STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Autumn Musings

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Autumn Musings Why do teenagers listen to a group called 311 when they could be playing the cast album of 1776 ? Simple math will tell you that the Tony-winning musical is at least 5.7106109 times better.

Why do teenagers listen to a group called 311 when they could be playing the cast album of 1776 ? Simple math will tell you that the Tony-winning musical is at least 5.7106109 times better.


So, how many Number One Best-Sellers of the Year have been adapted into Broadway musicals? Come December, we'll be able to say six, when Ragtime, the chart-topper in 1975, starts previews at the new Ford Centre for the Performing Arts. The other five, as compiled by the National Booksellers' Association (it's been keeping track since 1895), lists 1916's Seventeen, 1927's Elmer Gantry (which became Gantry in 1970, and may yet surface on Broadway through a different adaptation, Elmer Gantry, if we all live long enough), 1938's The Yearling, 1940's How Green Was My Valley (A Time for Singing), and 1959's Exodus (Ari). As for 1936's Gone with the Wind, that, of course, was musicalized, too, but closed out-of-town.

Who knows? Broadway may yet see that one, as well as 1958's top seller "Doctor Zhivago," currently being developed. 1955's best-seller "Marjorie Morningstar," almost happened a long time ago, with Charles Strouse's music. Two other Number One Best-Sellers -- 1939's "The Grapes of Wrath" and 1960's "Advise and Consent" -- became Broadway plays, while 1967's "Valley of the Dolls," became an Off-Broadway farce a couple of seasons back. Oh -- and though the National Booksellers' don't list it, there is that other Best-seller that gave us Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.


Do you young 'uns know that, once upon a time, when you went to a preview, you didn't get an entire Playbill, but just a skinny piece of paper with the title page, cast and song listings -- and nothing else? Don't believe me? Come up to my place and see the ones for Hot Spot and Anyone Can Whistle, among dozens of others.


Which musical's overture incorporates the most number of songs from its score? My guess would be On the Twentieth Century, with seven. By my listen, I hear (in this order) the title song; "Together" as heard in the "Sextette;" "Mine;" "Lily/Oscar;" "Our Private World;" "I've Got It All;" and "She's a Nut." Can anybody think of an overture that sports more songs?


You know how we seem to see more and more stars missing performances? Maybe that should be a point of contention come Tony time. Just as politicians are always making speeches and saying, "My opponent missed x-number-of-days in the Senate," wouldn't it be something for a star to make a speech and say, "My opponent has already missed x number-of-performances, while I've been there for every one! I deserve the Tony!"


Have you heard of Kirby Tepper, who does such a nice job on "Let's Not Talk about Love" on Varese Sarabande's recent "Cole Porter: A Musical Toast" and "Franklin Shepard, Inc." on "Sondheim: A Celebration"? Now really -- whenever you hear his name, don't you find yourself singing, "Once I was a shlepper; now I'm Kirby Tepper . . ."


Do you realize that there will never be a Broadway play that will outrun Life with Father's 3,224 performances? Father opened Nov. 8, 1939, and didn't close until July 12, 1947 -- almost eight years. When I was a kid, it was the all-time box office champ. Now it's in ninth place behind Cats, A Chorus Line, Oh, Calcutta, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Grease, and Fiddler on the Roof.

So will we ever see a straight play that even runs 1,000 performances? Master Class wins the Tony, gets a diva to take over the lead, gets a fine performance from a TV star (that's the usual rung for a star vehicle, and a good solution), and still played less than two years. With so many network and cable outlets green-lighting the occasional stage comedy and drama, no exec would hang up even the biggest hit for eight years. No, Life with Father is now-and-forever the long-run straight play champ.


Did you know that the horse "Equipoise" that Frank Loesser mentioned in his "Fugue for Tinhorns" was really an accomplished racehorse? But here's the other irony: The horse's nickname was The Chocolate Soldier -- another allusion to a famous musical.


Now that former Massachusetts Governor William Weld has withdrawn as a candidate for ambassador to Mexico, what can he do for work? How about his joining the cast of a musical? He does have experience, you know. Back in 1966 while matriculating at Harvard, he was in the Hasty Pudding Show, Right up Your Alley, a West Side Story parody in which Big Irving, the leader of Studs, did battle with Manuel Dexterity, the leader of the Edsels. Weld played Vera Similitude, Big Irving's girlfriend, under the direction of Billy (Bubbling Brown Sugar) Wilson.


Do you know about the new Las Vegas casino called New York, New York Casino? It's a tribute to the five boroughs, so it's decorated as Central Park, the Village, Brooklyn, Coney Island, et al. And what of Broadway, you ask? One non-specific marquee with the masks of comedy and tragedy, rest rooms labeled "Guys" and "Dolls" -- and five original cast three-sheets. You might have guessed West Side Story and Hello, Dolly! would be two of them, and maybe even A Streetcar Named Desire as the third. But you would have taken a while to get to On the Town, wouldn't you? And would you have ever guessed the fifth would be -- I'm serious -- Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain in Breakfast at Tiffany's? Honest!


Did you see that note on the last page of the Titanic CD booklet that said the ship cost $7.5 million to build in 1912? In other words, to build a titanic boat like that back then cost less than it cost to build that musical today.


You know all those Painted Smiles albums that say on the back "Notes by Ben Bagley (who is incurably insane)"? Well, perhaps he is, perhaps he isn't -- but here's a bit of circumstantial evidence that suggests he at least marches to a different drummer. For have you noticed that the words on the spine of his CDs are ALWAYS printed upside down, so that you have to file them wrong side up?


Did you know 35 years ago this month, Rita Hayworth scuttled her plans to make her Broadway debut? She'd been signed to do Step on a Crack, a play by Bernard Evslin. Things got so far along that Hirschfeld even did a drawing of her and star Gary Merrill. Reason for dropping out? "Too weak physically and emotionally," was the official explanation.

Or was Ms. Hayworth feel that the PLAY was too weak physically and emotionally? Step on a Crack, with Pauline Flanagan in her part, closed after opening night. I don't remember which critic said it, but I do recall that one called it "the worst play I ever saw in my life."


Finally, why do people go see a movie like 187 when they could be seeing 1776 ? Simple math will tell you that the Tony winning musical is at least 9.4973262 times better.

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