STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: The 1998-99 Season from A to Z

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: The 1998-99 Season from A to Z And so, as of 10:59 p.m. EST on June 6, when the Best Musical Tony went to Fosse, the 1998-99 season was officially over. Our annual report from A to Z:

And so, as of 10:59 p.m. EST on June 6, when the Best Musical Tony went to Fosse, the 1998-99 season was officially over. Our annual report from A to Z:

A is for Peter Ackerman, whom you're going to see on these lists and many others for years to come. Ackerman is the under-30 author of Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, which didn't get good reviews. But I have never seen a group of twentysomethings have a better time at the theatre. Ackerman is definitely a writer, and his tale of yuppie love and sex is going to be a stock and amateur staple for years to come. Any young theatregoer, though, should see it now.

B is for Matthew Bourne, who may very well have expected to nab the Best Choreography Prize, but Best Director of a Musical, too? In the Tony press room afterwards, Bourne insisted he wasn't angry that Swan Lake wasn't allowed to compete as Best Musical, which makes him more understanding than I. After all, Birth of a Nation is a film, albeit a silent one -- so Swan Lake is a musical, too, but a silent one.

C is for Corpus Christi, the controversial, headline grabbing, picket-creating play that was housed in the same complex that would later sport a play whose title would correctly comment on the work: Much Ado about Nothing. Hope you saw the latter, in a smart revival by Richard Monette, who cleverly thought of making Benedict and Beatrice much more mature, and therefore more intractable.

D is for Dennehy for dazzling us in a definitive Death of a Salesman. And yet, I heard plenty of theatergoers mention Elizabeth Franz first when discussing the production. E is for Electra. Actually mourning becomes Electra, for in many other years, it would have snared Best Revival, Best Actress for Zoe Wanamaker, and Best Supporting Actress for Claire Bloom. Ah, timing is everything, and this timeout, the many-centuries-old tragedy has to settle for simply stunning us in David Leveaux's magnificent production.

F is for Fosse, good enough to win the big prize, but a disappointment to many. "Where's 'Magic to Do' from Pippin?" they snarled. "Where's 'Rich Kids' Rag' from Little Me? Where's 'Coffee Break' from How to Succeed?" Maybe the "flaw" was that Bob Fosse did too many memorable production numbers for one show. Fosse 2, anyone?

G is for The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm, a musical in which one young male and one young female singer dressed in electrically bright contemporary clothes, sang "You say 'to-may-to, and I say 'to-mah-to.'" Oh, yeah? Who in 1999 says "tom-mah-to"? Just one lack of attention to detail (there were others) that sank the show.

H is for Hoty, as in Dee -- the actress who goes down in history as Tony's Best Actress in a Musical Nominee with the Least Time On-Stage. Here's betting that the nominators were really awarding the Footloose femme for her fabulous turn as Phyllis in Follies at the Paper Mill Playhouse last season. If there were any justice, it would have been seen on Broadway this season, where, incidentally, it and Hoty would have dominated the musical categories.

I is for The Iceman Cometh, which to me felt ten minutes long in Howard Davies' production. It's the same feeling I had many seasons back when the supposedly lengthy Strange Interlude came to our shores. When O'Neill is good, those minutes fly by. (And thank you, Mr. Spacey, for taking minimum wage so that the play could live, breathe, and be such a hot ticket.)

J is for Judi, if I may be permitted to call her such. Of all the Tony winners who came back to greet us critics and reporters in the press room, Dame Dench was the most gracious, the one in the least hurry to get away from us to celebrate. She also came up with the Best Line of the Night, when asked if there were any awards she hasn't won. "Yes," she said with a let's-not-make-too-much-of-me smirk, "the Crufts Dog Show in England."

K is for Nicole Kidman, who almost made it to the finish line of her limited engagement of The Blue Room. Weren't we all much more impressed with her stirring performance than with her 14 seconds of nudity 14 feet away from the lip of the stage in 14 watts of light?

L is for Lucille Lortel, the producer of more than 500 productions in the last half-century, whom we lost on April 4 -- the day before she would have presided over the selection of her Lucille Lortel Awards. They will go on, as will her spirit and legacy.

M is for More to Love, the most important comedy of the season, and, no, I'm not kidding. Sure, it was a terrible piece of stagecraft, but the night I saw Rob Bartlett rummaging through his attic, I also saw a houseful of people I'd never before seen at the theater: Bartlett fans from his "Imus in the Morning" stints. Many were undoubtedly first-time theatergoers who laughed all night long. If they had such a good time at this, maybe they'll return for another. And another and another. And what's more important than an audience-developing play?

