I Wanna Be A Producer

This evening we went to go see The Producers. For those who have been living in an isolated universe since 1968, The Producers was originally at mostly-non-musical movie by Mel Brooks starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kennith Mars, and Lee Meredith. This movie lived as a cult classic (but a wonderful one at that) until 2001, when it was ressurected on Broadway, starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Roger Bart, Gary Beech, Cady Huffman, and Brad Oscar. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, and with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, it swept the Tony awards with 12 wins.

So, naturally it made it back to a film. This production was a full musical, and featured the original Broadway director/choreographer and almost the entire original cast. From the original cast, we had Nathan Lane reprising his role as Max Bialystock, Matthew Broderick as Leopold Bloom, Roger Bart as Carmen Ghia, and Gary Beach as Roger De Bris. I should also note that Mel Brooks reprised his role as the voice of Stormtrooper Mel. New cast members included Uma Thurman as Ulla, Will Ferrell as Franz Liebkind, and Jon Lovitz as Mr. Marks. There are some interesting cast notes. Brad Oscar, who played Franz Liebkind (and later Max Bialystock for 6 months) in the original, had an almost cameo role as the Taxi Driver. Also in the movie cast were Debra Monk as Hold Me-Touch Me; Debra is well known for being in Pump Boys and Dinettes and Steel Pier. Richard Kind, who played the Foreman of the Jury in the movie, played Max Bialystock on Broadway from Dec 21, 2004-Jul 3, 2005. Hunter Foster, who was in the ensemble, played Leo Bloom from Jun 15, 2004-Jan 10, 2005, and is currently playing him on Broadway. Brad Musgrove, who was a “Springtime” dancer, played Carmen Ghia on Broadway for almost a year (Dec 17, 2002-Dec 28, 2003). John Treacy Egan, also in the Ensemble, had a number of Broadway roles: Franz Liebkind (May 4, 2002-Apr 24, 2003), Roger De Bris (Apr 25, 2003-Oct 5, 2003), and Max Bialystock (Dec 13, 2004-Dec 20, 2004). Karen Ziemba was an Opening Nighter; she also starred in Steel Pier. In short, you had loads of talent in that cast.

So, what did I think of the movie. It was a reasonable rendition of the musical. There were a few songs cut (in particular, King of All Broadway, In Old Bavaria, and the reprise of Opening Night). There were one-and-two-halves new songs: the new song was There’s Nothing Like A Show on Broadway; the halves were a slow rendition of Der Guten Tag Hop Clop, and Heil Myself, both reworkings. The language was distinctly cleaned up: the joke about “Jewish American Princesses” and no sex was gone, and a lot of the “tit” jokes from King of all Broadway. However, the show energy and style remained, and I found it wonderful.

In fact, Stroman filmed this as a stage musical. In other words, it was very true to the stage production. You knew it wasn’t real, both from the staging of the dancing to the props to the stage magic and even the lighting. I found this in sharp contrast to the recent transfer of Rent. Rent was filmed very realistically, with real sets, and dancing that flowed into the moment. The Producers was filmed like a classic MGM Movie Stage Musical. From what I have read, Brooks did this intentionally as an homage.

As for the story. What is there to tell. After all, doesn’t everyone know “Springtime For Hitler”? If you need more of a summary, click here.

There are lots of little things to watch for in the movie. Watch the reactions of the people in the background. Watch the faces. Watch the birds. That’s what makes this movie worth seeing again and again: the attention to the humorous detail. It’s what made Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein such classics.

I also found Uma Thurman to be quite strikingly beautiful. For someone who isn’t a singer or dancer, she can do both. Her face is both girlish and feminine. Wow! In fact, I found myself watching faces much more closely than one does on a musical, perhaps due to closeness. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane have remarkably expressive faces. Do watch the faces as you watch the movie.

I should also mention there was one line that made me think of my dad. In the “I Wanna Be A Producer” number, Leo (who is a lowly PA [Public Accountant]) quits his job, and his boss (played by Jon Lovitz) lords over him the fact he is a CPA [Certified Public Accountant]. My dad was a PA; my mom was a CPA; and he always seemed to regret that he couldn’t get that “C”. Dad: If you’re watching this wherever you are, this shows that sometimes the PA’s win.

