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April Fool?

Is Filichia telling the truth about La Cage aux Folles, Reefer Madness, and Mimi Hines? You guess! logo
Robert Goulet
Well, this is one of the days of the year that I like least. I just know that many people will call me today with dread permeating their voices as they deliver horrifying news, only to follow it with a doleful pause, then an "April Fool!" and a wild cackle. Don't they care what their listeners are fearfully thinking during the seconds in which the bad news is being dispensed?

All right, never mind. If there must be April Fool's Day jokes, let them be benign ones. I've decided to write a whole bunch of lines that might or might not be April Fool's jokes and ask you to separate the true statements from the canards. I WAS going to start with, "The Weisslers are planning a revival of the 1975 drama Lamppost Reunion, starring Tommy Tune and Christina Applegate." Anyone remember that play? It's a testosterone-laden, thinly disguised look at Frank Sinatra's youth in Hoboken. And while there'd be nothing in it for either Tune or Applegate, their both having broken bones because of lampposts made it seem to be a good April Fool's jest -- except that it didn't pass the test of time, what with Applegate now on the mend and Charity back on schedule.

But what about these others? Can you tell whether the following statements are genuine April Fool's jokes? 1) You could see in recent performances of La Cage aux Folles that Daniel Davis and Gary Beach were just not getting along; 2) Shakespeare appears in the musical Reefer Madness; 3) Though Mimi Hines took over for Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl in 1965, she was originally courted to succeed Nancy Dussault in Bajour.

Here are the answers:

1) No April Fool's joke at all. At least, not based on the performance I saw on March 15. By then, we'd all long heard the rumors that these two guys didn't like each other, so I watched them quite carefully from my seventh-row-on-the-aisle seat. If bad blood existed between Davis and Beach, both were 100% intent on being professional and giving the audience the best possible show -- right down to their curtain calls, where each graciously acknowledged the other.

Now, as you know, Davis is gone, and Robert Goulet is on his way in. I can see and hear members of the younger generation sticking their fingers in their open mouths and making those unfortunate vomiting noises, for to them, Goulet is a joke. But believe me, young 'uns, there was a time when he was the most exciting thing on Broadway. (Why else would Bebe in A Chorus Line shout out "Robert Goulet, Robert Goulet, my God, Robert Goulet!") Yes, he was then dazzlingly handsome, but that wasn't all: Play the Camelot album and listen to that crystal-clear voice. One can see why Hollywood called, and why he went. But that was the beginning of his downfall, culminating in the famous story where Elvis Presley happened to see him on TV, took out one of his many revolvers, and shot the screen dead. By that time in Goulet's career, many others might have done the same.

So how will he be now? Well, as one of La Cage's songs goes, "Who knows? Who knows? Who knows?" But if Goulet still has a voice -- and I haven't heard him sing in decades -- won't it just be perfect for "Song on the Sand"?

2) No April Fool's joke. At least, not if we're talking about the Showtime TV movie of the unsuccessful Off-Broadway musical. Those who caught Reefer Madness during its brief run at the now-defunct Variety Arts may recall that, at one point, teen Johnny Harper is coaching teen Mary Lane on their homework assignment on Romeo and Juliet, which leads to a song. In the TV film, both fantasize that they're getting married -- and who's officiating at the ceremony but the Bard himself!

How's the show, you ask? Well, it ain't Shakespeare. And it doesn't turn out to be as funny as the original 1936 Reefer Madness movie, which wasn't supposed to be funny at all. But it's a bright and affable time-waster, and it is well produced. The way it was shot will remind you a great deal of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and you may flash back to "Dammit, Janet" during the Shakespeare number. But the show sure works better in this format than it did on stage. See if you agree when it airs on Showtime on April 16 at 8pm and 10pm, April 17 at midnight, April 19 at 9pm, and April 20 at 8pm.

3) No April Fool's joke. Not according to the conversation that I had with Hines as she was preparing for her stint at Feinstein's at the Regency Hotel, where she's appearing through April 2. As she said, "Larry Kasha [who directed Bajour] wanted me to take over for Nancy and Phil [Ford, Hines' husband and nightclub-act partner] would take over for Herschel Bernardi. We were talking about it in a cab on Seventh Avenue, on our way to do our act at the Americana [now the Sheraton]. We passed the Winter Garden and the marquee of Funny Girl, and suddenly Phil said, 'Now there's a show Mimi should do.' Larry asked, 'Would you be interested in doing it?' I said yes, but he didn't say anything else.

"We went off to do the Americana show, and because Larry was assistant director of Funny Girl, soon we heard that they wanted to see me for a reading. All my friends thought I could do it, and Abe Lastfogel -- the head of William Morris -- said, 'Go ahead, if you're prepared for the inevitable comparison.' But just by virtue of their seeing me, I knew they wanted someone totally different for Fanny Brice and not a copycat Barbra Streisand. So I did 'The Music That Makes Me Dance' for them, and my spies standing in the foyer said they heard Jule Styne say to Bob Merrill, 'See? I told you she could do it.'"

Mimi Hines
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Not only did Hines get the role, but husband Ford was hired for the show, too -- not as Nicky Arnstein but as pal Eddie Ryan. "That added something that wasn't there before," says Hines. "When Eddie comes to tell Fanny that Nicky's in jail, it was touching, because the audience could see that he really loved her -- because Phil really loved me. The young man who did it with Barbra didn't have that hook."

Did Streisand ever come see her do the role? "Barbra might have seen one of the rehearsals," Hines says of the megastar. "We were friends previously; we'd met in Vegas, where we'd gone shopping together in a men's clothing store." And did Streisand acknowledge Hines's opening with any kind of a gift or at least a telegram? "Yes, she did," Hines says. "You know how, in the show, Nicky Arnstein gives Fanny a little blue marble egg? Barbra gave me a big blue marble egg. I had it in my house in Malibu right in the front window, and I'm sorry to say that the sun sucked out all the color, so now it's a gray marble egg." (Ah, Mimi -- just one more reason not to live in California.)

As you can see, Hines's recall of events that took place nearly 40 years ago is astonishing. "I opened at the Winter Garden on December 26, 1965, and then on March 17, 1966, we moved to the Majestic. I remember that well because it was St. Patrick's Day and they'd painted a bright green line all the way down Broadway. Then we eventually moved back uptown to the Broadway Theatre. We played three houses. When I ran into Ethel Merman, I thought about all the Broadway theaters she must have played, and I asked her, 'Ethel what house do you like the best?' She said, 'Mimi, they're all toilets.'" And when Hines said that, I don't think she meant it as an April Fool's joke on me.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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