YOU LIE LIKE A MUSICAL By Peter Filichia
Are you busy on Wednesday night, March 6? If not, saunter into Perfect Liars Club for a unique theatrical experience.
Four people get on stage and tell stories that are seemingly unbelievable. However, three are actually telling the truth –and only one is lying.
At the end of the evening, you see if you can pick out the liar from the truth-tellers.
Well, if what Mary Flynn in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG says is true – “People love you and tell you lies” – then you know that total strangers will fib to you.
Despite Miss Hannigan’s insisting to Annie “Never tell a lie” – and Nell Carter’s admonition in AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ that “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” – many people in musicals have told little white lies, tall tales and whoppers. Do you think if they appeared at Perfect Liars Club when you attended, you’d be able to tell which are telling the truth and which aren’t?
Albert and Rosie seem honestly sincere in BYE BYE BIRDIE until “A Healthy, Normal American Boy.” He says that Conrad will be “proud to be a plain G.I.,” while she maintains that “he will gladly face those bullets.”
You know they’re both lying, for Conrad has appealed three times to dodge the draft. But which is telling the truth on Birdie’s background?
While Rosie maintains that “he was born in Indochina, son of missionaries,” Albert wants us to believe that “He was born in old Virginny on a thousand-acre farm.” If they both appeared at Perfect Liars, whom would you believe?
(Neither he nor she? I see your point.)
Do you believe any of what you’re told by the Merry Murderesses in CHICAGO’S “Cell Block Tango”? Obviously not, but if you don’t speak Hungarian and can’t understand Hunyak’s forty-one-word foreign rant, you’ve had to give her the benefit of the doubt.
But I took to Google Translate and now can give in English what Hunyak is saying: “What am I doing here? It is said that a lake is holding my husband that I slammed on the head. But that isn’t it, and I’m innocent. I cannot tell Uncle Sam that I did it. I tried to explain to the police but they did not understand it.”
Do you find that, as lawyer Billy Flynn might claim, “Understandable, understandable”? Or as Mother sings in THE BAR-MITZVAH BOY, “Still not convinced.”
Let’s go to two Stephen Sondheim songs (from successive musicals, no less.) If FOLLIES’ Sally Durant Plummer were at Perfect Liars and told you about her ideal marriage in “In Buddy’s Eyes,” would you believe her? You might also start wondering what the silent Benjamin Stone was thinking while she was listing all her marital assets to him without mentioning the liabilities.
Maybe Sally took her cue from reunion host Dimitri Weismann. After all, he did say that he and all others in attendance would “lie about ourselves a little.”
Frederik Egerman starts lying in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC when he tells Desiree “You Must Meet My Wife” who’s yet to have sex with him. (Frederick certainly hopes that Desiree will cure what ails him.)
The difference here is that halfway through the number, she starts to see through him. You’d have done the same much sooner because you’d have had a few scenes to glean the reality.
Ms. Jackson – whom we better know as WILDCAT — is told “You lie!” (in “You’re a Liar”). She counters “I do not!” and follows that with an infantile-sounding cry that resembles something you would have heard out of – well, Lucy Ricardo.
Even if you were inclined to judge her to be true at Perfect Liars, would that crocodile cry be the overkill that made you change your mind?
You might think that Curly is one of Perfect Liars’ truth-tellers when he sings of the wonders of “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” that he owns. Laurey does. Well, you’d both be taken in, for Curly owns no such item.
Watch out, Laurey! If he’s lying to you before he’s married, what will happen later? A man who notices that “a little brown maverick is winkin’ her eye” at him will certainly notice women who do the same.
When Mabel gives Vernon “Hinesy” Hines hypothetical situations where his girlfriend Gladys may be cheating on him, he insists “I Would Trust Her.” You would know he’s lying to himself if you saw the rest of THE PAJAMA GAME where he does nothing of the kind.
Nickie and Helene in SWEET CHARITY mock their colleague’s new romance in “Baby, Dream Your Dream” where they predict that Charity will endure an unhappy marriage and be overwhelmed by her children.
Do you buy it? In fact, by song’s end, each admits that if she were to have such an admirer “Would I buy it!” As Savannah sings in JAMAICA “Ain’t It the Truth?”
LITTLE ME’s Belle Poitrine claims she’ll tell us “The Truth” and you might be inclined to believe her based on the funny, happy-go-lucky libretto that Neil Simon provided. But, as the Balladeer sings in THE APPLE TREE, “I’ll Tell You a Truth”: Patrick Dennis’ mock-memoir is much funnier and reveals that Belle lies about 525,600 times a year. Of course, Dennis’ brilliant book doesn’t have that terrific Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh score.
If Starbuck (from 110 IN THE SHADE) got up at Perfect Liars and told you the story of “Melisande,” you’d undoubtedly discern that he was an Imperfect Liar just from his song’s second and third lines: “Somewhere beneath the mountains of Mexico, there dwelt a royal fella, King Hamlet.” You and Lizzie both know he’s only about 6,000 miles off.
110 IN THE SHADE was based on N. Richard Nash’s THE RAINMAKER, which opened in late 1954. BELLS ARE RINGING opened in late 1956. And what’s the connection?
Well, in the latter show, Ella Peterson lies to Jeffrey Moss and says that she’s Melisande Scott. Did Betty Comden and Adolph Green get that first name after seeing THE RAINMAKER?
Whatever the case, if Ella got up at Perfect Liars and told you she was Melisande, you’d probably have faith in her because no one could ever doubt such a honeybunch as Judy Holliday.
If you attended Perfect Liars, would you believe Priam Farll? He’s the lead character in DARLING OF THE DAY, an esteemed Victorian-era landscape painter who yearned to escape the demands that art dealers made of him. So when his butler died and the doctor mistakenly wrote Farll’s name on the death certificate, Farll took advantage “To Get out of This World Alive.”
But because Farll was considered a national treasure (and in the National Gallery), he was entitled to internment in rarified Westminster Abbey. Eventually people come to suspect that Farll is alive so he’s brought before Parliament to establish who he actually is.
How shrewd he is in saying that if he is indeed Priam Farll, then there’s a “Butler in the Abbey.” In fact, in one of E.Y. Harburg’s many brilliant lyrics, Farll states that if that’s true, “Shakespeare would be shaken and awaken Francis Bacon, and each would say the other wrote KING LEAR.”
(And that would mean that the doctor in HOW NOW, DOW JONES would have a point when he insisted that “Shakespeare Lied.”)
Parliament immediately agrees that Farll is telling the truth rather than face the unthinkable reality that the hallowed ground had been corrupted by a commoner. What a smart indictment of the British class system!
But will you believe him if you both show up at Perfect Liars on March 6? If you can’t make that session, take note that the event takes place the first Wednesday of every month. And where is Perfect Liars Club located, you ask? Why, Washington, D.C., of course …
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