Charlotte Rae(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Charlotte Rae
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
If experience is the best teacher, then the cast of the Encores! production of Kander & Ebb's 70, Girls, 70 has indeed been carefully taught. The 22 performers that Kathleen Marshall has assembled for this week's performances have been in 152 Broadway shows. Several members of the cast, such as Charlotte Rae and George S. Irving, were in shows that closed out of town, so that total would be higher if the producers of those shows had decided to brave Broadway.

Irving was the first of the bunch to make his Broadway debut -- on March 31, 1943 in the original cast of no less than Oklahoma! How much of a veteran is Irving? When he was born in 1922, Broadway's long run champ was Lightnin' at 1,291 performances. (It's now in 64th place.) Carleton Carpenter, who'll always be known as the man who sang "Aba-Daba-Honeymoon" with Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks with Love, isn't far behind Irving, for he made his Broadway debut less than a year later in a play called Bright Boy.

I wondered if the cast had had enough experience that, going through their credits, I could find Broadway show titles beginning with all the different letters of the alphabet, without having to repeat anyone's name even once. Well, the answer just had to be "no," given that there are only 22 in the cast -- four shy of the requisite 26. What's more, Lalan Parrott and Diane J. Findlay have yet to make their Broadway debuts. And it's always hard to do this exercise because so few shows begin with "E," "Q," "X," and "Z." But, aside from those four, it actually can be done with the 70, Girls, 70 group. So here we go:

Ain't Broadway Grand (Ginger Prince); Brooklyn Revue, a show that has played Brooklyn (Lalan Parrott); Crazy for You (Ronn Carroll); Dr. Fish (Charlotte Rae); 42nd Street (Carole Cook); Got Tu Go Disco (Patti Karr); Honky Tonk Nights (Ira Hawkins); Irene (Bob Freschi); John Murray Anderson's Almanac (Carleton Carpenter); Kelly (Anita Gillette); Lysistrata (Mary Jo Catlett); Mack & Mabel (Bob Fitch); New Girl in Town (Harvey Evans); 110 in the Shade (Joan Marshall, as Joan Fagan); The Pirates of Penzance (George S. Irving); Ragtime (Tina Fabrique); Social Security (Olympia Dukakis); They All Laughed, a Goodspeed show (Diane J. Findlay); The Unknown Soldier and his Wife (Bob Dishy); Woman of the Year (Gerry Vichi); The Visit (Merwin Goldsmith); and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Mark Price).

By the way, when I told my buddy Ken Bloom that I was doing this, he quipped, "Well, did anyone in this cast appear in From A to Z?" -- citing the 1960 Broadway musical revue. He was astonished when I said, "Yes, indeed; Bob Dishy." So we'll let Dishy carry the weight of the four missing letters.

From Irving's debut in 1943 through Mark Price's opening in All Shook Up last year, 62 years passed. How many of those years saw at least one of the 22 cast members open (not replace in, but open) a great, big Broadway show? An astonishing 50, making for an .806 percentage that would be envied by most sports teams. Pick a year, any year. 1959? Harvey Evans, then Harvey Hohnecker, opened in Redhead. 1969? Anita Gillette starred in Jimmy. 1979? Carole Cook appeared in Romantic Comedy.

You get the point: The cast of this 70, Girls, 70 has worked for many more than 700 Sundays.In the "it's not where you start, it's where you finish" department, George S. Irving played "The Doorman" in The Good Soup; Bob Fitch, "The Drunk" in Tenderloin; Carleton Carpenter, "Slug" in Three to Make Ready; Ronn Carroll, "Cigar" in Gypsy; and Patti Karr, "The Indian Delegate's Press Representative" in Come on Strong. Several of the company members have had one-night flops: Oympia Dukakis in Abraham Cochrane, 1964; Anita Gillette in Kelly, 1965; Patti Karr in A Broadway Musical, 1979; and both Mary Jo Catlett and Ronn Carroll in Play Me a Country Song, 1982. Bob Dishy didn't even get an opening night for A Way of Life, a 1969 Murray Schisgal play that closed in previews. The year before, Merwin Goldmith had the same experience with Leda Had a Little Swan.

70, Girls, 70 is a show about golden agers who stumble into shoplifting and then find themselves stealing more and more costly items. The original 1971 Broadway production ran only 35 performances, but the 1991 London production ran longer: 36 performances. Yes, the show has an imperfect book that Joe Masteroff started and abandoned, causing Fred Ebb and Norman L. Martin to take over. Originally, there was a play-within-a-play feel that allowed for such songs as "Broadway, My Sweet" and one that has since become popular outside of the show: "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup." (Never mind that the dance music in this number sounds amazingly like "The Washington Square Dance" from Call Me Madam.)

Actually, I'm of two minds as to whether Marshall should put the Broadway or London versions of 70, Girls, 70 on stage. The Broadway cast album does have "You and I, Love," a nice look at '70s television as viewed by old-timers who have little left in their lives except TV; and "The Elephant Song," which is, as heroine Ida tells us quite frankly, a song about death. But the recording also has "The Caper," a number that goes on forever, while the London cast album wisely truncates it to serve as little more than a verse to the fetching song "Well-Laid Plans." More importantly, "I Can't Do That Anymore," which Kander and Ebb originally wrote for a TV special, is a second-act specialty that's absolutely charming. But both the Broadway and London albums have "Yes," a song about grabbing the opportunities we have in our lives. It's my all-time favorite song; I hope to see you at Encores! and that it'll become your all-time favorite, too.

********************

[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]