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Way Down Yonder

In New Orleans and Biloxi, Filichia enjoys productions of Boston Marriage and Beauty and the Beast. logo
Melissa Hall, Wendi Berman,
and Diana E.H. Shortes in Boston Marriage
As some of you may remember, I have this goal to see theater in all 50 states. Last weekend, I ticked two more off my list by traveling to Louisiana and Mississippi. That's 42 down, eight more to go!

First, to New Orleans, where I walked the entire length of the French Quarter and then some to get to the Marigny Theatre to see the Drama! production of David Mamet's Boston Marriage. En route, I stopped in at Virgin Records and was surprised to see that the Broadway show section -- of course, it's called "soundtracks" -- was not on the second or third floor, where it's relegated in most emporia, but on the first floor, albeit wa-a-a-y in the back. Not a bad selection, including cast albums of Fiorello!, Charles Strouse's Nightingale, and Ben Franklin in Paris. After that, I went to four used bookstores and found S.N. Behrman's Lord Pengo in every one. It's the title I believe that I see the most in the "Plays" section of second-hand stores.

Along Decatur Street, which was called Camino Real a few centuries ago, there was fun to be had in all the junk stores. There was a tie that sports an ad for the Three Stooges' film Boobs in Arms, obviously in tribute to a Rodgers and Hart musical. There was a kid's lunchbox adorned with the Breakfast at Tiffany's logo and pictures of the stars -- of the movie, of course, not the musical. But why NOT have kids' lunchboxes adorned with show logos? (There have to be more kids interested in The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast than in Holly Golightly!) There are mock license plates that one can put on one's car: They say "No. 1" or "#1" on the left and "Fan" on the right, with a logo of a sports team in between. Why can't we have these for Broadway shows, too? I'd love one with the logo for The Grass Harp for, deep in my heart, I do believe that I'm the show's No. 1 (or #1) Fan.

Then I got to the modest 200-seat Marigny, and found it nearly full, which rather surprised me. Boston Marriage isn't one of Mamet's better-known plays, so I assumed that the theater would be empty. But maybe everyone else, like me, wasn't finding it easy to discover theater in the Big Easy. The Saenger, the town's big road house, was dark until Thoroughly Modern Millie opens next month. Granted, I could have gone to Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre and seen Tru without Robert Morse, but my heart was broken that I'd just missed their season opener of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine and I was too early to see their next production, Eating Raoul: The Musical. (Did we ever think we'd see that one again?) As you can see, Le Petit is one adventurous company. Right now, though, they're renovating their 450-seat mainstage theater and are using their 120-seat second space for all productions. So I guess it should really be temporarily renamed Le Petit Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre.

Boston Marriage takes its inspiration from the term used in the 19th century when two women, who may or may not have been lesbians, lived together. I'm so glad to say that Luis Q. Barroso's production was equal to the New York one. Diana E.H. Shores was steely as Anna, the realist who may love Claire very much but still isn't above taking both a male lover and a magnificent stone from him. Melissa Hall was nicely coquettish as Claire, who's fallen in love with a younger woman -- who turns out to be the daughter of Anna's benefactor. You know, on second thought, I do like this play.

On my way back, I heard "We Need a Little Christmas Now" played on a calliope. (Here's hoping that it plays other Jerry Herman songs during the rest of the year.) I passed by the Deep South Lounge, which offers a mechanical bull where "nearly naked bullriders ride free after 1am" (If Urban Cowboy had had this policy, that show might be still running.) By now, I was pretty tuckered from walking, and sure could have used a streetcar named Desire -- but such a conveyance no longer exists. There is a bus named Desire, but that's not quite the same thing.

The next morn, I got in my rental car and drove 80 miles to Biloxi to see a show at a casino -- no, not Christmas on Broadway, which is at the Beau Ridge Casino, but Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the Grand Casino of Biloxi. Now what, you may ask, is this innocent show doing in a sin palace? Well, it was originally a community theater production, courtesy of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society of Matairie, LA, but a producer saw it and thought it would be great for the casino. I know that Las Vegas has tried hard to make itself a family destination, and I guess Biloxi has similar aims. But as my buddy David Wolf so wisely said, "The ideal musical for a casino is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, for instead of voting on who's guilty, everyone could bet on who's guilty." I roared with laughter and thought, Princess Puffer? It's a probable 12-to-7. Neville Landless? It's better than even money.

