The best of 15 years of unrelieved flops by the musical-comedy team of Richard Matby Jr. and David Shire make up the revue "Starting Here, Starting Now," which opens tonight at Arena Stage's Old Vat Room. The question of why anyone would want a retrospective of so many failures has occurred to composer Shire, who has done better writing such film scores as "All the President's Men" and "The Conversation."

He attributes the flops to the uniformly bad books that have accompanied their songs. "Nobody ever comes out whistling the book, but some mediocre scores have survived because people liked the story, while some brilliant scores have died."

So "Starting Here, Starting Now" presents the songs without the books. They date back to the 1958 musical version of "Cyrano de Bergerac," starring Dick Cavett, John Cunning ham and other Yalies of the era, which inspired the Yale Daily News to point out that Shire and Maltby were no Rodgers and Hammerstein. They then did a musical version of "The Time of the Curkoo," but "didn't call it that, because we couldn't get the rights." And a musical version of Rumer Godden's "The River," to which they also couldn't get the rights.

"The Sap of Life" was the story of a young man discovering life and love. "You're What's Happening Baby" was the story of "the girl of the minute whose minute was up." Some of its songs went into "How Do You Do, I Love You," a story about computer dating that Shire calls" even more meaningless now than it waw then."

All of these have contributed their highlights to the new revue. And when you hear "I Think I Want to Remember Today" in the revue, you ought to know that in the Musical "Love Match", Queen Victoria sings it upon meeting Price Albert.

Well, now that Maltby and Shire have a successful revue, what do you suppose they're doing? Last Sunday they went to work on a new musical comedy.