Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.
Peter Filichia is the drama critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, as well as a daily columnist for BroadwayOnline.com. He has provided the liner notes for several Fynsworth Alley releases, including Subways Are for Sleeping.
DL: How did you get to be Peter Filichia, theatre guru? What were the steps along the way?
PF: Truth to tell, back in 1968 I was a student at the University of Massachusetts, and a kid I knew from high school in Arlington, Massachusetts, came up to me and said, “I just became the editor of the school newspaper; will you review plays?” I’d never thought of doing it before in my life. So, I did that, and what was really interesting is that within a year, [a new newspaper] started in Boston, which is now called the Boston Phoenix, and they were looking for people to review, and I decided to review for them. After a while, it got to really difficult financial constraints, and I quit because they weren’t paying.
What had happened was, that I realized all the influence I’d been building up for the Boston community, you know, getting quoted in ads and what have you and even to the point, this is a kind of an interesting story, in 1970, the Broadway musical Gantry, with Robert Shaw and Rita Moreno, decided not to go out of town. What they were going to do, is invite the out-of-town critics, to come see it in New York, they were going to pay to have them come and they invited Elliot Norton and they invited Kevin Kelly, and they invited Bernie Shear from Philadelphia and people from all the tryout towns, and they included me. So things were really quite nice, but because the paper was going through hard times, I got on my high horse and decided I was quitting and aside from my marriage, I view that as the biggest mistake of my life. Because, for 17 long years, nothing happened, I didn’t do anything along those lines, in terms of any theatre writing whatsoever. And I said to myself, if I ever have a chance to do this again, I will never make the mistake of worrying about money. Because the thing is, when you’re printed, people don’t know what you’re getting, you know. When you’re printed, they think you really know.
So, in 1987, while walking along the street, I saw this magazine called TheatreWeek, and I said, “Well, here’s my chance.” Because, it’s a brand new publication, I bet they’re looking for writers. So, I called them up, and this literally happened exactly this way, I call them up and they connected me to the editor-in-chief, a wonderful man named Mike Salinas, like the California city, and I said to him, I want to write for you and to which he said, “No, you don’t.” I said, “Yes, I do.” “No, you don’t because we only pay thirty five dollars an article.” And I said, “I don’t care. The money is not important.” Now, granted I had another job, you know, so that’s one of the reasons why the money wasn’t important. What I was doing at that time, I was editor-in-chief, in fact, of a magazine called the Best Report, which was of the best of everything and I was able to travel around the world, staying in the best hotels, eating in the best restaurants, I gained twenty-six pounds on that job, which I have not lost.
I remember checking into Detroit, into the five-bedroom suite, as Ronald Reagan was checking out. So, it was a terrific job, I was eating saffron ice cream, for which one would pay fifty dollars a pint, I mean, it was a phenomenal experience, but it wasn’t feeding my soul. I mean it did feed my soul when I got a free trip to Japan for ten days and I saw The King and I over there. It did feed my soul when I was able to travel the Orient Express going from Paris to London. From Paris, where I saw Man of La Mancha, (L’homme de la Mancha) all the way to London where I saw Follies. I mean, but really my heart and soul is definitely in theatre, so as a result I said, “I don’t care about the money.” And they said, he said, “ Okay, if you don’t care about the money, well, then, you know, fine.” And as time went on, they did give me much more than thirty, they gave me as much as a hundred and fifty dollars apiece. But, on the other hand, times got tough at TheatreWeek, as you probably know and I would say, for the last year, I virtually didn’t get paid at all. And it didn’t matter, because nobody knew that. They’ll know it now. But the point is, I was getting out there, I was building a following. And when this job opened up here at the Star-Ledger, one of the reasons I was hired is because the editor-in-chief said, “I can see that you are pro-theatre and I want the arts to grow in New Jersey, we need someone like you.” And being pro-theatre was part of my mission when I went to TheatreWeek.
