STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Three Parades

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Three Parades There's a Parade in town, at the Vivian Beaumont. But before it arrived this month, two other Parades had paraded through the New York musical theatre scene.

There's a Parade in town, at the Vivian Beaumont. But before it arrived this month, two other Parades had paraded through the New York musical theatre scene.

The first Parade opened May 20, 1935 at the Guild Theater (now the Virginia). If some people find the current Parade a little too dark and depressing for a musical, what would they have thought of this show?

For, as Gerald Bordman reports in his American Musical Theatre, "Parade was a blatantly leftist tract that featured Jimmy Savo. Its much-discussed opening had the police ignoring radio reports of violent crimes, but rushing to break up a parade of poor people. It saw fascists in every government seat, and villains in every executive office."

"Aside from Savo," reminisced Brooks Atkinson in his Broadway book, "nothing else entertained anybody." Parade attacked with derision instead of humor; its barbs were like bayonets," said Ethan Mordden in his Better Foot Forward. "Far from exceptional," euphemized Burns Mantle in his Best Plays yearbook. "The most unrelenting far-left point of view of any commercial musical up to that time," said Stanley Green in Ring Bells! Sing Songs! "Well-dressed first-nighters could be seen huffily leaving the theater during the performance." (Something, I must confess, I heard happened at many previews of 1998's Parade.)

The then-prestigious Theatre Guild produced -- but only after The Theatre Union, a radical group, bailed out. The Guild owed its subscribers a sixth show, and there was Parade for the taking. So they took. They took out ads, too, saying, "Employees -- see the Theatre Guild's newest production: Parade, a social revue." Under this was a cartoon of Savo and his confederates setting sail for the Isle of Capri "to hold a marathon speech-making spree."

Two lyricists collaborated on the sketches with six other writers. Jerome Moross, who'd give us the heavenly The Golden Apple two decades later, provided melodies for 12 of the 15 songs. One other, "Send for the Militia," was written by Marc Blitzstein, who fit the show's political sensibilities. A little more than two years later, he'd debut his own leftist masterpiece, The Cradle Will Rock.

Savo, who played notorious Louisiana Governor Huey Long, became better known through his next musical, The Boys from Syracuse, in which he originated one of the Dromios. His autobiography, Little World, Hello, was made into a 1966 musical. Didn't see it? Well, it never made it to Broadway -- or even out-of-town -- but closed just a few days before rehearsals were to begin.

A sample lyric from the title song helps to explain why: "Little world, hello, hello, hello, little world / Say hello and shake my hand, my friend / Though it may be raining cats and dogs / I nearly steeped into a poodle / Say, it's a bee-yoo-diful day! / Let's pretend it's raining rainbows."

Cast as Savo was no less than Pinky Lee, the '50s kiddie host and Pee Wee Herman precursor. (But Little World, Hello is another column, another night ...)

Parade shuttered after 40 performances. Philip Loeb, better known as an actor who would have his blacklist difficulties, directed. Robert Alton, who went on a quartet of Rogers and Hart and Cole Porter shows, choreographed. Also in the cast: Eve ("Our Miss Brooks" on TV; Dolly Levi on tour; the original lead of Moose Murders on Broadway) Arden, and Leon Janney, who 30 years later would endure both Kelly and Pleasures and Palaces in a four-month span.

In 1958, while Jerry Herman's Nightcap was enjoying a year's run in a village club known as the Showplace, the composer-lyricist was asked to expand the show for a theatrical run. He did, and on Jan. 2, 1960 at the Players, the newly-title Parade opened.

Even by the mid-'60s, the Kapp cast album was extraordinarily hard to find. The label has since been swallowed by MCA, the most recalcitrant label in reissuing its cast album catalogue on CD.

Perhaps Herman himself prefers that it not be re-released. In his recent autobiography, he gives the 95-performance flop only 10 paragraphs. But he does take pride in one thing: After the show that he wrote and directed was called "sophomoric" by the Times, he rallied the troops and became the father figure of the show.

On the other hand, he may want to keep quiet that he later recycled two of Parade's tunes. The overture contains a bit of the melody we know as "I Want to Make the World Laugh" from Mack & Mabel. Though we don't hear it as a song, it may have been one, for the album doesn't include seven songs that were in the show.

