STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: So Many Questions...

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: So Many Questions... So I'm on the street where I live in the Broadway theatre district, steps away from my building, when I see this attractive young woman approaching. Well, actually she's not that attractive, for despite her extraordinarily pretty face, she's got her nose amazingly high in the air. Her own air, then, is pretty hoity-toity, high-falutin', grand poo-bah, I'm better than you.

So I'm on the street where I live in the Broadway theatre district, steps away from my building, when I see this attractive young woman approaching. Well, actually she's not that attractive, for despite her extraordinarily pretty face, she's got her nose amazingly high in the air. Her own air, then, is pretty hoity-toity, high-falutin', grand poo-bah, I'm better than you.

Many of you won't be surprised to hear that that she's wearing one of those concert-type jackets, and because there's that red piping-lettering positioned under her left shoulder, it's clearly a Broadway show jacket.

Hmmm, is she someone I'll recognize as she gets closer? No, only a few feet away now, and I still don't recognize her. But that doesn't mean that she isn't a star, because she isn't wearing make-up, and performers often look wildly different offstage.

Actually, I suspect she MUST be a star, because her nose is even higher in the air now. After all, as a London/Broadway musical once taught us, "Great stars have great pride."

But we're almost parallel now, and I still don't recognize her. So, a few seconds after she passes, I turn around to see which show title is on her jacket. Return to the Forbidden Planet.

Oh, please! Get some humility, girl!


* Then I was in my apartment playing the LP I'd just bought at the Princeton (NJ) Record Exchange, still far and away The Champeen Used Record Store for Cast Albums at the Lowest Possible Price.

The phone rang, I answered, and heard the greeting of of a fellow show freak. He says hello, and we start talking, but soon I'm the one asking questions, he's answering in monosyllables, because he desperately wants to hear that music in the background and figure out what it is.

Finally he has to give in and ask, "What's that you listening to?" (in a very snooty tone, I might add. You see, if he doesn't know what it is, there's a tacit implication that it isn't worth knowing.)

"Liza of Lambeth,' I reported, referring to the 1976 British musical based on W. Somerset Maugham's first novel.

"Good heavens! Why in the world are you listening to that?"

I blinked. This man has one of the great show music collections in the world. "Are you going to tell me that you don't own the British cast album of Liza of Lambeth?"

"Well, of course, I do," he sniffed. "But that doesn't mean I'd play it."


* Did you ever hear about the full-page ad that composer-lyricist Steve Allen took out in Variety on Wedneday, May 15, 1963? Allen, better known as an early "Tonight Show" host and the leading man of "The Benny Goodman Story," had written a musical version of the life of Sophie Tucker, called, as they inevitably were in those days, Sophie.

But Sophie had closed at the Winter Garden three weeks earlier, after a mere eight performances. Still, Allen believed in his songwriting ability, and took an ad that proudly proclaimed, "What the Critics Say about the Score of Sophie."

Then came quotes from some critics, including one blue-chipper: Walter Kerr of the Herald Tribune, who said, "Richard Rodgers is famous for his 'wrong note.' Mr. Allen may become famous for always arriving at the right note."

Hmmm, Kerr was one of the best in assessing musicals. Did he really admire Allen's music that much?

So I checked in my copy of Steven Suskin's book, "Opening Nights on Broadway." And there it was, on page 635: "Richard Rodgers is famous for his 'wrong note.' Mr. Allen may become famous for always arriving at the right note, and you have no idea how monotonous that can be."


* Speaking of the Winter Garden, I had to break the news to a San Diego friend that the enormous Cats sign above the Shubert showplace is no longer as enormous. Did you notice that the building to the Garden's immediate right was being renovated these past months? It forced Broadway's Most Impressive Theatrical Sign to be A Little Less Impressive Theatrical Sign.

But didn't you assume the downsizing was only to be during construction? Alas, it is not to be. The renovated building now displays windows where some of the sign used to be. So we're just going to have to learn to live with a smaller Winter Garden sign, now and forever.

My friend was outraged. "So what's the sign say now -- 'CA'?"

"No," I somberly informed him. 'TS.'"


* "Who's Paul Ford?," asks the young, would-be playwright in William Shuman's new play, The Most Important American Playwright Since Tennessee Williams.

You see, an older, once-successful playwright tries to inspire a would-be playwright that it's never too late to be successful. "Michener was over 40 when he started writing," he starts, "Paul Ford was over 50 when he started acting."

Well, I would have respected the playwright more if he'd said, "Which Paul Ford?" instead of "Who's Paul Ford?" -- because there have been a couple of notable Paul Fords in the theater.

First, there was the Paul Ford who was the leading man of "Never Too Late," another of those long running sex-comedies of the '60s that you rarely see on Broadway anymore. Ford was better known, though, as Colonel Hall in the original "Sgt. Bilko" TV-series. He's lesser known, except to you and me, as one of the leads of Whoop-Up, the hilariously awful 1958 musical.

Ford got second-billing, between Susan Johnson (who ALWAYS deserved top billing) and Ralph Young, who never made it big on Broadway, but later teamed up with a singer named Adam Sandler to become Sandler & Young. They were one of those easy listening male duos that used to show up on variety shows of the '60s, to the delight of blue-hairs.

Those who know every song note-for-note in Whoop-Up may have a hard time recalling Ford's performance from the record. For good reason: He didn't have a song. (Have there been any other leads that haven't sung a note on original cast albums? Doug Henning in The Magic Show and Vera Zorina and Natalia Makarova in the On Your Toes revivals come to mind. Can you think of others?)

Anyway, there's another Paul Ford, of course, the pianist who played in the Passion pit, among many others, and is Mandy Patinkin's accompanist and musical arranger. "I wouldn't be able to do without him," Patinkin's told me on more than one occasion.


* Have you seen the new list book titled "2,001 Things to Do Before You Die"? Author Dane Sherwood must be a Broadway musical enthusiast. Oh, not just because he includes "Climb every mountain" and "Ford every stream" as two of his 2,001. But because another of his entries is "Ply her with bon-bons, poetry, and flowers." Isn't it nice to know that someone is still listening to "Once in Love with Amy" from Where's Charley? after all these years?


* Have you noticed that Miss Saigon's marquee recently changed to read "7th Year"? Not bad for a show that lost the Tony (to the long-gone Will Rogers Follies). But don't you feel that some of the musical's staying power must be due to David Letterman's often mentioning Miss Saigon? So many people come to town and get their picture taken under "The Late Show" marquee (take it from me; I live in the neighborhood) that I'm sure some of them see the Miss Saigon marquee across the street, are reminded of it, and go buy seats. We're always (rightfully) applauding Rosie O'Donnell's efforts to promote Broadway; let's give Dave a little credit for promoting at least one Broadway show.


* You know who should really record the original cast album of Titanic? Sandor, Sue's boyfriend in Bells Are Ringing. Have you forgotten the name of his record company? Why, Titanic Records, of course.


* Does anyone know what happened to that movie based on the tumultuous opening night of The Cradle Will Rock that Orson Welles and Ring Lardner Jr. were going to do long ago?


* If you had an opening night party, and you got a good review from the Times, wouldn't you immediately instruct the orchestra to play "The Best of Times Is Now?"


* And finally, what did Zero, Bing, Groucho, and Elvis all have in common? Well, yes, they all had strange and never-before-heard first names. But they all died in 1977, too.

You know, if I were Soupy Sales, I would've been pretty glad when that year was over.

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