STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Where There's a Will...

Special Features   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Where There's a Will...
William Shakespeare -- did you enjoy that movie montage that the Oscars did for you? What a nice way to remind us of all you've done for us, just in time for the month of your birth.

William Shakespeare -- did you enjoy that movie montage that the Oscars did for you? What a nice way to remind us of all you've done for us, just in time for the month of your birth.

For on or around the 23rd of April, we'll celebrate your 433rd birthday. And we'd like you to know that we're still grateful for all you've done for us.

Thanks for all the expressions you've given the world. Dead as a door-nail. Devil incarnate. Fast and loose. Foregone conclusion. Good riddance. In a pickle. It's Greek to me. Long and short of it. Refuse to budge an inch. Seen better days. Stood on ceremony. Too much of a good thing. Truth will out. Vanished in thin air. Without rhyme or reason. Your own flesh and blood. And that is, needless to say, a partial list.

The bottom line is that you're the most quoted author in the Oxford English Dictionary, with 33,303 references. (Your countryman Sir Walter Scott is in second place, but he barely has more than half as many: 16,659.)

If it weren't for you, the British hit musical Salad Days would have had to settle for another name. That's true of those movies Foul Play and High Time. Ditto such plays as All Honorable Men, Bot/h Your Houses, Fortune and Men's Eyes. What would Tennessee Williams have had his "Gentleman Caller" Jim call Tom instead of "Shakespeare," had you not left Stratford and headed for London for a theatrical career? And, of course, William Gibson could have never written his 1968 play, A Cry of Players, about this young guy named William Shakespeare who wants to go to London and pursue a theatrical career.

We're glad you did. Sure, very few musical theater fans are thankful for Catch My Soul, Rockabye Hamlet or Oh, Brother! (Well, the stranger ones are.) But they do thank their lucky stars for The Boys from Syracuse, Kiss Me, Kate, and West Side Story - where you were denied author's credit. You must've been furious, good businessman that you were.

Hey, maybe that's why West Side Story didn't run all that long, considering how great it is. Had the producers plastered the ads with "From the classic play by William Shakespeare," the musical might have run longer.

One thing's for sure. William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet sure brought them in this year. And congratulations for your piece of the Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. We rooted for you to win.

We're all happy, too, that your agent was good enough to get you billing over the title. If we can have Sidney Sheldon's Bloodline and Sidney Sheldon's The Sands of Time and Sidney Sheldon's Rage of Angels, and even Neil Simon's Only When I Laugh (yes, that was the official title), we can have William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. Romeo and Juliet, after all, have become idiomatic for lovers. How many idioms did we get from those other movies?

How many times have you been parodied? "Friends, Romans, countrymen, check out your gears" is a billboard on the New Jersey Turnpike. Dave Barry's "complete guide for the confused and inept homeowner" is entitled The Taming of the Screw. Vincent Price and Peter Lorre's The Comedy of Terrors. Alas, Price is neither an Antipholus nor Lorre a Dromio, which I bet even you would have found interesting. But the description on the back of video box lets us know what they were reaching for: "The Hinchley and Trumbull Funeral Parlor is on the verge of financial ruin. . ."

Oh, well. Assuage yourself by the many times you've been homaged. In all those languages, and on Second Avenue, yet. Even the town of Arden, Delaware was so named because its founder, Frank Stevens, was a big fan of yours. And without you, Jonathan Winters' wouldn't have been able to title his autobiography The Winters' Tale, and Ronald Colman wouldn't have won an Oscar for adopting Othello's personality in A Double Life. It kinda makes you wonder if Casio Electronics got its name from your character in Othello.

Ogden Nash thanks you for coining, "Speak low, when you speak love" for Much Ado. Jerry Herman is grateful for "You try to be Peg O' My Heart when you're Lady Macbeth." Cole Porter blesses you for "Brush up your Shakespeare"i one of the best 11 o'clock numbers. Ragni and Rado wouldn't have observed "What a piece of work is man." And Carolyn Leigh of course couldn't have written a song for How Now, Dow Jones titled "Shakespeare Lied." ("Shakespeare lied when Juliet died. Romeo didn't get up and commit another suicide ... He got over it!")

Lerner couldn't have had Henry Higgins mention that he had "the milk of human kindness" by the quart in every vein. That's from Macbeth, which also showed up in Hallelujah, Baby!, Styne, Comden and Green included a rehearsal for a WPA production of your Macbeth. (The song, "Witches Brew," began with "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble" to the tune of the "Call Me Savage" melody that the authors used fewer than two years earlier in Fade Out--Fade In -- which had nothing to do with you. (And failed.)

Macbeth begat Ubu Roi, not to mention Macbird, set in the Kennedy years. Remember? John Ken O'Dunc and his brothers Robert and Ted Ken O'Dunc were pitted against Macbird and Lady Macbird. (Recall Robert Brustein adored it? He gave you much better notices than he ever gave Brecht.)

Only fair. Brecht "borrowed" from you in Arturo Ui, where he had a grocer learning to be a dictator by studying Richard III. -- the play from which Alistair MacLean got the title "Where Eagles Dare," for his novel and 1969 movie.

But, of course, Hamlet is the champeen. The Hamlet Syndrome, by Adrienne Miller and Andrew Goldblatt -- tells of "overachievers who underachieved," while Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia is about "Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls." We had Michael (Bye Bye Birdie) Stewart's play (yes, play) Those That Play the Clowns that told of this group of actors who dropped by Elsinore to see if anyone wanted them to put on an evening's entertainment. Outrageous Fortune was a 1943-44 Best Play, Perchance to Dream a 1948 London musical. To Be or Not to Be has been filmed twice. 2BR02B as a sci-fi book title in a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

So what conclusion can we reach but all's well that ends well. We'll keep remembering you, on April 23, now and really forever.

Peter Filichia is the New Jersey theater critic for the Star Ledger

You can e-mail him at

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