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Saturday in Philadelphia

Filichia trots off to Philly to see Lysistrata and Barbra's Wedding. logo

Cherry Jones (front and center) and company in Lysistrata
(Photo: Richard Feldman)
Sunday in New York, the 1961 sex comedy by Norman Krasna, got its title because its main character was a Philadelphian who liked to come to the big city on his day off. I, on the other hand, am a New Yorker who likes to make the reverse commute to the City of Brotherly Love, preferring to go one day earlier so that I can see both a Saturday matinee and evening performance in Philly's budding theater district.

Last Saturday afternoon, that meant Lysistrata--not the Larry Gelbart-Alan Menken-David Zippel adaptation, which was to be produced here at the Prince Music Theater after a stint at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. No, instead I saw the Robert Brustein-Galt McDermot-Matty Selman version that was hurriedly written to take the original's place when star Cherry Jones, designer Michael H. Yeargan, and director Andre Serban didn't like what the original trio wrote.

As you may have already heard, this show isn't much good. But, oh, that Cherry Jones as Lysistrata! Funny; at a party for A Moon for the Misbegotten some seasons ago, I asked Jones if she ever considered doing a musical. She proudly proclaimed that she was Moonbeam McSwine in her high school's production of L'il Abner and she sang for me her section of the show's opening number. She then answered that, yes, she would love to do another musical.

And now she has. I'll grant you that she doesn't have a voice that would sound great on a cast album and she does have some amateurish arm-waving gestures that Serban should have nipped in the bud. But aside from those two caveats, Jones is remarkable in that she's so game, rarin' to go out there, take the show by its horns, squarely put it on her shoulders and carry it. She's a real team player who'll try absolutely anything to make the show work. Her performance reminded me a great deal of Katharine Hepburn's in Coco: confident--nay, fearless--in assuming a new challenge, and meeting it head-on. Granted, Jones' best moment was a soliloquy when she spoke about the evils of war, which causes women to see their husbands and children killed. But when she asked the other women to "give up Mr. Willy" in hopes of blackmailing their men to abandon the fight, and when she sniped "You bitch!" to a woman who betrayed the cause, Jones was startlingly terrific. I shall never forget her performance.

After the show, I walked only a few steps to the Tower Records on Broad and Chestnut and got some immediate gratification when I saw, right inside the main door, a section labeled "Soundtracks." Okay, it didn't say "Shows and Soundtracks," which I would have preferred, but I was grateful to see these discs not relegated to the second floor of a store, far away from the prime foot traffic. It reminded me of the days when Tower at Lincoln Center had its "Shows and Soundtracks" right near the entrance to the store--but that was once upon a time, very long ago. Nevertheless, here in Philly, soundtracks (and, I presumed, shows) were still awarded prime space. Wonderful!

Well, that's what I presumed, anyway. A quick look showed that while soundtracks were indeed there, nary an original cast album was in sight. I then assumed the two were separated (as is the case in many stores) but were located right on the other side of the display. No--"Blues" is what the sign said there. So I hoofed it over to the clerk, who had more rings embedded in her head than are mentioned in all of The Merchant of Venice, and asked her (proudly, as I always do) for "Broadway shows?"

"Right in with the soundtracks," she said. So I inferred that I must have overlooked them, and returned to the display, only to find that I had not. My litmus test of Cabaret, The Producers, and Oklahoma! only yielded soundtracks and nary a cast album. I decided to look a little closer on the other side--but the more I did, the more I only got the "Blues." So I returned to the clerk, and said, "No, Broadway shows aren't there." The lass called over a young man and, when he didn't know where cast albums were, they both soulfully searched through their computers. The poor kids really tried hard but, finally, they had to shrug in defeat. I searched the store, a bit worried that maybe this Tower figured it didn't need to carry cast albums at all. No, there they were--on the second floor, of course. I was devastated, not because the selection wasn't good--they even had The Athenian Touch--and not because the clerks didn't know the location. What really saddened me was that the kids' ignorance proved that no one was coming into Tower and asking for cast albums. (Either that, or it proved we musical theater enthusiasts automatically know we don't need to ask anyone the lay of the land but immediately head upstairs to Siberia.)

John Pankow and Julie White in Barbra's Wedding
(Photo: Mark Garvin)
The day came to a much better end when I attended the Philadelphia Theatre Company production of Daniel Stern's Barbra's Wedding. Yes, that Daniel Stern--the actor from Home Alone, who apparently spent his time home alone writing this play. As you can tell from the distinctive one-vowel-shy spelling of Barbra, this play concentrates on the day of Ms. Streisand's nuptials--not to Elliott (Drat! the Cat!) Gould in 1963 but to James Brolin a few years ago. However, those luminaries don't deign to appear in the show; instead, we meet Jerry and Molly Siff in their modest house. He was the fourth-billed actor on a moderately popular sitcom some years ago but it's been hard sledding since then. Next week, he'll go to work--temporarily, he hopes--in his father's cement company.

We've all heard that it's hard to be poor but it's much harder to be poor after you've been rich. Same thing with fame: Jerry can't stand that he's no longer recognized with awe, and is in great denial about it. Stern--who fully admits there's more than a bit of autobiography here, for he lives in Malibu not far from Streisand--centers on his theme and always keeps his eye on the ball. There's precious little fat on this comedy.

Of course, that the hand-to-mouth Siffs would be living next to a living legend is unbelievable. I was hoping that there'd be some explanation that Streisand was actually getting married out of her 12th house, a modest bungalow she keeps just to escape unnoticed, and that she chose this place to throw off the press. But no; and the explanation that everyone else in the neighborhood has upgraded while the Siffs haven't isn't terribly convincing.

David Warren staged the play smartly, and as good as John Pankow (himself a former sitcom regular on Mad about You) was as Jerry, Julie White--currently on Six Feet Under--was even better as his long-suffering wife who truly wants to help her man, both in the sense of helping him survive and helping him face the brutal truth.

Near the end of the play, there's a very important plot point involving Robert Redford, who's of course attending Barbra's wedding. That made me smile because...who originated the role of the Philadelphian who liked to spend Sunday in New York? The same Robert Redford.


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

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