On the Streets of New York
A street-walking Filichia runs into Charles Strouse, Richie Ridge, Jeffrey Richards, and other theater types.
Got a call from my buddy Martin Erskine, who adapted and arranged the score of the second TV remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella a few seasons ago and did some orchestrations for the TV Annie, too. Those projects and many others have kept him in Los Angeles--which also means he does a good deal of grousing about The California Experience. That includes the oft-heard point that you don't get the pleasure of running into people on the streets, as you do in New York, because everyone's driving a car instead of walking around. As famous as this observation is, I didn't realize how true it would turn out to be so quickly after Martin said it. For in no time flat, I did run into a number of fun people on the streets of New York, making me very glad that I live here.
While I was passing the Blockbuster Video on Eighth Avenue and 51st Street, out came Ray DeMattis, an actor I've admired since the early '80s, when I saw him in a series of experimental revues that Ted Chapin used to produce in a room above the Virginia Theatre. Believe me, Ray was happy years ago when I first ran into him on the streets of New York, because I stopped and told him how great he was in those revues--"and," as he told me the next time I saw him, "I was with my relatives who were in from out of town and they really thought I must be famous for someone to stop and say that to me." I didn't ask Ray what he'd rented at Blockbuster, but I hope it was the new DVD of The Manchurian Candidate, for while the VHS does allow you to see that Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1962 is playing at the Alvin (now the Neil Simon), the DVD lets you see the pictures outside the theater as well as the marquee of the ANTA (now the Virginia) across the street, where A Man for All Seasons is running.
What I did ask Ray was what he was up to. And he said--I swear it--"The Streets of New York." Turns out he's in the new musical version of the classic mellerdrama at Irish Rep. I told him I had made arrangements to see it but didn't know he was in it--making him feel a little less famous than I did during our first encounter. I've since attended the show and thought it terrific. DeMattis is marvelous as the sneering villain and so's Donna Kane as his heartless daughter, a chip off the old, black-hearted guy. Two Theatre World Award winners--Joshua Park, Class of 2000, and Danielle Ferland, '88--have a terrific duet. It's just one of 13 nifty songs that director-adapter Charlotte Moore has written; you'll leave the first act humming one beauty and the second act humming another. It's almost as good a score as the legendary one written for the 1963 musical version, once the Holy Grail among cast album collectors because Capitol recorded it but never released it. Now it's available on CD, thanks to an AEI reissue. Well worth hearing.
The very next day, I ran into Jeffrey Richards, the Broadway press agent, on my way out of the opening of the new Drama Book Shop at 250 West 40th Street. The place is lovely and it even has an adorable little theater on the basement level, named in honor of Arthur Seelen, who helmed the shop until his death last year. By the way, if you're looking for scripts of musicals, they're not on the mezzanine, as you might infer from the sign that says "musicals" are on that upper level. Yeah, a lot of books on them are--but, for libretti, go to the back of the first floor, take a left, and there they are against the wall.
"Got anything to pitch me?" I asked Jeff--because the last time I ran into him on the streets of New York, he told me I should do a story for the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger (my day job) on NJ native David Turner, who's in Richards' production of The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Seems that Turner's mother heard about the auditions and told her son about them but he was in Williamstown, doing a show there. So he chartered--yes, chartered--a plane to make the audition and get him back on time. His efforts paid off, because he got the part in Complete Works. Indeed, I did write this story for the newspaper. (I always love it when Jeff asks me a favor because I once worked for him and he fired me, the damn fool! So, whenever he calls in need, I always act a little aloof and initially seem like I won't play ball with him--but then I always do, to show that I can be bigger than he was.)
Then I was off to see a reading of a new musical called Like You Like It: The 1980s Musical, with book and lyrics by Sammy Buck and music by Daniel S. Acquisto. These guys really know their source material--As You Like It--as is witnessed by their naming one character Audrey Shepherd and by the wonders they work with the plot of the Shakespearean comedy. As you recall, the Bard had the Duke banish Rosalind from the kingdom; in Like You Like It, Rosalind gets suspended from high school by the principal, Mr. Duke. Because she's supposed to stay at home as part of the punishment, she goes to the Arden Mall dressed as a boy to thwart being detected. But Rosalind is surprised to find that her father, who left home a while ago, now works at the mall as a security guard; he's a Wall Street trader who went bust. "From securities to security," he moans. Like You Like It has the same insouciance and spirit and an equally pleasant rock score that another based-on-Shakespeare musical had a generation ago: Your Own Thing, which won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as Best Musical and deserved it. Like You Like It deserves great success, too, and will wind up being produced extensively in high schools--but not for years, for a boffo Broadway run will undoubtedly come first.
As I was leaving, I was approached by a young man who recognized me and introduced himself as Brian Vinero. I knew the name right away: He is the author of a new musical version of Vanity Fair that he had sent me some months ago. Now, if I hadn't read the property, I might have cursed the fact that you can so easily run into people on the streets of New York, but I had done my homework and had many nice things to say about it. Alas, I had to admit that I had not yet listened to the compact disc he sent; but once he told me that Farah Alvin, who'd just been wonderful as Audrey Shepherd, was his Becky Sharp, I knew I'd give a listen as soon as I got home. That didn't happen as quickly as I expected it to because Vinero was a winning conversationalist. Okay, he likes The Secret Garden much more than I, but you have to love a guy who can recite the entire opening number of How Now, Dow Jones. Maybe you have to have the initials B.V. to do that well; after all, Brenda Vaccaro was the first to sing it. Now, I'm looking forward to hearing Bruce Vilanch's rendition.
But here's the kicker: I then went into the Duane Reed on 57th Street to pick up the proverbial one or two things and ran into the eminent composer Charles Strouse, who seemed all the more eminent because he was in a tuxedo. We warmly greeted each other and, after I asked why he was all dressed up, he told me he'd just come from a benefit. I quipped that I was sure they had benefited by having him on hand, and then asked how his Marty musical was going. "Pretty well," he said, eyes brightening. "Elizabeth Williams and Anita Waxman are producing and we just had a meeting today. But," he said with a sigh, "you know this business better than I."
Ohhhhhhh, I don't think so! But where else are you going to get a compliment like that but on the streets of New York?