Couldn't wait to see John Flynn's new cabaret show, given that I adored the last one so much. In fact, I called it "The best damn cabaret I've seen in years," an allusion to Walter Kerr's famous 1959 review of Gypsy, which he called "The best damn musical I've seen in years."
And Gypsy is hardly beside the point in Flynn's new act, Dances with Pitchforks: Confessions of a Farmboy. In 1998, Flynn was cast as Farmboy #5 in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Gypsy starring no less than Betty Buckley as Mama Rose and former pop icon Debbie Gibson (now Deborah Gibson) as Louise. Well, with two stars like that on hand, there was bound to be a peck of fireworks; and John was, if not a camera, an e-mailer who dutifully told his friends all that was going on with Betty and her dogs and her parrot, not to mention Deborah and her sheep and her little lamb.
I can assure you that the stories he told were hilarious, for I saw the e-mails. Not that John sent them to me; but, once he started detailing the fits and fights and feuds and plenty of egos in this Gypsy, his amigos saw fit to send them to other friends. Who sent them to other friends. Who sent them to other friends. And one of my friends from Milwaukee sent them to me.
I figured out right away that this John Flynn, whoever he was, couldn't possibly have intended for me to read his assessments. I wondered how many unauthorized others were seeing them and worried that the kid might have inadvertently been jeopardizing his career. So, a few days later, when the Paper Mill held an open rehearsal of Gypsy for the press, I attended and made a point of finding out who John Flynn was and letting him know that his e-mailing had spread like internet wildfire. When he heard what I had to say, the poor lad turned as red as his copper-colored hair.
What saddened me was that, some weeks later, I got another of John's e-mails--still not from the source, but from a pal in Pasadena--wherein he said that word had got out about his e-mails; that the cast, crew, and management of Paper Mill now all knew about them; and that one of his exchanges had even been reported in the New York Daily News. He stated that the person who blew the whistle on him must have been that theater critic who approached him at the open rehearsal.
This was untrue--and I'll take a polygraph test any time anyone wants me to. My purpose in talking to John was to warn him, nothing more. And here I was being blamed for ratting on him! My good deed was certainly not going unpunished. So, at Gypsy's opening night party, I approached John once more and assured him that I had not been the one to spill the beans. He could see in my eyes that I wasn't lying to him.
All of this certainly served to put John Flynn on my radar, and I've wound up catching most everything he's done since then, even a reading of the 1961 musical Donnybrook (which, fittingly enough, has a song called "Mr. Flynn"--though Mr. Flynn didn't gey to sing it). This kid from Little Silver, New Jersey is a big talent, not only as a performer but as a writer. In Dances with Pitchforks, he wittily tells about the proud and profane Betty Buckley and how he made an off-the-cuff joke to Deborah Gibson that she didn't find remotely funny. He also describes the night when two of Gypsy's authors attended the show, a fearless account that will certainly not make the famous lyricist happy and will make the less-famous librettist positively furious.
Flynn peppers his discourse with eight songs from the Gypsy score but only retains about 10% of the original Stephen Sondheim lyrics, allowing the other 90% to show Flynn's own hilarious abilities as a wordsmith. The way he changes and uses the line "I'm not Fanny Brice" from "If Mamma Was Married" is particularly sharp. But even when he keeps a Sondheim phrase as written, it resonates--such as when he thinks back on sending his e-mails and asks himself, "Why did I do it? What did it get me?"
Well, it certainly brought John Flynn to the attention of many and yielded a cabaret act that's comin' up roses. And, oh yes--he does cite the Gypsy open rehearsal for the press where a certain theater critic comes up to him and is first to give him notice that his e-mails are making the rounds. It's done as a voiceover, and I have to say that whoever did it--I couldn't tell if it was Flynn or somebody else--sure got my speech pattern down pat. But when Flynn said that I not only brought up the e-mails but also criticized him for spelling "Paper Mill" as one word, not two, I turned to my girlfriend and said, "I don't think that happened"--to which she replied, "It sure sounds like you, though."
John Flynn reprises Dances with Pitchforks: Confessions of a Farmboy on Sunday night, June 23 at Don't Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street. There's a $10 cover and a two-drink minimum. For reservations, call 212-757-0788 any day after 4pm.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]