You know, when I went there the editor-in-chief said, “Listen, we’re not interested in reviewing. We’re not going to review in this publication.” And as long as he was editor, he was only there less than a year, but as long as he was editor, there were no reviews. He just wanted features. I said, “That’s fine. Because what I would like to be is to be a cheerleader for the theatrical community. I want to be somebody who represents the fanatic. The one who can’t wait until those albums come in in the record store and buy them immediately as they’re putting on the price tags. The one who’s first in line at the box office to see something, the day the box office opens. The one who goes back a number of times.” Cause that’s who I really am. I mean, I am a tremendous fan of this, this wonderful art form. There is, I’ve read lots of novels, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and I’ve been to ballgames, all that kind of stuff, but nothing puts the chill up my spine, like theatre and especially as you well know, a musical. So as a result, this is where my passions really were and I think it shows in my writing, and certainly because I’m really doing what I genuinely love.
It’s funny because our dance critic just came back from vacation, and I said to her, “Where’d you go? Cincinnati?” And that’s a joke between us, because when I was at this paper a year, she said to me at that time, this was 1994, “Gee, you’ve been here about a year, aren’t you going on vacation?” and I said “Yeah, next week.” “Where’re you going?” she said, with Europe, the Caribbean in her voice. I said “Cincinnati.” She said, “Oh. Oh, friends, relatives, a wedding.” I said “No, no, no…” I’d never been to Playhouse in the Park, you know, and Carol Channing’s going to be there doing Dolly! And ironically, it’s only an hour from Louisville and I’m going to drive down… She said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait. You mean to tell me, that on your vacation, you’re going to do exactly the same thing you do the rest of the year?” And I said, “Well, Valerie, I guess I’m doing the right job.” I can’t imagine going on a vacation and not seeing theatre. It would be, I’d be incapable of doing that. I no longer go to places like the Bahamas or Antigua. I mean, I used to go to places like that, thinking there’s going to be this hilarious production of Dolly! there and I’m going to have a wonderful time. But they don’t do it there.
Anyway, if you’ve read my column recently you know I just came back from Chicago, that was a genuine vacation, and yet… I saw four shows and took copious notes and certainly wrote them up in great detail. You know, every now and then my girlfriend will say to me, “You love musical theatre more than you love me.” And then there’s this protracted silence in which I don’t know what to say. And then I finally came up with the answer that “Well, you know, there’s a grandfather clause. I mean I got interested in musical theatre seventeen years before I met you. So get in line.” What can I say? You know, but anyway. I did want to concentrate on the little known facts. The things that people found as interesting as I did. The obscure cast albums, the idea, I did a story once on how hard it was to find Flahooley and what I went through and how I even have a scar below my lip from the time they literally threw me out of the basement of a record store when I walked in on one clerk doing a sexual act to another. “I’m just looking for Flahooley,” I said. It didn’t matter, they threw me out of the store. They didn’t say, “Right over here, sir.” “And stay out!” The idea of what it was like to stand in line for shows. Finding that book in the used bookstore that you never thought you’d find. And reading, too and playing these records, too. There’s nothing I do that I don’t think about musical theatre. When I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal, about time capsules, that immediately, okay, musical theatre, as you well know, you’ll be a part of the piece which will run in the next couple of days. When I saw that thing about Mount Rushmore, Time Magazine with Mount Rushmore on the cover, immediately, click, musical theatre. It’s just part of my fiber now. So I think one of the reasons I became this way is because I exert so much energy in this. You know, they idea that I write seven a week for the internet column, and I do have a full-time job here, and I write five or six articles here a week. So, I’m always doing this, I have no other life, nor am I interested in any other life.
DL: How long have you been doing the daily column format?
PF: It’ll be two years, November 29. So, there’ve been about six hundred fifty, seven hundred, in a row.
DL: When you moved into that, did you find that you had to expand the kind of things you wrote about? Was it ever a struggle to keep producing day after day after day?
