STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Coming Up Roses

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Coming Up Roses The flowers that bloom in the spring are blooming on Broadway, wouldn't you say? In addition to Beauty and the Beast's rose, we have The Scarlet Pimpernel, "Edelweiss" at the Martin Beck, the grasslands at the New Amsterdam, Lilias White in The Life, an entire herbal bed at the O'Neill, not to mention Paul Michael Valley (playing Jefferson) in 1776. Hey, let's even throw in the pineapple from Cabaret and the "Poison Ivy" at Smokey Joe's Cafe.

The flowers that bloom in the spring are blooming on Broadway, wouldn't you say? In addition to Beauty and the Beast's rose, we have The Scarlet Pimpernel, "Edelweiss" at the Martin Beck, the grasslands at the New Amsterdam, Lilias White in The Life, an entire herbal bed at the O'Neill, not to mention Paul Michael Valley (playing Jefferson) in 1776. Hey, let's even throw in the pineapple from Cabaret and the "Poison Ivy" at Smokey Joe's Cafe.

It's a nice metaphor, isn't it, for the blooming of another kind? At least as of this writing, not one Main Stem marquee sports that pseudo-happy message "See a Broadway show -- just for the fun of it!" For good reason: The Shuberts, who use these signs to replace closed attractions, have all their theaters lit. So does Jujamcyn, and the Nederlanders almost do. Side Show is still up, so might we encourage the Footloose producers to get their plastics in place so that we'll have a perfect marquee lineup for the first time since I've been following Broadway?

Speaking of the Shuberts, have you visited the alley on 45th Street that leads to the Royale, Golden, and Majestic stage doors? There's an imposing sign that demands, "No Talking" -- to which some graffitist has added, "Sister Mary Shubert." That's one nun I've never seen in any of the three Nunsenses.

So how's that Paper Mill Playhouse production of Follies coming along? Darn good, on the basis of the rehearsal I saw the other day. Director Robert Johanson let the press see "Beautiful Girls," Tony Roberts, Laurence Guittard, Donna McKechnie, Dee Hoty, Billy Hartung, Michael Gruber, Danette Holden, and Meredith Patterson in "(Waiting Around for) The Girls Upstairs," Donald Saddler and Natalie Mosco doing "Rain on the Roof," Kaye Ballard, despite a cold, ripping through "Broadway Baby," Liliane Montevecchi reprising "Ah, Paree," Carol Skarimbas and Ingrid Ladendorf doubling on "One More Kiss," and Phyllis Newman heading "Who's That Woman?" before leading it into the "Mirror Dance."

Now you've got to understand that I was there at the Boston tryout of the show, and it brought back so many wonderful memories. I kept saying to myself, all right, the room the room is packed with press, now don't cry, you're supposed to be a professional -- and thus did I manage to hold back the tears of joy of seeing these numbers once again staged. But I'm going to have to bring a box of Kleenex on opening night. Do you have Eric Michael Gillett's new CD, Cast of Thousands: The Songs of Craig Carnelia? You should, for it gives this underexposed but terrifically talented singer and composer-lyricist a nice showing. But one of Gillett's sentences in his liner notes did bother me: "By my teens, I knew every Broadway score from A-to-Z -- The Apple Tree to Zorba." Hmmm, he didn't know Annie, Get Your Gun or The Zulu and the Zayda?

Don't you think it's interesting that a panel of 10 critics (including yours truly) who vote for the Lucille Lortel Awards chose Brian Cox as Best Actor -- for playing a critic? Could they relate to the way he delivered such lines as "I don't think I deserved any respect, but I got it," "People were afraid of me, but I loved it," and "I hardly ever liked anything"? By the way, Cox's most famous role up till now? Hannibal Lecter, that Silence of the Lambs savage who was first seen in the movie Manhunter. Interesting, isn't it, that an actor once cast as a cannibal should not be playing a critic?

Have you ever seen An Evening Primrose? As you may know, the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman 1967 TV special dealt with a poet who wanted to escape the cares of the world by hiding in a department store, where he comes to find that some (but not all) of the mannequins are actually real people who've also sequestered themselves from reality. What I love best is one scene in which a trio of people are sitting and playing bridge, in which, you may know, one player must lay down his cards and be "the dummy." Well, in the chair facing the dummy hand is seated a mannequin.

You know or remember, don't you, that Alice Playten rose to prominence by singing "Nobody Steps on Kaffritz" in Henry, Sweet Henry? Well, one of the most delightful pieces of staging in A Flea in Her Ear at the Roundabout is when Playten is about to walk down a flight of stairs, sees this big brute coming up, and immediately throws herself on her back so that he can bowleggedly pass. He may walk over her, but apparently, nobody steps on Playten, either.

Do you know what the biggest hit of the London stage was 300 seasons ago? William Congreve's The Mourning Bride, from two famous expressions emerged: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" and "Music has charms to soothe the savage beast." Except that both have been corrupted over the centuries. Congreve's actual sentiments are "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned" and "Music has charms to soothe the savage breast."

You know those Helen Hayes Awards that the Washington theater community annually distributes? Don't you think that productions at the Helen Hayes Theatre in Nyack should somehow be eligible, too?

Has any building in New York taken longer to be completed than David Copperfield's theme restaurant at 49th and Broadway? If he's such a marvelous magician, why doesn't he just wave a wand and get the place into shape?

Finally, may we talk about the oodles of hate E-mail I received for my list of the 100 Greatest Broadway Musical Theatre Personalities? While I admire Michael Crawford, his one musical role did have him on stage for all of a half-hour. Colm Wilkinson was marvelous, but he's only visited Broadway once. (Come back, Colm!) Such newer personalities as Lilias White, Sam Harris, Judy Kuhn? Well, as Sondheim wrote in "Broadway Baby," someday, maybe. And I do hope so.

The only deep regret I have is leaving George M. Cohan off the list. What a disgrace! To think how many hours my five associates and I spent, and none of us even mentioned this illustrious and important name. What a slap in the face for "The Man Who Owned Broadway." My father apologizes, my mother apologizes, my sister apologizes, and I apologize.

I'd put Cohan first or second, but who'd listen to my friend of 32 years who I thought would stop talking to me because I put Mary Martin a mere third instead of higher? Our friendship would really be down the drain if I listed her fourth.

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