N is for the new play at La Mama called No Fats, No Fems. Gee, I guess that means that I can't go.

O is for Over the River and Through the Woods, Joe DiPietro's marvelously old-fashioned play replete with decent sentiment. The tale of a New Jersey grandson who is taking that big job in Seattle -- and leaving his bereft grandparents behind -- scored because it showed everyone's point of view, fair and square, and made you sympathize with everyone. I'm so glad it's run the season and thrilled that old favorite Kaye Ballard joined the cast.

P is for Parade, and (Hal) Prince, who made it yet another of his staging coups. P is also for Pity, which we have for those who didn't appreciate it, or for those who didn't make it to the Beaumont. P is also for the Powerful CD that will forever show them what they missed.

Q is for Queen of Hearts, the musical about Diana, Princess of Wales, that played in two engagements -- one of which the authors approved, and one of which they didn't. Either way, it was easily the worst musical of the season.

R is for the Roundabout. Not just for its good work in dramatically (The Lion in Winter), comedically (The Mineola Twins), and musically (Little Me), but also for taking over the Gramercy Theatre on 23rd Street. Any time we can get a movie house to become a playhouse is a great victory indeed. Meanwhile, a fond goodbye to its Broadway between-45th-and-46th-Street digs, where we have many fine memories of two lovely theaters and uptown's most commodious lobby.

S is for Side Man (speaking of the Roundabout), a play that seemed to be on its side ready to die all season long -- but hung in there, and is now beside itself with glee with its Best Play Tony. And who would have thought a tape recording coming softly from the stage could be regarded as one of the Best Musical Numbers of the season?

T is for Triple Crown, which may not have gone to Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic after the Belmont, but does go to David Hare, for having three plays -- Amy's View, The Blue Room, and Via Dolorosa -- open in one season. No, give Hare a quadruple crown, given that he starred in one of them.

U is for Understudy Mike Finesilver in The Mystery of Irma Vep. The night I attended, the press agent told me he might go on for Stephen DeRosa, but when I arrived at the Westside, I didn't see any sign up. And because I'd arrived so close to curtain, I didn't even check my Playbill for the inserted slip. So, as the first act progressed, as I watched this wonder change from costume to costume to character to character, I assumed I just had to be seeing DeRosa. Not until intermission did I notice the tiny sign to the extreme left of the theater saying I wasn't. Finesilver, you were fine and golden.

V is for The Vicar's Wife, the Best Musical of the Season that nobody saw -- proving that we've all got to spend more time off-off Broadway. Not only that, Todd Alan Crain was the Best Musical Actor of the Season, as a young man whose mother, grandmother, and great grandmother had each married a vicar's wife --which was precisely his ambition, too. Crain told his tale with three nifty back-up girl singers, and, through Dave Mowers' charming book, Mischa Kischkum's equally charming score, and Robert Jay Cronin's sure-handed direction choreography, it made for an extraordinary show. Let's see more of this one.

W is for Wit, perhaps the Best Play to Never Win a Tony -- with Kathleen Chalfant the Best Actress to Never Win a Tony. Not that the rules should have been broken to allow the off-Broadway hit to compete, but Broadway's theater owners should have been more accommodating -- and more confident -- when encountering a work of art. Margaret Edson proved that those who teach (she runs a kindergarten class), can. And while we're on Wit: How about a nice hand for Howard Witt, who made Charlie in Death of a Salesman not just liked, but well-liked? When has an actor in this small part ever received as much recognition?

BX is for -- you don't think I have one, do you? Well, who designed those smart sets for The Moment of AHA and Killer Joe? George Xenos, that's who.

Y is for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the only musical revival I've ever seen that was better than the original. Hey, did the 1967 production have Kristen Chenoweth and Roget Bart? But more importantly, the producers could have put the original physical production up there, with just a few blocks and a lit cyclorama, and none of us would have been surprised or complained. But to have David Gallo replicate Charles Schultz's Sunday comic strips and holiday TV specials in living Crayola colors was money beautifully spent.

Z is for Ziemba and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. When these two Z's got together in "My Red-Letter Day" and "Sentimental Weather," no one in the house thought of catching a few Z's. They were wide-awake and enthralled with the ones in front of them.

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