Peter Filichia is the NJ theatre critic for The Star-Ledger. He is the author of of several books including the recently released Broadway Musical MVPs: 1960-2010, The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons. For many years, Peter’s column called appropriately Peter Filichia’s Diary appeared 3 times a week on Theatermania. His new column Filichia on Friday can be seen on Bruce Kimmel’s website Kritzerland. Peter is not only a theatre critic but a lover of theatre. I wish other theatre critics were more like Peter.
What was your first professional job as a reviewer?
For Boston-After-Dark, a precursor to today’s Boston Phoenix, in August, 1969.
They sent me to Dennis, Massachusetts to review a new play that no one else on the staff wanted to see, because it truly sounded terrible: a blind boy falls in love. I came back with a rave, and they thought I was crazy. But the play, Butterflies Are Free, went on to Broadway and ran over 1,000 performances.
What do you remember most about going to your first Broadway show?
Truth to tell, when I went to see my first show – My Fair Lady at the Hellinger when I was 15 – I didn’t even know I was seeing a stage show. I thought they stopped doing them once movies were invented. Not until I was in H 19 and heard the orchestra tuning up did I suspect I’d see a live show – but even then I doubted it. Then there was a power failure, and I thought, “Oh, no – they’re going to give me my money back and I’ll never know if it was going to be live, because I’d be too embarrassed to ask anyone.” Except it wasn’t a power failure; it was the house lights dimming.
Have you ever considered getting into the production side of things?
No. I have no talent whatsoever. That’s why I had to become a critic.
Of the new writers today who do you think shows the most promise?
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who have written a contemporary score to a show called Edges and a traditional score for A Christmas Story. Their music sounds right for the era of the story they’re telling. Their lyrics they choose to put in a song are in the precisely correct places to make their points and land their jokes.
Starting with the 1940s to 2011 please choose pick 2 of your favorite musicals and plays.
Me and My Girl, because virtually everyone in the show is nice to each other and takes high-minded action. So many musicals are interested in seeing the man and woman fall in love; here, Bill and Sally are already in love when the show starts, and his newfound inheritance could threaten that. But he won’t give her up, although she thinks he might be better off without her; thus she nobly tries to extricate him from the relationship, but she stays true to him. Meanwhile, the Duchess and Sir John don’t try to cheat him out of his fortune, as we might suspect, but instead she tries to educate Bill while he tries to improve Sally. Lovely!
A Chorus Line just might be the best of them all. Which of us has not sweated nervously at a job interview? Imagine one lasting this long – and when all is said and done, even those chosen few find out they’ll be merely working for a Broadway minimum. And who says the show they’ll do is going to be a success? We all know that show business is hard, but this musical let us see that it’s even harder than we thought.
The Glass Menagerie was the first non-musical I saw that really packed a wallop (when I was 17). I can still remember jumping out of my seat a bit – and even how high I jumped — when Laura and Jim slammed into the table and knocked over the glass animals. I was devastated for her as I saw her whole life crumble before her.
Mary, Mary – which I also saw at 17 – was the ultimate in sophisticated comedy. I wanted to know those people, each of whom was so witty, and BE those people: he worked in books, she for a magazine. As I’ve often said, what I loved about Broadway when I was a kid was that it offered sophisticated adult entertainment; now that I’m a sophisticated adult, I must go to Broadway and see kids’ entertainment.
Play Broadway Trivia with Peter Filichia.
Purchase Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & The Biggest Flop of the Season -1959-2009.
Purchase Broadway Musical MVPs: 1960-2010, The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons.