THE VIRTUAL BROADWAY MARKET By Peter Filichia
Despite the pandemic, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS wasn’t to be denied its Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction.
This past Sunday, live and silent auctions, one-on-one video chats with Broadway stars and the opportunity to purchase theatrical collectables were all in evidence.
No, this year’s event couldn’t compare to the “Live! From New York! It’s Sunday Morning!” assemblages of the past thirty-three years on West 44th and 45th Streets. Nevertheless, BC/EFA did its best to see that “every dollar donated” would “help those across the country affected by HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other critical illnesses.” Needless to say, that second set of initials hadn’t been seen in previous BC/EFA notifications.
But just as the cliché goes that “Half a loaf is better than none,” we musical theater aficionados know that “HALF A SIXPENCE is better than none.” Thus we relished the chance to “convene.”
Speaking of HALF A SIXPENCE, it’s an album that on Flea Market Sunday routinely shows up on tables filled with long-playing records and compact discs. The former tend to cost less than the latter, and I recall hearing one young shopper say to his buddy “I like buying a record because if I love the score, I’ll buy the CD” (before he explained that “My grandfather gave me his turntable”).
Purchasing items that I’d somehow missed along the way is only one reason why I annually attend. I love being among people who care as much as I about Broadway, be they as young as Annie Warbucks or as venerable as Noah in TWO BY TWO even before God turned him to a comparatively youthful ninety.
Just as Stephen Hopkins in 1776 rushed up close to John Hancock’s desk so he could “remember each man’s face as he signs” the Declaration of Independence, I like to look at the oh-so-serious and determined fans’ faces as they zip their fingers through the wares hoping that the next one will be The One they’ve been searching for since THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was deciding between the Martin Beck and the Majestic.
Even more fun comes from seeing young people’s interest peak when they see names they know but in musicals they don’t. About ten years ago I saw a young lad pick up a WILDCAT record and say to his friend “Hey – this Lucille Ball who’s on the cover. This is the person who’s on that funny black-and-white TV show, right?”
That these stars can still be seen through television syndication allows new audiences to know who they are. So when the lad’s friend assured him that, yes, Ball was the same person who graced that I LOVE LUCY sitcom, the purchase was made.
I trust the buyer was thrilled later on when he heard “Hey, Look Me Over,” a great song to introduce a musical heroine. Did he feel like dancing when he got to the rollicking “What Takes My Fancy” and “El Sombrero” as I once did?
Longtime Broadway observers have lamented that so many of today’s musicals and revivals star television performers; CHICAGO alone has employed plenty. But even in the fifties and sixties, Broadway audiences welcomed TV stars in musicals with open arms and checkbooks: Jackie Gleason in the heavenly TAKE ME ALONG and Phil Silvers in the fun-packed DO RE MI, all because of their respective performances as Ralph Kramden and Sgt. Bilko. Today’s kids buy these albums for the same reason.
Keen eyes have noted Alan Alda’s name above the title of THE APPLE TREE and have bought it because they knew him from M*A*S*H. Once they were in the car or back home, they got a hint of why Stephen Sondheim maintains that Alda gave one of the musical theater’s greatest performances.
And that brings to mind another surprise of a few years ago: “Robert Alda?” asked one young girl a few years back when she reached the LP of WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN? “You think he’s related to Alan Alda?” She and her friend immediately took to their cell phones, pressed their Google apps and said a delighted “Oh!” when they learned that, yes, Robert was Alan’s father.
That was enough to get the lass to fork over money. She won’t be sorry when she hears Alda croon (along with Sally Ann Howes) one of Broadway’s most beautiful ballads: “Maybe Some Other Time.”
MAGGIE FLYNN and the studio cast album of BRIGADOON traditionally get buyers from those who’ve seen Shirley Jones in THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. Those scores don’t resemble the bubble-gum rock for which the Partridges were famous, but we trust that the new listeners would give a fervent thank-you for MAGGIE’s “The Thank You Song” and that hearing BRIGADOON will be almost like being in love.
If they know the Partridges, they’re sure to know the Bradys. Won’t they get a different view of Florence Henderson in THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER or FANNY?
That Sarah Jessica Parker of SEX IN THE CITY was looking for Marriage in the Kingdom in a ONCE UPON A MATTRESS revival is clear from the front cover. That’s also true of Tony Randall, the most famous Felix Unger of all, who steered the ship in OH CAPTAIN! But not all recordings have their stars’ names on the front cover. So the truly serious fans flip the record jackets and jewel cases to see more detailed information on the back.
A twist of the wrist allows them to see that Hal Linden was the paterfamilias of THE ROTHSCHILDS some years before he was Barney Miller, and see that Kevin Kline rode ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY before his many film roles. More than once I’ve heard “Julie Andrews was in this?!?” from those who troubled to check the back of THE BOY FRIEND’s cover.
One needn’t be an erstwhile TV star to engender young people’s interest. Perhaps the name that gets the most attention at the Flea Market is the one who headlined ALL AMERICAN. Year after year, I overhear a young voice say “Ray Bolger?! The Scarecrow in THE WIZARD OF OZ?!” Indeed, and while Bolger had few opportunities to sing in that classic film, ALL AMERICAN gave him more than a half-dozen chances to shine.
Then there was the teen girl who ran into the BARNUM record and blinked in surprise. “Jim Dale!” she said, pointing to the above-the-title name. “This is the guy who reads my HARRY POTTER books!” And she was reaching into her handbag.
I’m glad she bought it. A teenager inevitably feels glum every now and then, so I hope a spin of “Come Follow the Band” will chase the blues away. Is there any song that can as quickly lift one’s spirits?
I still remember the screech coming from one table that made me fear something terrible had happened. No, a young man was just surprised to see “Judi Dench did CABARET in London?!?! That Judi Dench who plays ‘M’ in the James Bond movies?!?!”
Yes, one and the same. Wonder if this year, though, someone said “Judi Dench! Oh, nice to see she did a musical before CATS!”
More than once I’ve heard a kid pick up NEW FACES OF 1956 and say “Maggie Smith?! THAT Maggie Smith?!” Yes, it’s the future Tony- and two-time Oscar-winner just starting out. What fun to hear her say in her introductory cut “Hello, I’m Maggie Smith” in that distinctive voice that would eventually be known to us all.
Nice to see that Chita Rivera has fans among the young. Sure, many have never heard the name of her 1964 vehicle, so they often say Ba-JOWER instead of Ba-JOUR. Those who bought the album and then experienced the zesty title song will never make that mistake again.
And as a result of kids listening to all these recordings, perhaps they’ll start noting more than just the names of stars. Maybe next year – on West 44th and 45th Street, we hope – they’ll see LITTLE ME or HOW NOW, DOW JONES and say “Wow! Carolyn Leigh did the lyrics to this one, too! Based on WILDCAT, I gotta have it!”
And they won’t be sorry.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.