Okay, the holidays are officially over, and I hope you enjoyed all those parties and get-togethers. I sure had a good time meeting and/or greeting people--starting with press agent Susan L. Schulman's holiday party, where I overheard a statuesque older woman talking about her days as a showgirl at such nightclubs at the Latin Quarter and the Mocambo. I immediately turned towards her and asked if she ever did any Broadway shows, and she said she'd done one but that I would have never heard of it. I pressed her to tell me what it was and, with an all right-you-asked-for-it look, she uttered the two words that always put a smirk on any musical enthusiasts face: Ankles Aweigh. Soon, I was naming the songs from that infamous 1955 score--in the order that they appear on the cast album--and asking what this woman remembered of them. She had to admit that she didn't remember much, because she only came in for the last two weeks of the run.
Perhaps because we were in the Christmas season, she recalled the time when her agenting skills helped Valerie Lee to be cast as Susan, the little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus, in Here's Love. Soon after opening, the precocious kid started growing breasts--and since girls with breasts are old enough to not believe in Santa, producer Stuart Ostrow knew he had to replace her. But, our intrepid agent related, the kid had a run-of-the-play contract; so, if the producer wanted to let her go, he'd have to pay the price. Ostrow sputtered at the thought of it and felt the agent was being unfair, under the circumstances. (I wonder if he used the expression "act of God?") He paid up but swore he'd never work with this agent ever again. Yet, some years later, when the woman was sauntering through Shubert Alley, there was Ostrow asking her to pick up a script for 1776 so she could get a sense of which of her clients to submit. Indeed, she did secure a script...on the same day that she got the libretto for The Fig Leaves Are Falling. She read both that night, much preferred the latter, and sent all of her clients over to the Allan Sherman-Albert Hague musical that would last a weekend, whereas 1776 lasted 152 weekends.
At a breakfast during the Christmas season, I caught up with actor David Schmittu, who often works at Stages in St. Louis. On the afternoon of September 11, he got a call from the troupe's artistic director, asking his opinion: Should they go on that night with their production of How to Succeed? (There was no question that shows in New York wouldn't play, but the dynamics were slightly different in the rest of the country.) David urged the director to go on with the show, claiming that people needed the diversion. The next day, not only did the director call to say that David had been right but also to say that the audience truly came alive during "Brotherhood of Man" in a way that he hadn't expected: In the wake of the nation's tragedy, what had been a happy-go-lucky if somewhat cynical number had stuck the audience as an anthem about the genuine brotherhood of man. As the run continued, David learned that, at some performances, the number even got a standing ovation as it took on a meaning that composer-lyricist Frank Loesser could never have imagined.
I also recently met actor Joe Morton, who's doing a terrific job in Brutal Imagination as Mr. Zero, a composite character representing the fictional black man whom Susan Smith, the 23-year-old South Carolinian who murdered her two children, blamed for the crime. I asked Morton about those strange toenails that looked as if Hershey's Kisses had been glued to his actual ones when he played an alien in Brother from Another Planet, and he told me that the make-up person who constructed those extraterrestrial nails would eventually become his wife. Nice, isn't it, that the woman working on his feet set Morton head over heels?
Finally, in Boston, I met with one of my most faithful readers: Frank Soldo, who's now a development director at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where I'll bet he does a great job. He has drop-dead good looks and a million-dollar smile, so I wasn't surprised when he told me that he was once a performer--and was a backup dancer in a show called An Evening with Angelo Mango. Hilarious title, I told him. Then I asked if this was a show in the spirit of The Mooney Shapiro Songbook, the last show to ever play the Morosco (for one official performance), a fictional account of a pop songwriter whose career spanned the '20s through the '60s. No, Frank informed me: An Evening with Angelo Mango was an evening with an actual performer named Angelo Mango. I pointed out to Frank that I wasn't born yesterday (though I do admire that comedy) and couldn't believe that anyone would be named--or would choose to name himself--Angelo Mango. He told me to go home and check my revival cast album of Leave It to Jane and I'd find Mr. Mango's name on it. I did check, and there it was! For a moment, I wondered if Angelo Mango was this performer's real name before I decided that it had to be, for it's the kind of a name you get at birth and not one you change to.
Whatever the case, Angelo Mango immediately makes the list of my favorite funky names for performers, which includes Will B. Able (wouldn't you love to hear an announcement before the curtain that Will B. Able won't be able to appear tonight?), Pepsi Bethel (had she become a star, can you imagine all the soft drink endorsements she'd have landed?), Bob Broadway (who really should have called himself Bob Off-Broadway, given that he never made the Main Stem and only played in three downtown shows), Ripple Lewis (who never did make a big splash), Shorty Long (of whom I think every time I go into a men's clothing store and see the labels marking the shorts and the longs), Dale Muchmore (who, alas, was never much more than a chorus boy), Prunella Scales (which sounds like a disease where your skin turns purple and wrinkly before flaking off), and Jill Streisant (Even Roslyn Kind didn't dare to choose a name that close to you-know-whose). Anyway, Angelo Mango, hope you enjoyed the holidays, too, wherever you are.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]