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Second Thoughts

A new book prompts Filichia to recall problem-plagued shows that he has seen over the years. logo
I just got an advance copy of Steven Suskin's Second Act Trouble, subtitled "Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Musical Bombs." From the cover of the book, which is to be released in January, you might assume that Me and Juliet is one of the shows Suskin discusses, for that musical's logo is there for all to see -- though that title is replaced with "Second Act Trouble." In fact, it's not one of the 25 musical flops covered in the book. What he has chosen to do is to reprint 28 ancient articles that he found in books, magazines, and newspapers -- as well as one letter to the editor from Lainie Kazan, rebutting what a New York Times reporter had said about her bring fired from Seesaw. Before and after each article, Suskin comments on the shows; sometimes he interrupts an article with a pithy parenthetical comment or two.

While I haven't quite finished the entire book yet, it's making for a riveting read. Considering that I saw most of the musicals in question, I've decided to make my own comments on each show. I'm only eight shows into the book, so I'll bring you up to where I am; when we meet again next week, I'll have finished Second Act Trouble and will offer a second column on the rest of these famous flops.


The Act: In this Liza Minnelli-Kander & Ebb collaboration, Arnold Soboloff played Nat Schreiber, a rehearsal pianist who, at one point in the show, dramatically slumped over the piano, leaving the characters to believe that he was going for a laugh by pretending he was dead. But in fact, Nat had dropped dead. The sad irony is that, less than two years later, Soboloff would die on stage during a performance of Peter Pan.

Seesaw: All right, the show wasn't a Broadway hit, but I don't know a soul who saw it on tour who didn't believe that it was. Lucie Arnaz and John Gavin got plenty of cheers playing the freewheeling New York showgirl and the stuffy Midwestern lawyer. But most people agreed that the biggest improvement had to be Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' dropping "Ride out the Storm" and replacing it with a song called "The Party's on Me."

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Isn't it a shame that producer David Merrick closed this one during previews? Mind you, the show stunk -- at least the one I saw in Boston, then titled Holly Golightly. But had it opened in New York, RCA would have been honor-bound to record it. And wouldn't having an original cast album with Mary Tyler Moore on it be fun?

Dude: Management tore out seats from the Broadway Theatre to create an environmental staging but were contractually obligated to return the house to its previous condition once the show closed. The irony was that the next tenant, an atypical production of Candide, tore out the seats once again to create another environmental staging.

Hellzapoppin': When I saw the 1977 revisal of this 1938 smash at the Colonial in Boston, one moment had me smiling in anticipation. A deliveryman came down the aisle holding a potted plant that he'd been hired to present to Mrs. Jones, but he just couldn't find her. I'd already read about this gag, which was in the original show, so I knew that the deliveryman would return from time to time looking for Mrs. Jones and, each time he did, the plant would have grown larger. As Stanley Green had told me in Ring Bells Sing Songs, "After the show was over, [the actor who played the deliveryman in the original production] could be seen in the lobby sitting on the branch of a tree, still mournfully crying for Mrs. Jones." I couldn't wait for the show to be over -- for more than one reason, but partly so I could see that full-size tree in the lobby and the guy out on a limb. Yet there wasn't a hint of foliage to be found as I left the theater. "Oh, well," I sighed, "I guess they didn't want to install it here for such a short time but will do so when the show comes to New York." Because the show closed out of town, l'll never know if the lobby tree was planned for the Broadway run.

Fade Out-Fade In: This was a rare instance of a show that opened, closed, and then reopened. (There were issues involving star Carol Burnett's illness). In the interim, Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green inserted two new songs that weren't included on the already-released original cast album. (If you'd at least like to read the lyrics of "A Girl to Remember" and "Notice Me," you can find them in the hardcover script that Random House published in 1965.)

Illya, Darling: When I heard that this show would interpolate the Oscar-nominated song "Never on Sunday" from the 1960 film of that title, on which the musical was based, I was furious; never in the five years that I'd been following Broadway had I seen a show borrow a song from another source. (Little did I know what was coming!) But considering that Joe Darion was the show's lyricist, I wondered if he'd write new lyrics to the tune or if Billy Townes' familiar lyrics would be retained. Townes' English lyrics aren't heard in the film; they were just written for pop recording purposes. They go, "Oh, you can kiss me on a Monday, a Monday, a Monday, oh, that would be so good. Oh, you can kiss me on a Tuesday, a Tuesday, a Tuesday -- in fact, I wish you would." (And so on.) But those lines didn't fit the story, for kissing wasn't the activity that prostitute Illya would never do on Sunday. As it turned out, Townes' lyrics were not used -- but Darion didn't provide new ones, either. The chorus just sang the Greek words that composer Manos Hadjadakis had written.

Irene: This show began in a stunning fashion. During the overture, the curtain rose on a scrim of the exterior of a music store window. When the overture ended, that scrim rose to reveal the inside of the store but with the window reversed and placed way upstage; the rest of the stage was filled with the store. Alas, this was the production's best moment. (I hope you have many "best moments" this weekend. I know that I will with Second Act Trouble.)


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

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