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Trouble In Mind

Filichia finishes up his look back at the Broadway shows examined in the new book Second Act Trouble logo
When we last met on Friday, I was in the middle of reading an advance copy of Steven Suskin's Second Act Trouble, subtitled "Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Musical Bombs." (It's scheduled to be released by Applause Books in January.) Suskin reprinted 28 ancient articles from books, magazines, and newspapers, but I thought I'd share my own thoughts on each of the 25 shows he chose to cover. I did eight on Friday, and now that I've finished this most entertaining tome, I'm ready to say something about the other 17:


Mack & Mabel: How well I remember the curtain call of the Friday night performance during the show's final week on Broadway. A packed house was wildly cheering when suddenly Bernadette Peters, who looked so forlorn, glanced at Robert Preston. I saw Preston slightly but bravely smile and could make out that he said to her "Two more" before giving her an encouraging, light slap on her shoulder. Those words and his look suggested that they still had a job to do, they still had performances to enjoy, and, as professionals, they had to take the bitter with the sweet.

Hallelujah, Baby!: Suskin mentions that co-star Robert Hooks went on to co-found the Negro Ensemble Company but doesn't note that he left this musical in mid-run to do it. His replacement was the then-unknown Billy Dee Williams.

Kwamina: This word, as Suskin points out, means "Born on Sunday." And what night was Kwamina born on Broadway? Monday!

Cry for Us All: Should Suskin refer to star Helen Gallagher's role in No, No Nanette, which she took on after this show, as her "final Broadway appearance?" Very recently, the lady was still stealing scenes as a foul-mouthed senior citizen in Arthur Laurents' 2 Lives at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey -- so she still has the stuff and may yet wend her way back to Broadway.

Golden Boy: While Suskin offers a picture of the musical's first logo (a set of traffic lights) and its third (a smiling Sammy Davis), he doesn't include the second one, which was on the cast album's first pressing: A stylized Saul Bass drawing of a white woman whose head is being embraced by an enormous, jet-black right hand while her shoulder is being held by an even larger, jet-black left arm. (See image above.) Back in a less enlightened era, that must have cost the show some advance ticket sales; hence, the switch to Sammy.

Tenderloin: To this day, I'm thwarted when I hear a certain section of lyrics in one of this show's best songs, "Picture of Happiness." Ron Husmann, telling of a woman's seduction, sings, "He fed," which a chorus member repeats; then he adds, "her lobster." To me, this has always sounded as if the guy was feeding the lady's pet lobster, not that he bought her a lobster dinner as part of the seduction process.

How Now, Dow Jones: This observation may be in poor taste, but it's something I've wondered about over the years, so I beg your indulgence. Dow Jones had a lyric about politics: "The first thing you know, some young Kennedy succeeds you." The show was still running when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968. Considering that producer David Merrick was a fervent Democrat, I guess this was one reason why he pulled the plug on the show only 10 days later. Of course, bad business was the main reason, but the Kennedy reference could have been the final straw.

I Remember Mama: Has any show that ran only 108 performances in New York had so many different Playbill covers? From May 1979, I have three distinctly different ones. Though all include the show's logo of a smiling Liv Ullmann caressing a child, one has a gray background, another white, and the other sepia. As for my July 1979 Playbill, it's simply a picture of a beaming Ullman -- taken, no doubt, before the show went into rehearsal.

Subways Are for Sleeping: When Adolph Green began work on this show, he though there'd be a good role in it for his wife, Phyllis Newman. However, eventual director Michael Kidd wasn't so sure, so he made Newman audition -- five times. Said Newman later, "It's the only time in history when the actress got the part by notsleeping with the author."

Skyscraper: Victor Spinetti was fired as the effeminate best friend, but take a look at his minty performance as Hortensio in the Taylor-Burton film of Taming of the Shrew and you'd think he'd be ideal for the role.

Flying Colors: This 1932 musical had a song called "Smokin' Reefers" -- but, apparently, that title would have confused theatergoers if it wasn't explained. So a program note read, "A reefer is a narcotic cigarette made from the marihuana weed, frequently smoked in the tropics." Now we know.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever: Look closely at the original cast album and you'll notice that this show was produced "in association with ROGO Productions." And what, pray tell, was that? I can't say for sure -- but, at the time, I heard that it was a company started by RObert GOulet. This might explain why he made a recording of the title song. (Of course, another reason would be that it's an awfully good song.)

Pickwick: The big song from this London hit went, "If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring." But that's not always such a good day, is it?

Rex: To this day, producer Richard Adler says: "We should have spelled it Wrecks."

The Red Shoes: Remember how this show came to be known as The Pink Slips because so many people were fired from it?

Nick & Nora: Although this show closed within a week of its official opening, Joanna Gleason and Chris Sarandon aren't sorry they did it. Here's where they met and became a couple -- and they're still together!

Kelly: In the article that Suskin includes, there's mention of David Susskind -- one of the show's producers -- holding a mock-up of the Columbia cast album. As fate would have it, that album would never be released. Who's got the mock-up today? I want it now!


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

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