The Tom Swifty Goes Broadway By Peter Filichia
There have been knock-knock jokes, practical jokes and light-bulb jokes. But 60 years ago, the joke that was sweeping the country was the Tom Swifty.
Never heard of it? Let your youth be your consolation. According to Wikipedia, “Tom Swiftys are named after the Tom Swift American adventure novels. The various authors would always describe every action with an adverb. Tom never just said anything, but said it carefully, excitedly, eagerly, etc.”
Thus, each Tom Swifty that swept the summer of ’63 – America’s last innocent one – involved a pun that focused on the adverb. To wit:
“How can I convince you to mow the lawn?” Tom asked rakishly.
“Those knives are too sharp,” Tom said pointedly.
“I dropped my toothpaste down the sewer,” Tom said crestfallenly.
It was a rare television show or radio host that didn’t snap out a Tom Swifty that summer. At parties, friends would try out new ones, to which their friends gave groans of appreciation. Three years later, The Random House Dictionary of the English Language included the Tom Swifty in its new edition, thus legitimizing it forever.
In honor of the 60th anniversary, shall we whip up some Tom Swiftys that are Broadway-centric?
“I’ll murder anyone who criticizes Streisand or Cook,” Tom said barbarously.
“I much prefer the score that Leonard Bernstein wrote before WEST SIDE STORY,” Tom said candidly.
“I adore that song in WILDCAT when they strike oil,” Tom gushed.
“I’m still disgusted that Cheryl Freeman didn’t get a much-deserved Tony nomination for THE WHO’S TOMMY,” Tom said acidly.
“Don’t try to tell me that 110 IN THE SHADE isn’t one of the best musicals ever,” Tom said hotly.
“I hope it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score and not the absence of scenery that makes you want to produce ALLEGRO,” Tom said unsettlingly.
“Alphabetically, the cast album of THE ZULU AND THE ZAYDA always rounds out a collection,” Tom said at last.
“I can’t say how PROMISES, PROMISES stacks up to the film on which it’s based because I’ve only seen an abbreviated section of that movie,” Tom said aptly.
“Oh, how I loved in GYPSY when Ethel Merman stormed down the aisle and yelled ‘Sing out, Louise!” said Tom, sounding entranced.
“Bet you don’t remember the name of Alan Alda’s character in the third act of THE APPLE TREE,” Tom said flippantly.
“What did you think of HELLO, DOLLY! after Carol Channing left?” Tom asked gingerly.
“I’ll never understand why Larry didn’t win a Tony for Best Orchestrations for A CHRISTMAS STORY,” said Tom blankly.
“No one’s really naked at Broadway Bares,” Tom said briefly.
“Without a doubt, Reid Shelton is the best actor who ever played Daddy Warbucks,” Tom said baldly.
“And how lucky they were to get Sandy Faison as Daddy Warbucks’ secretary,” said Tom gracefully.
“What will Gooch do now?” asked Tom expectantly.
“You want to know how Marty McFly got back to the past?” Tom asked mysteriously.
“You’re simply not good enough to play The Tin Man in THE WIZ,” Tom said heartlessly.
“The best I could do to get tickets for SHUCKED was go to a scalper,” Tom said icily.
“I liked being in summer stock theaters when they had canvas tops,” Tom said intently.
“I’ve seen dozens of actors do Richard in 1776, so don’t tell me the best wasn’t Ron Holgate,” Tom said irately.
“Michael is his first name, but I bet you can’t come up with the last name of the choreographer of FINIAN’S RAINBOW, LI’L ABNER and HERE’S LOVE,” Tom kidded.
“I didn’t care when Richard Rodgers and Alan Jay Lerner dissolved their partnership,” Tom said lackadaisically.
“So, what was the name of that sterile-looking theater in Baltimore that was mercifully torn down?” Tom said mechanically.
“Don’t you miss Theater Week?” Tom still asks periodically.
“And why hasn’t there been a revival of IRMA LA DOUCE?” Tom asked tartly.
“Did I hear that Kim McAfee and Hugo Peabody broke up?” Tom asked unsteadily.
“I’ll have to close our production of TWO BY TWO,” Tom deduced.
“So what, that I didn’t get the male lead in ONCE UPON A MATTRESS,” Tom said dauntlessly.
“Picking Miss Jones to headline that studio cast album of BRIGADOON was a wise choice,” Tom said surely.
“It’s not a stretch to say that I cry when little Coalhouse Walker III comes on the stage at the end of RAGTIME,” Tom said tautly.
“Do you think that when Sondheim and Lapine wrote INTO THE WOODS, they stuck too close to the original source material?” asked Tom grimly.
“I see nothing wrong with Mrs. Johnstone’s giving one of her babies to a neighbor,” Tom said transparently.
“I missed seeing Ms. Henshall in CHICAGO,” Tom said ruthlessly.
“After all this talk about great performances, it’s time we got around to Elena Roger in that Lloyd Webber-Rice revival,” Tom said inevitably.
“I better catch that production of DAMES AT SEA before it closes,” Tom said fleetingly.
“May we see MAN OF LA MANCHA one more time?” Tom requested.
“I can’t find a cast album of THE GOLDEN APPLE anywhere,” said Tom fruitlessly.
“Don’t judge that Cy Coleman musical about 42nd Street by what Encores! did with it,” Tom said lifelessly.
“I love the ballet that ends the first act of OKLAHOMA!” said Tom dreamily.
“Let’s have Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley revive SIDE SHOW,” was Tom’s rejoinder.
(Don’t like that one? How about this one?)
“I just adored singing SIDE SHOW’s great score,” Alice Ripley said, beside herself.
(Yes! Why should we limit ourselves to things Tom said?)
“Now Venus would seem tame,” Hero sang disarmingly.
“Someday I’ll do the parts that Daddy had in WISH YOU WERE HERE, MAGGIE FLYNN and IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S SUPERMAN,” Patrick Cassidy said sunnily.
(You know, the answer to so many of these is “Well, you can always listen to the cast album.”)
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – THE BOOK OF BROADWAY MUSICAL DEBATES, DISPUTES, AND DISAGREEMENTS – is now available on Amazon.