STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: June Is Busting Out All Over

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: June Is Busting Out All Over Here it is, weeks after the Tonys, and I'm still getting daily e-mail and phone calls from people wondering how (and complaining that) The Lion King beat Ragtime for Best Musical. I can't help remembering about that day in May when, at Seventh and 55th, I ran into Jeff Richards, the publicist for Marc Salem's Mind Games. "I just spoke to Marc," said Jeff, with a sense of wonder. "And he told me who the Tony winners were. Not too many upsets." Hmmm. Makes you lose a little faith in Marc Salem, no?

Here it is, weeks after the Tonys, and I'm still getting daily e-mail and phone calls from people wondering how (and complaining that) The Lion King beat Ragtime for Best Musical. I can't help remembering about that day in May when, at Seventh and 55th, I ran into Jeff Richards, the publicist for Marc Salem's Mind Games. "I just spoke to Marc," said Jeff, with a sense of wonder. "And he told me who the Tony winners were. Not too many upsets." Hmmm. Makes you lose a little faith in Marc Salem, no?

By the way, if you're one of the many who are surprised that Art beat The Beauty Queen of Leenane, let the record show that Alec Baldwin -- who presented the Best Play prize -- came backstage and joked to the press that the winner actually was Beauty Queen, but that he wanted to be in the movie of Art, and thought he'd get in good with producer Sean Connery by lying. Baldwin is, after all, a very good actor, but let me say that he seemed thoroughly convincing.

Anyway, I hear complaints on Tony winners and losers each and every June, but what I heard more times this year than ever before was, "I wonder how close the vote was."

Uh, would it spoil some vast eternal plan if we did know the actual votes each nominee received? When you think of it, the world of sports has no problem in letting its fans know the numbers. The 1960 Yankees won eight more games than did the Baltimore Orioles. The 1965 Detroit Red Wings finished four points higher than the second place Montreal Canadiens. Joe Namath completed 201 more passes than did Roger Staubach.

Same thing with politics. Alf Landon got all of eight electoral votes when he ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. Ronald Reagan received 16,824,643 more votes than Walter Mondale got in 1984. So can't we hear if The Lion King garnered 1, 10, or 100 more votes than Ragtime, my personal choice for Best Musical of 1997-98? Speaking of numbers: Tell the truth now: Whenever the Dow Jones Average goes past another thousand, don't you automatically think of How Now, Dow Jones?

Aren't you proud of Steven Guarnaccia and Bob Sloan, the authors of Hi-fi's and Hi-balls: The Golden Age of the American Bachelor? In their study of '50s swinging singles, they discuss martinis, Corvettes, and little black books -- but in the chapter entitled "The Hipster" -- which includes pictures of Jack Kerouac books and magazine ads for bongo drums -- there, on page 81, is the original cast album of The Nervous Set, that 1959 musical about the beat generation. It was, incidentally, co-written by Fran and Jay Landesman, whose relative Rocco has done quite well as head honcho of Jujamcyn Theaters. And how well I remember that on March 5, 1990, when Rocco inaugurated the Walter Kerr Theatre, he said that Mr. Kerr was of course one of the brightest and wittiest critics -- except that he made a dire mistake by not appreciating The Nervous Set.

Have you ever heard the original 1963 lyrics for "The Usher from the Mezzanine" from Fade Out--Fade In? "The Usher Turned her flashlight in / to study singing and 'Gunga Din' / Then got a part in a chorus line on Broadway." Little did Comden and Green know that had they kept those lines, they'd have had a completely different context starting 11 years later.

So, in the midst of our remembering Frank Sinatra, what was the most interesting, obscure show song that he ever sang? I'd have to say "Golden Moment," from Hot September, the musical version of Picnic that died in Boston. It appeared on his 1965 album, "My Kind of Broadway," which also included "Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong" and "I'll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her," both from Skyscraper, written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, who provided him with the lion's share of his most beloved hits: "My Kind of Town," "High Hopes," "All the Way," and "The Tender Trap."

Have you heard that the Drama Dept.'s production of Irving Berlin's As Thousands Cheer isn't allowed the use of one of the songs that came from the score -- "Easter Parade" -- because the upcoming Tommy Tune-Sandy Duncan Easter Parade has dibs on it? So you know what As Thousands Cheer might have considered? Using "Smile and Show Your Dimple," the song with the same exact melody that Berlin wrote as pop song in 1917. It wasn't until 1933 when he wrote a new lyric to the melody that it became "Easter Parade."

Many a musical script has been in issued as hard-cover volumes and trade paperbacks, as well as in various anthologies -- but how many were brought out as standard mass-market paperbacks, the four-by-seven-inch kind you find in on supermarket and airport racks? By my count, 17: 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. Six are in mass-market paperback anthologies: Camelot, Goldilocks, Guys and Dolls, Lost in the Stars, West Side Story, and Your Own Thing. Can you think of any I've missed?

You know the good thing about "Cybill" being canceled? Maybe we can have Christine Baranski back.

The upcoming production of High Spirits in the Berkshires reminded me of a couple of Blithe Spirit facts. Did you know that Charles and Elvira's song in the original play was Irving Berlin's "Always" -- interesting when you consider that Martin and Grey chose as their title the synonymous "Forever and a Day"? And did you know that during the opening credits of the movie version, you see the credit "Directed by David Lean" before you see "Produced by Noel Coward"?

That's it. Gotta go to Chicago. The city, not the show. I'm up for it, especially a trip to State Street. Maybe, after years of waiting, I'll finally get to see Jean Anouilh's Cher Antoine, Edward Bond's The Pope's Wedding, and the two Shakespeare plays I've never seen, Pericles and Henry IV Part Two. After all, as the song says, "On State Street, that great street, I just want to say, they do things they don't do on Broadway."

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