TheaterMania Logo
Theater News

One Halloween

Filichia's head is full of all kinds of theater associations with Halloween. logo

Applause, one of the rare shows
that features a Halloween-themed song
Remember that Halloween when you were nine? You probably don't, and I know I sure can't. But Eve Harrington did in the musical Applause, where she sang a Strouse-and-Adams song called "One Halloween" that told about what happened on that Halloween when she was nine. She dressed herself in a fairy queen costume -- only to have her father chide, "You look like a whore." So, Eve said, she washed her face, took off her dress, and threw it away. She also apparently started that night on the road to becoming a scary person worthy of the scariest Halloween.

I wonder if Brian Stokes Mitchell remembers that Halloween when he was nine (in 1967). He might, for October 31 is his birthday and he might have received a dynamic gift on that date. (Wouldn't it be something if some well-meaning aunt gave him a cast album of Kiss Me, Kate or Man of La Mancha?) Others who might remember those Halloweens when they were nine -- because it was their birthdays, too -- include Barbara Bel Geddes (born 1922), Lee Grant (1927), Ron Rifkin (1939), and David Ogden Stiers (1942). Those who might have remembered that Halloween when they were nine include Ethel Waters (born 1896), who now is, I'm sure, ensconced in a real cabin in the sky; and Melina Mercouri (1925), who starred in Illya, Darling on Broadway.

I've been giving a lot of thought to Halloween, what with the holiday coming up tomorrow. If the 1928 musical Whoopee! had had a cast album, I'd play "The Halloween Whoopee Ball" and hope that it's as good a song as "Making Whoopee," one of the most sophisticated lyrics of its era. But I'll assuage myself by listening to "Halloween" from Rent, "Halloween Hayride" from Now Is the Time for All Good Men, and, of course, the aforementioned "One Halloween." (That will also be a way of remembering the great talent we lost last week: Adolph Green, who co-wrote the Applause book with you-know-who.)

Actually, we might have had an entire original cast album called Halloween, a show with music by Mitch (Man of La Mancha) Leigh and book and lyrics by Sidney Michaels, who was better known as the playwright who write Dylan but who did have musical theater experience as the bookwriter and lyricist of Ben Franklin in Paris. He didn't do a bad job with that 1964 show, but apparently did a lesser job with Halloween in 1972, for it played only at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and then called it a life. It was, according to Steven Suskin in his wonderful tome Show Tunes, "this strange, experimental opus filled with midgets...Yes, I said midgets." (Perhaps, but the vertically unchallenged Dick Shawn starred -- though the less-tall David Wayne made an appearance in it, too.)

Suskin probably has a point in saying that the show was strange, given that it was based on Michael's previously unproduced play called -- I'm not kidding -- Saltpeter in the Rhubarb. He and Leigh wrote a song by that name, too, in additional to such titles as "Organized Sex," "Seduction Is a Holy Thing," and "Would You Marry a Nut Like Me?" Halloween opened on September 20, 1972 and was "long gone by Halloween," says Suskin.

Michele Pawk, Sara Niemietz, and Linda Lavin in
Hollywood Arms, set to open on Halloween
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Which brings up a good point, and one worth investigating, given that Carol Burnett and Carrie Hamilton's Hollywood Arms officially opens this Halloween: Have shows that have dared to open on this scary night had a scary time of it? Indeed, most have. Nell Go In, which opened on October 31, 1900, ran 25 performances; Lew Dockstader's Minstrels, the 1904 entry, managed one fewer. And in 1910, when movies weren't yet movies and the stage reigned supreme, three shows opened on Halloween. The most successful was The Gamblers at 192 performances -- a big number in those days, when there was more intense competition -- but The Other Fellow was an also-ran at 24 and Electricity ignited few sparks during its 16-performance run. The following season, The Three Lights couldn't even make half that total (seven), and the year after that, The Fight made it to slightly more than half that total with four.

We have to sludge through a lot of titles that opened on Halloween before any rings a bell. The Battle Cry, Good Gracious, Annabelle, The Sandbar Queen, The Poisoned Flower, Neighbors, The Girl in the Coffin, Three Wise Fools, Be Calm, Camilla -- what are these shows? All opened within the first quarter of the last century, but it wasn't until 1932 that Halloween welcomed a real hit: Sidney Howard's The Late Christopher Bean, which ran 224 performances, a damned good run at that time.

The Body Beautiful opened on Halloween, not the Bock and Harnick musical of 1958 but a straight play in 1935 that starred Arlene Francis. (Which reminds me of a story: I was a high school English teacher during most of the '70s and, every September, I'd ask the kids on their first day of school to write a composition on any subject at all, just to see what their writing was like. Over a period of eight years, three different students chose to write about how much they hated Arlene Francis on What's My Line?)

Halloween 1949 brought Marc Blitzstein's Regina, his operatic treatment of The Little Foxes. It sure has plenty of admirers and deserves to have its three-LP Columbia original cast album transferred to compact disc. It only ran 56 performances at the 46th Street (now Rodgers) Theatre; but, instead of wondering if its Halloween opening put a hex on it, we have to remember that grand opera has never had an easy time of it on Broadway. Let's see if Baz Lurhmann can change that.

The hit Happy Birthday started its 563-performance run on Halloween, 1946. Two other Halloween hits came in 1956 (Auntie Mame) and 1957 (Jamaica). Granted, the Halloweens of the '60s were less hospitable to The Garden of Sweets (1961) and Calculated Risk (1962), as well as More Stately Mansions, a Eugene O'Neill afterthought that was highly anticipated because it brought Ingrid Bergman back to Broadway after a more-than-20-year absence. As William Goldman reported in The Season, he saw more people with binoculars at this show than any other during the 1967-68 season, all in the cause of seeing how Ms. Bergman was holding up.

A revival of On the Town -- again, thank you, Adolph Green -- despite the presence of Bernadette Peters, Donna McKechnie, Marilyn Cooper, and Phyllis Newman (notice we're not mentioning any of the guys, who weren't good), got a scary reception after opening on Halloween 1971. The following Halloween, Simon Gray's Butley opened to excellent reviews and won a Tony for star Alan Bates (who wasn't at the ceremony, which led envelope-opener Gwen Verdon to say that "Mr. Butley" couldn't be with us tonight). Yet Butley couldn't make it past 135 peformances.

Charlton Heston and Lydia Clarke in a 1992 production
of Love Letters, the frequently performed play that
proves a Halloween opening isn't a curse
So, is there a Halloween hex on shows that open that night? Here's exhibit "A" that there certainly isn't. For in 1989, at the Edison (now the Supper Club), a modest two-person enterprise opened with Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards each sitting at a table and reading Love Letters. It has turned out to be one of the most often produced shows in recent years, and we can only hope that Hollywood Arms has equal success -- and that, years from now, Carol Burnett, Harold Prince, Linda Lavin, and Donna Lynne Champlin won't have to remember that Halloween when they heard "Nein" from critics and audiences.


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

Tagged in this Story