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Peter Filichia Picks Music That Matters to Him

What 15 musical theater songs from his vast record collection would Filichia choose to include on a compilation CD? logo
What is the music that makes
this man dance?
I recently went to Drew University in Madison, New Jersey because a young playwright named Jeremy N. Stoller wanted me to see his new play. I'm happy to say that Odds turned out to be terrific. On the drive home, I stopped at a Starbucks and, while waiting for my venti decaf, I noticed a bunch of CDs on the counter. "Artist's Choice," they said. "Joni Mitchell Picks Music That Matters to Her... Spend an Hour with Joni Mitchell's Record Collection." I picked it up, turned it over, and found what I presume to be Mitchell's all-time favorite songs -- 15 titles, including one show tune, "It Never Entered My Mind" from the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical Higher and Higher. (The recording that Mitchell chose is by trumpeter Miles Davis, which means that it doesn't include those great Larry Hart lyrics.)

I had to wonder: What would I pick if I were given 15 tracks to fill a CD with songs from my record collection? That mine is larger than Mitchell's is a distinct possibility. Granted, I have very few studio albums by artists, but I do have a lot of original cast, revival cast, and studio cast albums, not to mention many soundtracks and demos. The number of songs from which I have to choose is -- I'm serious -- well into the five figures.

So I sat myself down to "Pick Music That Matters to Me," in case anyone wanted to "Spend an Hour with Peter Filichia's Record Collection." I did set for myself some guidelines that Mitchell probably did not follow. I wanted to stay away from songs that everybody knows, no matter how wonderful they might be, and instead concentrate on songs that people probably missed. I decided, just to stay on the fair side and give equal time to as many artists as possible, I wouldn't allow more than one song per composer and/or lyricist. Considering what I chose, I had to eschew "It's an Art," "Melt Us," "When I'm Drunk, I'm Beautiful," and a peck of others that might have made the album.

Also, there are songs I love but I don't like the way they're performed on the cast albums, so I didn't choose any of those. Thus I eliminated Jack Whiting's dreary rendition of the charming "Every Street's a Boulevard in Old New York" from Hazel Flagg. But that song wouldn't have made the cut for another reason: It shows up in the show's film version (retitled Living It Up), and I decided not to include any song that had been in a movie musical. (There went "I Am on My Way," "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," and "It's a Perfect Relationship.") My main goal, after all, was to get music out there that hadn't been heard by most of the population, and films usually get wide release. I also had to eliminate "Neverland," for Peter Pan used to be shown on network TV quite a bit. I have, however, included two songs from musicals that were shown on TV but not in major network broadcasts, figuring that plenty of people might have missed them.

Whittling down the songs, making my final selection, and putting them in the order that would make a good album, took quite a while. (I saw Stoller's play on March 9 and have been considering this list ever since). But, for better or worse, here's the 15 songs I finally chose -- none from the '40s, one from the '30s, two each from the '50s, '60s, '80s, '90s, and '00s, and four from the '70s. Of course, if you were to ask me tomorrow, the list might be quite different.

1. "Come Follow the Band" (Barnum). I would want any album of show music to get off to a rousing start, and this song from the 1980 Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart-Mark Bramble musical certainly fits that criterion.

2. "Blame It on the Summer Night" (Rags). Recently, BroadwayWorld asked me to choose musical theater's most romantic song, and this was my choice. That prompted Michael Dale, the site's gifted columnist, to write me and say: "I can see 'Blame It on the Summer Night' as the most sexual song ever, but not the most romantic." I had to reply, "There I go again, not being able to differentiate between love and sex."

3. "Just One Step" (Songs for a New World). Talk about "Miss Velma Kelly in an act of desperation." What about this lady, who threatens to jump off the ledge of her apartment building just because her husband won't buy her a new fur coat? Jason Robert Brown characterizes a woman who has argued with her husband so many times that he long ago stopped loving her. Now she's been checkmated into taking this dramatic "step" because she's tried everything else and suicide is all she can do to get his attention.