PF: It doesn’t seem to be a struggle because I do think of it like a regular diary. I think just by naming A Theatergoer’s Diary in a strange sort of way, it made me realize, there are people who write in their diaries every night. That’s all I’m doing, too. And if you look at those times, of when these columns are filed, providing they tell you what time, you’ll see often it’s twelve, one, or two in the morning. You know, I mean I do stay up late to do them and many times, it’s exactly what I did that night and I come home and it’s fresh and I write about it. So, I will say, every now and then I think to myself, “Uh-oh. I don’t what I’m going to write about in two days. I mean I’m not seeing anything, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” That used to happen, now I no longer worry about it when that happens, because traditionally what I find is when I don’t know what I’m going to write about in the next couple of days, suddenly six ideas come and then I know what I’m doing for the next week. So, I no longer get upset about it, I no longer feel pressured by it. It seems to me, as the King says in Once Upon a Mattress, “I’ve got a lot to say.” So, but, I really feel, I seem to. I guess one day I will run dry, but it hasn’t happened yet, and I wanted the challenge of seeing if I could do it everyday. I thought I could, but I did really want to see if I could. You know, thinking you can and doing it are certainly two different things.
And, so far, so good. I mean I do plan a bit in advance occasionally, when I know an anniversary of a show is coming up, or somebody’s birthday is coming up or something like that. But for the most part it’s catch as catch can, but I seem to catch a lot. It hasn’t really been a problem, so far. So we’ll see.
DL: What do you find is the main difference in writing for the internet versus writing for traditional print media?
PF: Oh. I’m not sure there’s any difference in terms of what I did for TheatreWeek. But there’s no question that for the internet column, I certainly get far more arcane that I get for the newspaper, I guess you didn’t expect that to be the answer. But what’s really interesting, what I find is when I interview anybody, I’m interviewing for two medium. I know that there are certain questions I’m going to pose for the Star-Ledger interview, and there are going to be others that I know are just going to be interesting to my fanatical readers. What’s nice about the internet, is that it doesn’t encourage you to write long. I was told I could write as few as four hundred words a day, I rarely write that few. Usually it’s around six, but sometimes they’re gargantuan. I like the idea of writing shorter than I did, I wrote about twelve hundred words, twelve to fifteen hundred words for TheatreWeek, every week and used to show up to their offices every Friday and give them my disc, which they used to convert, in those pre-electronic days. So, anyway, the idea of writing shorter appeals to me, because all of a sudden I seem to start and all of a sudden I’m done. I mean, some of these are really done in ten minutes and I suppose some of them look it. But I mean, some of them are really done in ten minutes, some take days, I mean, I did one on, there’s been a rhyme of wife and life on Broadway for the last fifty years. There’s always been a show that’s had that lyric somewhere in it, that rhyme in it. That took a long time. That took a long time. But it was fun to do too. It got me to listen to my collection and go back and hope upon hope and listen carefully, that I would find wife and life rhyming, you know. It was a ball, it really was. I’m only sorry of that strike that happened in the late forties, that prevented a lot of cast albums from being recorded because I bet that I could go, technically aside from that strike time, I can go as far back as Lady in the Dark and give you a wife/life rhyme all the way through. Yeah, it seems to be from readers I have and people who write in that they seem to like when I get fanciful like that. And I certainly enjoy doing it.
DL: Well, that’s interesting too, in that you have a great deal of reader interaction in your column. It seems now that at least once a week there’s going to be a column that either asks a question or has half of it devoted to what readers have to say about something you’ve said. Is that something you get in your newspaper column as well or is that unique?