We saw this in a small theatre, which was full. I hope this bodes well. You do need to remain until the end of the credits; the last song occurs after the credits are over.

As for the trailer report. I don’t remember them all, but here’s what stands out:

  • Dreamgirls. Not much show. The cast doesn’t impress me (Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphey, Beyonce). What bothered me more is that they used Jennifer Holliday’s vocals when she isn’t even in the movie (Effie is played by Jennifer Hudson). Tacky, tacky, tacky.
  • Lady in the Water. Feh. No interest at all.
  • Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. Looks like it could be funny, but as a rental. Not worth seeing in the theatre.
  • The Break Up with Jennifer Aniston. Feh. I don’t think she is that great of an actress to begin with.
  • Madea’s Family Reunion. I didn’t find it that interesting.

At least that’s all the trailers I can remember.


Movie Critics vs. Theatre Critics

I was thinking whilst driving the van about the differences between movie and theatre critics, especially when it comes to musicals. This was because I couldn’t listen to my normal music; we had someone on a cell phone to Hong Kong the entire ride back. Anyway, what prompted this were the reviews I’ve been reading about the new “Producers” movie musical. Most critics don’t like it. Why?

Not the story.

Not the acting.

But because it is too much like the stage production.

Then I thought about the recent movie musical “Rent“. Again, the critics didn’t like it. Why?

Not the story.

Not the acting.

But because it is too much like the stage production.

Then I though back to the movie musical “Chicago“. The critics loved it. Why?

Not the acting.

Not the story.

Because it was a bold reimagining of the stage production.

Theatre critics look at the book. They look at the music and lyrics. They look at the acting. They accept the production for what it is: a stage show.

Movie critics seem to look at different things. They look at the cinematography. They look at how the source was adapted for the screen. They don’t want to see something that is true to the source (don’t believe me: look at how many people criticized various Harry Potter movies for being too true to the book). In particular, they don’t want stage productions captured on film to be the original: they want them to be movies. This is what gave us such travesties as Lucille Ball as Mame, Barbra Streisand as Dolly, and the mishmash that was Milos Foreman’s Hair. Musicals, yes. But not the magic that was on stage. So when a musical is captured so as to preserve that magic, it is destroyed by the critics.

The movie musical “Chicago” is good. But it is something different than the stage production; it loses the feel that the original stage production had of pointing out various styles. Similarly, the musical of “Cabaret“, although excellent, is very different than the stage production. Similarly with Sweet Charity, and numerous other successful and positively rated movie musicals.

They also forget one other thing: Most people don’t live in places that get decent touring productions of these shows… and most people can’t afford to pay the $80/ticket for decent seats for these shows if they do. So, by capturing what was the stage production, more people can see the magic that is live theatre (even if on film), at a somewhat affordable price.

Pundits are dangerous, be they political or artistical. Art is not in the mind of the critic; art is in the mind of the person that sees, hears, and experiences the art.


And speaking of artists: a moment of silence for John Spencer, who died today at the age of 58 of a heart attack. Spencer played Leo McGarry on “The West Wing”; he also played Tommy Mullaney on L.A. Law.


I Don’t Own Emotion – I Rent

This afternoon, taking advantage of NSS&F being at her temple retreat, we went to go see Rent.

Capsule Review: Go see it!

For those who aren’t familiar, Rent is a retelling of LaBoheme reset in New York City in the late 1990s (changing the date to 1989 was a major mistake the movie made). It tells the story of a group of friends who love, break apart, come together, and generally suffer life. It was a hit on Broadway, with words, music, and lyrics by the late Jonathan Larson, who died the day it opened on Broadway. The movie version reunited all but two of the Broadway cast, with Rosario Dawson (of Star Trek: Voyager) and Tracie Thomas taking the missing members places. Reviews have been at the “B” level, mostly because the reviewers are folks unfamiliar with the Broadway work, and thus they spend more time focusing on any underlying flaws in the story.

Some pocket observations:

  • A major mistake was changing the year. They moved it obstensibly to 1989/1990, I think so they could use Super-8 film. The original used video. They should have stuck with the original dates (1998ish, making the line in a song “at the end of the millenium” make sense).
  • This movie shows the power of cinematography. The moving power of the picture permited some songs to be elided, with the images being captured (much better) visually. Very, very powerful.
  • It was interesting seeing how once unknowns have become famous, such as Taye Diggs, Idena Menzel, and Jessie L. Martin.
  • With respect to Jessie L. Martin, it would have been a neat in-joke (had he still be alive) to have Jerry Orbach as a cameo as an NYC cop. (My wife suggested this).
  • I notice in the credits that Randy Graff played the mother of Idena Menzel’s character.