The beans were spilled a few years back that the opening, "Show Tune," is the basis of "It's Today" in Mame, when MCA released its Front Row Center box set. "There's no tune like a show tune," Herman stated -- most accurately, don't you think? To this, a counterpoint lyric mentioned more famous songs: "Of Thee I Sing," "Lucky Day," "Hallelujah!" "Love Is Sweeping the Country," "Swanee," "I Feel a Song Comin' on," "Sunny," "Another Op'nin, Another Show," "Ridin' High," "From This Moment On," "Toot-Toot-Tootsie," "Strike up the Band," "Rio Rita," "Luck Be a Lady," and "I Got Rhythm." (Only one problem: "I Feel a Song Comin' On" isn't from a show, but from a 1935 movie, "Every Night at Eight." On the other hand, I guess a movie is a show, too.)

The song was sung, as you'd expect, by the entire company of five: Dody Goodman, known from her frequent appearances on the Jack Paar's late night NBC-show; Charles Nelson Reilly, who's still working in the business today, and Lester James, Fia Karin, and Richard Tone (who choreographed, too), who, I presume, are not.

In "Save the Village," Goodman went to bat for a ladies' house of detention that is threatened with demolition. "Your Hand in Mine" had James and Karin sing in one of those a-revue-should-have-a-ballad-here moments. As the title suggests, the song is of no particular interest, but, as Herman has said to me on more than one occasion, "I could never write a classy ballad until I wrote 'If He Walked in to My Life.'"

"Confession to a Park Avenue Mother" had Reilly proclaim that "I'm in love with a West Side girl." Herman gently mocked himself when he wrote, "That Murray Hill's not her home's a pity / Would that it were even Jersey City" -- for that's where he was born.

"Two a Day" had Tone affectionately remember the days of vaudeville, and insist they'll return. "Just Plain Folks" explained why Nelson Rockefeller didn't seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1960. Another ballad followed: "The Antique Man," in which James, while perusing old hula hoops and Mah-Jongg sets, decided we should "Wake up and live each today today, for today is tomorrow's antique."

"The Next Time I Love" was a tango in which Karin swore she'd be smarter in her ensuing relationship. "Your Good Morning" was a charm song in which a couple told how nice they feel when they awaken and are next to each other. "Maria in Spats" was a then-topical piece about Ms. Callas and her difficulties with the Met management. "Another Candle" had Karin rue that she was a year older, and still didn't have a man.

"A Jolly Theatrical Season" was a mini-Forbidden Broadway, in which current and recent hits -- The Tenth Man, The World of Suzie Wong, Rashomon, The Gang's All Here, The Miracle Worker, J.B., The Andersonville Trial, Juno, and Fiorello! -- were skewered in a quick line or two. (Robert Morse and Charles Nelson Reilly, during their How to Succeed heyday, chose this as the title song for an album of show songs they recorded for Capitol. ) A "parade" of reprises made the Finale.

I didn't see either Parade, but I sure saw the 1998 one in which Leo Frank is accused of murdering 14-year-old Mary Phagan -- and I admired it quite a bit. Hal Prince's direction is as exciting and confident as it was in the days of yore. Alfred Uhry's book tells the story economically, with style and quiet emotion, capturing the hysteria that overtook a town in a way that mirrored The Crucible. Brent Carver, who was just about to become the object of a "Whatever Happened to ..." question, makes a marvelous return as Leo. Carolee Carmello is excellent as his wife, as is Evan Pappas as the reporter, and newcomer Kirk McDonald, whom I've admired from his Paper Mill stints, as Mary's young suitor.

Jason Robert Brown's work? I'd vote it as Most Promising Score rather than Best Score. But when you look at Jerry Herman's Parade (or Bock and Harnick's The Body Beautiful, or Kander and Ebb's Flora, the Red Menace), it stacks up well. His song ideas are good, too, especially "All the Wasted Time," which Leo and Lucille sing after he's been imprisoned for two years. It does not, smartly enough, concern itself with the jail time. There's a Parade in town -- and you must see it.

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