PF: No. That’s a good point, that’s something that never happened before the internet. It’s interesting, back in the late 80s, I was watching the movie on TV, There’s No Business Like Show Business. Donald O’Connor says to Marilyn Monroe, “You should be interested in me, I’m lawful, friendly, courteous and kind, I’m reverent and brave…” And he goes on and on and on, and I said, “My God, those are the lyrics from Little Mary Sunshine.” So I wrote in the column, I said, “Isn’t it interesting? I wonder if Rick Besoyan must have known There’s No Business Like Show Business and lifted those lyrics, those words, into the lyrics for the opening song of Little Mary Sunshine. Nobody wrote me. Not a word. Okay. Years later I was watching the movie again, and I posed the same question on the internet. Holy God, there were like fifty e-mails from people saying, “You were obviously never a Boy Scout. That’s the Boy Scout Oath, and that’s where that comes from.” And I wrote back every one of them. Of course I wasn’t a Boy Scout, there’s no merit badge in musical theatre appreciation, so I wasn’t interested in being a Boy Scout. Why would I be? You know, all they were interested in were butch things like camping, you know, so that wasn’t the type of camping I was interested in. It’s very interesting how a lot of people who won’t write a letter, of course, will send a e-mail. They’re not going to look for a stamp, but it’s far less of an effort to do it that way, so I do hear from a lot of people. The irony is, by the way, the columns where I ask readers to send in stuff turn out to be the most laborious things to turn into columns, you know, because you have to switch them from e-mails into files, and they don’t always use the same coding you do, and sometimes they use all capital letters for the titles, and other times they use bookmarks, which have their own coding in e-mail, while on BroadwayOnline.com, you have to do something else entirely… So those are really big efforts, and I know there must be some people who say, “Oh, sure, look at this. He did no work. He just relies on other people. That was a free column for him today.” It really wasn’t. They really do take much more work than my fancifully giving opinions or deciding to go out on a limb and do something a little off base. But I like doing it because I like the fact that we have this wonderful internet that makes us a community, and I’m all for being in it. I’ve taken so many people to lunch; I meet with anybody who wants to. That’s very important to me. To get to know who the other people are who love what I love. I can listen to people tell me stories of how they got interested in theatre, what their first show was, what their first album was, what their favorites are, if there was a time machine what would they go back and see, what show would they see again… I ask those questions of everybody, and I’m always fascinated by the answers people give. So, God blessed me by getting me to know my brother wizards, that I can hobnob with my brother wizards. So, it’s really quite wonderful.
DL: What would you say is the column that got the most heated response from all your people, all your readers?
PF: It seems whenever I’ve said anything good about Frank Wildhorn, that certainly turns out to be a problem. And Frank knows that not one of his shows do I like unconditionally, but I think that there are assets in each one of them and whenever I’ve printed an asset, saying “You know, well, on the other hand, this guy does have…” Well, good lord, that certainly brings a lot of controversy there. Gee, I know there have been others that I thought it would never end, you know, the people. I know when I come down hard on Man of La Mancha, I hear from a lot of people. It’s a show I just don’t much like at all. As a result, I hear from those people. Oh, Copacabana When I said bad things about Copacabana when I saw it in Boston last year. Good lord! I heard from Barry Manilow fans like crazy to the point of which, months later they were writing me saying things like, “Barry sold out last week in Pittsburgh.” Not Copacabana mind you, but Barry. You know, they really took it as a personal attack on Barry, and while Barry needs to be attacked for what he did for Copacabana the fact remains, what he does on his concert tours are irrelevant. So, I always write back, and whenever anybody disagrees with me on a show that they loved, that I’ve hated, I always answer the same way, and while it’s a formula answer for me now, I really do believe it. And that is, I’d much rather you have a good time than agree with me, and I would. I really would. I don’t need people to agree with my point of view. If a show works for somebody, terrific, fabulous. You know, I don’t need people to see my point of view particularly. If they want to fine, but I still really would much rather they have a good time.
DL: The other thing about the internet, besides the interaction, is that it’s given everyone their ability to set up their own little soapbox and have their own little place to say whatever they want.
DL: As someone who does that professionally, how do you view this phenomenon?
PF: Well, you know, pretty much the same way I view community theatre. I love the word amateur because it does mean for the love of, so it’s fine with me. I’m on just as you are, on Talkin’ Broadway. You know, I certainly check in many times a day to see what people are saying. I enjoy it so much. I remember posts for months. I love the so-called – so-called – amateurs that post on Talkin’ Broadway. There are some, of course, that rankle me a bit, and there are some that are gone now that I’m not sorry to see go – no names – but all the same, I’m not threatened by it at all. I think it’s really quite wonderful.
DL: To shift gears a little bit, what still gets you the most excited about the theatre?
