STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Rick Blaine, Musical Theater Enthusiast

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Rick Blaine, Musical Theater Enthusiast I was reading Michael Walsh's "As Time Goes By," his novel that's a sequel to that classic, Oscar-winning movie "Casablanca." Turns out that after Rick kills Major Strasser, he, Sam, and Louie Renault get on a plane for London.

I was reading Michael Walsh's "As Time Goes By," his novel that's a sequel to that classic, Oscar-winning movie "Casablanca." Turns out that after Rick kills Major Strasser, he, Sam, and Louie Renault get on a plane for London.

Walsh then tells us, on page 86, that "As they passed through Leicester Square, Rick and Sam observed that London's pleasure district was undaunted; the dance halls were full and the cinemas were running. Rick noticed that the Astor was playing "High Sierra," starring Humphrey Bogart."

That's clever, because, of course, to us Rick has always been Humphrey Bogart. But it's Walsh's line that follows that really piqued my interest: "Rick could take or leave the movies. He much preferred the theatre, especially musicals."

Wow! You mean that big, bad, butch Rick Blaine likes musicals?!?! So that explains why Rick originally had a thing for "As Time Goes By."! It is, as you may know, a Broadway show song, and not, as some assume, a tune written expressly for "Casablanca."

Indeed, Herman Hupfeld penned "As Time Goes By" for the Broadway revue Everybody's Welcome, which opened Oct. 13, 1931, and ran 139 performances. That gave Rick Blaine -- whom author Walsh pegs as a New York City native -- four months' worth of chances to see the show and remember the song. Perhaps when he and Ilsa were in that Paris nightspot La Belle Aurore and Sam asked him, "Any requests?" this was the song that he most wanted to hear. Though Walsh does say that Rick suddenly left New York on Oct. 24, 1935, let's hope that he'd already caught Porgy and Bess, which opened Oct. 10, 1935, and Cole Porter's Jubilee, which debuted Oct. 12. Missing those would have been a crime tantamount to the one Rick committed, the one that forced him to flee the country. (Read the book if you want to know all about that.)

Too bad for Rick that Cole Porter never completed that musical he began in 1933, the one he first called Once Upon a Time, and then Ever Yours. For Porter did write for it a tune he called "Ilsa's Song." Had that received even a modicum of popularity, Rick certainly would have had Sam learn that even before "As Time Goes By" to celebrate his beloved.

I suggest that the last musical that Rick saw in New York was At Home Abroad, which had opened on Sept. 19, 1935. Maybe the title alone gave Rick the confidence to realize that he would indeed be at home abroad. Perhaps, too, his flight was influenced by two of the Dietz and Schwartz songs, "Get Away from It All" and "Paree." After all, the former song describes what Rick did, while the latter does tell where he went.

And could he have then gone to Morocco because of his affinity for The Desert Song, the 1926 smash that takes place in that country. The show had a then-fabulous 465-performance run, so Rick would have had ample opportunities to see it. Perhaps he did, and was intrigued enough by what he saw to decide that, just like Webster's Dictionary, he'd be Morocco-bound.

I also checked to see if some of Rick's more famous expressions have their origins in show tunes. Did any Broadway musical sport a song called, "I Stick My Neck out for Nobody." As it turns out, no. "We'll Always Have Paris"? No. "Here's Looking at You, Kid"? Almost, for there was once called, "Here's Looking at You." But Rick's knowing it is highly unlikely, given that it came from The Yankee Regent, which closed out-of-town in 1907 (in Cedar Rapids, yet), when Rick was all of three years old.

By the way, though we've always known that Rick's full name was Richard Blaine, Walsh tells us that he reluctantly changed it from Yitzik Baline. The surname could be another reason why our hero had an affinity for musicals -- for Baline was, of course, the real last name of Irving Berlin.

Walsh may very well have decided to make Rick a theatre fan because "Casablanca" was based on a play (albeit an unproduced one), Everybody Comes to Rick's, by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. I met Burnett in 1995, less than two years before he died. He then seemed, I'm sorry to say, a very unhappy man, apparently still plagued by the fact that he and his partner only split $20,000 for a script that engendered a billion dollar classic.

Burnett also spoke bitterly of the production of Everybody Comes to Rick's that had finally occurred in London a few years earlier. "They said they'd do the play as we actually wrote it," he told me, "but they kept taking more and more out of it and just putting in lines from "Casablanca." It didn't turn out to be what we wrote at all."

But he was gracious enough to give me a script of their play. which proves that a good 60 per cent of "Casablanca" was already there. Just as interesting: The way the script handles the film's most famous misquoted line. For years, cineastes have pointed out that Rick never said, as legend had it, "Play it again, Sam." He says, "Play it!" Ilsa says, "Play it once, Sam," "Play it, Sam," and "Play 'As Time Goes By.'" But neither they nor anyone else ever says "Play it again, Sam" (which, of course, became the title of a Woody Allen play, for which -- did you know? -- Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady wrote a title song, a year before the debuted Minnie's Boys).

When I checked Burnett and Alison's script, I found that what Rick told Sam was none of the above. Page 37 of the script shows that, just before the end of the first act curtain, Rick says, "Play it, you dumb bastard."

Walsh obviously read the Burnett-Alison script, too, for in creating Rick's backstory, he had him previously in love with a lass named Lois, who would throw him over and instead marry a man surnamed Meredith. And Lois Meredith was the precise name that the two playwrights chose for their heroine before screenwriters rechristened her Ilsa Lund.

And where did Rick take Lois on their first date in April, 1932? To a musical, God love him. Alas, though, here's where Walsh got lazy. Instead of researching what was playing then -- Mary Boland had just opened Face the Music; Bert Lahr and Gypsy Rose Lee were the town's new hot ticket, Hot-cha! and still running were Of Thee I Sing and The Cat and the Fiddle -- Walsh invented a musical called Show Stoppers, starring Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler. Would that that were true. For though those two teamed up romantically in real life, they never appeared together on Broadway.

Interesting, too, that Everybody's Welcome had just closed two months before their first date; had the show still been running, perhaps "As Time Goes By" would have been Rick and Lois's song.

Walsh also might have fashioned Rick as an aficionado of musicals to make another in-joke, for "Casablanca" was once indeed planned for Broadway musicalization. If you have a first edition of Oliver's original Broadway cast LP, you'll see midway through David Merrick's biography on the back cover that he'd planned a musical. Musical theater historian Ken Bloom has been able to determine that Arthur Schwartz (composer of the aforementioned At Home Abroad) and Leo Robin (lyricist of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) wrote at least (though possibly only) three songs: "Lucky to Be Alive," "To Love and to Lose," and "Why Should I Care?" I'll guess the first was either for Ilsa, or her husband Victor Laszlo, while the latter two were for Rick.

Merrick eventually scheduled a Sept. 26, 1967 opening at the Mechanic in Baltimore. George Segal was mentioned as Rick. Nothing came of it, and Sandy Dennis in a dull play called Daphne in Cottage D took the booking.

Perhaps "Casablanca" couldn't ever be a musical success, and not solely because audiences would have trouble imagining anyone but Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains in the leads. Some years back, two fledgling songwriters came to the ASCAP Workshop with two songs they'd written for a musical "Casablanca" -- and met with little encouragement from the panel.

Said Marvin Hamlisch, "And what happens when you get to the point where we're all expecting 'As Time Goes By'? Do you have your own new song in that spot when Rick says, 'Play it!'? And if you have Sam play your new song, I can just hear Rick saying, 'No, no, no -- not that song -- play 'As Time Goes By'!"

Well, maybe. But now that we know that Rick Blaine was so stagestruck, perhaps he would have liked a musical adventures in "Casablanca." Book by Michael Walsh?

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