Louis Stevenson (756), Fellini (834), Lewis Carroll (845), John Steinbeck (901), and soon -- well, maybe not so soon, because the show was to be produced by Livent -- Theodore Seuss Geisel (998).

Playwrights, too, have done well by the authors' list. Some titled their plays from the last names of Luther (3), Herzl (212), Semmelweiss (286), Thoreau (375),and Stephen Biko (933). Some preferred first names of Galileo (4) and Golda Meir (894), while others enough respect to use the full names of J. Robert Oppenheimer(80), Emperor Henry IV (177), Jean Paul Marat (399), Anne Frank (481), Mary Stuart (609), and Richard Nixon (904). Some went the chummy route and used nicknames for Abe Lincoln (32) and Babe Ruth (360), while Peter Shaffer selected a middle name for his play that celebrated Mozart (52).

There also have been plays about FDR (37), Helen Keller (304), Thomas More (345), Henry II (359), Eleanor of Aquitaine (420), Alan Turing (445), Juan Pizarro (858), and Andy Warhol (1,000). Then there have been one person shows celebrating Einstein (17), Frank Lloyd Wright (160), Emily Dickinson (479), Truman (485), Harriet Tubman (534), Douglas MacArthur (600), Georgia O'Keeffe (606), and Gertrude Stein (725). John Guare used Marco Polo (66) in the title of one play, and used a painting by Kandinsky (451) as an important element of another.

Works by Dostoyevsky (77), Hieronymus Bosch (199), Franz Kafka (233), Nathaniel Hawthorne (675), Henry Fielding (686), Herman Melville (716), Stephen Crane (754), and Isaac Bashevis Singer (878), were more famous in their original form, but playwrights have adapted them for the stage.

We're not through. I don't claim to have snared them all, but I found plenty who have been mentioned in lyrics. One song, "Home, Sweet Heaven," from High Spirits, mentions 18: In addition to the aforementioned Mata Hari, Luther, Stein and Wilde, there's Freud (15), Good Queen Bessie (31 -- whom the authors more formally refer to as Queen Elizabeth I), King Frederick of Prussia (58), Proust (207), Bernini (238), Botticelli (331), Bellini (403), Mussolini (460), Sir Walter Raleigh(472), Shelley (509), Casanova (520), Emily Bronte (522), Caruso (538), and Disraeli(639). (Though one must wonder how Mussolini got into heaven -- or, even more odd, how did Jack the Ripper, whom is not on the authors list, but is in the song.) And another tune from the score, "The Bicycle Song," mentions Ravel (855).

Honorable mention goes to Darling of the Day's "Butler in the Abbey" which rings in not only with Dickens, but also with Darwin (7), Johnson (182), Gladstone (638) and Pitt (804).

Those three writers so feared by The Music Man's River City women, all made the list: Chaucer (62), Rabelais (302), Balzac (254). That show also cited Montgomery Ward (501), as did The Most Happy Fella. The title song to Here's Love mentions both the first names of Fidel Castro (446) and Nikita Khruschev (619).

And then the deluge: Beethoven (10) and Handel (565) are in Bells Are Ringing; Gandhi (12) in Follies, Napoleon (16) in Jamaica; Hitler (20) in Blitz, Edison (28) whom David Spencer once cleverly rhymed with "medicine" in a BMI Workshop song; Bach (35) in On Your Toes; Milton (53) in My Fair Lady; Picasso (149) in Wonderful Town); Nietzsche (215) in Smile, Alfred P. Nobel (217) in Superman), Pavlova (245) in Carnival; Grant (371) in What Makes Sammy Run?, Eisenhower (374) in Finian's Rainbow; Margaret Mead (379) and Albert Schweitzer (670) in Bajour; Nijinsky (450) in Pal Joey;George III (452) in By the Beautiful Sea; Rockefeller (486) in Blackbirds of 1928; Levi Strauss (540) in The Magic Show; Omar Khayyam (571) and Algernon Charles Swinburne (846) in Take Me Along; Mahler (578) in Company; Charles Atlas (668) in The Rocky Horror Show), Malcolm X (821) in Golden Boy; Kinsey (846) in Kiss Me, Kate; Henry Clay (936) in Call Me Madam; Kahlil Gibran (950) in Closer Than Ever, Mary Pickford (962) in Fade Out - Fade In.

And I certainly know that Anya mentioned Ivan the Terrible (243), because Walter Kerr quoted a line from the show in his review: "Get me the lash, the whip! Maybe Ivan the Terrible had the right idea after all!" said one character, leading Kerr to say, "If I were Anya, I'd watch out who I called terrible."

Oh, and let's not forget Jane Addams (209), who started Hull House in Chicago, where many a new works have been subsequently staged; Jan Hus (387), who had an off-Broadway playhouse named for him in the '50s and '60s; Virginia Woolf (441) loaned her name to one of the most famous post-war plays; Walt Disney (494) created an empire that eventually gave us a few musicals; and William Jennings Bryan (911) was the prototype for the prosecutor in Inherit the Wind.

By the way, if you're wondering who topped the list, it was Johannes Gutenberg, of printing press and Bible fame. To my knowledge, no one has ever written a play or musical about him. Let's get going, writers!

The grand total: 229 out of 1,000. Major league baseball players who have that batting average make a half-million a year.

But in conclusion, let me say that my heart already bleeds for the authors. Inthe past, I took the liberty of naming "The 100 Best Musical Theatre Performers"and "The 100 Best Musical Theatre Moments" -- and got tons of hate e-mail for all whom I omitted. I shudder to think how the Gottliebs and the Bowers will deal with ten times as much correspondence. Especially from we who are stagestruck. "What!? No Sondheim?!"

Peter Filichia is the New Jersey theatre critic for the Star-Ledger. You can e-mailhim at

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