STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Inner Thoughts

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Inner Thoughts * So don't you think the TV audience who ONLY watched the Tonys on CBS must have been surprised when Titanic won Best Musical? All night long, they'd been hearing the many nominations for The Life, Steel Pier, even Play On and Jekyll & Hyde. But they NEVER heard a single nomination for Titanic -- whose four wins had occurred during the PBS section. -- until the Best Musical category came along. That has to be a first for a TV audience, no?

* So don't you think the TV audience who ONLY watched the Tonys on CBS must have been surprised when Titanic won Best Musical? All night long, they'd been hearing the many nominations for The Life, Steel Pier, even Play On and Jekyll & Hyde. But they NEVER heard a single nomination for Titanic -- whose four wins had occurred during the PBS section. -- until the Best Musical category came along. That has to be a first for a TV audience, no?

* Nice, isn't it, that in Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs, the popular author doesn't chooses only one Broadway show song? (Good Morning, Starshine from Hair, citing its "glippy, glop, gloopy" lyrics). Oh, he does mention one other in passing, though he notes that HE didn't choose it. Seems that Mack the Knife is one of the Ten Most Hated Requests by a Portland, OR wedding-band group called Swingline Cubs. Oh, yeah? And who are THEY?

* Have you heard the marvelous story recounted in the new book, Colleen Dewhurst: An Autobiography, which was finished by Tom Viola after the actress's death? Seems that when Dewhurst was rehearsing An Almost Perfect Person, a far-from-perfect 1977 comedy, her director, Zoe Caldwell, knew that the heroine Dewhurst was playing was an upscale type of woman, unlike the usual earth mother that the illustrious actress had portrayed. "Colleen," she said, "I think that this woman would have very pretty underwear." So, to get Dewhurst in the mood, Caldwell took her to a lingerie shop, and while Dewhurst was trying on the wares, a saleswoman asked Caldwell, "Is that Colleen Dewhurst?" Caldwell admitted it was. The saleswoman then asked, "Are you her mother?" Caldwell said, "Yes, I am."

* Do you know about this new book called Film Values/Family Values -- A Parents' Guide by H. Arthur Taussig, Ph. D.? The good doctor means well, but I wonder if he went a little overboard in how he rated some musicals. For example, he has a category called "Crimes," which are tagged P if the crimes go punished, and U if they go unpunished. So we have Attempted Murder (P), Forgery (P) and Kidnapping (P) -- for Babes in Toyland! Bribery (U), Kidnapping (U), Blackmail (P), and Attempted Murder (P) are the things to fear in Beauty and the Beast. There's a category called "Gender Issues," too, for which is mentioned "Emma is the only woman on the voyage" in Dr. Doolittle. Other things of which to be wary: "Background beer drinking" (Oliver), "One girl is shown briefly holding a glass of wine" (Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella remake), and "Pipe smoking in the background. Drinks are offered. Wine with lunch" for Hans Christian Andersen. I also had to smile at his Oklahoma! notation: "The device for viewing pictures is murderous, stabbing the victim in the eye. Perhaps this is a comment on pornography." Wow!

* So what's the worst title for a play? Some would say Sixth Finger in a Five Finger Glove, a 1956 drama that ran all of two performances (Charles Strouse, incidentally, wrote its incidental music.) But how about Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs? David Halliwell's Dublin and London fringe hit of the mid-sixties did eventually make it to Broadway, but its producers thought the title too odd to bring in the crowds. So to what did they change it? Hail Scrawdyke. Does that sound like a hit to you? Can you picture people saying, "Gee, I feel so lucky. I stood in line for hours, and, thank God, I managed to get two on the aisle for Hail Scrawdyke"? Well, it did run four times longer than Sixth Finger, all of eight performances. (For the record, Alan Arkin directed.) * As for title changes, you've probably heard that the Alfred Uhry Jason Robert Brown musical has shortened its name from I Love a Parade to, simply, Parade. This will be the third show with that same title. You may know that a Jerry Herman revue of 1960 was called Parade, but so was a Broadway musical of 1935. It was concerned with left-wing politics, so of course it featured songs by Marc Blitzstein (though most were written by Jerome Moross, who later gave us The Golden Apple). Now -- we've had two shows called Show Girl (in 1929 and 1961), two entitled About Town (in 1894 and 1906), and two dubbed Around the World (in 1911 and 1946), but aside from series shows like Americana, Artists and Models, New Faces, and the various Follies, Frolics, and Scandals, has there ever been a title that's been used for three separate musicals? In fact, yes -- Sinbad (1868, 1892, and 1918), and Humpty Dumpty (1879, 1904, and 1932, though the last-named changed its title to Take a Chance during its tryout). But we can say that Parade will be the only name to be used three times in one century. That is, if the Uhry Brown show can get on before the millennium.

* Is this a first? Idina Menzel, Maureen in Rent, ends her Playbill bio with "Idina's Website Address is http://www.idina.com? Drop her a line!"

* Speaking of Rent: Do you know that beginning in May, one page of its Playbill was devoted to a "Note about the Plot of Rent"? If a four-paragraph explanation weren't enough, on the following page, you'll find the "Rent Family Tree." This schematic gives us little inch-square pictures of (going clockwise) Benny, Mimi, Roger, Collins, Angel, Joanne, Maureen, and Mark. Next to their names are one-sentence descriptions, such as "Benny is married to Alison Grey of Westport, whom we never see." Hmmm, up till now, the only time I saw plot descriptions printed in programs were in dinner theater, where, I presume, they were printed for patrons who'd had one too many to follow what was going on. Did it happen for Rent because some theatergoers were just plain confused as to what was going on in this Pulitzer Prize-winner?

* Nice idea, isn't it, that Dream has cut all matinees to a $40 top? Now -- will the production be smart enough to take the extra step and play matinees every weekday, and cut most of its evening performances? The conventional Broadway schedule, you see, isn't right for every show. Dream's ideal audience -- those who remember Johnny Mercer's songs -- are suburbanites who are getting a little up in years. And despite all that nice press about how safe New York has become, this crowd may well be intimidated by the thought of Being in the City at Night. Fine. Let them bus in from Scarsdale and Short Hills for a morning's worth of shopping, a nice lunch at a midtown restaurant, Dream and Margaret Whiting, before beating it back to the 'burbs before night must fall. Bet it'd work.

* And finally, shall we see if one of the trendiest parlor games can work for theater, too? Let's start with Frederick Loewe, who wrote the music for Camelot, which featured Robert Goulet, who later starred in The Happy Time, which was directed by Gower Champion, who staged Bye Bye Birdie with music by Charles Strouse, who composed Rags, which was originally directed by Joan Micklin Silver, who in 1980 directed a play at the Cherry Lane called Album, which starred -- yes -- Kevin Bacon. Yup, nice to know that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon also works for the theater.

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