PF: Frankly, and this is going to be read by an audience in an art form that’s very famous for conflict, I like shows where people are nice to each other. And watching people be nice, I can watch people be nice to each other all night long. Somebody recently asked me, “What was the show you most looked forward to that was the biggest disappointment when you finally saw it?” And I said “The first act of the first preview of Merrily We Roll Along,” because everybody was so rotten to each other. Then during the second act I fell in love with the show, because it was all about people being nice to each other. I realized that early on. I didn’t think of that during intermission, but as soon as the second act began and I saw “It’s a Hit!” I thought to myself, “Oh, wow! Wait a minute. These people, we’re going to see the roots of their friendship, it’s going to be wonderful. They’re all going to be nice to each other.” Similarly, Me And My Girl, is one where people are nice to each other. I mean, when I first saw Me And My Girl, I remember my eyes lowering in a type of world-weariness saying, “Oh, I got it, you’re going to try to cheat him out of the money, and he’s going to outsmart them.” I can still see Jane Connell onstage now, pointing that finger and saying, “No. He is the rightful heir. He is entitled to this money. We will make him better than he is.” I was in heaven. Because again it was all about niceness. Everybody in that show is nice, with the possible exception of Jane Summerhayes’ character, who’s a benignly evil person. I know that’s oxymoronic, but I think you might know what I mean because you’ve seen the show. You know that character’s a paper tiger really. She wants the guy with the money. She’s hardly the worst gold digger we’ve ever seen. But, everybody else in the show tries to do the right thing. He tries to do the right thing by the girl, the girl tries to do the right thing by him, you know, which is really quite nice. And everybody’s just trying to be nice to each other and I was in heaven. You know, I thought that was just terrific, that that happens. So, the idea of people being nice is what really excites me about theatre and I seem to see that more in theatre than I do in the movies or TV. I may be wrong, there may be a lot of exceptions to the rule, and people will criticize and say, “You’re forgetting about…” or “What about…” But even so, it does seem to me that musical theatre by and large, there are exceptions to the rule, you know what they are as well as I. There’s a lot of niceness going on and I think that really appeals to me tremendously. It’s funny, cause I saw Goodtime Charley last night and that song “Why Can’t We All Be Nice?” is certainly something I’ve asked a lot of times in my life. And I don’t know. Has there been another property in any other medium that urges people why can’t we all be nice. If so, I’m not aware of it. So, in a strange way, as I say, in something that has to involve conflict, it’s the absence of conflict that hits the spot with me.
DL: With all writing that you’ve done about theatre, have you ever been involved in the actual production of the theatre?
PF: No. Not really. I don’t think so. I mean, I directed a community theatre production once. I used to direct when I was, I do a little writing for kids in high school, not when I was in high school, well, yeah, when I was in high school too, but when I was, I was an English teacher for eight years, which was a good time, and I did do a lot of directing there with the kids and writing one-act plays for them, which they did in competitions. Those plays are still available through Baker’s Plays and you can get, produced in high schools literally around the world, I mean my most recent royalty check came in last month reflected productions in South Africa. There’s no secret that when I came to the city I wanted to write Broadway musicals, and while I still believe I’m good enough to do it, I don’t have the business sense for it. I don’t have Frank Wildhorn’s ability of saying, “You gotta hear this. You’re not going to believe this. This is great.” I don’t have that type of ability to put myself forth in that manner. So, I learned pretty quickly that my best bet was to stand on the sidelines and really champion those people who are able to get things on. So, very little hands on experience.
I’ll tell you what was interesting to me, though: in 1979, not long after I came to the city, I met a woman who worked for Jeffrey Richards, the press agent. She got me a job there, and what was really fascinating to me was that even though I was only there about four or five months, it really helped me in the years to come, because I saw how hard people in that office worked to get press on shows, and that any mention anywhere, the slightest mention, was torn out, photocopied, circled, sent to the producer. That really was tremendously important to me many years later, because when press agents call me, usually, they say, “Hi. How you doing?” I say, “Hi. How can I help?” Because I know what a difficult thing it is and I know that any little thing will help that person when he goes into his boss and says “Good news. We’ve got the Star-Ledger.” Or “He’s putting something in his column.” Or something like that. Every little bit counts. And so, I’m so glad I had that job, because it really taught me how important it was. And I’d be a very different type of writer, I know, if I didn’t have that job, and far less sympathetic to press agents. But every time I say yes to something, I just envision that young boy or girl going into his boss saying, “Good news. We’ve got something.” And I know how that person feels.