In short, for those familiar with the musical… go see the movie. Even though there are some changes here and there, it is worth it. For those unfamiliar with the musical… go see the show. You’re in for a powerful movie.

As for the previews. There was a preview for “The Producers”. Looks good, but why aren’t they giving the release date or advertising it more. I think it is out in December. The upcoming Jennifer Anniston movie looks cute. Memoir of a Geisha looks powerful, but not for me. There was a dance movie with Antonio Bandaras, which didn’t catch me, and some other preview I can’t even remember.

Now to go pick up my daughter and finish packing for my trip to Tucson tomorrow.


“Four out of Seven” or “What’s In Your Goblet?”

That is, book four out of seven books. Yes, today, after an overly-filling lunch at Red Robin, we went to go see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. You all know the story. You all know the crew. I’m not going to bore you with that stuff. You should also know that, although I enjoy the Harry Potter books, I’m not the type that memorizes all the nooks and crannies. So, if you were to ask me what was left out of the book, I wouldn’t remember enough to tell you. So, my comments below are judging this primarily as a stand-alone movie.

So, my opinion. For what it was, it was good. I don’t think it was the best of the series; that honor may go to #3, at least so far. Part of the problem, I believe, is that it was trying to be two movies. The suspenseful movie was great. However, there was also a coming-of-age comedy in the movie (yes, I know it is in the book as well) that killed the flow in the middle of the movie. Yes, it was true to life. Yes, it was funny. But it didn’t fit in the middle of the suspenseful movie; you sat back in your seat for that part instead of remaining on the edge. In the theatre we went to, that section had all the kids (and there were a lot of kids) laughing. So, in terms of dramatic flow, I do wish that part had been trimmed down, and they had included more of the suspenseful stuff.

What else? The principal actors are aging well. Rupert Grint has that awkwardness I certainly remember from when I was that age. Emma Watson is the one we wish we all could date. I did notice that I was noticing the young adult actor’s faces more. I don’t know whether this was due to the efforts of the cinematographer, or me just getting older and enjoying youthful faces (I’ve also been noticing eyebrows more, but I can’t explain why). The other main roles were well cast, although some performances were extremely short. Other roles, such as Sirius, were extremely small. About the only casting I was unsure of was Frances de la Tour… I kept seeing Angelica Huston. I’ll note that the Yahoo credits appear to be wrong: I don’t recall seeing Nearly Headless Nick nor the Dursleys in the film.

So, a good film. Not the best of the series, perhaps, but it continues the story well.

So what’s next on the movie radar? Two musicals: “Rent“, and “The Producers“. Some of what is upcoming I see absolutely no need for: Why do we need yet another remake of King Kong? Cheaper by the Dozen? Shaggy Dog? Yours, Mine, and Ours? Fun with Dick and Jane?


On The Highway… Route 57 to be Precise

This afternoon, after a morning dim sum run to Empress Pavillion in Chinatown with ixixlix, the Karate Kid, and ellipticcurve, we made our way to the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to see the San Fernando Valley Playhouse production of Pump Boys and Dinettes. For those unfamiliar with the show, PB&D is a review-style musical written by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Jim Wann. You might recognize these folks from shows such as Oil City Symphony, Radio Gals, The People Vs. Mona, and Jim’s Garage. The play is about the Highway 57 Service Station, staffed by L.M. (Martin Alexander Fox), Jackson (Casey Gensler), Jim (Jimmy Bishop), and Eddie (Joe Link), and the Double Cupp Diner, staffed by Rhetta (Catherine Battocletti) and Prudie Cupp (Tara Tucker). The story (such as it is) is about…. OK, there really is no story; the play is an opportunity for the actors to perform and interact with the audience. That they do: there is a raffle for a car deodorizer (you get your choice of the christmas tree, the tweety bird, or the pinup girl), the cast is out in audience, and the front row gets to dance. I’m surprised (and thankful) they didn’t do the hokey-pokey during intermission.

