[Crossposted from New Books in Theater] Speaking to long time theater critic Peter Filichia, one is reminded of listening to an old-time sportwriter talk about baseball. The Broadway he describes is full of colorful personalities, anecdotes, dates, numbers, and trivia. His spirit is enthusiastic and infectious: he’s turned his love of Broadway into a career. It’s a wonderful counterpoint to the all-too-typical theater discussions about what’s broken in the non-profit system or funding models.
His book, Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season 1959–2009 (Applause, 2010), is more than just fun (though it is that!). The writing is clear and generous, and the stories occasionally revelatory. (Did you know that Edward Albee wrote a failed draft of the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” musical? Did you know that Sir Peter Hall once suggested that the best way to get the effect of zero gravity was . . . trampolines?) What strikes me most, though, is how Filichia’s own personal experience feeds his work. Theater is an art that requires attendance. Unlike reading a book or renting a movie, there really are only a certain number of people that actually saw the original production of “Pippin” or “On the Town.” Either you were there or you weren’t. Experience, in theater, can’t be replicated by Netflix or a library card.