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Walking Away Whistling

Filichia has several tunes stuck in his head, and that's fine by him. logo
Stephen Lynch at a press preview
of The Wedding Singer
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
It's a melody that I've been steadily whistling since I first heard it. The song is called "It's Your Wedding Day," courtesy of composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin, the team behind the incoming musical The Wedding Singer. At a press preview for the show last week, the stage erupted with this opening number, in which Robbie Hart (played by Stephen Lynch) and his band are showering and shaving before they're to play a wedding. Then we're suddenly at the event, with all the guests singing and dancing to this exciting, melodious new tune. It's one of those opening numbers that makes you think, "Okay, these guys know what they're doing. I can relax. This is going to be a good show." What's also nice is the way that the team uses the song again at the end of the musical. It looks as if audiences (in both Seattle and New York) have a big treat in store.

Before the preview began, Wedding Singer lead producer Margo Lion told us that the 1998 movie on which the musical is based has been "reconceived" for the stage. In one sense, I hope so, for Laura Benanti is now playing the role that Drew Barrymore had in the film. Barrymore portrayed a sweet, lovable waitress who, you could tell, wasn't an academic standout when she was in school; in contrast, Benanti naturally radiates intelligence and class, and she did so here even when she was singing a song titled "Dumpster." In the middle of it, she used the word "metaphor," a term that I doubt Barrymore's character would have employed. Maybe the reconceived character is working as a waitress while she's getting her master's degree? We'll see.

I went walking away whistling from the event -- though the tune was not "Walking Away Whistling" from Greenwillow. That night, though, I found myself switching to "The Oldest Profession" (from The Life), because I recently saw the impressive and enjoyable production of Mrs. Warren's Profession at the Irish Repertory Theatre. I smiled at the beginning of Shaw's play -- "summer afternoon in a cottage garden" -- when young Vivie asks her would-be suitor Praed, "Will you come indoors or would you rather sit out here and talk?" and he replies, "It will be nicer out here, don't you think?" I though, "Of course he's going to say that; it saves the show an extra set." But wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles (which I refrained from whistling as the play unfolded), Shaw does take us "inside the cottage after nightfall" for Act II, "in the rectory garden the next morning" for Act III, and to "Honoria Fraser's chambers in Chancery Lane" for the final act. Ah, those were the days (1893) when plays could get produced no matter how many sets their authors envisioned.

Actually, Shaw had great difficulty getting Profession produced because it deals with a prostitute who becomes a madam. Hot stuff in those days! Even nine years after writing the play, the best Shaw could get was a presentation at a private club. An American production tried out in New Haven and was closed down after one performance; it was to play in rep with five other Shaw plays, which had to take up the slack. The Irish Rep's 100th anniversary production had me whistling "A Century of Progress" (from Grind) as I left the theater.

The next night, "Children Will Listen" (Into the Woods) was running through my head because of Mr. Marmalade. Noah Haidle's startling play insists that kids pay very close attention to what their parents say and how they behave. Four-year-old Lucy (the extraordinary Mamie Gummer) already understands that fathers have work to do and must neglect their daughters, and that if you play doctor with the kid next door, you've got to deal with health insurance. She creates an imaginary friend whom she calls Mr. Marmalade -- played by Michael C. Hall, whose wife Amy Spanger co-stars in The Wedding Singer. To hear Lucy eventually say "We broke up" reiterates how kids learn fast that relationships aren't now and forever.

After emerging from The Little Dog Laughed at Second Stage, I found myself whistling "My White Knight." This play is certainly a White night thanks to Julie White. She dominates the proceedings as Diane, a voracious Hollywood agent who won't let truth or consequences stand in the way of her happiness. That's professional happiness; in Diane's mind, there is no other kind. Certainly, personal and romantic happiness are quite beside the point, and past the point of no return. Diane proves that "there's no people like show people; they smile when they are low." Here's hoping that this great White way with a performance makes it to the Great White Way.

I'll admit it: I spent some of Monday whistling the title song of The Phantom of the Opera in honor of its passing Cats as Broadway's long-run champ. I've met hundreds of people who don't like Phantom, and yet not one of them has said he's sorry that it has surpassed Cats. They feel that having this show carry the banner as Broadway's most popular is far less embarrassing.

Finally, I've also been whistling a medley of "Fugue for Tinhorns" (Guys and Dolls), "Life Is Like a Train" (On the Twentieth Century), "Never Never Land" (Peter Pan), "Judgment Day" (The Civil War), and "Family" (Dreamgirls) -- all in honor of Johnny Cash. If these strike you as songs that Cash wouldn't have liked, note that the mailing that has been sent to seduce people into buying tickets to the Johnny Cash musical Ring of Fire includes the following direct quotation from Cash: "I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family," it starts, then lists "hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage," and 23 other things.

So, for Cash's sake, I'll start whistling a new medley of "Hard Times" (The Cradle Will Rock), "Drink With Me" (Les Misérables), "Only With You" (Nine), "It's Your Wedding Day" (The Wedding Singer), etc. There's at least one musical theater song for each item on Cash's list. Our writers cover all the bases!


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

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