STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: March Meanderings

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: March Meanderings My, what reactions on my endorsement of Frank Wildhorn's winning a Tony this season for The Civil War! Thus far, I've received 37 e-mail comments on the piece: 35 ayes and two nays. But things are much different on web-sites I've checked, where the majority of comments have been highly critical. My favorite endorsement? The one that said, "What I appreciate most about Mr. Wildhorn's music is that it brings people together." On the debit side of the ledger: "I have never lost respect for someone so quickly." My reaction? If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a critic who can't be criticized. No hard feelings!
Cover art for Broadway in Love.
Cover art for Broadway in Love.

My, what reactions on my endorsement of Frank Wildhorn's winning a Tony this season for The Civil War! Thus far, I've received 37 e-mail comments on the piece: 35 ayes and two nays. But things are much different on web-sites I've checked, where the majority of comments have been highly critical. My favorite endorsement? The one that said, "What I appreciate most about Mr. Wildhorn's music is that it brings people together." On the debit side of the ledger: "I have never lost respect for someone so quickly." My reaction? If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a critic who can't be criticized. No hard feelings!

And while we're on Wildhorn: You know that Jekkie who saw virtually every matinee of Jekyll & Hyde, because she preferred Robert Evan's performance to Bob Cuccioli's? Now that Evan has taken over the role for all eight performances, is she at the Plymouth for every one of them?

On to other matters: While watching (the very accomplished) Fosse, this thought hit me: If Bob Fosse had directed Pacific Overtures, how do you think he would have staged and choreographed "A Bowler Hat"?

Did you catch who's playing the drums in the orchestra at the (pretty good) revival of Annie, Get Your Gun? No less than Cubby O'Brien. While that name won't mean anything to anyone under 45 or so, it sure registers with us Baby Boomers. For Cubby O'Brien was once the youngest Mouseketeer on the original Mickey Mouse Club that aired in the mid '50s. Welcome to Broadway, Cubby!

Isn't it something what arcane skills actors put on their resumes? This occurred to me at the T. Schreiber Studio's (excellent) production of Detective Story. Reviewers were given a press kit with the performers' 28 head shots and resumes, which yielded the following information: David Aston-Reese can do card tricks. Sam McPherson "looks good in kilts." Philip Garfinkel can drive a car, albeit only an automatic one. Walter Hyman can make malt and milk shakes, while Jody Booth has "wine savvy." Tim Leuzarder is a "good listener," and Deena Lynn Rubinson "can belch on cue." If any one you needs someone with these abilities, do give a call. So what do Olympia Dukakis, King Lear, and Yogi Berra have in common? Give up? Well, Olympia Dukakis recently performed selections from King Lear, as seen through a female perspective, at Luna Stage, a small New Jersey theatre in a town called Montclair. That's also the town in which Berra, the former master Yankee catcher (and master malapropist), lives. So how did he do watching King Lear? How I'd love to say that he fell asleep, and his wife had to poke him in his ribs, and whisper, "It ain't over till it's over." But he was, like the rest of us, mesmerized by what Dukakis achieved.

Isn't it wonderful that we've got Circle-in-the-Square back, and Studio 54 finally in the legit fold? Isn't it great that they host two spectacular attractions? About Cabaret you know, but if you haven't discovered Not About Nightingales, please don't tarry. What a revelation this Tennessee Williams' script is, unlike anything he else he ever wrote. And what a production from Trevor Nunn. Be there at Circle-in-the-Square, or be square -- and sorry.

Have you seen the American Express "Are You a Cardmember?" ad that shows a smiling Patti LuPone, with the notation that she's a "Member since 76"? I assume, don't you, that Amex -- a stringent company when it comes to accepting applicants -- gave her the card early in that year, after she'd snagged her Tony nomination for The Robber Bridegroom, and was cast as the lead in the new David Merrick-Joe Stein-Stephen Schwartz musical The Baker's Wife. They wouldn't have given it to her, do you think, later in the year, after The Baker's Wife shuttered in Washington and she was out of work?

Don't you think it'd be great if someone opened a club in Washington Heights, and Lea Salonga would be its opening act? That way, they could call the show, Salonga: Hundred and Seventy Fourth Street. (By the way, have you heard that So Long, 174th Street is getting a concert reading at the Lambs' Theatre on March 9? Strange, but true.)

Whom do you think was first to say, "Her name is Mary Martin, and her name is going to be up in lights"? Cole Porter when he auditioned her for Leave It to Me? No, it was George S. Kaufman. Now before you can say, "But George S. Kaufman had nothing to do with Martin's breakthrough show!" (as I know you all would), let me explain that Kaufman actually wrote the line that 13 full years before Martin's big splash with "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." I discovered this while watching American Stage Company (of Teaneck, NJ)'s excellent new production of Kaufman's 1925 comedy The Butter-and-Egg Man -- the only play he ever wrote himself, by the way. It's about a couple of producers who are looking for a "butter-and-egg man," and one producer wants his girlfriend in the show. The name Kaufman chose for the lass just happened to be Mary Martin.

May I take slight issue with a line in I Want to Be Happy: The Songs of Vincent Youmans that great-nephew William Youmans wrote and is co starring in with his delightful Titanic castmates Emily Loesser and Bill Buell? When William tells us of his great Uncle Vincent's achievements, he mentions that "Everyone knows 'Tea for Two.' Yak farmers in Ulan Bator know 'Tea for Two.'" Well, as it turns out, my girlfriend's brother recently served as First Secretary of the American Embassy in Mongolia, whose capital is Ulan Bator. He assures me that no yak farmer has the slightest idea that there's a song called "Tea for Two." (Too bad they don't, though, don't you think?)

Do fans of Trinity Rep in Providence find it ironic that NBC replaced "Trinity" with "Providence"?

Have you seen "The Encyclopedia Shatnerica" by Robert E. Schnakenberg? If you're not familiar with the term Shatnerica, you can be pardoned. It refers to William Shatner, best known as Captain Kirk on "Star-Trek" -- but someone with some interesting legit connections, too.

So entries includes Tamburlaine the Great ("Shatner made his New York debut ... As Usumcasane, one of Tamburlaine's faithful attendants, Shatner had little to do beyond lugging a sedan chair around the stage, but apparently he lugged it well.") and A Shot in the Dark ("Shatner played Paul Sevigne, the diligent, examining magistrate in the Broadway production of Henry Kurnitz's French farce ... The role was somewhat rejiggered to accommodate Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau series persona.").

But most fascinating is the section on The World of Suzie Wong. Would you have expected this of a 508-performance hit? "(Shatner's) female lead was France Nuyen, a 22-year-old ingenue with whom he clashed repeatedly over preparation and approach ... the atmosphere became so poisonous that director Joshua Logan simply stopped showing up for rehearsals ... 'It opened as a turkey,' Shatner remembered years later, 'It got seven bad notices. It opened as a turgid drama. People walked out in the middle of it. You could hear whole rows of people getting up and walking out.' ... The play seemed destined for the scrap heap. However, Shatner had too much at stake to let it slide into oblivion. He began subtly changing the pace and tenor of the show, turning it from a turgid drama into a romantic confection. Audiences began to respond. A play that was slated to close after three months got a new lease on life."

Can you possibly imagine that happening today? A Broadway drama gets unanimous pans -- and still gets a three-month chance to work itself out and find what the audiences wanted? Those were the days!

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