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Your Choices for "Most Powerful People in Musical Theater"

Filichia's readers respond to his column on musical theater's most powerful people by offering their own ideas. logo
Behold the Power of Pan:
Does Mary Martin have god-like attributes?
How much I enjoyed hearing from so many of you after I'd offered my list of the 30 Most Powerful People in Musical Theater. No one really took issue with whom I selected; my top five were Jesus Christ (Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar), The Starkeeper (Carousel), Mr. Applegate (Damn Yankees, a/k/a The Snake in The Apple Tree), Audrey II (Little Shop of Horrors), and Superman (It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman). But some wished my list had been longer.

"You didn't include the most powerful of them all -- Peter Pan," wrote Howard Rogut. Actually, I've known Howard since 1965, so I'm aware that he's really not lobbying for Peter Pan, but for the actress who played him. Believe me, Howard is the world's greatest Mary Martin fan. And I did consider Peter. But, really: Beyond flying, what can he do?

Allen Neuner thought that Mame Dennis Burnside should have been included. "After all," he wrote, "if you can coax the blues right out of the horn, charm the husks right off of the corn, and make magnolia trees blossom at the mention of your name, you got power!" True, but only with a small group of people.

"And for that matter," Neuner complained, "you picked Radames and not Amneris? Jupiter and not Juno? For those three alone (and probably Glinda in The Wiz and the Witch in Into the Woods), you're gonna get a lot of messages from your female fans!" Frank Soldo also mentioned the Into the Woods Witch, as well as Og in Finian's Rainbow; but, given that their powers don't last for the entire length of their respective shows, I didn't think they should be eligible. Frank was right, however, in including the gods from Once on This Island and maybe even Kris Kringle from Here's Love!

Michael Dale reminded me that FDR not only appears in I'd Rather Be Right and Annie but also in Teddy and Alice and The Producers. "And I wouldn't be surprised if FDR was in one or two editions of Pins and Needles," he wrote. I neglected to mention one FDR "appearance" I knew about: He was heard as a voice-over at the beginning of Flora, the Red Menace, played by Art Carney of all people.

Douglas Braverman was quite right in suggesting Herod ("If you're going with Jesus Christ as number one on your list, how about the man with the power to decide His fate?"), Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ("How many other Egyptian leaders can you think of who get to dress up as Elvis Presley and be hailed as The King?"), Charlemagne in Pippin ("As pompous as a Pompey and as daring as a Darius"), General Bullmoose in Li'l Abner ("What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA!"), and even Queen Aggravain in Once Upon a Mattress ("Common people don't know what exquisite agony is!")

But I disagree with Braverman on his four others: (1) Hitler in The Producers. Granted, the real Hitler had power, more's the pity, but the one that Bialystock and Bloom put on stage really doesn't. (2) John Adams in 1776. Back then, the U.S.A. wasn't operating from a position of power. (3) Zoltan Karpathy in My Fair Lady. "'That hairy hound from Budapest' has the power to unmask Liza Doolittle," Braverman wrote, but that isn't power in the larger sense. (4) The Wiz. "Talk about Black Power!!!" Braverman said, but The Wiz really doesn't have that much power when you think of it. As any child can tell you, the Wiz is a very good man but a very bad wizard.

On the other hand, I saw Kevin Daly's point when he recommended The Wazir in Kismet: "Anyone who suspended 700 men by their fuzz, sealed the keeper of the zoo in a pot of glue for missing a cockatoo or two, and hacked and hatcheted and cleft until no one but he is left is a pretty powerful guy."

All Hail the Great and Powerful Guido!
Antonio Banderas in Nine
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Jason Flum offered Charles Guiteau from Assassins, citing Sondheim's line, "All you have to do is move your little finger, just a single little finger can change the world." True, but I'd call Guiteau literally and figuratively a one-hit wonder. Flum also suggested Christine from Maury Yeston's Phantom "because he says to her, 'You are music.'" Yeah, but that's only his perception. Flum also went to bat for another Yeston creation: "I've always thought that Guido Contini must have had some strange power also, for 'He made the slave girls take the gladiators home.'" I had to smile at that and gave a grin when Flum also suggested "Tommy from Brigadoon, whose power I feel even exceeds Superman's, for he sings, 'I can swim Loch Lomond and be home in half an hour.' Considering that he's completely lost in Scotland and home is New York -- hey, that's some pretty impressive power there!" (But, Jason, we only have his word for it, don't we?)

Flum also suggested Jean Valjean because he sings, "I am the master of hundreds of workers; they all look to me." Sure, but that really makes him a big fish in a little pond. I felt that was true of many of the characters that readers endorsed -- like Judge Turpin, whom Kevin Daly recommended. "Not only is he one of the scariest musical theater villains," wrote Daly, "but any man who can manipulate justice and send one man to Australia for life on a trumped-up charge just so he can have a sexual liaison with the man's wife is pretty damned powerful to me." Indeed, but that's only local power. And that's why I didn't opt for Caldwell B. Cladwell of the Urine Good Company, whom so many of you nominated. I don't believe his power reaches much beyond town lines. For that matter, I don't even think that, in a cosmic sense, the Mayor of New York has all that much power. So while I considered the four musical NYC mayors -- Fiorello, Jimmy, Ed Koch and, yes, Peter Stuyvesant in Knickerbocker Holiday -- I didn't choose any of them.

"Let's not forget those moguls Irwin S. Irving (City of Angels), L.Z. Governor (Fade Out-Fade In), Mike Todd (Ain't Broadway Grand), and Flo Ziegfeld (Funny Girl)," said Brian Drutman, a mogul himself at Decca Broadway, where he releases and re-releases all those cast albums for us. Jonathan Rubin opted for a mogul from the other coast: Julian Marsh of 42nd Street. All of the above were on my short list but the ones I chose struck me as taller.

For I was looking for real P-O-W-E-R. A reader identified as Gryffindor made me regret that I didn't place someone I had considered -- Mr. Rich in Celebration -- for I didn't think to remember the line that Gryffindor quoted: "I'm the president of the stock exchange, I'm the chairman of every board!" I agree with Alfonso Tyson, too, who said, "Surely Hercules from By Jupiter belongs on this list! He was a half-god! He performed the 12 Labors, for Pete's sake!" But I did draw the line at James Lockwood's suggestion: "What, no voice of God in Two by Two?" Well, James, in that show, He was only a thunderous rumble. Indeed, He didn't get program credit, so that's why I left Him off the list. God forgive me!


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

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