STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Happy New Year

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Happy New Year Sings Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, "Happy New Year, my dear -- so what?" So this: There's much to be happy about this new year. We'll be having the happy time, I guarantee. And H-A-P-P-Y, why, why am I so happy? Well, I'll tell you.

Sings Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, "Happy New Year, my dear -- so what?" So this: There's much to be happy about this new year. We'll be having the happy time, I guarantee. And H-A-P-P-Y, why, why am I so happy? Well, I'll tell you.

For I've noticed that the first show I see each year usually sets the tone for what's to come. For example, 1964, 1978, and 1993 were very happy years, and I respectively started those with Funny Girl, Miss Margarida's Way and Jeffrey. On the other hand, 1970, 1979, and 1985 were not happy years, and they began with Georgy, Sarava, and Dancing in the End Zone. 'Nuff said.

Well, 1998 began with Anne L. Thompson-Scretching's You Shouldn't Have Told Off-Off Broadway at the American Theatre of Actors, so it should be one good year for theatregoing. Not that the play is a happy one. The playwright is intent on showing the difficulties with black lower-middle class families -- suicide, drinking, incessant numbers-playing -- but saves her knockout punch when telling about a mother of five who's had such a hard time landing a man that she denies to herself that the one she's chosen has been molesting her three daughters. The capacity crowd I saw it with was full of young men who weren't regular theatregoers, and that showed during the early minutes, when they sat on their hands. But it wasn't long before they were strongly reacting to a very strong play. You Shouldn't Have Told has just been extended through March 1, I'm happy to say, and you should make the trip to West 54th Street to see it.

The first book I read is also indicative of the year I'll have -- and David Sheward's "The Big Book of Show Business Awards" (Billboard) also promises a happy year. You may wonder how I could be so happy after reading a mere book of (theater, film, record, and TV) lists, but it's Sheward's many comments and historical observations that'll keep you up past your bedtime hour. Cases in point from the theater section (which includes Pulitzers, Critics Circles, Tonys, Drama Desks, Obies, and Outer Critics Circle Awards): The New York Critics Circle used to hold a bash in which dissenting members could stand up trash the choice that their colleagues made; that Shirley Booth and Sidney Blackmer's Tonys for Come Back, Little Sheba said they'd won the prizes for South Pacific. And don't miss the picture of Phil Silvers (having just won a Tony for Top Banana) kissing host Helen Hayes, who has a we-are-not-amused expression on her face that she must have used when doing Victoria Regina.

Though Happy New Year -- the musical version of Holiday that took Cole Porter tunes and shoehorned them into Philip Barry's play -- may not have done well in 1980, we have happier and higher hopes for High Society especially now that Lar Lubovitch and Marcia Milgrom Dodge have joined the team. Frank Langella must be happy that he can't be denied another Tony nomination for another thrilling performance. Is this why he decided to bring his Cyrano de Bergerac into an off-Broadway house?

I was also happy to hear that the Forum Theatre in Metuchen, NJ is doing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from April 24 to May 24. Now I'd be happier still if a company in Brooklyn did Allegro. Why? So then we could say ""Allegro's in Brooklyn."

Will Ford Motor Company be happy that it's become associated with Ragtime, the musical that not only contains the song "Henry Ford," but also plays at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts? Remember how so many came down hard on Big because of its FAO Schwarz tie-in? Now you may say, "Yeah, but Henry Ford was mentioned in E.L. Doctorow's novel to begin with." Indeed -- but FAO Schwarz was also part of Big when it was a mere movie, and the musical still took heat for "merchandising." We'll see. . . we'll see.

"Happiness Is," wrote Clark Gesner in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Well, I'm happy to say that a new album of Gesner's cabaret and show material, called "The Jello Is Always Red," has been released by the Harbinger label. There are three songs that Gesner wrote for New Faces of '66. (No, not New Faces of '68, as it was called when it reached Broadway, but New Faces of '66, as it was called when it was trying out in the summer stock Straw Hat Circuit. It took two years for this show to reach Broadway. Those were the days.) You always hear about people who want to "Save the Whales!" -- but how often do you find someone who's worried about the chickens? That's Gesner for you, offering what could very well turn out to be an anthem for vegetarians. He's also concerned with fish and furry creatures, leading me to infer that if Gesner could talk to the animals, and they could talk to him, there'd be one lively and empathetic conversation.

Back in the days when Barbra Streisand was singing "Happy Days Are Here Again" (translation for you young 'uns: 1962), she said in many an interview that she kept a small refrigerator next to her bed so that she could indulge in coffee ice cream. However, did you see recent interview with the Los Angeles Times' Robert Hillburn in which La Babs told him that she likes to "get into bed with my no- fat chocolate yogurt sundaes"? Oh, tempora, oh, mores!

Happy Returns. Ever hear of that show? Well, it was a '30s London revue that featured the Rodgers and Hart hit song, "Dancing on the Ceiling." Of course, it was interpolated there, for as you ALL know, R&H originally had it in their 1930 musical, Simple Simon. And speaking of Simple Simon, would you like to hear my favorite show business joke? Okay: How much did Seymour Felix get for choreographing Simple Simon? Answer: Ten cents a dance.

Weren't you happy to see how well theater fared in TV Guide's "Best of '97"? In addition to "Cinderella's" being named Best Special, and Rosie O'Donnell (who has a suite in heaven reserved for her because of all she's done for Broadway) cited as one of the medium's 10 most important stars, we had Kathy (The Kathy and Mo Show) Najimy named Best Scene Stealer. Then, in the Best Newcomers category, Calista (The Glass Menagerie) Flockhart won as the female, while the male winner was Kevin Anderson, who plays a priest in the controversial "Nothing Sacred" series. By the way, did you know that Anderson's last appearance on a New York stage was in The Red Address, in which he played a transvestite whose favorite outfit was a red dress? Hmmm, does that suggest if the series runs long enough, he'll feel right at home at playing a cardinal?

Wouldn't we all be happier if we could read the autobiography of Buster Davis? The acclaimed musical director who conducted many a Jule Styne show (and can be pardoned for his own musical, Doctor Jazz, at which I lasted all of 32 minutes) did write a memoir, but could never get it published. It has to be at least moderately interesting, though, when you consider its title: "Ask Her If She's Got a Brother."

And finally, remember how I happily mentioned that one of the more delightful aspects of working at a metropolitan newspaper is that the rock critics receive a ton of review CDs, and when they get extras, they put them out for anyone to take? So I was able to get Misdemeanor Elliott's "Supa Dupa Fly," Megadeth's "Cryptic Writings," and The Smoking Popes' "Destination Failure," whose discs I threw away, and whose jewel boxes I used to replenish the broken ones on my cast albums?

Well, one of you e-mailed to say that you thought my view narrow- minded, which prompted me to write back and say that of course you were correct, that two wrongs don't make a right, and that peaceful coexistence is the answer.

Then I spied on the counter an album by "The Impotent Sea Snakes." (I am not making this up. The label is Masquerade, and the bar-code number is 14687-90034, in case you'd like to check.) The album's selections include such titles as "I Hate You," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Backstabbers," "Retching," "Ebony Whore," not to mention one song whose title involves two A-level expletives, and another tune that tells of a sexual act with a mother that most parents in America have never, ever heard of.

Um, dear e-mailer, if you'd like this album, I'd be happy to send it to you, for I know you'd be much happier with it than I. If I don't hear from you within five days, however, I'm going to use it to replace my wounded Robert and Elizabeth jewel box. And wouldn't the Impotent Sea Snakes be very unhappy to learn that they've been usurped by an operetta? That'll make me, though, the most happy fella.

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