And so I entered a space as big as an aircraft carrier. It had a stage in front of eght rows of padded folding chairs, then a row of semi-circular banquettes, then long tables emanating like spokes in a wheel away from the stage -- four rows' worth, with six chairs on each side of them. The conductor got applause when he entered, and the parents and kids who filled about 75% of the place stopped eating their jalapeno nachos and popcorn from KFC-sized buckets to oooh with anticipation as the lights dimmed. I assumed that we'd see a "tab" version of the show, no longer than 90 minutes, all the better to get you back to the slot machines. But no, it was the full musical! The sets did look to be glorified community theater fare -- but let's remember that the Broadway sets, even when the show was at the Palace, looked like they were taken from a scene shop where the drops from the bus and truck of Blossom Time had gone to die.

Savannah Wise
Savannah Wise, who's the daughter of Scott Wise and Kiel Junius (they met when he was Mike and she was Tricia in A Chorus Line on Broadway), is someone I've come to know as Nadine in the Lippa Wild Party and Maggie in Brigadoon at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Here she had the lead, and she showed that she's capable of carrying a show on her shoulders. What a self-assured performance of Belle from this stunning young lady, whom you may have already seen as Young Cosette or Young Eponine in the Broadway company of Les Miz. She's a pretty girl, with eyes as wide as the collar on Chip the Tea Cup. Savannah showed a glorious voice, danced divinely, and was as brave as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she encountered each new danger. One of the moments in which she most impressed me occurred after she did battle with the wolves: Just the way that she threw her club offstage showed determination and professionalism. Here's a star-to-be.

I also liked Edward R. Cox, who, in the role of her father, really showed deep paternal feelings for the lass. And here's a word for Arthur Bermingham as Lefou, who I'm sure set a Guinness Book of World Records record for falling down and getting up with the fewest hemisemidemi-seconds passing. I've seen cuts of beef and salmon that have been filleted but never a human being who'd had his bones removed. Yet Bermingham must have had that done to him, considering the way he moved about the stage.

A word, too, about Heidi Junius -- Savannah's aunt -- who played Mrs. Potts. Wouldn't you know that her mike went out during her big moment, the title song? So Junius revved up her voice to compensate and let the back rows hear her. All of a sudden, the house got very quiet, proving once again that if you don't amplify a show, people will listen harder to catch it (rather than tune out of it). Junius got her best compliment in that, when the number ended, the applause started from those seated at the back of the house, who appreciated the struggle that she had made on their behalf.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast takes a lot of heat for being a gooey gumdrop of a show, but has there ever been a Broadway musical with so many messages that children should listen to and learn? I daresay that it teaches as many as Baskin-Robbins has flavors: 1) Don't be deceived by appearances; 2) It's okay to be different from the rest of the people you know; 3) The most handsome guy is not necessarily the best; 4) Inner beauty is more important than outer beauty; 5) Be kind to your parents; 6) Sacrifice for your parents; 7) You can't force love; 8) Home is where the heart is; 9) Books take you away to wonderful places; 10) Ignore what people say about you if you like yourself; 11) Parents should take pride in their children; 12) Be polite to those you don't like; 13) Be sincere; 14) Control your temper; 15) Ordering people around is rude; 16) Say "please"; 17) Say "thank you"; 18) Might does not make right; 19) Don't give up; 20) Give people a chance; 21) Give people a second chance; 22) Act like a gentleman; 23) Learn to say you're sorry when you've done something wrong, even if you did it inadvertently; 24) A good person is better to his enemies than a bad person is to his friends; 25) Learn to control your tongue; 26) Teach those who don't know what you do; 27) Books can take you away from your troubles and make you forget for a little while; 28) An unpopular person only needs to find one other to feel a great deal better; 29) Speak from the heart; 30) If you love someone, set her free; 31) Pick your own favorite here (I know I've missed at least one).

The irony is that many an adult who came to the casino for the most crass of motives just might have left a better person because of Beauty and the Beast.


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

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