STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: How I Learned to Clean

News   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: How I Learned to Clean
Everybody ought to have a maid -- but I don't. I do my own cleaning. And I do do windows. Well, okay, I don't. But if they had to be done, I'd have to be the one to do them.

Everybody ought to have a maid -- but I don't. I do my own cleaning. And I do do windows. Well, okay, I don't. But if they had to be done, I'd have to be the one to do them.

There is one saving grace to cleaning up: It gives me a chance to listen to cast albums. Inevitably, I wind up noting a few new things.

For example, I put on Fiorello, and by the time I finish rounding up all my old newspapers for the recycling bin, I'm at the finale. There I discover that those quiet violin notes that form the opening strains are actually the melody of "Where Do I Go from Here?" a song that Patricia Wilson (Marie) sung out of town, but one director George Abbott felt slowed the action. Bock and Harnick then wrote the charming "Marie's Law," which also scored because it brought in the fondly remembered Nathaniel Frey.

As I start on the magazines -- piling Time after Time -- I realize that I first heard "Where Do I Go from Here?" on a Robert Goulet recording in the '60s, then from a Peggy Lee single in the '70s. Not until 1994, though, did it make any kind of impression, when I heard Liz Callaway do it on Lost in Boston. Had she been in Fiorello, I decide, Abbott might not have demanded a new song.

All subsequent productions of Fiorello should have Morris and Marie do "Marie's Law" -- but then he should leave, and she should stay and wistfully sing "Where Do I Go from Here?" Then she can turn out the office lights and poignantly leave. That's Peter's Law. Oh-oh -- where's the string with which to tie all these magazines? Before I start to look for it, Fiorello's done -- so I put on No Strings. How sad -- I can't find the string, so I decide to deal with the dishes. By "La, La, La," I'm working in time with the music. Clean off the dishes. (La-La-La). Wash all the dishes (La-La-La). Dry all the dishes (La La-La). Hardly the glamorous life.

No, cleaning house isn't much of a party, but A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green makes it more of one. I choose the 1977 version, and chuckle again at those wonderful lines in "Catch Our Act at the Met," where they comment on the early 1950's tendency of the Metropolitan Opera House to jazz up its productions:

"Say, Italian opera, French, and Dutch / Now have that added Broadway touch / And look at what a smash they made of Fledermaus ! Variety says: "'Maus packs house!"

But here's the irony: Right now, Comden and Green are working (every day, I'm told) on their own adaptation of Die Fledermaus. Let's hope that their 'Maus packs house, too.

Hey, I need a break! I decide to see look for a couple of titles on all those wonderful used book services on the Internet. A friend needs "But He Doesn't Know the Territory," Meredith Willson's memoir of The Making of The Music Man. So I just type in "Meredith Willson," and see what that yields. Alas, the coveted book isn't available, but The Unsinkable Molly Brown shows up -- with two italicized words added: Titanic related. (Well, this is the era of merchandising.)

That's enough, though, to get me to play Molly Brown while I scrub the kitchen floor. When I hear poor Mol' crave a red silk dress "when there's girl enough of me to wear one," I suddenly realize why. The red dress is the most important costume in the history of musical theater, isn't it? Dolly came down the staircase in one, and so did Annie, each to waves of applause. Don't forget Phyllis in Follies, or Desiree in Night Music. And though Cassie's dress in Chorus Line isn't the same shade of red, it's close enough to stress that the red dress is musical theatre's M.V.C.

Lord, floor-cleaning is hard! Let's go back to the used book services. Just yesterday I heard that Love Life, the Alan Jay Lerner-Kurt Weill musical, was once published. I put in "Lerner" under "Author" and Love Life under "Title," and -- wow! -- look at that! Twelve books available. Alas, all of them are Harriet Lerner's Staying Afloat in Love and Life.

Okay, enough! Back to work! I gather up my laundry. I decide I'll take it downstairs between "If I Knew" and "Leadville Johnny Brown Soliloquy." I'd rather be dealing with a washing machine than hearing them.

As it turns out, the entire disc is over by the time I'm back in my place. Okay, while I tackle the bathroom tile, let's hear Gypsy. Which one? The original, in retaliation for the horrendous slight that Hollywood Squares made last month against one of our greatest musical theatre performers. The question was "Angela Lansbury did it, then Tyne Daly, then Bette Midler. What's the show?" Good Lord, did the writers fear that no one would know or remember the name Ethel Merman, who did nothing but originate the part?

Two other thoughts while I'm listening (and scrubbing): Don't you think that at the next Easter Bonnet Competition that there should be a character called Gypsy Robe Lee? And wouldn't you just once -- and only once, mind you -- see a production where Louise turns into Gypsy Rose Lee during the Wichita-Detroit-Philadelphia-New York montage -- but instead, a chorus comes out and accomplishes the same thing by singing, "Here a Lee, there a Lee, everywhere a Lee, a Lee?"

Okay, let's scrub the tub, and put on Miss Saigon, which I think about a good deal, because it's the closest Broadway show to where I live. Not for long, though, I'm happy to say. Once Cabaret is happily ensconced at Studio 54, Broadway will spread from 41st Street to 54th Street -- the largest legit expanse in my lifetime. We're gaining!

But as I'm playing Miss Saigon (and finishing the tub), I do wonder about the two pieces of information blaring from its marquee. One says "8th Year," while the other uses an unidentified critic's quote, "This show is already a legend." That latter one made sense once upon a time, but, gee, if a show's played more performances than My Fair Lady, hasn't the "already" part gone by the wayside? Whether we like it (some do) or not (some don't), Miss Saigon is now and forever a legend, and never mind the alreadys.

With the tub scrubbed, I decide to stay in the shower and take a much needed one. I've got to get downtown -- not only to get some string, but also to see Snapshots '98, Jeff Cohen's production of six one acters.

Cohen's off-off-Broadway sensibilities have always intrigued me. Remember The Cardinal Detoxes he mounted eight years ago at the RAPP Arts Center? That's the one in which an intoxicated eminence plows into a car, kills a young mother and the five kids she'd picked up from school -- and says that if he isn't let off, he's going to blow the whistle on what's really going on in the parish.

As it turns out, this production at his new Worth Street Theatre (at 111 Reade St.) is just as potent. But it's the post-intermission opener, Imagining Brad, that I suspect will be the most fascinating script you see this year. That's all I'm saying. Except that the theatre is neat. Much neater than my apartment.

Peter Filichia is the New Jersey drama critic for the Star-Ledger.

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