STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Spring Cleaning

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Spring Cleaning "If I ruled the world," sang Harry Secombe in Pickwick, "every day would be the first day of spring." Sounds good -- except that the first day of spring isn't always such a good day. Right now, as I write, it's pretty darn cold, and I got a code in my doze. Does anyone still wear a hat? This week, at least here in the Northeast, everyone had better.

"If I ruled the world," sang Harry Secombe in Pickwick, "every day would be the first day of spring." Sounds good -- except that the first day of spring isn't always such a good day. Right now, as I write, it's pretty darn cold, and I got a code in my doze. Does anyone still wear a hat? This week, at least here in the Northeast, everyone had better.

Nevertheless, spring is here. And not a moment too soon. Aren't we all glad that there's only a spattering of days until the annual Easter Bonnet Competition -- also known as The Best Show on Broadway?

It's too late for you to catch Marymount Manhattan College's annual spring musical this year, but do make a mid-year's resolution to catch it next March. They do such interesting things there on East 71st Street. The Streets of New York, that underappreciated 1963 off-Broadway musical was their choice three years ago, and Two Gentlemen of Verona, that much-maligned Tony winner, was the offering two years back. This year offered no less than New Girl in Town, nicely directed by Richard (I Can Get It for You Wholesale) Sabellico. True, a lot of the kids hit an amazing number of wrong notes when essaying Bob Merrill's score, but they played the show with brio. Best of all, the audience was just jam-packed with teens and twentysomethings who yelled and screamed as if they were at a rock concert. And that may be what I enjoyed most of all.

Spring did come a little earlier this year for the Oscars, though. Did you watch these "poor man's Tonys"? (Well, considering that you must pay $45-80 to see a Broadway show, and only $4-$9.50 for a movie, isn't it fair to call them that?) Theatre was quite well-represented, don't you think? In addition to our beloved Shakespeare providing the inspiration for the Best Picture, we had another great British playwright -- Tom Stoppard -- cop a statue. Tickets to Amy's View should be that much harder to get now that Judi Dench emerged victorious. And wasn't it nice of Robin (Waiting for Godot) Williams to say, "There is nothing like a dame" before announcing her name?

Meanwhile, who would have snared Best Actress had there not been a 16-performance off-Broadway flop in 1969 called Someone's Comin' Hungry? For that's where star Blythe Danner met producer Bruce Paltrow. You know what happened after that. Musical theatre did all right, too. Did you catch that "Luck Be a Lady" was played during the opening, and that "Oklahoma!" was part of the out music? Nice, too, that "If I Were a Rich Man" was Norman Jewison's intro music as he came forward to get his Thalberg. Then we had Savion (Noise/Funk) Glover and Desmond (Fosse) Richardson in Debbie (Sweet Charity) Allen's big dance number. (Never mind how good or bad it was.)

Best of all, Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz won for Best Song, and didn't attend because, we were told, he was "in New York working on a show." Atta boy, Steve! First things first! You've got your priorities straight!

Maybe we can now return to a time when theatre is more respected by Hollywood. I recently watched the film version of Susan and God, and loved that the credits said the screenplay was "based on the celebrated play by Rachel Crothers." Yeah, the italics are mine, but the sentiment was theirs.

And speaking of movies -- what do you think of the video of the film of A Chorus Line being re-released under the banner of "Contemporary Classics"? That's the first time I ever heard that this thing was a classic of any sort.

Onto other matters: Did you know that Rodgers and Hart were the first to write "The Lion King?" No, it wasn't the smash hit that will still be at the New Amsterdam long after I'm gone, but a song for their 1930 London musical, Evergreen. If you were doing a cabaret act now, wouldn't you at least make an effort to check it out?

Glad to see that Mama Cass of the classic '60s group The Mamas and the Papas is so lovingly mentioned in the (very moving) Beautiful Thing. But did you know she came very close to doing a Broadway musical that came to be known as The Grass Harp? Back in 1969, when a producer named Lawrence W. Fineberg was raising money for the show (under the title Yellow Drum), he'd signed the ample entertainer to play the role of the pithy and promiscuous Babylove, the role that was ultimately played by Karen Morrow when the show finally made it to the Beck in 1971.

If you plan to produce a comedy, do you know how you can get one sure-fire laugh? Before the show begins, in addition to telling people not to record the show or take photographs -- and to turn off their beepers -- that they should unwrap their candy now instead of later. It gets a big guffaw each and every time.

Are you planning to see Night Must Fall and Betty's Summer Vacation? Then I'd recommend you see them in that order. Not just because Night is falling a week early, and Betty has booked an extended vacation -- but also because Chris Durang's wild 'n' wooly comedy makes mention of a good deal of the plot of Night Must Fall. And you wouldn't want that spoiled for you, would you?

If you can't get into Betty at Playwrights Horizons, do drop into the Judith Anderson a few doors down, where there's a series of new one-acts collectively called 6 Story Building (because each playlet takes place in a different apartment). The show, written, directed, and starring Kevin Del Aguila (who's assembled a fabulous cast), had its audience laughing just as hard as they did at the Durang hit. The final play had me worried for a moment, for it featured a couple that broke into song every few minutes, and Del Aguila seemed to be mocking the musical theatre, for which I would have recommended that authorities cut off his hands. But by the end, the playwright made clear that he believes that people who love musicals are the luckiest and happiest people in the world. So now I want him to win the Nobel Prize.

And finally, though it's only the beginning of spring, have you given a thought to attending a Broadway show on New Year's Eve? Given that prices have always been upped on that big night, can you imagine what you'll have to pay on the eve of the unofficial new millennium? And what will they be New Year's Eve 2000, which, the ticket-sellers will then tell us, is truly the end of the current millennium? The mind boggles.

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