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There's No People Like Show People

Thoughts about Rosie O'Donnell, Harold Pinter, Martin Charnin, Thomas Meehan, Tom Aldredge, and Tommy Tune. logo
Rosie O'Donnell in Fiddler on the Roof
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
A lot of Broadway names have been popping into my head over the past few days, and here are only a few of them.

Rosie O'Donnell: This lady has taken a good deal of heat for her Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. I say that she's trying hard. To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim: "Still, someone said, 'She's sincere' -- and I'm he."

Harold Pinter: The esteemed British playwright hasn't had a new play produced on Broadway in 23 years, since The Hothouse was ensconced at one of our smallest theaters, the now-razed Playhouse. But before that, dating back to his Tony-winner The Homecoming in 1967, no more than five years had ever passed without a new Pinter play on Broadway. Now that he's won the Nobel Prize, will the ladies who lunch have the chance to see more matinees of Pinter plays on Broadway? If not, they can be assuaged next montyh by the Atlantic Theatre Company's double-bill of his first play, The Room, and his most recent, Celebration. Considering what just happened to Pinter, isn't the new play aptly titled?

Martin Charnin: I thought about the talented lyricist and director the other day when listening to West Side Story. When I got to "Gee, Officer Krupke," a number in which Charnin sang (he played Big Deal), I noticed that the lyrics contained two words that would be very important to his future: "leapin' lizards." That's the expression for which Little Orphan Annie became famous. Do you think it planted a seed in Charnin's head that grew into the mighty Annie? Which brings me to:

Thomas Meehan: Wasn't it bright of Annie's librettist to put "leapin' lizards" late in the show, when we're hungry to hear it? If he'd put it in one of Annie's first speeches, as a less gifted writer would have done, we'd groan.

Tom Aldredge: I had a nice stroll with him down Memory Lane while he was on a break from rehearsals for 2 Lives, the Arthur Laurents' play at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. Aldredge told me that when he played Emory in The Boys in the Band in London, "Princess Margaret had a row reserved and came once a week." He was also the Jester in Rex, the Rodgers-Harnick musical about Henry VIII, and he still seemed shell-shocked nearly 30 years later when remembering the day that management gave him a new song to be put into the show for the following performance. "The curtain rose," he told me, "and there I was singing, 'You think I was King Henry? I'm only Henry's fool. And when, if ever, have fools be known to rule?' They cut it the next night -- and, boy, was I glad."

Aldredge also shared an interesting story about Into the Woods: "Originally, the Narrator was supposed to have been the baby of the Baker and his Wife, and was telling his life story." His favorite co-star? "Liz Taylor in The Little Foxes. I adore her, and I won't allow anyone to say a bad word about her. She was a delight -- hard-working, honest, and generous. Because she played Regina and I was her husband Horace, I always say that I was one of Liz Taylor's husbands." He also did two plays by Tennessee Williams, though they weren't among the playwright's most illustrious: Slapstick Tragedy in 1965 and Vieux Carre in 1977. Of the former, he says, "I didn't add a word but I did add a harrumph to a line. Tennessee came right up to me afterwards and said, 'Don't do that.' On reflection, he was right; I was interrupting the meter of his line.

"I've been blessed," says Aldredge, "and one of the blessings has been that I've never became a star. I've had a certain anonymity which I've treasured. In fact, in On Golden Pond, I had an elaborate hairpiece that I'd take off before I went out the stage door. People would be waiting there to meet the man who played Norman Thayer, and sometimes I'd just stand out there with them." (Why was he so unrecognizable? Aldredge was only 49 years old when he played the near-octogenarian Norman.)

Tommy Tune: It struck me recently that there must be many younger theatergoers who have no real idea who this man is, for his last Broadway hit was Grand Hotel, nearly 15 years ago. They certainly don't know him as the actor-singer-dancer who brightened Seesaw in 1973 and My One and Only in 1983.

Tune's brilliant staging of Grand Hotel remains one of the greatest accomplishments I've seen in four-plus decades of theatergoing. His work on The Will Rogers Follies was also impressive, but until that videotape made in Japan becomes available in America, young people won't get a sense of what Tune can do. Maybe they will if he returns as star, director, and choreographer of Dr. Dolittle, as has been rumored. I'm already savoring the cast album with Tune's takes on the Leslie Bricusse songs, written in 1967, when the composer-lyricist was doing wonderful work. I'm hoping for the best, though my buddy Barry Kleinbort has a good point in saying, "When people think of Dr. Dolittle today, they don't summon up memories of the film on which this show is based; they assume it's a musical version of those Eddie Murphy movies."

Hmm. While I've been thinking about Rosie O'Donnell, Harold Pinter, Martin Charnin, Tom Meehan, Tom Aldredge, and Tommy Tune, I haven't thought of Eddie Murphy at all!


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

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