Filichia Features: The Musical That Refreshes

Filichia Features: The Musical That Refreshes

Every year around this time, a musical is either named its season's Best -- the adjective that The Tony Awards uses -- or Outstanding, which is The Drama Desk Awards' preferred label.

Some award groups have categories specifically for off-Broadway musicals. Here "Outstanding" is the word that The Lucille Lortel Awards dubs its winner; "Best" is the choice of the Outer Critics Circle Awards.

But for the 1976-77 season, The Outer Critics Circle - which consists of theater journalists not based in New York - decided it wouldn't quite name Annie the Best Musical of the Season. No, it instead used a description that no other show has had bestowed on it before or since.

"Most Refreshing Musical."

Actually, Annie was indeed the Best Musical of its Season as well as superior to at least a dozen other musicals that have won "best/outstanding" citations from these groups over the years. Yet few would argue that the Thomas Meehan-Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin musical isn't refreshing.

When it opened on April 21, 1977, New York wasn't in a golden age, for President Ford had denied the city funding when the town was approaching bankruptcy. Then came a show extolling the virtues of "N.Y.C." in song. Boy, did we need it then - and wasn't it refreshing to have some optimism for a change?

Too bad that "Most Refreshing Musical" didn't catch on as a category. Twenty-five years after Annie had opened at the Alvin Theatre, at the same (albeit renamed) playhouse (the Neil Simon) we got another one that would have won that unique prize: Hairspray.

Actually, revues would probably have an edge over "regular" book musicals if there were an annual award for "Most Refreshing Musical." Such song-and-dance shows rarely rely on conflict between characters and are just out to get audiences to say "Wow, can he sing!" "My, can she dance!" and "Oh, what a great song!"

So if you'd like to give your audiences a refreshing time, consider Blame It on the Movies, which offers songs from A ("An Affair to Remember") to Y ("You Stepped out of a Dream").

That the former is from a non-musical film and the latter from an actual movie musical is indicative of the show's thrust; songs from both genres are represented, so tunes that are played while the introductory or end credits are shown are included.

So are melodies that never had lyrics. Won't your cast have fun replicating the tunes from Jaws, Rocky and Psycho?

Next year, after the publication of Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom's biography of Eubie Blake (1887-1983), there'll be renewed interest in one of the country's trailblazing African-American composers. Sell the book in your lobby when you do your production of the 1978 revue Eubie!

You'll need good singers, yes, but terrific tap-dancers, too. Get both and you audiences will go wild when the entire company does Blake's best-known song "I'm Just Wild about Harry."

There'll always be an audience that's ready to walk down a nostalgic road and then dance in the aisles. Shout! qualifies, for it centers on '60s songs.

How can a look at that turbulent era possibly be refreshing? Well, as mad as it was in the United States, it was mod in England - which is why the official name of the revue is Shout! The Mod Musical.

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Americans needed something joyous in a hurry - and British composers, lyricists and groups were there to place on the soothing musical balm.

If you feel that your audiences will remember such as names as Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark, they'll smile if not shout when they hear songs that are exuberant ("Downtown"), cheerful ("Round Every Corner"), lively ("Wishin' and Hopin'") and vigorous ("I Know a Place").

There are movie songs here, too: "To Sir with Love," "Georgy Girl" (did you know that Tony-winning actor Jim Dale wrote the lyrics?), "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever," still considered by many to be two of the best of the James Bond themes.

Do enough of these shows in your community, and you might find that your local awards will feel compelled to initiate a category called "Most Refreshing Musical."

Read more Filichia Features .

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . He can be heard most weeks of the year on