When the Olympic judges judge, they judge from ten points and then nine point nine, nine point eight, nine point seven. But a lot of critics go in and they give you zero, and you have to build up. But when I come in, you’ve got ten points already. I hope you continue to have ten points. I come from a place where I’m rooting for you. I want it to be wonderful. Or I want it to be at least something for some audience. I don’t care if it’s something that I like, but I do want to recommend to the audience who would like a certain show. That’s important to me, too, to “zero in” in that way. Because I do think, “Okay, who would like this?” Never mind whether or not it pleased me. I don’t care if it hits my bell. On a personal level, wouldn’t it be fun for me to go home thrilled that night, but more significantly as a reviewer, I really want to see if I can find the right audience for the right show.
DL: Now, do you ever get into trouble for that with your editors? “You’re too nice.” “You’re not doing your job.”
PF: Yeah. The management changed here, and I noticed that they tend to say, “Hey, that was great,” whenever I write a vicious pan. No question about that. But I am who I am, and I do see the glass as half full or even more than that. So that’s it. I’m very much aware of the fact, because this is the biggest paper in the state, and as a result, one thinks that the biggest therefore would be the most stern and the meanest, and that doesn’t quite happen here. Ultimately, I can also write a review that the next day the people at the playhouse say to themselves, “That was all right, we got off okay. Hey, that was pretty good, don’t you think?” and it won’t sell a single ticket. But, I can really write those so well, I believe, the ones that don’t hurt anybody’s feelings and yet, don’t inspire any reader to call the box office. So, even though, easy is one thing, I do think I protect the reader tremendously from getting into something he doesn’t want to get into. And frankly, the New Jersey theatre community here knows I’m on its side as best I can be. I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve written negative reviews they call up the next day and say, “You’re right, you’re right, you’re absolutely correct. You hit it on the head.” We have a very good relationship that way. While if I were mean, I doubt that they would say that. We work very hard to please each other actually. I’m very happy with that.
DL: I know that a lot of theatre writers, even people who write in places other than New York, are very New York centered, and I know that you are very much not New York centered – you’re always flying to Chicago or Los Angeles or Wichita to see shows. Was this an attitude that developed, or was that a conscious decision when you started out?
PF: It really happened in 1967, when I went to Providence, Rhode Island to see The Grass Harp, which has a million problems with it, but the score is just glorious, and it was very exciting. The Grass Harp is usually done very ethereally in almost every other production I’ve seen it’s been very gentle and sweet and wistful. It wasn’t at Providence. It was really a very, I’m looking for a euphemism for ballsy, but you get the point, musical theatre piece. And it was the aggressiveness of it that really put it across to me. But, once I saw that show in this theatre, where I expected I was going to see scenery falling over and wigs overly powdered. I thought it was going to be just a disaster and not only that, the night I went I had just the day before seen all the Boston reviews, which were putrid. I went down on the most accidental of situations, it still amazes me that I went to see it, but it was so overwhelming that I started going to Trinity Square continually in all the years I was in Boston. I haven’t been in a long time now, but in the years I was in Boston, I went always, because the guy down there running the show, Adrian Hall, was so magnificent, but that opened it up for me, once I saw the magic that happened in Providence, Rhode Island, within a month, I had been to Center Stage in Baltimore, Arena Stage in Washington, Philadelphia Theatre of the Living Arts, which no longer is in existence, Long Wharf. I just got in my car and I started traveling. And I’ve had wonderful experiences on every level of theatre, be it college theatre, community theatre. When I was going to school in Boston, those were the days that Stockard Channing, she was Susan Channing then and Tommy Lee Jones were performing at Harvard in quite a few plays every year, and that was very exciting. And seeing other people there too, who I also rank right up there with them, a guy named Steve Kaplan, who became Hanan, who was the original Gus in Cats. They really were stars to me. And it was the fact that because, once you have a good experience in a small or different venue, you really do believe that it can happen anywhere. The Yankees had a expression years ago when they were marketing their baseball team, which was, “At any moment, a great moment,” meaning, it could be nine to nothing in the ninth inning but you might see a tremendous catch, you might see a home run that goes longer that any home run that has ever been hit, you just never know. And I believe theatrical magic can really strike anywhere, and I’ve had it happen so often. I always talk about this one boy I saw as backing up Eliza Doolittle in a Casper, Wyoming community theatre production of My Fair Lady, where I tell you I’m still mad at myself for not going back stage and telling that kid how wonderful he was. He has no idea to this day how terrific he was. But he captured that character so beautifully and brilliantly. So, yeah, I’ve been to theatre in, I think it’s now thirty-eight, thirty-nine states, and I hope to get to the other eleven before all is said and done. There is no venue too small for me. It doesn’t matter to me. Of course, most of the time things aren’t so hot, and especially when you’ve been to about fifty seven hundred plays in your life, which is about what I’ve been to, it’s hard to be super-impressed. But it’s possible, and I always give the benefit of the doubt; it’s possible that it’s going to happen.
