‘Musical MVPs’: 50 years of Broadway as a sport

Peter Filichia is second to none when it comes to his knowledge of Broadway history and trivia.

In his work for the Newark Star-Ledger and his columns on theatermania.com and masterworksbroadway.com, Filichia writes with great authority and sly humor, but without ever resorting to the bitchiness of the amateur critics on websites such as All That Chat.

Filichia serves up a half-century of interesting musical theater lore in his  book, “Broadway Musical MVPs 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons” (Applause), which is perfect for browsing or reading from start to finish.

The author explains the slightly cumbersome title in his preface where we learn Filichia attended his first Broadway musical on July 26, 1961 — “My Fair Lady” near the end of its original run — on the same day he saw a twilight double-header at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and the Chicago White Sox.

Filichia sees links between Broadway and baseball “and not just because musicals and baseball games both have runs, hits, and errors…both baseball and musicals require teamwork. Both have well-paid stars. Each has a season that results in the thrill of victory for some and the agony of defeat for others.”

The author then analyzes each Broadway season and comes up with MVPs, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year and other sports-themed honors.

It’s a fun way to take us through 50 years and the emergence of new stars like Barbra Streisand (“Rookie of the Year” in 1961-1962 for her splashy debut in “I Can Get It For You Wholesale”) and old timers who returned to the boards in triumph (Vivien Leigh is named 1962-1963’s “Comeback Player of the Year” for her Tony-winning appearance in the musical “Tovarich”).

The book is packed with great trivia that few but the most rabid Broadway musical fans will know, such as David Jones (later of the Monkees) not being on the original cast album of “Oliver!” because it was recorded during the pre-Broadway tour before Jones replaced Michael Goodman for the Broadway run.

Filichia gives us sharply written mini-histories of landmark shows ranging from “Hair” (right) to “Rent” and writes well about troupers like Chita Rivera — who has been a Broadway star since 1960 — and Tony winners like Janie Sell (of “Over Here!” in 1974) who were not able to sustain their careers.

Broadway fans of all ages will find lots to enjoy in this very informative and very entertaining book.

Joe Meyers