STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Staying In Love with the Classics

News   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Staying In Love with the Classics A musical theater enthusiast disappointed me last week.

A musical theater enthusiast disappointed me last week.

We'd been e-mailing for some time, and he wanted to get together, so I agreed. And not long after the 27-year-old and I sat down to dinner, I asked him the question I always ask the stagestruck: "So what made you fall in love with musical theater?"

He gave a shy smile. "When I was five, my parents took me to see Annie."

"And you thought it was the best thing you ever saw," I said, savoring his experience.

I was sincere, but he thought I was mocking him. "Yes," he said, as if admitting to a crime. "Yes, I loved it." I knew what was coming. "When did you stop?"

He didn't have to think long about that. "Well, when I found everybody liked it."

Funny thing about us stagestruck, isn't it? We love to carry the banner of a new show when we see it -- especially when we're among the first to be there. But just let the title become a household name to the general public -- people for whom musical theater is not their first language -- and we don't want to know it anymore.

Jacques in As You Like It talks about the seven ages of man. I suspect that many of the stagestruck go through seven ages with a classic musical:
1) "I gotta see that show that's coming! I'm going to be on the phone the moment tickets go on sale, or be on line super-early in the morning that the box-office opens!"
2) "I got my tickets for it, and I can't wait!"
3) "I loved it!"
4) "I loved it again!"
5) "I don't like the new cast."
6) "Yeah, that was a good show. Once."
7) "Oh, God! That show?" (often accompanied by a gagging sound, and the unfortunate gesture of sticking one's finger in one's mouth).

I'm sorry about that. I'm a firm believer that if you love a show at first sight -- and for a while after that -- then you should love it now and forever.

Keep in mind that the classic that now makes you yawn once made you salivate. Have you forgotten how you once lusted for the cast album? How you used to go to your record store each and every day, or at least made a phone call to it, to see if the cherished and coveted album was in yet? Oh, it isn't in today? Ohhh! Well, tomorrow, you're only a day away.

And then, finally, came the magical day when you got to the store, or were told on the phone, "Yeah, it's here." Finally! Life is happiness indeed!

You went to get it, and couldn't wait to get it home -- but you still had to get there. If you took public transportation, while you were waiting for the bus or train, you ripped off the shrink-wrap and savored the pictures, the liner notes, and the list of songs.

If you drove yourself home, you hoped for red lights so you could get the extra time to read and gawk. If you'd already seen the show, you checked out which songs made the album and which didn't. Had any been added? Dropped?

Then you arrived home, and played it. And again. And again and again and again. For weeks at a time. Until the next cast album came out that you had to have. Then it was a case of "The disc is dead; long live the disc." And now, when you're in a record store and are flipping through discs, you pass by this classic with split-second finger-flipping speed.

My feelings for Annie haven't changed since I saw the show on that Sunday afternoon, October 3, 1976 at Goodspeed, when it was a new musical hoping and praying it could get past East Haddam, Connecticut. "Little Girls" wasn't yet in it, nor was Dorothy Loudon, but it was still very good. Once the show was announced for Broadway, I purposely bought tickets for April 22, 1977, which would be the second official performance. I knew that the show would open to raves, so I wanted to be there when the cast just couldn't wait to do it.

I was living in Boston at the time and had told a good friend that he, too, should get tickets before they became impossible to secure, and to travel to New York as soon as he possibly could. He did, and adored the show.

For the next few weeks, we both craved the album, and when it was finally in, we got in his car and speeded to the store to get it -- expressing surprise that it had a red cover instead of the show's black background logo. We bought it, speeded back even faster to his place to listen. As he drove, I read the notes aloud.

Once there, we savored the first side, and, early into the second, feared it was defective when we got to the odd fade-out in "You're Never Fully Dressed without a Smile." We rallied when we saw what the engineers had in mind. We loved it through its conclusion, and of course played it again right away, and again after that.

Flash forward to four years later when he said, "I don't like Annie anymore. I wish it the damn thing would close."

How many times since I've heard such sentiment about the long-runners. "Oh, God, get 'em out of there! Everybody's seen 'em!"

No. Not everyone. If "everyone" had, then they wouldn't still be grossing hundreds of thousands a week, would they?

What you really mean is, you've already seen 'em, and you want to see something else. I understand. Like many others, I haven't been in the Winter Garden in more than a decade.

But such an attitude is selfish. Tonight, some young kids went to see Cats and can't believe the wonders they saw. They'll beg their parents to get them the album and the video, and they're going to play it for ages.

If you didn't like a classic when you first saw it, fine. No hard feelings. You're entitled. But if you liked it then, nay, loved it then, I hope you'll always love it. The Beach Boys had a '60s hit with a song that went, "Be true to your school, just like you would to your girl." I say, "Be true to your show, just like you would to your partner." Or view it as I'm sure Zorba would -- "But each time, for the first time."

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