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What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Filichia comments on some of the 87 shows he saw over the past few months. logo
Marian Seldes in
Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams
(Photo © James Leynse)
Throughout my grade school years, I was asked by the nuns on the first day of school to write a composition about "What I Did on My Summer Vacation." I'd sit in that classroom with pencil in hand, wishing my brain would send some sort of message to it, but that just didn't happen. The reason, now that I look back on it, is quite clear: I had a most unadventurous childhood. Not until I discovered theater at 15 did my life get into gear.

Now, writing about "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" is a snap. Since the 2005-2006 season began on June 1, I've managed to catch 87 shows in two countries (Canada was the other), seven states, and one district (of Columbia, natch). That's where I saw Hairspray and wondered about something I'd not noticed the previous three times I'd attended. Back in the 1980s, when John Waters thought of a name for his TV dance-show host, why did he pick "Corny," which -- especially in those days -- had a meaning that certainly didn't lend itself to a rock 'n' roll icon?

Funny how the first show of the summer was written by the same man who wrote the most recent show I saw: W. Somerset Maugham. The Constant Wife was first, and the Roundabout production got good-to-rave reviews from everyone but me. I'd seen the magnificent 2002 London revival, so I know that this play can work without those involved winking at it and playing it oh-so-archly. That sort of brittle, artificial approach was also evident in the second Maugham, The Breadwinner, now being presented by the Keen Company. Both plays point out that marriage is not necessarily what provides happiness in life, and I say that any play with such a realistic theme needs a realistic production.

I had a better time when I went to see Klea Blackhurst at Joe's Pub. Throughout her Vernon Duke show, I felt that I was watching a future living legend. Just as it's now an event when Julie Wilson appears at the Oak Room, I suspect that people will be flocking to see Blackhurst 30 or 40 years from now. She also reminded me of Elaine Stritch, who, when singing about "the right people" in Sail Away, made a gesture that included the audience. Blackhurst did the same on the word "friends" when singing "Poor as a Churchmouse." By that point, she'd totally disarmed us.

I also loved Two Gentlemen of Verona, which once again reinforced the idea that the Broadway musical is one of the greatest contributions to the world of entertainment. There are very few shows that have little old me moving my entire body in time with the music, but Two Gents is one of them.

While driving to West Virginia and Boston, I listened to the radio quite a bit and caught two interesting ads for Broadway shows before I was too far out of town. The new spot for The Lion King mentioned the "countless standing ovations" it has received since it opened. I imagine we could count them very easily: Hasn't the fart-laden musical run 3,270 performances, which in these standing-ovation-happy days automatically translates to 3,270 standing ovations? Meanwhile, the new spot for The Phantom of the Opera features endorsements from people in the street. When one woman said, "I brought my daughter up on the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," I wondered if the Child Welfare Bureau had heard that, judged the woman an unfit mother, and took the kid away from her.

I went to the final day at Footlight Records, which was so sad -- and not only because I waited too long to get there and all the good stuff was gone. Like so many of us, I just loved going to the shop, seeing my fellow musical theater enthusiasts, and sharing opinions on the latest cast album to be released. All gone now. Ditto the Applause Book Shop. Where will we congregate?

I saw the summer's worst-titled show, Holy Cross Sucks! The title is terrible not because it's profane or off-putting but because it doesn't have much to do with what the magnificent writer-performer Rob Nash has to say. The guy tells us what happened to some teens in the 1980s in a show that's funny and moving, often at the same time. Despite the title, I'd give Nash an award. I'd also honor such musical performers as Jordan Leeds for The Times, Lauren Kennedy for Waiting for the Moon, and Will Chase for Lennon. (The show isn't his fault!) In the play category, I'd tip my hat to two from the Jean Cocteau's Mother Courage: Lorinda Lisitza as Mother and Seth Duerr as the Cook. Add Marian Seldes in Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams. I don't believe that I, or Seldes for that matter, ever expected that she'd be in a play where the c-word would be said to her twice and by her once; it made for three moments of hilarity.

But my favorite moment of the summer came during intermission at Silk Stockings. I met Bob Alexander, who is now retired but used to be a fifth-grade teacher. He told me that, on the first day of every school year, he told his students that they would not be celebrating any religious holidays lest he step on anyone's spiritual toes. "Instead," he said, "we celebrated every opening night of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show on the day of its anniversary, from Allegro on October 10 to Me and Juliet on May 28." Ah, how I wish I had such a teacher in fifth grade! The first day of school would then have meant hearing about nine upcoming celebrations instead of receiving a directive to write about "What I Did on My Summer Vacation."


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

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