I Made a Little List
A look back at the saddest, funniest, and most frightening theater-related moments and trends of 2005.
Most Interesting Possibility of a Policy Change: Many investors have told me that, these days, even if you invest $1 million in a show, you have not pitched in remotely enough to have a voice in the production and therefore cannot even begin to make a hint of a suggestion or an opinion to a director. Yet why do I feel that one investor who invested "only" $1 million, Oprah Winfrey, had a voice in The Color Purple?
Most Intriguing Tabloid Headline: From an issue earlier this month of In Touch: "Crisis: Britney Gets Therapy." Did this happen after she negotiated with the Weisslers to go into Sweet Charity?
Best Pastiche Song from a Musical, Though the Song Was Actually Meant to Insult Musicals: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," from Monty Python's Spamalot. It has the hummable melody and optimistic point of view that have always been the hallmarks of traditional hit show songs.
Most Significant Minor Improvement: On the DRG reissue of Debbie Allen's Sweet Charity, the spine now reads, "1986 Broadway Cast Album." When EMI first released it, the spine said "Soundtrack." (Horrors!)
Most Frustrating Non-DVD Release: Sure, we got a nifty, two-disc set of The Sound of Music; but where's the film on which that musical is based, the German-language The Story of the Trapp Family Singers? There's got to be a market for that, no?
Saddest Realization: That if someone wrote a book on the partnership of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, it would just have to be entitled Sunrise, Sunset.
Strangest Cultural Longevity: Not only did both Jersey Boys and White Christmas mention The Ed Sullivan Show, but both also chose Topo Gigio as a representative Sullivan guest. The chummy mouse, who wasn't above calling our host "Eddie," still gets a hand and plenty of affectionate laughter.
Most Frightening Casting Announcement for Baby-Boomers: Hayley Mills, who'll forever be our beloved, pre-teen heroine of Disney's Pollyanna, will join the touring production of On Golden Pond as Ethel Thayer -- "the Katharine Hepburn role."
Funniest Remark Heard outside a Theater: Two River Theatre in Manasquan, New Jersey was presenting The Syringa Tree at a former neighborhood movie house. As a family passed by, a teenage boy spotted the marquee, saw the title The Syringa Tree, and said with astonishment, "You mean this movie theater is only showing one movie?!?"
Most Oblique Tribute to Stephen Sondheim: The International Brecht Society named its 22nd annual Yearbook Ich Bin Noch Da. Translation: I'm Still Here.
Most Interesting Bio Information: In the Playbill for the Boston production of White Christmas, Kerry O'Malley concludes her bio with the note that she's a "devoted Boston Red Sox fan." I've never seen her mention that fact in any of her New York bios!
Most Astonishing Information Involving Musicals in a Book That Has Nothing to Do With Musicals: Karen Schoemer, in Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair with '50s Pop Music, says that former Eisenhower-era teen-idol and one-time Frank Sinatra son-in-law Tommy Sands once recorded "Lazy Afternoon." And when she cites him singing "The beetle bugs are zooming and the tulip trees are blooming," you know without a doubt that she means the song from The Golden Apple.
Most Impressive Cabaret Performance: In a revue of Charles Bloom songs, Erin Davie sang a parody of "Glitter and Be Gay." But even though the song was a spoof, Davie still had to reach all those stratospheric notes that Leonard Bernstein wrote -- and she hit them with the skill of Barbara Cook in her prime.
Most Thorough Knowledge of the Legal System: From Ed Weissman, who commented on my love of a lyric from "I'd Rather Wake Up By Myself" (from By The Beautiful Sea). Shirley Booth sings about her no-so-great beaus, noting, "Joe made big dough; his business, he said, was printin'. What he was printin' got him San Qu'ntin." Wrote Weissman, "The problem there is that Joe has been counterfeiting and so he wouldn't be incarcerated in San Quentin, which is for those who commit state crimes. Counterfeiting is a federal crime, so he'd be at Alcatraz."
Most Poignant Observation Made by An Actor Who Always Seems to Take Over for Other Performers But Has Yet to Originate a Role: "One of these days, I want to be in a Broadway show where the Playbill still has a color cover."
Best Evidence That Youth Is Not Wasted on the Young: Conor Donovan, the young lad in Privilege, who gave the finest performance I've seen by a child since Andrea McArdle in Annie at Goodspeed in 1976. Donovan played a 12-year-old who heard that his father was guilty of insider trading, never for a second assumed that the charge was true, and was devastated when dad had to tell him the reality. Don't you love it when a kid actually plays a character and not himself? So many child actors deliver performances that seem to say, "Can you believe how fabulous I am?" When they do, they never are.
Possible 2006 Impact From the Recent 2005 New York City Subway Strike: Given that so many of us were inconvenienced when the transit workers walked off the job, I wonder if we'll have less sympathy for the plight of the Sleep-Tite workers in The Pajama Game.
Most Endearing Moment of the Year: No question about this one. It happened in The Audience, the Transport Group musical in which we watched an audience watch a musical. Twelve-year-old Eamon Foley played a young boy attending his first musical. The song he sang? "I Like What I See." Anyone who doesn't understand that should not be reading this column.