STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: How to Have a Theatrically Happy New Year

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: How to Have a Theatrically Happy New Year So, as Frank Loesser once asked in song, "Here comes the jackpot question in advance: What are you doin' New Year's Eve?"

So, as Frank Loesser once asked in song, "Here comes the jackpot question in advance: What are you doin' New Year's Eve?"

Nothing much, with Broadway apparently planning to be either all or mostly dark.

I hope Rent plays. Can't you hear the crowd now, cheering when it hears, "You're living in America at the end of the millennium"? (Hmm, when you come to think of it, after that night, Rent will be officially dated.)

If I were a producer, I'd be tempted to calibrate my show's running time to the second -- let's say it's 2:11 -- and then start the New Year's Eve performance at 9:49, so that when curtain came down, everyone would be precisely experiencing 12:00:00 on Jan. 1, 2000. Could there be any better place to be to start a new millennium than in a theatre?

"Anyplace but!" many have told me, stagestruck though they be. Most say they're staying put at home on New Year's Eve, 1999. It's going to be a zoo out there, and they don't need to know what's new at the zoo. Stay home, then. But don't make it a ho-hum night that will leave you saying, "Happy new year, my dear -- so what?" If you can't see a show on New Year's Eve, make a show in your home. Use your CDs and videos to have a celebration that centers around the New Year and the New Millennium. That way, like Margo Channing, you can really "feel like New Year's Eve."

It sounds like a good idea, but once I started investigating, I found it was easier said than done. Though there was a musical in 1980 called Happy New Year -- an adaptation of Philip Barry's Holiday with 20 Cole Porter songs shoehorned in -- it got no cast album. Most of those songs, though, are available on various recordings, so you could spend the night assembling your own studio cast album.

Too much work? I understand. Shall we just play show songs entitled "Happy New Year"? Alas, aside from the two in Rent, I don't know of any that found their way into recording studios. Do you have a tape of Changes, the 1980, 7-performance show that featured Kelly Bishop and Larry Kert, and was co-written by Danny (Your Own Thing) Apolinar? I don't either, so there goes that score's "Happy New Year."

What about the "Happy New Year" in Great Scot! a 1965, 38 performace musical? It starred Joleen Fodor, whose face I can still see, not because I ever caught her on stage, but because, for months at a time in the '60s, she used to advertise herself in a weekly Variety ad. I still can see that smiling blonde.

Do you know Irving Berlin's "Happy New Year" from the Fourth Edition of The Music Box Revue in 1924? A quick look at my collections yields three songs from that show -- "Listening," "Rock-a-Bye-Baby," and "Tell Her in the Springtime" -- but no "Happy New Year." This is getting harder.

Nor do I have Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's "Happy New Year to You" from their 1940 show, Walk with Music. Now would I, even if the show had been recorded, for the song was cut. On Christmas Day, no less. Musical theatre can be ruthless, can't it?

How about "Happy New Year Every Day" from Ice-Travaganza, a 1964 World's Fair show? No, because, unlike such Fair attractions as To Broadway with Love and Les Poupees des Paris, this show didn't get an album. Its writers, by the way, were John Morris and Gerald Freedman, who two years later made it to Broadway with A Time for Singing, a musical of How Green Was My Valley that was appropriately dark and almost through-sung. Perhaps it was an '80s show ahead of its time. Maybe it should have garnered another look 15 years ago. Or even now.

I'll tell you one we'd all like to hear: "Happy New Year" from Golden Gate, a show also known as The Emperor of San Francisco that had some producer interest in both the '60s and '80s but never got on. That the show had a book (an original) by Richard (The Unsinkable Molly Brown) might not accelerate your heartbeat, but wouldn't you crave to hear its Kander and Ebb score?

In fact, you already know two songs from it: "A Certain Girl," which wound up in The Happy Time, and "I'm one of the Smart Ones," which Liza Minnelli sang in her Broadway stint at the Winter Garden.

When I read a script in 1982, I cast Minnelli in the part, even before I reached that song. She would have been great as the young woman who leaves her pathetic small town to seek fame and fortune in glamorous San Francisco -- and arrives on the morning after the 1906 earthquake. (Hence, "I'm One of the Smart Ones"). Hey, we're getting productions of Saturday Night now; can't we have Golden Gate, too?

At least let us hear Kander and Ebb's take on "Happy New Year." Given the treatment that these masters of the celebratory anthem gave to cabaret, jazz, and New York, New York, imagine what they must have done with such a bang-up occasion as "Happy New Year."

Wait! I forgot "Happy, Happy New Year" from Dance a Little Closer. I always overlook this show, partly because I wasn't in town during its previews and single performance. I did, however, see an early run-through at 890 Broadway. Alan Jay Lerner began the afternoon by facing the assembled and shyly saying, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Good Lord! How could I remember anything else after hearing an apology from the man responsible for my becoming interested in musicals in the first place?

In addition to Rent and Dance, you'll find a few shows that have at least one scene that takes place on New Year's Eve. Cabaret. Celebration. I Do! I Do! Side Show. Show Boat. Sunset Boulevard.

Wait a minute -- that's it! Show Boat! Tonight's the night to once again sit with EMI's three-disc set. It is, after all, the most enduring musical theatre classic to live to see a new millennium. A Great Night demands Great Entertainment.

And admit it: You haven't listened to this set in its entirety for a while now, have you? What, never? Hardly ever? Oh, what you've missed!

Make a night of it. First sit down with 134-page booklet, and read the excellent articles by Miles Kreuger, one of our most venerable historians, and John McGlinn, the muscle behind the project, and its conductor. Then segue into the interview with Flo Ziegfeld's secretary "Goldie" Stanton Clough, who remembers that her boss "hated to see the girls all dressed up in so much clothes."

Then, like Ol' Man River, just keep rolling along. You could then go to the nine page plot synopsis, or put on disc one and continue for 3:41:31 until you reach the last song of the appendix. So if you start this around 8:17 (I'm allowing a minute for disc changing), you should be celebrating the New Year and the New Millennium just as Kim is singing, "Boy, oh, boy, hey-hey!" Which are certainly appropriate words for the occasion.

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