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So Near Yet So Far

Filichia laments the early demise of The Miracle Worker and other shows that never made it to Broadway. logo

I'm sad that The Miracle Worker is not coming to Broadway. I'm disappointed for a ton of reasons, not the least of which is the prestige that comes with having Oscar-winners on stage. This season, we've already seen Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Newman, Patty Duke, Helen Hunt, and F. Murray Abraham, who was a few blocks down the street in A Christmas Carol and, later, a few blocks up in The New Moon. With Al Pacino, Marisa Tomei, Dianne Wiest, Estelle Parsons, and Vanessa Redgrave on their way to Broadway, it's too bad that Hilary Swank isn't joining them.

Last night as I sauntered up 45th Street, there was The Miracle Worker marquee on the Music Box, still brightly lit, showing the logo of an outstretched hand that now seems to be saying, "Stop! Don't come any closer to buy tickets. We're not selling them." I feel bad for people who might not know that the show closed in Charlotte, folks who assume they can still see Swank on stage and are planning to stop in and get tickets.

It's not, of course, the first time that signage went up prematurely for a show that didn't come in. Paper Moon died at Paper Mill back in late 1993, but the plastics (as the trade likes to call them) were up at the Marquis Theatre for much of the fall. In 1976, The Baker's Wife had replaced its leading man and its director, but that didn't stop producer David Merrick from bravely putting up the marquee at the Martin Beck to trumpet that the show was coming to town. Oh no, it wasn't; Washington was the last stop for the production. In 1974, Brainchild, with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Hal David, had its marquee up at the Ambassador Theatre but the show died in Philadelphia. Given that it was produced by future felon Adela Holzer, one has to wonder if she ever paid the bill to have that marquee made or to have it carted to and installed on West 49th Street.

Does the idea of a musical with a book by Richard Seff, music by Jerry Bresler, lyrics by Lyn Duddy, direction by David Black, all under the aegis of Sheldon R. Lubliner, get you excited? No? Well, maybe that's why Lubliner decided to put up the marquee for Spotlight at the Palace in late '77 -- to drum up name recognition, even though the musical wasn't supposed to open at the famed theater until February 1978. The tuner, which starred a pre-La Cage aux Folles Gene Barry and Lenora Nemetz (whose name will live forever thanks to Nunsense), didn't make it to town. Since we're talking about marquees, here's an interesting footnote on Spotlight's Sunday afternoon shuttering at the National Theatre in Washington: When D.C. theatergoers entered the famed showplace for the final matinee, all the signage from Spotlight was in place. But when they emerged, it had already been replaced during the previous two hours with plastics and front-of-house displays for the next tenant, the national touring company of Grease.

Daddy Goodness was supposed to come to the Winter Garden in October 1979, but it opened to terrible reviews in Philadelphia in August. I saw it there at the Forrest Theatre, and to this day I vividly remember it as the only time I've seen a peck of chorus-liners doing a kickline in perfect precision and not getting any applause, no matter how high they lifted their legs. That's a sure sign that a show doesn't have to put its sign on Broadway. Another one was that director Israel Hicks was canned and replaced by Phil Oesterman (whose name has lately been in the news because he was working on Urban Cowboy until his untimely death). By the time Daddy Goodness limped into Washington, most of Broadway knew it was a stinker. And yet, the week before it closed in Washington, up went the orange-and-brown colored marquee at the Winter Garden. No one painted the logo on the vast signage space above the theater, though. That's where they drew the line -- or, to be literal, didn't draw it. (By the way, while the producers of the 1980 Broadway play The Roast did send artists up to paint its title in frighteningly enormous letters on that large Winter Garden signage space -- and while the show did open there on May 8, 1980 -- it closed on May 11, 1980, before the artists could even finish painting the title's red letters on a yellow background.)

In 1995, the painters at the St. James Theatre had completed their work for Busker Alley, the Sherman Brothers musical that starred Tommy Tune. In those days, the Jujamcyn Organization decided to deck the outside walls of some of its theaters with gallons of paint. (Remember all that Pepto-Bismol pink for Grease outside the O'Neill?) For Busker Alley, the facade of the entire St. James was painted a grisly yellow. Also, noted artist Lee Roy Neiman's logo was replicated on the wall -- for awhile, anyway.

My buddy Barry Kleinbort says he remembers marquees in place for two 1971 out-of-town closers, Prettybelle at the Majestic and Lolita, My Love at the Hellinger, as well as for Hellzapoppin' at the Minskoff in 1977. They all died in Boston (take it from one who saw all three). And speaking of Boston: While neither Barry nor I could remember if Pleasures and Palaces, the Frank Loesser musical, had its marquee up at the Lunt-Fontanne in 1965, I can at least attest that window cards were printed that said the show would play the Shubert Theatre in Boston. Alas, it decided not to make the trip and closed at the Fisher in Detroit. But if we're going to talk about window cards that listed shows at theaters they never occupied, that would be a much longer article, wouldn't it?


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

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