STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Lost in Time, Lost in Space

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Lost in Time, Lost in Space Did you ever see the pilot for "Lost in Space"?

Did you ever see the pilot for "Lost in Space"?

(Don't worry. I'll tie this into musicals. I promise.)

I don't mean the first episode broadcast on September 15, 1965, when TV audiences met the Space Family Robinson. I'm referring to the pilot, which went through a great overhaul before filming started on that "first" show. Though it's occasionally been seen in recent years, the pilot was never aired on network prime time.

But I've seen it, thanks to my friend Kevin -- who, incidentally, saw Street Corner Symphony twice, and Leader of the Pack more than two dozen times. That, though, doesn't mean we can't be friends.

Anyway, within the first few minutes of this pilot, we're introduced to the Family, described to us as: "Professor John Robinson, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Stellar Dynamics. His wife, Dr. Maureen Robinson, the distinguished biochemist at the New Mexico College of Space Medicine. Their son Will, who recently was graduated from the Canyon School of Science at the age of nine, with the highest average in the school's history. Their daughter Penny, age 11, I.Q. 147, hobby: zoology. Dr. Donald West, graduate student at the Center for Radio Astronomy, who last year rocked the scientific world with his 'Theory on Other Planets' Fitness for Human Habitation.'"

But wait! Fans of the series might wonder why I haven't yet mentioned older daughter, Judith. Because I've saved the best for last.

"Their daughter, Judith, age 19, has rather heroically postponed all hopes for a career in the musical comedy field for the next two centuries, at least."

Wow! Who knew?!

Not too many, because none of these descriptions showed up on the first official episode. Including Judith's.

Why? Did someone on the writing team realize that if they had a would-be musical comedy performer lost in space for years on end, eventually she'd have to at least do a cabaret act to keep everyone entertained?

Even more likely would be an episode where Judith tries to teach everyone a musical. They will, after all, need something to keep them occupied on those cold, lonely nights.

So what musical should the Space Family Robinson do? Ironically enough, Judith has as many choices as anyone today, for the action on both pilot and premiere tells us that the family blasted off on "October 16, 1997." (Which gives you an idea of where the writers thought we'd be in space by then.)

If Judith were super-into musicals, she'd know about everything that opened to that date. Ragtime, too, if she'd bought the album, or had caught the show in Toronto or L. A. (I can see promoter extraordinaire Garth Drabinsky graciously inviting the First Family of Space to a performance.)

The only problem is, Judith doesn't have much musical talent with which to work. Guy Williams (John), June Lockhart (Maureen), Billy Mumy (Will), Angela Cartwright (Penny), Mark Goddard (Don), and even Marta Kristen (Judy) -- none, according to my New York Times Directory of the Theater -- ever did a Broadway musical. Angela Cartwright did a screen musical -- The Sound of Music, in which she played a Trapp kid. But who knows how much of her own singing she did?

But guess who did have Broadway experience: Jonathan Harris, who played Zachary Smith, Ph. D. He was the bad doctor who tried to sabotage the ship a few minutes before blastoff. His unanticipated extra weight caused Gemini 12 to smash into meteors and get everyone lost in space.

Believe it or not, Harris was part of the original Broadcast cast of Jule Styne's Hazel Flagg with Helen Gallagher, back in 1953. The bad news for Judith, though, is that he had a non-singing role.

We do have one other "actor" with no Broadway experience: An electronic fellow who bore quite a resemblance to Robby the Robot in the 1955 trash classic, Forbidden Planet (which was a space-age version, you know, of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Robby the Robot was a new-age version of Ariel. Honest.)

Return to the Forbidden Planet, by the way, is at first glance, the best choice, for you don't need anything in the way of costumes or sets. Given where the show takes place, you've got a ready-made environmental production.

But Return usually gets done with 14, and only eight live on Gemini 12. Even with doubling, it'd be hard.

Hey -- how about She Loves Me? Of course, it takes talent to do that well. But I can see Don as Georg, Judith as Amalia, John as Mr. Maraczek, Maureen as Ilona, Dr. Smith as Kodaly, Will as Arpad, the Robot as the Shoppers -- but, oh, what about Penny? She's all wrong for the maitre d'. Poor Penny, bright as a Jenny Lind -- but nothing in She Loves Me for her.

What's more, you've really got to use the Robot as your synthesizer. You can't have him act, too; he'd really burn out, what with his printing our the scripts and scores that Judith programmed into him before they left. Thank the Lord, too, that Judith brought all her favorite CDs with her. That'll help everyone learn the music faster.

Of course, not everyone has to be in every show, so the four adults could do Romance/Romance, while the kids watch. Do I Do! I Do! with four instead of two -- Judith and Don in the first act, John and Maureen in the second. Similarly, john & jen could work well with Will and Penny in Act One, Judith and Don after intermission.

Judith's best bet, though, is a composer-themed revues. No book to speak of, everyone can do as many songs with which he's comfortable. Swinging on a Star? A little too upbeat for people in such trouble. I can hear Dr. Smith now: "No, I would most certainly NOT like to, as you say, eswing on a star.' At this point, that is exactly what I do NOT want to do."

Side by Side by Sondheim? But who'd do "I'm Still Here"? June Lockhart is our only shot. Though once again, Dr. Smith comes to mind. Think of the powerful subtext when someone lost in space sings, "I'm Still Here."

Even better: Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill. What heartbreaking poignance there'd be, when everyone blends in perfect harmony to sing, "And we're lost out here in the stars." There won't be a dry eye on the ship.

One last thing: I do love that the pilot writers concluded Judith's description with "the musical comedy field for the next two centuries." Sound like they had quite a bit of faith in art form.

Maybe not, though, for the line didn't make the cut for the premiere. Nevertheless, like Dr. Smith, musical theater can still sing "I'm Still Here."

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