STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: All Presents and Accounted For

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: All Presents and Accounted For "Twelve days to Christmas, plenty of time to do your Christmas shopping," sang the chorus in She Loves Me. And would that we DID have 12 whole days left to purchase what we want to get our loved ones (and our relatives).

"Twelve days to Christmas, plenty of time to do your Christmas shopping," sang the chorus in She Loves Me. And would that we DID have 12 whole days left to purchase what we want to get our loved ones (and our relatives).

But what to choose? Fine as they are, you'd hate to buy the new cast albums of The Lion King or Side Show, because any self-respecting show freak had them the moment they were being unloaded from the truck and into the store.

Nevertheless, there are some gaps in the collections of the most ardent fans of Broadway. And if you're in the mood to go into some stores that purvey used books and records (remember records?), you can deliver some delightful surprises to you and yours.

For example, they probably have the multi-platinum Broadway edition of Hair, but do they have the previously released off-Broadway album, which has a folksier and less raucous rock feel than the platinum-selling Broadway edition? If they have the London cast album of Half a Sixpence on CD, get them the Broadway version on LP. It's got some additional material, including, in "If the Rain's Got to Fall," the lyric "sipping a sarsaparilla" instead of the West End's more vulgar "sucking a sarsaparilla." I mean, we get enough of that ugly world everyday in real life, don't we?

How Now, Dow Jones (about the day when the Dow's reaching 1,000 seemed an impossibility) has terrific Carolyn Leigh lyrics, while Riverwind has marvelous John Jennings music. Inner City has a great pop score, period. Look for the TV-soundtrack to The Dangerous Christmas of Little Red Riding Hood, the strong score that Jule Styne and Bob Merrill wrote after Funny Girl. Liza Minnelli is their lead this time, but she is, in a word, terrible. What she does -- or, more accurately, can't do -- with "I'm Naive" (a song you may know from the London Some Like It Hot album) has to be heard to be disbelieved. Still, her opening number, in which she details the delights of her new crimson outfit has a perky melody and a lyric that somewhat suggested Into the Woods almost a quarter century later: "And it cost a lot. It wasn't so cheap. I just can't wait to show Bo Peep. Will I get looks! Will I get stares! When I pass the corner of Little Jack Horner and the block with the Three Bears." Wow!

While we're on Jule Styne, look for Darling of the Day, the 32-performance flop that you might just find on 8-track tape. (Don't believe me? Come up to my place.) And there's Hazel Flagg has one of Broadway's finest 11 o'clock numbers. ("Everybody Loves to Take a Bow.")

Moving away from Jule Styne (reluctantly, of course), Donnybrook has one of the best opening numbers of all time ("Sez I"), while I Had a Ball has a great title song. Cyrano has one of the prettiest ballads ("You Have Made Me Love") while the first four songs of Upstairs at O'Neal's are especially good.

If you can find What Makes Sammy Run? (a B+ score if ever was one), and Golden Rainbow, (a monument to bad taste), grab eem -- because Steve Lawrence, who starred in both, is said to own the masters and won't allow them to be re- released.

By the way, may I recommend Princeton's Record Exchange in NJ as a place to find many of the above at gloriously low prices? I mean, I recently snagged the Italian Revival Cast of Rugantino there for a mere $2.99. And it's a two-record set, yet.

Now onto books: Did you know that two years before William Goldman wrote his glorious "The Season," about the 1967-68 semester, that UPI critic Jack Gaver did the exact same thing with 1965-66? "Season In--Season Out" isn't remotely as good as Goldman's book, but it's still provides us a chance to revisit such productions as Skyscraper, The Yearling, and Drat! The Cat! Other nifty nuggets: David Merrick got the mumps during Pickwick; Baker Street was the first show to have a souvenir shop; and the world premiere of The Caucasian Chalk Circle was, surprisingly enough, in 1948 at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. (Want to know who Vivian Beaumont was? Gaver tells you that, too.)

Actually, if you pass by a new bookstore, I urge you to pick up "An Obsession with Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary," a fascinating tome by Lawrence Graver that's been published by University of California Press. I daresay there's never been a book from a university press that's such a page turner.

To make a very long story short, let's essentially say that writer Meyer Levin helped Otto Frank to get Anne's diary published, and wrote a rave review of it for the New York Times that pushed it into international consciousness. In exchange, Levin asked that he be awarded the rights to adapt the book as a play. Mr. Frank was so grateful for all he'd done that he gave him the green light.

From then on, though, there would be red lights and red flags for Levin. When he showed his script to eminent producer Cheryl (Brigadoon) Crawford, there was enthusiasm. Then Crawford showed it to her pal Lillian Hellman, who said while it was okay, the book had become such a sensation that she could get a world- class playwright to do it. That's what happened, and Levin went on a quarter-century campaign to get his work seen. He even wound up suing Otto Frank -- which, one of his friends told him, was "the public relations blunder of the century."

I was reading this book en route to seeing Three Viewings at the adventurous 12 Miles West Theatre Company in Montclair, NJ, and, upon arrival, had reached the part where Graver mentioned that Levin wrote a novel called "The Fanatic." So I rushed into one of my favorite used emporia, the Montclair Book Center, and once again I wasn't disappointed.

Let me tell you what this one's about: Leo Kahn, a young man consigned to a concentration camp, wrote about his experiences there before he succumbed. A writer named Maury Finklestein helped Kahn's mother to get Leo's book published, and wrote a rave review of it for the New York Times that pushed it into international consciousness. In exchange, Finklestein asked that he be awarded the rights to adapt the book as a play. Mrs. Kahn was so grateful for all he'd done that she gave him the green light.

From then on, though, there would be red lights and red flags for Finklestein. When he showed his script to eminent producer Richard Sharr, there was enthusiasm. Then Sharr showed it to his pal Dover Whitehead, the eminent dramatist, who said while it was okay, the book had become such a sensation that he could get a world- class playwright to do it. That's what happened, and Finklestein went on a campaign to get his work seen. He even wound up suing Mrs. Kahn.

My heart bled for Meyer Levin, though he did make scores of mistakes in the way he dealt with his adversaries. Now I've got to go back to the Montclair Book Center and see if they have a copy of Levin's "The Obsession," which is his non-fiction account of the Anne Frank contretemps. Bet they do.

Finally, if you don't have the time to peruse the used book or record stores in your vicinity, well, there's always theater tickets. You know the shows that have received all the press, but let me recommend two that you might have missed.

Candy Buckley could teach many teachers a thing or three about their craft, what with the expert way she handles her "classroom" in Jane Anderson's Defying Gravity, the best play of the year. (Not the season. The year.) Then there's Visiting Mr. Green, a nifty comedy-drama from a first playwright (Jeff Baron) that features two terrific performances from ol' pro Eli Wallach and new pro David Alan Basche.

This is the way to visit Mr. Green. Clue: The Musical is not.

-- Peter Filichia is the New Jersey theater critic for the Star-Ledger
You can e-mail him at PFilichia@aol.com