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Dancing Beyond the Ceiling

In a flight of fancy, Filichia imagines that great, big dance musical in the sky. logo

Gertrude Lawrence struts her stuff for Yul Brynner
in The King and I
Ace press agent Richard Hillman called to tell me about Food for Thought, Susan Charlotte's lunchtime theater series, which will resume tomorrow, September 19, at 1pm at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through December 19, theatergoers can at first feast on a buffet, and then sit and watch crackerjack performers do a one-act play or two for a $38 tab. (Call 212-362-2560, or visit

"Tomorrow," Hillman said, "It all starts with Tennessee Williams' I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix and Something Unspoken, starring no less than Tammy Grimes and Marian Seldes." We soon began waxing rhapsodic on both ladies, and it wasn't long before I was saying how riveting Grimes was when I saw her pull off a great show-stopper in "Home Sweet Heaven" in High Spirits during its Boston tryout in 1964. When I got home that night, "Home Sweet Heaven" was the first thing I put on my CD player.

Even 38 years later, the song holds up, because the people whom it mentions interacting with each other in heaven are classic types: Shelley, Botticelli, Casanova, Homer, Joan of Arc, Robin Hood, et al. But there is one glaring exception, a topical reference that has horribly dated: the line which says that "Emily Bronte is doing the Twist with Kipling." As Joanne in Company might say, "Does anyone...still do...The Twist?" Well, which of us here on earth can say for sure? Maybe, up there, The Twist is still The New Dance Sensation. And I started thinking: If a big Saturday Night Dance is held each week in heaven, who else might be up there and what dance would he or she be doing?

Undoubtedly, Fred Astaire is smoothly moving over the floor, singing, "Heaven ... I'm in heaven." Gertrude Lawrence is asking Yul Brynner, "Shall We Dance?" before both decide that, indeed, they will. And there's the Merm, not only doing "The Washington Square Dance" but following it with another Call Me Madam hit, "Something to Dance About."

Maria Karnilova is doing "The Kangaroo" just as she did in Bravo, Giovanni, which you can now hear courtesy of DRG's reissue. Next, Karnilova stops and sings "Happy Birthday" to whomever is celebrating that day. (Not the "Happy Birthday" song that Patty and Mildred Hill wrote in 1893, of course, but the one Karnilova sang in Zorba.) Then the lady grabs Daniel Massey and they do "The Waltz at Maxim's" together, until Agnes Moorehead cuts in.

Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn
tango in My Fair Lady
Rosalind Russell is heading a Conga line while Judy Holliday is dancing a cha-cha. Eddie Foy and Reta Shaw are doing their "I Would Trust Her" soft-shoe as Helen Morgan is teaching Norma Terris a very specific strut while singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Just for fun, Gypsy Rose Lee is running through one of the routines that Mama Rose made her and June do throughout their much-extended youth. (As Will Geer once said to Inga Swenson in 110 in the Shade, "I'd like to see that." Well, wouldn't you?)

Rex Harrison and Robert Coote aren't waiting for Julie Andrews to arrive, for they have Audrey Hepburn to do "The Rain in Spain" tango with them. They aren't waiting for Marni Nixon, either, but are allowing Ms. Hepburn to sing along with them -- and she does just fine. Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse, back in love again (if indeed they were ever out of it), are doing the mambo to "Who's Got the Pain?" Things really get going when Wally Coyle, Ruth Mayon, Zelma O'Neal, and Don Tompkins -- all of whom appeared in the original of Good News in 1927 -- get down on their heels, up on their toes, because that's the way to do "The Varsity Drag." But Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley trump that ace when they do a jitterbug. Then Garland sings and dances "That's How Young I Feel," and after she tears down the house, she can be heard muttering: "I told them to hire me for Mame."

Through all this, Noël Coward urges a woman standing on the sidelines to "Dance, Little Lady." Gower Champion is urging every wallflower to "Go Into Your Dance." Yet Richard Dolman is telling Adele Dixon, just as he did in the London musical The Three Sisters (which, believe me, had nothing to do with Chekhov), "I Won't Dance." That prompts Ezio Pinza to ask, "Why Be Afraid to Dance?" as he waltzes off. "Do I Hear a Waltz?" Sergio Franchi asks. "Yes," responds Mildred Natwick -- and, soon, they're off and waltzing. Ronnie Graham tries to cut in, for he's done some waltzing in Venice, too. But he's too late, because the song has ended and Cyril Ritchard is already leading everyone in "Captain Hook's Waltz."

The heavenly Noël Coward
Perhaps Richard Dolman and the other wallflowers have good reason not to dance: On the sidelines are Michael Bennett, Edward Kleban, James Kirkwood, and Nicholas Dante, who check out every dancer and grade them in dance on a scale of 1 to 10 before using the same scale for looks, also. Right next to them are Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, who have reconciled, I'm happy to say. Notice how Rodgers playfully asks Hart, "How much did we give the choreographer who did Simple Simon for us?" Hart quickly answers, "Ten Cents a Dance."

Leonard Bernstein is doing "The Dance at the Gym," and so is Larry Kert. (While some may say that Jerome Robbins should be part of it, too, the truth is that he can't be; he's not living in heaven.) Mary Martin is doing that wonderful "Wonderful Guy" strut. Alan Jay Lerner is dancing a little closer with one or two of his eight ex-wives. Robert Preston has just found 38 of heaven's most talented chorus boys and 38 of its most able chorus girls, and leads them all in the definitive performance of "76 Trombones." Best of all, take a look at Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Ethel Barrymore Colt, Ethel Shutta, and Fify D'Orsay coming down the staircase before gong into "Who's That Woman?"

Wouldn't you just love to see all this? And wouldn't you feel as if you'd died and gone to heaven?


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


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