HALF TIME: A Glass Much More Than Half-Full By Peter Filichia
Adults agree on very little. They take opposite sides on politics, religion, sexuality, movies and even pizza.
However, there’s one thing on which all adults agree.
Time goes fast.
(Last year I made a New Year’s resolution and wound up keeping it. I’d never managed to do that before. And how did I achieve it in 2018? Well, the year sped by so fast that I didn’t have time to break my promise to myself.)
The dozen senior citizens in HALF TIME, the musical that debuted at the Paper Mill Playhouse last year, would agree. Where DID the time go? They’re all in their late sixties or early seventies.
And yet, the newly released 2018 cast album of HALF TIME reminds us of another truism about the passing of days and decades:
There may well be enough time for us to accomplish a great deal — if we properly use that time.
That’s what characters in HALF TIME believe. Even if they’ve never heard the title song to CABARET, they know its main tenet: “What good is sitting alone in your room?”
So, when twenty-one year-old Tara of the New Jersey Nets announces that she’s creating a cheerleading squad consisting of men and women sixty years and older, they’re there.
Many are called but few are chosen. The highs and lows of the selectees – and their eventual success — provide the substance in the book by THE PROM’s authors Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin.
Here’s Donna McKechnie, forty-two years after winning her Tony for originating the role of Cassie in A CHORUS LINE (and beating out CHICAGO’s Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera in the process.)
McKechnie plays Joanne, the senior who bucks up her colleagues that become tired too quickly and decide to quit. “Follow Me to the Party,” McKechnie sings – and who wouldn’t follow her?
So while the seniors have their doubts early on in “Who Wants to See That?” – meaning their bodies – Tara eventually convinces them that spectators will soon be glad that “They All Get to See That.” And they will.
There’s a subplot, too, between Bea, one of the group, and Kendra — her “Princess.” (It’s an honorific as well as a song.) Kendra’s her granddaughter who drives Bea to and from rehearsals.
Many times Kendra wishes she didn’t. Bea is most judgmental about Anthony, the still-married man who’s involved with her “Princess.”
Kendra assures her grandmother that Anthony’s almost divorced and he certainly has money and prestige from his pro basketball career.
We’ll see, though, which member of the couple slam-dunks the other in the “Princess” reprise.
HALF TIME doesn’t shy away from even tougher issues. Mae has the most poignant song with “The Waters Rise.” She tells of her husband’s current battle with an illness that they both know is terminal. Mae sings “People ask ‘Can I help?’ and I tell them ‘Sure! You can find a cure!’”
Needless to say, that’s much easier said than done. Mae knows that every day gets her closer to widowhood.
All these songs were written by two artists, each of whom can boast of having received a pair of Tony nominations: Nell Benjamin (LEGALLY BLONDE; MEAN GIRLS) provided the lyrics to music by Matthew Sklar (THE PROM; THE WEDDING SINGER).
Of the younger generation of lyricists, Benjamin is one of the few who concentrates on giving her characters perfect rhymes. She knows that an audience has an easier time understanding what’s being sung when the rhymes are correct.
Sklar has the ability to create melodies that sound right for the characters’ ages. Thus you’ll hear songs that mirror the ‘50s and ‘60s when these Golden Agers were in their youth.
However, three songs with Benjamin’s lyrics have music by another composer. And that reminds us of the passage of time in a sadder way.
Before EGOT (and Pulitzer Prize)-winner Marvin Hamlisch passed in 2012, he was hard at work writing HALF TIME’s music.
His “The Prince of Swing” has Ron recall when he could cut across a rug with the greatest of ease during his salad days.
(By the way, if “salad days” are defined as a person’s youth, then senior citizenship can justifiably be called one’s “dessert days.” And dessert is pretty tasty stuff, isn’t it?)
Ron’s dancing partner was his wife Judith, who died two years earlier. He’s reluctant to admit she’s gone, and in “There You Are” he imagines that she’d never left and that they’re dancing once again.
“Dorothy/Dottie,” with its similar names separated by a virgule, shows two different sides of the character. Dorothy is the “too polite” kindergarten teacher who admits that inside her is Dottie; she’s “angry, loud and vulgar.”
Georgia Engel, who’ll always be remembered as Georgette Franklin Baxter on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, got to record “Dorothy/Dottie” before she died this past April.
Engel at least made it to seventy; Hamlisch died at sixty-eight.
But there’s the other side of the aging coin, isn’t there? Andre De Shields, now seventy-three, just won his first Tony Award for his role in HADESTOWN. It came less than a year after he’d played Ron and sang “The Prince of Swing” and “There You Are” at Paper Mill.
That triumph alone is another indication that there indeed may well be enough time for all of us to accomplish a great deal — if we properly use that time as the characters in HALF TIME do.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.