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Taking a Collection

From a Chicago key chain to a Prettybelle pepper, Filichia has quite a collection of theater memorabilia. logo

I saw that New York Magazine did a cover story in which "10 of the city's most passionate collectors share their secrets" and tell of "the best dealers" in 23 different fields. Wow! I couldn't wait to get to it because I just knew it was going to include a piece on some theater enthusiast who collects everything. That the publication would feature one of us was a foregone conclusion, since, after all, it caters to the city where Broadway makes its home.

So I slogged through stories of a collector of paperback romances, then one who accumulates doctored photographs, then another who houses JFK memorabilia, then another who obtains meteorites -- but there was no theater collector in the bunch. And none of the dealers who were listed had anything to do with theater, either.

Two days after I saw this magazine on the stands, I was sauntering around a bookstore and came across a copy of The Banana Sculptor, The Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer, which is subtitled "Hobbies, Collecting, and Other Passionate Pursuits." Aha! Surely I'd find a theater enthusiast listed here. Authors Susan Sheehan and Howard Means included a chapter on a guy who collects postcards, a woman who enters so many baking contests that she has over 3,000 ribbons of commendation, and people who whale-watch incessantly or collect race cars -- but, again, not word one on a theater enthusiast.

This added a tremendous insult to an outrageous injury. Don't you think that those of us who are truly into theater -- I mean, truly into it -- can hold our own with anyone who collects replicas of Noah's Arks or Gore Vidal memorabilia? I've been to an apartment in the city where two guys have Cassie's carmine dress from A Chorus Line -- that is, the actual dress that one of the Cassies wore on Broadway -- hanging on their living room wall. Another friend of mine worked on the original production of A Little Night Music and, one day, Hal Prince said to him, "Get over to Sondheim's house and pick up the new song he wrote." When my buddy got there, Sondheim said, "Listen to this and tell me what you think" prior to his singing, "Isn't it rich? Are we a pair?" My buddy liked the song so much that Sondheim gave him the sheet of paper from his yellow legal pad, which my pal framed and put in a prominent place in his apartment.

I know collectors who have the covers to such original cast albums as Gantry, Nowhere to Go But Up, and Drat! the Cat! Yes, I'm aware that RCA Victor didn't record the first one and Columbia never waxed the other two, but all three covers were made. And I've seen 'em with my own eyes in pals' apartments.

Many of us theater enthusiasts aren't just apartment dwellers or homeowners; we're veritable curators. Come up to my place, and you'll find lapel buttons both little (for A Little Night Music) and big (for Big); a keychain for Ragtime and one for Chicago that includes miniature handcuffs; a Tony 'n Tina's Wedding matchbook; a Naked Boys Singing refrigerator magnet and condoms from both Jeffrey and The Donkey Show. And that's just the beginning. There are 78 rpm records (Mexican Hayride), 45 rpm extended play sets (Mrs. Patterson), pre-recorded cassettes (Budgie), eight-track tapes (Darling of the Day), and of course, more than 1,000 33-RPM records (from The Act to The Zulu and The Zayda) and compact discs (from Ain't Broadway Grand to Zorba). Then there are the videotapes and DVDs, from Ain't Misbehavin' to Zoot Suit.

I also have a framed Declaration of Independence. Not the real one, certainly, but one I got by waiting at the stage door of the 46th Street Theatre in 1970, right after a performance of 1776. Back then, the musical printed hundreds of tan-colored papers that replicated the famous document signed by 56 congressmen of the brand-new United States of America but left off the signatures so that, each night, the cast of the hit musical could sign the work themselves. Word got out that, after every performance, the production stage manager would happily give away the faux Declaration to anyone who asked. I asked. He gave. I framed.

Then there's my framed window card from the original production of Colette, the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical that closed on the road in 1982. Because the sudden closing resulted in many left-over window cards, artist Hilary Knight (best known as the illustrator who showed us what Eloise at the Plaza Hotel looked like) took home a bevy of them. Well, why not? He did the logo for the show, which displayed a sunny-looking woman clutching her beloved cat. Anyway, none of these window cards said, "Diana Rigg in Colette," because Knight had originally planned to write in the star's name above the title in gold-leaf. As a result, all of the window cards have a blank space over the words "in Colette." So what he's done over the years is give out these placards to friends and business associates -- with their names over the title in gold leaf. Visitors to my apartment are always stunned when they see a framed "Peter Filichia in Colette," but I always say demurely, "Ah! My Colette! How they cheered! I understand that Diana Rigg was very good, too. But oh, those bravos that greeted my performance!"

In my refrigerator, you'll find a pepper that's been there since 1991. You'll be happy to hear that it isn't a genuine pepper but a plastic one that was given to me by Bill Rosenfield, the former wizard of RCA Victor, who recorded dozens of musicals that would have otherwise gone unrecorded had he not been on the job. The pepper is there because I'm probably the world's biggest Prettybelle fan, given that I saw it four times during its five-week run in 1971 in Boston, where it closed forever. In 1991, I wrote a 20th anniversary appreciation piece and then the liner notes for the CD, so Bill sent me this plastic pepper that had been on-stage during the second act opener, "In God's Garden" -- at least until one of the actors made a misstep during Gower Champion's choreography and kicked it into Bill's lap. "While I've always enjoyed having this," he wrote in the note that accompanied the package, "I really feel that your devotion to the show demands that this official 'Prettybelle Pepper' live in your house." And it has ever since.

So really, New York Magazine, Ms. Sheehan and Mr. Means: When you're thinking of doing a sequel to your work, make certain that you include a theater enthusiast in the mix. We have some pretty interesting items to show.


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

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