The music has a country-western feel, as one would expect from a gas station near Smyrna, GA. All of the actors were talented musicians, although some of the instruments (in particular, the piano) could have been mic-ed a bit better. They were mostly good singers; I don’t know if the weaknesses were due to poor mic-ing or weak voices. Some of the songs needed to be belted, and they weren’t. I also found the tempo on some of the faster songs to be slower than I expected, but that could have been due to being used to a recording.

As for the music: this show has some of my favorite music to listen to for toe-tapping, so it was nice to hear the songs in context (such as it is). I noticed some changes in songs; in particular, “Woolworth” was changed to “Walmart”. Times change, I guess. Most of the actors were imports (i.e., without long local resumes) from outside California; many are associated with Mainstage Artists Management out of St. Louis, and there seemed to be a lot of association with Minneapolis MN.

This evidently is the first formal year (2004 was their opening season) for the San Fernando Valley Playhouse (although I seem to recall a series last year). They must do a bunch of group sales; there was a large number of seniors in the audience. At the beginning of the show the executive director (James Blackman III) welcomed folks, asked for their input, noted he didn’t like their last show, and made it clear he was “out”. As he pointed out, you don’t see Gordon Davidson doing that. Will we be back to the SFVP? Depends on the production. The seating and view lines were great, so it is likely.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]


Through an Open Window… Silently

Tonight we saw Open Window at the Pasadena Playhouse. This was a co-production with the Deaf West Theatre Company, which should give you a lot of information about the production.

The production was… different. There were three principal actors… who signed their entire performances. Above them and moving around them were two to three interpreters for those who could hear who spoke the parts of the actors. For the record, the production starred Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Jake Grafman, Jacueline Schultz, Erin Bennett, Chris B. Corrigan, Linda Bovd, and Shoshannah Stern. It was written by Stephen Sacks, and directed by Erin Simonson. It was a short production: four scenes, one act, no intermission, 90 minutes top.

So, what was it about. The LA Weekly described it thusly: the story concerns an incarcerated deaf youth, facing trial for patricide. Because his father had locked him in a basement for a decade, the boy never learned to sign. If a superstar linguist can teach him the connection between a subject and a predicate, he would be free from his void of thought; paradoxically, by being able to express himself, he would also be subject to imprisonment for his crime. Which is the greater prison?

The play, in reality, is about the importance of making connections to making us human. Be it the connections of words to form language, or the connections between people that make humanity. I found it strangely moving and consistently riviting.

In the program, the Pasadena Playhouse also announced the 2006 season: Diva, a comedy by Howard Michael Gould directed by David Lee; a version of As You Like It (World Premeier Adaptation) set in Southern California, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Destination (World Premiere), The Marriage Musicals: I Do! I Do and The Last Five Years in repertory; and Sister Act (World Premeier), a new musical with music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Glenn Slater.

Next up for us is Pump Boys and Dinettes at the El Portal, after a morning dim sum run.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]


A Grand Tour

Last night, our theatre weekend started with the production of The Grand Tour at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. It was our first time at this theatre, and we’ll be back. The performance space is wonderful, and based on their production history, they have a lot of productions that we like. This was also an opportunity to meet a fellow LJ fan of theatre, shutterbug93 (the only other person on LJ to list “Pasadena Playhouse” as an interest!). We had dinner with her before the show, and our seats were together. She’s a delightful young woman, and we look forward to seeing her the next time she’s in town.

On to the show. The Grand Tour is one of Jerry Herman‘s lesser known musicals. First produced on Broadway in 1979, the production at the Colony was the first full scale profession production since then. The book was by Michael Stewart (of Barnum and I Love My Wife fame) and Mark Bramble. Mr. Bramble and Mr. Herman are still alive, and worked with the Colony on this production, revising the score slightly and reworking it for a small stage and small cast. It worked, in my opinion. In fact, last night, Mr. Herman was in the audience to see the results.

The story of The Grand Tour is based the original play Jacobowski and the Colonel. It tells the story of a Polish Jew who connects with a Polish Colonel as the Nazis are invading France in 1941. The Jew (Jacobowski) has been escaping and running all his life, but is still her. The Colonel, after picking up his lady friend, has to deliver names of members of the Polish resistance to England. Jacobowsky helps him do this, while each teaching the other something about life. A more detailed synopsis can be found here, but the scene in the convent was changed to a scene in a brothel, with a song originally removed from the show (“I Want To Live Each Night”) [recorded on the Miss Spectacular album] added.

