Little Sally, in the person of Meghan Strange(Photo © Kevin Berne)
Little Sally, in the person of Meghan Strange
(Photo © Kevin Berne)
So, I'm in my office at Broadway University when I get a call from Miss Lynch. "Peter," she says in the screechy voice that so annoyed students at Rydell High, "would you go to the Broadway Middle School and substitute? Miss Otis regrets she's unable to teach today."

I panic, for kids are always so terrible to substitute teachers. But I owe Miss Lynch a favor, so I relucantly agree to leave my lofty perch in academia. What will this day be like, I wonder. I get a hint as soon as I enter the classroom, where all those Von Trapp family children are switching seats and giggling. There are plenty of empty desks, too, for kids always think they can cut class when their regular teacher is out.

Just as I think that I could use a Childcatcher, in march the Thai children and fill all the seats. I search around the desk for a seating chart and a lesson plan but can't find them. Meanwhile, Charlie Brown is whining, "I gotta go to the bathroom," prompting Little Sally to tell me, "Send him to Urinetown!" I don't answer because I'm still opening desk drawers in hopes of finding something useful. Meanwhile, Winthrop Paroo is using a red pen to make dots on his arms; I don't understand why until he jumps up and says, "I gotta go to the nurth! I got chicken pothx!" Actually, they look more like measles, but I know that Winthrop wanted to avoid a word with two esses in it. "Sit down," I insist. (I'm already thinking, "What are we going to do about the other generation?")

At last I find the seating plan and I take attendance. All answer "Here!" except for Gavroche, who says, "Present!" Let me tell you, some of these kids aren't as adorable in real life as they are on stage. I still can't find a lesson plan. Just as I decide that I'll have June recite a poem, Bugsy Malone cries out, "Hey, it's Wednesday! Let's all go to a matinee!" Schroeder says, "I hear In My Life is papering," and it occurs to me that even seeing that show might be better than having to deal with these kids in class. "Tell us a story!" demands Little TiMoune. "No," I answer, realizing that the best way to fill the period is to talk to the kids about their studies. "What have you been learning in geography?" I ask. Jemimah Potts raises her hand and says, "Pencils come from Pennsylvania, vests from Vest Virginia, and tents from Tentassee. They know mink where they grow mink in Wyomink. A camp chair in New Hampchair..." "That's for me," says Baron Ashkenazy's daughter as her cell phone goes off.

Jemimah isn't unnerved, but continues. "Minnows come from Minnow-sota, coats come from Da-coat-a." Meanwhile, I tell Baron Ashkenazy's daughter not to take the call, but she does anyway. This prissy kid has such a sense of entitlement! Tateh's wish to "drive from her memory every tenement stench and filthy immigrant street" has been all too successful. She immediately rises and heads for the door. "I have a dentist's appointment," she says, as I mutter under my breath, "I hope your dentist's name is Orin." Then I address the class again. "What have you been learning in biology?" I ask, and Jeremy Potts immediately says, "The liver's a barrel of brandy, in one sense. The lungs are two bags of good sense and nonsense."

"Very nice," I say encouragingly. That prompts Little Red Riding Hood to sneer, "Nice is different than good" -- to which I reply, "Nice is different from good." She makes a nasty face because I've corrected her grammar, but come on! This is a classroom, and we're here to learn. "What have you been learning in history?" I ask. Tevye's youngest daughters, Shprintze and Bielke, raise their hands. I decide to call on at least one of them because nobody ever pays them any attention, but before I can do so, Sally Brown stands up and proclaims, "The opposite of right is left. The opposite of right is wrong, so anyone who's left is wrong." I wince and say, "Spare us your personal philosophy. What have you been learning in science?" Annie Warbucks immediately gets up and starts belting, "The sun'll..." but everyone else roars "Shut up!" -- and I almost do, too.

Jack suddenly says, "I've lost my milk money!" I've already lost enough patience to snidely tell him, "Well, you wouldn't need milk money if you hadn't sold Milky White." Then I feel bad and immediately apologize. Cosette cries out, "There's a spider on the wall!" Kafritz gets up and slams her book against the wall. "Now there isn't," she says.

"Why couldn't this be a snow day?" I grumble, causing one of the Thai children to say, "I believe in snow!" All of Enoch and Carrie's children say in unison, "Well, you should." Then Joseph suddenly stands up and yells, "Someone stole my coat of many colors!" Louis Leonowens points to the Artful Dodger and snitches, "He did!" The Dodger tells him, "Consider yourself at risk." Louis, to my astonishment, utters a famous two-word phrase that will never be confused with "Merry Christmas." That does it! The Dodger artfully jumps out of his seat, pulls Louis out of his, and starts pummeling him. Bedlam! Chaos!

The Tap Dance Kid jumps on both boys and starts stomping on them. Tina Denmark is ruthless in the way she kicks them, smiling all the while. The free-for-all continues, and there's no way to stop it. Just as Peter Pan is flying above them and stabbing each with his ruler, Miss Lynch comes in and stares at me as if it's all my fault. I never thought I'd say it, but we should have gone to see In My Life!

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

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