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  • Let's Put on a MusicalFor over a decade, musical producers all over the country have known the value of Peter Filichia's Let's Put on a Musical: How to Choose the Right Show for Your Theater, which breaks down the process of musical selection into its component elements to make sure the first step is the easiest. (From there, however, you're on your own.) That step will be even easier now with the release of the second edition of the book, from Back Stage Books ($16.95).

    Filichia will be speaking about the book at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, August 1 at 7:30PM, where he will be joined by Charles Strouse, the esteemed composer of Bye, Bye, Birdie and Annie, who will also perform some of his songs. And, as Filichia told me when we sat down together last week, there might well be something to sing about: This latest version has been revised and expanded to make it even more useful for the theatre makers of 2007.

    For while musicals are often audience favorites, it can be a hard slog from the inception of the idea to opening night—even just selecting a show requires an in-depth familiarity of the shows available, their plot and character content, and design requirements, but also need a solid understanding of the resources you have to take on the show—and what you can bring to it. Few people are as knowledgable in that area as Filichia: He was introduced to the magic of musicals with the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, and even today has a passion for both old and new shows alike. He's currently the New Jersey theatre critic for the Newark Star-Ledger and News 12 New Jersey, is the critic-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and he writes a thrice-weekly online column called "Peter Filichia's Diary," which follows in the stead of similar columns he wrote for Playbill Online and Theater.com. Anyone in New York who knows musicals knows Filichia knows them at least as well—and quite possibly better.

    How did he decide on the idea for the book? He says it all came to him while he was visiting Gulf Shores, Alabama, on assignment from The Best Report, and attended a production of a Gilbert & Sullivan show (he can't remember which). He noted that the chorus members couldn't handle the speedy patter of the lyrics, and the lead actress was a bit long in the tooth to be convincing as a fetching young ingénue. His conclusion: The theater didn't know what shows would help them make the most of the talent it had.

    His girlfriend and agent, Linda Konner, was able to secure him a deal to write a book for show practitioners everywhere—so that the same thing wouldn't happen to them. The book divided the 200 shows it covered into categories like "Shows for a Big Budget," "Musicals That Rely Heavily on Costumes," and "Musicals with Little Choreography," and provided explanations of the cast breakdown, vocal requirements, and scenic demands as well as lists of the show's assets and liabilities that could put it on the top—or the bottom—of the theater's must-produce list.

    But a lot has changed in the 10 years since the book's first Back Stage Books printing. The new edition updates the shows' licensing information (which changes more frequently than you might think) and includes notes about new innovations such as RehearScore, the computerized sequencing program offered by Musical Theatre International for changing speeds, transposing songs, and performing other tasks that musical directors or arrangers might not have the experience or the time to do themselves.

    Peter FilichiaWhat else will you find? Seventy new musicals, to start with. Everything from Tony winners like Titanic and Thoroughly Modern Millie to family outings like Seussical, cult shows like Urinetown and both the LaChiusa and Lippa versions of The Wild Party, and even that new Disney-spawned sensation, High School Musical. Lest you scoff at that show's inclusion, Filichia says he feels it may be of major importance in years to come: He believes that the show's songs will be the ones against which the current generations judges their show tunes—a lofty prediction, perhaps, but one that's not hard to believe with a property that's received more publicity and generated more excitement among the teen population than most of the musicals from the last 20 years combined.

    But in order to fit in High School Musical and those other new shows, still others had to be eliminated. Filichia regrets the removal of the Off-Broadway gem Birds of Paradise (David Evans/Winnie Holzman), finds it quite amusing that one of his friends expressed righteous indignation at the loss of Ron Grainer and Ronald Millar's Robert and Elizabeth, and mourns the exclusion of the Johnny Mercer/Hy S. Kraft Top Banana. Though, he's quick to point out, the last was cut because the show is no longer licensed.

    Filichia admits that the book is packed with his own personal opinions, and the nature of the presentation requires more than a few judgment calls. The assets and liabilities he cites, for example, could potentially prove controversial: Some companies might not mind Don Quixote's hopelessly optimistic worldview in Man of La Mancha, for example, or might find a point in Cats that his story about an actor on one of its many tours might have missed.

    But if you're familiar with Filichia, from either his print or his online writing, you already have an excellent idea what to expect. Agree or disagree with him about any given show, his disarming manner—in person and in print—makes it hard to argue with him. True, his impressive range of knowledge about the subject doesn't hurt. Both things together could well make this new version of Let's Put on a Musical as much of a theatrical must-have in the coming decade as the first one has been for the last 10 years.

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