STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: July Jottings

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: July Jottings So what's the question that you1re asked the most these days?

So what's the question that you1re asked the most these days?

For me, it's "You know what would make a good show at Encores?"

Sure. The Grass Harp with Barbara Cook. On the Twentieth Century with Judy Kaye, and Kevin Kline in the lead. Smile, with Jodi Benson.

Now may I ask you some questions?

* Did you notice that when Larry Doby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame that neither he nor any of the baseball brass took the occasion to mention that his name was once a rhyme in a Broadway musical? The show, of course, was The First, the 1981 tuner about Jackie Roosevelt Robinson, the first black admitted into major league baseball in 1947. Late in the second act, a discouraged Robinson is considering quitting the National League, because so many white ballplayers and fans are being so hateful to him. But then he brightens when he learns that Doby has been signed by the Cleveland Indians and will be the first black in the American League. Martin Charnin's lyric went thus: "It's a beginning / Good luck to Larry Doby / Let him hit lefties / Or they'll trade him to Nairobi." It was set to music by Bob Brush, who nine years later would win an Emmy for writing an episode of "The Wonder Years," the TV series he co-produced. And that was The First for him. * Do you know what the real irony is about Cats coming to PBS and home video? The president of Polygram Video who green-lit the Lloyd Webber project is named Sondheim.

* Do you know which musical I missed when, a few weeks ago, I asked what tuners had been published as mass-market paperbacks? While I got 17 of them (Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death, 'A' My Name is Alice, Candide, Fiddler on the Roof, Finian's Rainbow, Fiorello, Golden Boy, Grease, Hair, Hello, Dolly!, Man of La Mancha, My Fair Lady, Pippin, 1776, Sound of Music, Threepenny Opera, and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown), many of you wrote to say Runaways, too, was published. Thanks to all of you who knew and remembered.

* You know what one of the best things about seeing The Skin of Our Teeth in Central Park? When the first act started, the baby blue sky was shining in the background. But as the play got darker and darker, so did the sky.

* And isn't it something that of the five greatest American plays, Thornton Wilder wrote two of them? Is there any doubt that Wilder was first and foremost a man of the theater? He so knew the form that he knew how to deconstruct it. And isn't it interesting that Wilder's three major plays are all set in states that include the word "New"? The Skin of Our Teeth in Jersey, Our Town in Hampshire, The Matchmaker (once The Merchant of Yonkers) in York. You don't think that he ever worked on one that was set in New Mexico, do you?

* Do you think that Woody Allen got the idea for The Purple Rose of Cairo from Sabina's observation that young Gladys Antrobus "is waiting for a man to come down off the movie screen and ask her"?

* Have you ever wondered why Oscar Wilde chose as the name of his masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest when the last words of the play actually are "the vital importance of being earnest"? Or why Cole Porter called his Kiss Me, Kate showstopper "Always True to You in My Fashion" when the actual lyric is "Always True to You, Darlin', in My Fashion"?

* Did you ever hear of Sir George Dance? Dance was a mainstay of the British musical theater between 1891 and 1902. And what was Dance's specialty? Book and lyrics.

* While hearing "Penny in My Pocket," the song dropped from Hello, Dolly, was fun in An Evening with Jerry Herman, wouldn't you like to have heard "Fred Astaire," the song dropped from Mame? Truth to tell, I really don't know if Herman actually wrote this song. But back in 1966, I was given an early script of Mame ("But just for tonight," snapped the loaner.) The script included "Camouflage," a song that Vera sang to Mame to encourage her to appear in the "Man in the Moon" operetta ("You'll steal the show / When I've given you all the tricks I know / I've played Mother Cabrini during Lent / And once played Pittsburgh in a tent"), and "Sterling Silver Boy," Mr. Babcock's insistent statement that he and the proper schools will make something out of Young Patrick ("Like all conservative prudent pupils / He will live with all the strictest scruples").

But I can't say I remember the lyrics to "Fred Astaire." I do recall that the script said that in the second act, "Here there will be a song between Mame and Vera called 'Bosom Buddies,'" but no lyric had yet been written. Thus, it's possible that "Fred Astaire" hadn't yet been written -- or never was. But when I re-read Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mame a few years back, I did run across the line that inspired Herman to at least consider writing it -- when Patrick said that en route to his prom that he and his college buddies each felt as elegant as Fred Astaire. Now don't you agree that a chorus line of young men in tuxes singing about Mr. Astaire would have made for a fabulous Jerry Herman production number?

* And while we're on An Evening with Jerry Herman -- aren't you a little sorry that he didn't include the marvelous lyric he wrote for Our Hearts Belong to Mary, the 1985 tribute to Mary Martin? Maybe Herman didn't do it because he didn't write the melody, which he took from Mr. Porter's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." Here it is, as Carol Channing sang it that night: "She played a nurse / She played a nun / She played a boy who was a fairy / In sailor suit / or playing the lute / Our hearts belong to Mary." Nifty, no?

* Do you think that Maury Yeston gets his ideas from musicals from movies? We know, of course, that he adapted Fellini's 8 1/2 into "Nine" -- but there are two other movies that have lines that are pretty interesting. First, in 1960's Please Don't Eat the Daisies, the adaptation of Jean Kerr's life with drama critic Walter Kerr, we have Jack Weston playing a cab driver who wants Mr. Kerr to read his playwriting efforts. "It's a musical based on the first two books of the Bible," he says -- which might have inspired that One-Two-Three-Four-Five Biblical musical that played Manhattan Theatre Company some years back, and will soon resurface under a new title [In the Beginning]. And if that isn't enough, in 1972's Avanti, Juliet Mills tells Jack Lemmon that her boyfriend is working on a rock opera called Splash! before blithely adding, "It's about the sinking of the Titanic." Hmmmm.

* Finally, did you see the Modern Library's writers' consensus of the Top 100 English-language Novels of the last hundred years? Only three (Lolita; The Ambassadors; Ragtime) have been made into musicals, though Strouse-and-Adams' An American Tragedy (now titled Remember Me) seems to be well on its way, based on the word-of-mouth I've heard from the recent workshop. True, a few more of the chosen 100 have been adapted into plays (The Grapes of Wrath; Winesburg, Ohio; All the King's Men; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Tobacco Road; The Ginger Man, among them), but most are available for some stage treatment. So, playwrights, bookwriters, composers and lyricists, shall we get going?

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