Filichia Features: Starting Here, Starting Now Starting Again

Filichia Features: Starting Here, Starting Now Starting Again

See? It pays to be nice.

After Yale students Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire had such a success with their musical version of Cyrano De Bergerac in 1958, they decided to write a new musical called The Grand Tour.

It had nothing to do with Jacobowsky and the Colonel, the play that Jerry Herman would adapt as The Grand Tour two decades later. Instead, as Maltby admits, their Grand Tour owed a good deal (and perhaps too much) to Arthur Laurents’ The Time of the Cuckoo in which a teacher goes abroad to find romance and love.

“Our show began in a classroom, though, and one of the students was a 12-year-old named Lynne Meadow,” says Maltby. “Her mother was in the show, too, and after we did a cast album, she asked me to autograph it. I did and added that she was the ‘mother of the fabulously talented Lynne.’”

In case you don’t recognize the name, Lynne Meadow has been the artistic director of Manhattan Theatre Club since 1972 – and is still there.

But towards the end of 1976, Meadow was wondering what do with a space in her theater that she’d earmarked for cabaret. One thought she had was to stage a revue of songs from composer Shire and Maltby, the lyricist who’d inferred early on that she was “fabulously talented.”

And while Maltby has written hundreds of wonderful lyrics through the years – including the English ones for Miss Saigon -- those two words are among the most important ones he’s ever penned; they led to a revue that made people take true notice of the then-unheralded team.

It started out with the ungainly title of The Theatre Songs of Maltby & Shire, but was eventually retitled Starting Here, Starting Now. And starting on March 12 and through the 20th, you can see a revival at The York Theatre Company which Maltby himself is directing.

If nothing else, the new title did strike a chord with Barbra Streisand fans, for “Starting Here, Starting Now” was the song that concluded both the mega-star’s Color Me Barbra’s 1966 TV special and its resulting best-selling album.

“Along the way, Barbra also recorded ‘Autumn,’ a song we wrote for Cyrano, and our ‘What about Today?’” says Maltby. “All three are in Starting Here, Starting Now.”

So are roles for three people: two women and one man, all ideally between 25 and 34. Woman One, described as “grounded, but vulnerable but also a comedienne,” should be a soprano/belter. Woman Two, tabbed as “hopeful and at times naïve, quirky and sexy, a strong mover (dancer a plus) who’s a mezzo/belter.” As for the Man, he should be a “charming actor with an impish sense of humor, at times sincere, romantic and vulnerable” and “a strong bari-tenor.”

Actually, when Meadow suggested the project, Maltby was dubious. “I’d lost faith in many of the songs because they’d been in shows that had closed out-of-town or had never happened,” he explains. “Then when I picked them up” – he stops here to mime blowing off a mountain of dust from a pile of papers – “and looked at them again, I thought whaddaya know, these are good!

Well, that’s an understatement. Take “Crossword Puzzle,” in which a woman bemoans the loss of her boyfriend as both a beau and a puzzle collaborator.  “He ran off with some floozy,” she complains, “who could not tell a fig from a frigate.” And is that the way she should be repaid, given that “I let him hold the pencil; he could write in the word”?

Such a song is right up Maltby’s alley, for he has a history creating puzzles that dates back to Nixon’s first term. Maltby first concocted them for New York Magazine (inheriting the job from Stephen Sondheim, who couldn’t spare the time once Company was about to go into rehearsal). Later (and still) for Harper’s, Maltby has been doing those cryptic puzzles that could drive a person crazier than a bachelor named Bobby.

Another winner is “I’m Going to Make You Beautiful,” in which a department store perfume-sprayer buttonholes a potential customer into buying her products. Maltby was inspired to write that after sauntering through Bloomingdale’s.

“This was in the days when the ground floor was all make-up,” he says. “All these people were grabbing you to give you a makeover. One woman -- not very pretty and quite manic -- would analyze a face and make a perfect mixture of the face powder just for that person. I thought there’s a story here: a woman determined to convince another woman that by just putting on the right combination of powder she could transform the customer into someone beautiful whom some man would love – while the beauty expert is clearly talking about herself. ‘If it comes true for you, maybe it’ll come true for me.’”

Both of those songs didn’t originate in musicals, but, yes, many others in Starting Here do come from shows that had closed out-of-town. How Do You Do, I love You had its tryout in summer stock in 1967. It starred Phyllis Newman as a young Jersey woman who’s decided to go “Just across the River,” as the joyous want-song’s title goes. Objective: to find love – but hardly in the conventional way. She went to an insurance company that she knew had a computer – which in those days filled two gigantic rooms – and used it to find all the eligible males in New York City.

Newman’s character was eventually “Pleased with Myself” which is another romp that can be found in Starting Here as well as “One Step” – “which,” says Maltby, “was the one people really liked back then.”

So these three great songs were in place when the show opened at The Shady Grove Music Fair in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Maltby and Shire went review-hunting at a local drugstore and found a newspaper that said of How Do You Do, I love You “Goodbye, I Hate You.”

Some writers seeing that opinion would have driven to the Potomac and thrown themselves into it. Needless to say, Maltby and Shire didn’t. “If you get a review like that and can get up the next morning and go back to work,” he says, “the critics can never get to you.”

Still, life wasn’t much loftier the following year with Love Match, which dealt with Queen Victoria’s on-again, off-again romance with Prince Albert that finally resulted in a 21-year marriage that yielded nine children. This allowed Maltby to use a rhyme that undoubtedly could only be employed in this context: “I the Queen Regnant am pregnant again.”

So that’s why “I Think I May Want to Remember Today” -- also included in Starting Here -- has a woman smitten with “Albert” in the lyric.

Love Match had its world premiere live and direct from Phoenix at a former movie theater now called the Palace West. “We were the first show there, the guinea pigs,” he says sadly. “Phoenix had no theater tradition or support system that a musical needs, such as people who knew how to load in a show, or tech it or even make scene changes. The preview had so many stops and starts that we were there till two in the morning although,” he admits, “much of the audience was gone by the time the first act ended at 11.”

The show sauntered on to Los Angeles where it died. Maltby knew the musical was doomed during a conversation with his bookwriter Christian Hamilton: “After a big meeting, I asked him what changes he’d make among the ones suggested. He said ‘None of them’ and after I said ‘You have to!’ he said, ‘No, I don’t. I have a rich wife.’”

Two other songs from Love Match made it into Starting Here: “I Hear Bells,” which features of one Shire’s most glorious melodies and “Today Is the First Day of the Rest of My Life.”

The latter, says Maltby, “shows how batty you get out of town. I gave Queen Victoria a line that was then being said by the counter-culture.”

Yes, but the day that Lynne Meadow had the idea for a Maltby-Shire revue was really the first day of the rest of the life of that song – as well as two dozen marvelous others.

Read more Filichia Features

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at, Tuesday at and Friday at His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at