4. "Sorry/Grateful" (Company). Some people have said over the years that Company is dated. I don't happen to think it is, but at any rate, I'm sure most everyone would agree that the sentiments expressed in this song will never be antiquated. Anyone who's now or ever has been married knows what it's like to feel great about it (perhaps for a few months or years) and yet to feel awful about it (perhaps for a few years or decades).

5. "A Little Mmm" (The Wild Party, La Chiusa). How I wish that dialogue didn't interrupt this lovely, jazzy melody; but even with the spoken words that do, you'll recall, buttress the point that this is one wild party, I can't deny that this is an intoxicating tune.

6. "An Old-Fashioned Love Story" (The Wild Party, Lippa). A paean to lesbianism. While sitting at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000, I had that experience I so rarely have: Less than 30 seconds into this song, I knew that I'd be applauding wildly in a couple of minutes. Not only was this a showstopper, but it was performed by a lady who definitely knows how to stop a show: the one and only Alix Korey.

7. "Whizzer Going Down" (In Trousers). A paean to fellatio. The joyousness of this song's C-section reminds me of the joyousness of the Edith Piaf classic "Milord" -- and have you ever known anyone who didn't love "Milord"?

8. "I Hear Bells" (Starting Here, Starting Now) Actually, this song began its life in Love Match, a 1968 Maltby-Shire musical that tried out in Phoenix (I'm serious!) but closed in Los Angeles without braving Broadway. It was a musical about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, but this song went to a minor character. A personal note: In my lifetime, I've had two long-term relationships, Lilli (1966-1977) and Linda (1978-now), and though the two have almost nothing in common, each of them said, "This is the most beautiful song I've ever heard!"

9. "Celebration" (Celebration). We need the sound of a less-commercial Broadway on this list, and who better to provide it than Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt? Yes, it's a title song and it's free and easy, but there's an underbelly of something darker going on, too. It comes from their final show of the '60s, following The Fantasticks (1960), 110 in the Shade (1963), and I Do! I Do! (1966). This one opened in 1969, when we all assumed that we'd see a show from these guys every three years. Alas, it wasn't to be.

10. "My Favorite Year" (My Favorite Year). The year in question, by the way, is 1954, and Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens perfectly captured the last year before rock and roll took to the airwaves. Believe me, if this song had been around in 1954, it would have been a Top 10 hit and an immediate standard.

11. "Catch Our Act at the Met" (A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green). While I usually favor selections from original cast albums, I won't opt for the Bert Lahr-Dolores Gray cut from the 1951 OBCR of Two on the Aisle, wherein this song (with music by Jule Styne) was introduced. For one thing, that rendition includes a middle section that stops the song dead. But for another, there's nothing quite like hearing a songwriter perform his/her own work, and here you get to hear two of our greatest deliver one of their best (if by no means their most famous).

12. "Look What Happened to Mabel" (Mack & Mabel). I wouldn't choose the 1974 original cast album rendition of this, either, but would select the version heard on the 1988 concert cast recording. Nothing against Bernadette Peters, mind you, who does it superbly -- but on the concert version, where it's sung by Paige O'Hara, you get more of the wonderful dance music. And speaking of dance music:

13. "Dear Old Syracuse" (The Boys from Syracuse). I'd choose the 1997 concert cast version of this jaunty tune rather than either of the 1963 recordings from Off-Broadway and London or the 1953 studio cast album because all of the delicious dance music is included.

14. "We'll Take a Glass Together" (from Grand Hotel but first introduced in the 1958 show At the Grand). Interesting, isn't it, that what may be the most joyous, life-affirming number in Broadway history is actually a reaction to getting rich quick?

15. "Yes" (70, Girls, 70). Every now and then, I'm asked, "Do you have an all-time favorite song?" When I say, "Yes," I'm saying that I do indeed and answering the question at the same time. The philosophy that Fred Ebb espouses in this song is one by which I've tried to live since I first heard it in 1971. If more people knew it and adhered to its principles, we just might have a happier world.


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

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