DL: Do you feel that when all is said and done, that you will have left behind in your writing, some sort of legacy?
PF: Well, as they say in Windy City (not that Windy City was the first one to say this), but you know the famous thing about newspapers, they do wrap fish up every night. The internet however, that stuff does get archived, so, no I can’t imagine. I think I’m going to be just as ephemeral as theatre is itself. If nobody remembers Katherine Cornell, how the hell are they going to remember me? You know. No, I’m the here and now, and theater is most often the here and now. When I did the thing about Mount Rushmore, it was interesting how so many people came up with so many different names when I said, “The musical theatre Mount Rushmore.” When I said, “Okay, let’s do a non-musical theatre Mount Rushmore,” people had a much harder time with it. Picking four names was much easier time for that matter, because they said, “Oh, this one’s easy. It’s gotta be Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Neil Simon.” I mean, that’s easy. And one person actually brought up the reason it’s easy is because we don’t have the records the way we do with the cast albums. Katherine Cornell, I think, made one movie, for the armed forces or something. But if you showed me two pictures of women, I wouldn’t be able to say for certain which one she was. I have no idea what she looked like. None. And if someone like me doesn’t know what she looked like then, I know the average person has no idea who she is. And she was a big shot once upon a time, as I don’t need to tell you. So, no, as I say, if she can’t last how can I? But it’s okay, I mean it’s fine, there are people who enjoy tuning in everyday and that’s perfectly good enough.
DL: What do you see in the future of musical theatre?
PF: Well, those of us who have seen the past, I think, will be rewarded in seeing it repeated. I don’t mind the revivals at all because I love the fact that the new generation gets a chance to see things that I saw, maybe not in productions as vivid as the ones I saw, or that could be my imagination, too. But, it’s interesting to me, I wonder if The Producers really will have the impact that a lot of people think it will and musical comedy will come back. There are times that I feel like when I see something like Miss Saigon now, as much as I admire the piece and I do, in a strange way it does feel dated to me, and I do think we’re going to see a period of “everything old is new again.” So, I believe we’re in for a renaissance of musical comedy and nice musical theatre, because the time has come for that. And it’s going to be fine with me if I live long enough to see the renaissance of the British musicals, for that matter. That’s fine. You know, I’ll take whatever comes. I’m sure I’m going to find a way to enjoy whatever they put in front of me. And I get excited still by the chance to see a new musical by new writers, sometimes I wish the craft were better. We’ve seen a lot of decline in society’s music across the board. When I was a kid I seemed to enjoy pop music more than I enjoy pop music now, which means I don’t enjoy pop music at all now, and of course some of that has spilled over to the theatre. M’s rhyme with N’s and singulars with plurals. I don’t much like the fact that the craft has been lessened as time goes on. But, still there’s exciting sounds to be had. I’m going to Urinetown tonight, and because I like that album, I can’t wait to get there and I can’t wait to see what those guys are going to write next. I don’t know what it’s remotely going to be like. But I am interested in hearing the next score tremendously. So, here I am, I’ve literally been counting the hours until eight o’clock tonight. If at my advanced age of fifty-five, after a solid forty years of going I can still be excited about seeing that tonight, I think that’s pretty good.