Glad that Charlotte Jones' estimable Humble Boy, which I saw at the Gielgud in London, is on the Manhattan Theatre Club schedule for next spring. It's about Felix Humble, who has much in common with Hamlet, for Humble is equally unhappy that his mother is planning to remarry soon after his father's death. Felix, by the way, is an astrophysicist, and an offhand remark about a couple of astronauts starts him thinking: If there's such a thing as a swarm of bees, a pride of lions, and a gaggle of geese, what's the proper term for a bunch of astronauts?
Humble never comes up with the answer, but I did start thinking about all those fanciful words that someone devised for groups of animals. Some make sense: A brood of chickens, a flock of sheep, a litter of kittens, a school of fish. Others seem strange, because we're used to these words in other contexts: A bloat of hippopotami, a bury of rabbits, a descent of woodpeckers, a sloth of bears, even an obstinacy of buffalo. Still others give us words that we've never heard of: a busyness of ferrets, a fluther of jellyfish, a sawt of lions, and a dout of wildcats.
I smiled when I thought of "a dout of wildcats," because whenever I see the word "wildcat," I'm reminded of Wildcat, the 1960 musical that is most famous for having starred Lucille Ball. Right after Ann-Margret did Bye Bye Birdie in 1963, there was talk of the Swedish-American sexpot doing a movie version of Wildcat. But at the time, Cy Coleman, the show's composer, was dead-set against her doing it. Bet he came to feel differently, as Ann-Margret came to be quite respected as a performer (well, until she did that Whorehouse revival). And if the movie had happened and yielded a soundtrack album, those people who bought both that disc and the original caster would have had a dout of Wildcats. If Coleman hadn't had his doubts, that is.
For that matter, the terminology "a charm of finches" stirred me into thinking that if you have the original cast album of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, as well its London cast album, revival cast album, soundtrack, and Japanese cast album, that's another way to have a charm of Finches. If, on the other hand, a Japanese cast album is made of the recent production of A Class Act in Tokyo, it and your Broadway cast album would give you a charm of "Charm songs."
Do you have the cast albums of the longest-running Broadway and London productions? Then you have a clowder of Cats. (That's right: clowder). The collective term for penguins is "muster," so if you can muster up buying the Off-Broadway, London, Swiss, German, and Czech casts of Nunsense, you'll have a muster of penguins. The designation for a group of elephants is a "parade." And while you probably don't have a parade of Parades right now -- just the Jason Robert Brown Tony-winner -- you could when Decca Broadway releases Jerry Herman's first recorded show, his 1960 effort Parade, on October 22. (Yours truly wrote the liner notes.) But I'd like to have an ever grander parade of Parades by having someone record the first musical named Parade to play Broadway (in 1935) -- because it had music by the heavenly Jerome Moross, who gave us The Golden Apple (which needs a parade of discs to capture all of its glorious score), not to mention all those lovely songs found on Taking a Chance on Love, Erik Haagensen's revue of John Latouche material.
As for "A Gaggle of Geese": Too bad that the Broadway, London, soundtrack and revival cast CDs of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum don't offer a gaggle of "A Gaggle of Geese" as a bonus track. It's a song that Sondheim wrote for Erroneus, the poor soul whom Pseudolus has running around Rome no fewer than seven times. But on his third trip around the city, Erroneus does notice that Miles Gloriosus is wearing the ring he gave him -- the one sporting the gaggle of geese. ("The gods above / Have answered my call / Release every dove / From Carthage to Gaul / It's not a covey of quails / It's not a flight of nightingales / It isn't a school of whales / It's a gaggle of geese.") The song is pretty good, but the Funny Thing collaborators knew what they were doing when they dropped it. For one thing, I suspect that old-timer Raymond Walburn must have had trouble with its breathlessly fast lickety-split lyric, but more to the point, the song comes after the hilarious chase scene when the show is really over, and all "A Gaggle of Geese" would do is delay the logical end of the story.
A bunch of elk is referred to as a gang -- but do you think we'd have a gang of Gangways if the musical that was eventually West Side Story retained that title? It's true, though; for a while there, the collaborators called their show Gangway! (Yes, with an exclamation point.) Doesn't Gangway! actually sound like a parody of West Side Story that you might see, say, as a Hasty Pudding Show at Harvard? Actually, that august organization did do a West Side Story parody back in 1966, called Right up Your Alley, with lyrics by Stephen Kaplan, who now, as Stephen Mo Hanan, is opening Jolson & Co. at the Century this week. In Right up Your Alley, Big Irving of the Studs did battle with a Puerto-Rican named Manuel Dexterity, who headed the Edsels. In the cast, as a Stud named Twitch, was Doug Kenney, who'd later go on to write Animal House before dying much too young. Playing Vera Similitude was William Weld, who later became governor of Massachusetts. Other fancifully named characters included Rufus Folling, Muriel Sigars, Lauren Order, and Theophilus Punnovall. Anyway, West Side Story has yielded nine genuine cast albums and many more studio cast albums, but there's a part of me that wonders if Gangway! would have racked up these stats.
Want to know the term for group of crows? Believe it or not, a murder. So all you Jekkies out there who have the one-disc concept album, the two-disc concept album, as well as albums by the Broadway, Hungarian, Bremen, Madrid, and Wiesbaden casts (and I know you have each and every one of them), you could be said to have a murder of "Murder! Murders!"
Some people might like to have a string of horses, but musical theater enthusiasts may soon be able to have a string of, oxymoronically enough, No Strings. For while the Capitol 1962 original caster was transferred to CD eons ago, the London recording has languished in LP-land since it was cut out of the catalogue in 1965. Last year, when the show was planned for Encores! Decca Broadway thought about re-releasing the West End recording, but decided not to once the staged reading was shelved. Now that it's back on again (May 8-12, 2003 at City Center), I'm sure they'll go ahead and give it to us.
Though there may be such a thing as "a tribe of goats," I don't know that we'll ever have a tribe of "Where is the Tribe for Me?" that odd piece of oh-so-special material that Walter Marks wrote for Bajour. I suspect that no other human being on any of the nine planets besides Nancy Dussault will ever be heard doing this. I still remember how my mouth was wide open in disbelief when I sat in Boston's Shubert Theatre in October, 1964, and, from a front-row seat, watched Dussault portray an anthropologist who imitated jungle sounds -- "Awk-awk! Pht-t-t! Roar! S-s-s-s! Ah-i-ah! Shlurp, Shlurp! Hee-hee-hee! Onk-onk! Bob-a-loo-ai-yay! -- before slapping her own face and adding, "tsetse fly."
But Lord knows that you can sure have a tribe of albums from "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," as Hair called itself. By my count, since 1967, the show has been recorded in 19 different languages, as you well know if you ever went searching through any LP bins in the late '70s where one or two of these foreign jobs always landed with 99-cent price-tags. Nevertheless, Hair gets the credit for jump-starting the vogue of recording a hit Broadway show in different languages. Granted, My Fair Lady was released in both Spanish and Hebrew, but once Hair conquered the world, it spawned a great many more foreign-language recordings. That's why I now own the Argentian cast of Annie, the Icelandic cast of Little Shop of Horrors, and the Dusseldorf cast of Cabaret. They may not be the pride of my collection, but I'd rather have them than a pride of lions.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at email@example.com]