Happy Mardi Gras!
All right, you promised yourself last year that this year you’d finally go way down yonder to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras.
And now, this year and Mardi Gras are here, and once again, you didn’t make it.
Well, as Cyril Ritchard sings in The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd (yes, you read that title right), “There are so many things to remember as we travel the highway of life.” Or as Glynis Johns sings in A Little Night Music, “Well, maybe next year.”
Still, this would have been a good year to go, for the town should still be in a nice party mood from the recent Super Bowl victory by the New Orleans Saints. Isn’t it something how that once-woebegone team has changed its fortunes? There was a time when they really were Saints — for they always seemed to want the other team to win.
Though your chance to make plane and hotel reservations has passed, you can still this week have your own little Mardi Gras celebration in your happy hearth and home. Put on “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” in both senses of the phrase. First, put on your costume jewelry to dress in true Mardi Gras fashion, and then put on the song that was Kismet’s biggest hit. Choose from the original cast album where Doretta Morrow sings it, or the studio cast album where Ruth Ann Swenson does the honors.
Neither New Orleans nor Mardi Gras is a stranger to the cross-dressing experience, so playing La Cage aux Folles won’t be out of place. Actually, the musical almost took place in New Orleans, for the original plan of producer Allan Carr was to relocate the famed 1978 French film there. We’d have met Albie and George, their son Larry, and his intended Tommi Jean. Jay Presson Allen, who adapted The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the stage, would write the book, and a pre-Nine Maury Yeston would pen the score. That might have been fun, but who’d argue with the way that Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman eventually wrote it? And what’s a better Mardi Gras number than “The Best of Times”?
Other recommendations include Barnum’s “Come Follow the Band” — a song that makes you feel much better as you’re hearing it. (Might be good for Indianapolis Colts fans.) There’s a nice trifecta in Tracks 10 through 12 of Crazy for You: “Tonight’s the Night” and “The Real American Folk Song (Is a Rag)” surround the centerpiece: “I Got Rhythm.”
Whether you choose Eileen Rodgers in the 1962 revisal or Patti LuPone in the 1987 re-do of Anything Goes, “Blow, Gabriel Blow” will set your pulses racing. (Incidentally, the Rodgers disc also offers four Cole Porter songs that the LuPone doesn’t, though the later recording sports seven that the earlier one lacks.)
“The Joint Is Jumpin’” from Ain’t Misbehavin’ certainly fits the Mardi Gras mode – but so does “Fat and Greasy.” After all, “Mardi Gras” does mean “Fat Tuesday,” and much of the food available in the French Quarter is oily in nature.
Finally, play the cast albums of two musicals that, at least in part, take place in New Orleans: Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s Saratoga and Michael John LaChiusa’s Marie Christine.
Howard Keel and Carol Lawrence closed Saratoga 50 years ago last week at the Winter Garden, but the show lives on through its original cast album. Those first nifty trumpet licks that start the disc certainly set the Mardi Gras tone. “Petticoat High” is guaranteed to get the juices flowing, too. And though the rousing title song refers to a New York location and not a New Orleans one, it’s stirring enough for a Bourbon Street parade. Both songs are shown to fun advantage in the finale, too.
Audra McDonald received her fourth Tony nomination for Marie Christine, but for the first time in her Broadway career, she didn’t win. Listen to “Way Back to Paradise,” “C’est L’Amour,” and “Danced with a Girl,” and you just may feel she got robbed. Though Marie Christine is a heavy story (based on Medea, no less) these selections are as rousing as Mardi Gras. So’s “Cincinnati.”
You may save the others – as well as Saratoga’s “I’ll Be Respectable” – for the rest of the week, after Lent officially starts.
Peter Filichia also can be found each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia