Stephen Bienskie and Nicole Ruth Snelson in Slut(Photo © Aaron Mason)
Stephen Bienskie and Nicole Ruth Snelson in Slut
(Photo © Aaron Mason)
I'm so embarrassed. A musical called Slut is using a quotation of mine to sell the show at the New York International Fringe Festival. And while I did greatly admire the show in its first incarnation at the American Theatre of Actors last winter, I am a bit mortified to be endorsing a musical with such a sleazy title.

For months, I've been trying to get former TheaterMania employee Ben Winters, who co-wrote the show with Stephen Sislen, to change the title to If and When after the show's charming and tuneful 11 o'clock number. That's definitely not going to happen now, for the guys have dropped "If and When" from the score. Good Lord! If they've written a better song than that one, I can't wait to hear it. But I just don't know if I want to be seen again at a show called Slut.

Inspired by that envelope-pushing title, I started looking for the 20 worst titles of musicals. I landed on Panjandrum, Girofle-Girofla, The Tzigane, Clorindy, the Origin of the Cakewalk -- but, okay, those shows were produced before 1900, when styles were different. So let me go to the post-original cast album era and suggest, in chronological order:

     1) The Firebrand of Florence (1945). Ironically, this musical about Cellini had a much better title out-of-town: Much Ado About Love. Why did savvy showmen Max Gordon, John Murray Anderson, Kurt Weill, and Ira Gershwin change it to this clunker?

     2) Texas, Li'l Darlin' (1949). It's just not a title that sings, is it? Yet composer Robert Emmett Dolan and lyricist Johnny Mercer did write a title song for it!

     3) Flahooley (1951). I still remember reading the novel Three Wishes for Jamie while flying home from the Detroit tryout of Big and being stunned when I came across the word "flahooley" used as an adjective; apparently, it means "disarmingly eccentric." Well, you can't expect the public to know that. Wives have enough trouble getting husbands to go to the theater. Imagine a guy coming home from work and hearing that he's got to go out and see Flahooley!

     4) Sandhog (1954). This was the term used for the workers who dug the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel during the early part of the last century, and that was the subject matter of the show. But imagine a guy coming home from work and telling his wife that, for her birthday, he's taking her to see Sandhog!

     5) Grab Me a Gondola (1956). This London musical isn't as crass as it sounds. There's actually one very lovely and lilting song for the soprano called "Bid Him a Fond Goodbye" that you would never believe belongs to a show with such a title.

     6) Whoop-Up (1958). Doesn't the title alone tell the average Joe to stay away from this show?

     7) The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd (1965). During the show's Boston tryout, absolutely everyone to whom I mentioned this title shook his head and said, "You mean The Smell of the Greasepaint, the Roar of the Crowd." Actually, that wouldn't have been any better a title.

     8) Drat! The Cat! (1965). Not so terrible as titles go, but I'm convinced that it led the show in a direction that was damaging. The story of a female cat burglar consternating the police force -- and, especially, one policeman who's smitten with her -- was directed in a "wink, wink" style that I'll bet was at least partly inspired by the word "Drat!" What was wrong with the original title, Cat and Mouse? That's what the show should be called if and when some smart producer ever revives the funny Ira Levin script with its tuneful Milton Schafer music.

     9) The Zulu and the Zayda (1965). Alphabetically last in all of our LP collections, and certainly among the last in terms of the title's quality.

     10) Man of La Mancha (1965). All right, I know that I'm always picking on this show, but I can still remember the first time I came across the title while reading Variety in my bedroom on a hot August day in 1965. I laughed for a good, solid minute at the ridiculousness of calling a musical version of Don Quixote by this name. We're all used to it now, but I still think it sounds pretty silly.

     11) Illya, Darling (1967). While I don't appreciate the current vogue of retaining an original property's title and adding ": The Musical" after it, this show would have itself a huge favor if it had simply called itself Never on Sunday: The Musical -- especially considering that they took the movie's title song and interpolated it into the show. (That was one of the first times such a thing happened, thereby opening the door for many subsequent interpolation transgressions.)

     12) Noël Coward's Sweet Potato (1968). This revue of Coward songs is responsible for one of the most endearing mistakes I've ever read. In The Food Lover's Book of Lists, authors Patricia Altobello and Deirdre Pierce include a page on Food-Oriented Movie Titles (e.g., A Clockwork Orange), another on Food-Oriented Book Titles (e.g., Tortilla Flat), and yet another on Food-Oriented Musical Titles
-- in which they list North Carolina's Sweet Potato. Can't you just picture how that happened? These poor, tired souls who knew nothing about musicals were probably poring through Theatre World annuals in the library, came across this title at the end of an exhausting day, and abbreviated the title to N.C.'s Sweet Potato, figuring they'd remember later that "N.C." stood for Noel Coward but forgetting that fact once they got home and started transcribing.

     13) F. Jasmine Addams (1971). Many a musical version of The Member of the Wedding could be assembled if all of the songs composed by members of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop were put together; Lehman Engel had his charges write a charm song for any moment of the play that they chose. But I doubt that any BMI people would decide that their musical should be called F. Jasmine Addams, as the authors of this one-week flop did.

     14) The Faggot (1973). 'Nuff said.

     15) Home Sweet Homer (1976). Now, it's one thing for a musical like Ankles Aweigh to have a silly title like that, which does tell the tired businessman that this is going to be his type of show. But Home Sweet Homer was ostensibly a serious musical version of a serious work: The Odyssey. Is there any greater indication that everyone gave up on the show during its year-long tryout tour than the fact that the title was changed from Odyssey to this abomination? People who hate musicals because they feel that they trivialize their subject matter could point to this one as Exhibit A, and we who love musicals would be hard pressed to argue with them.

     16) Rockabye Hamlet (1976). Granted, you're looking for trouble when you do a musical version of Hamlet. But, given all the famous quotations from the play, there has to be one that would have better served the piece.

     17) Kronberg 1582. The original title of Rockabye Hamlet!

     18) Ipi Tombi (1977). When this revue of tribal African songs and dances got a TV production a few years ago, those connected with it decided that the title had to be changed. So what did they rename the show? Ipi-Ntombi.

     19) Fat Pig (1987). No wonder this one never got past the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester.

     20) Slut (2003). Some people are going to stay away from this show just because of the title, but their loss may result in a gain for those who can't wait to see a musical called Slut.

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