This production starred Jason Graae as S.L. Jacobowsky, John Ganun as Col Tadeusz Beleslav Stjerbinsky, and Tami Tappan Damiano as Marianne, and featured (in multiple roles) John Racca, Cynthia Beckert, Michael Dotson, Marsha Kramer, Gordon Goodman, Robyn Cohen, and Peter Musante. It was directed by Evan Weinstein, choreographed by Peggy Hickey, with musical direction by Jeff Rizzo.

So, what did I think of this production. Contrary to the reviews on Talking Broadway or the LA Times, I really enjoyed this production. All of the triple-threat (singing, dancing, and acting) cast were wonderful. I had no trouble with John Ganun’s accent. I enjoyed the inventive staging. If the musical is to be made more cost effective and to reach more audiences, cost effective staging is a must. This permits regional theatres to keep a show alive, unlike the spectacular-laden special-effect hogs that often lumber on to the stage. This show was redone right. Most folks aren’t familiar with the music from this show. It is the typical upbeat Jerry Herman score, with many echoes of La Cage, his next work.

After the theatre, there was a short discussion with the cast and crew (Mr. Herman, alas, didn’t stay around for this discussion). This is where we learned how they reworked the show for this production, how many rehearsals there were, the potential future for this production. This was really neat!

Today is a day of board gaming, after which we toddle off to Pasadena to see Open Window at the Pasadena Playhouse. Sunday is Pump Boys and Dinettes at the El Portal. Expect to see reviews of both.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]


I’m Reviewing the Situation…

Today, we went to see the Cabrillo Music Theatre production of Oliver!, the 1965 Lionel Bart musical, as reworked in the 1990s. The cast included Hap Lawrence as Fagin, Fiama Fricano as Nancy, Stephen Bishop as Bill Sykes, Eric Austin Young as Oliver, Seth Zibalese as Artful Dodger, and Stephen Reynolds as Mr. Bumble. The production was directed by David Ralphe, choreographed by Cheryl Baxter, and produced by Kevin Traxler.

I’m interested in any production of Oliver! Perhaps it is because I’m concerned about any portrayal of a character named Fagin (as my last name is similar, Faigin). Recently, I saw the Roman Polanski production of Oliver Twist (which I highly recommend), and I’ve very familiar with both the book and the movie musical version of Oliver. So how does this version compare?

Book-wise, Bart had to simplify the story. There is no description of Oliver’s travels to London, no breakin at the Brownlow household, and much of the relationship subplot between Brownlow and Oliver is gone (although the relationship is preserved, unlike in the Polanski version). Fagin’s Jewish nature is toned down from the book (although not as sympathetic as in the Polanski film). There are distinct differences from the movie musical version, especially in atmosphere and feeling. The method of death of both Sykes and Nancy is distinctly different (which isn’t a surprise given the nature of stage).

Production-wise, how was it. First and foremost, Fricano excelled as Nancy. She had the voice, she had the presence, she had the attitude, she had the build (although the costumer didn’t show it off to the best effect). She nailed all of her songs (she has a number of the strongest songs in the play). Fricano, a UCLA and CSUN graduate, has had a number of significant roles, including playing Fanny Brice and Ethel Merman in the recent “The Melody Lingers On” at the El Portal.

But what about Fagin, you ask. Fagin, played by Hap Lawrence, was OK. There was absolutely no Jewish nature to his portrayal: he seemed to be a tall, lanky, scraggly fellow of indeterminate religion. Judge that as you will. He also played the role straight, unless many of the stage Fagins (Clive Reville (broadway, films), Ron Moody (broadway, film), or Jonathan Pryce (broadway, film), all of whom tended to ham and play up the role. Although the main character in the piece, Lawrence’s Fagin stayed in the background. I saw Lawrence previously in Only a Kingdom at the Pasadena Playhouse, but he was also in movies such as Inherit the Wind with George C Scott and Jack Lemmon, and TV programs such as Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (as Lincoln) and in my favorite Moonlighting episode, Atomic Shakespeare, in the scene with Colm Meany. Most importantly, he was the “candy man” in the M&M commercials of the 1980s.

Bill Sykes was also played very strongly, which for a small role takes talent. He was played by Stephen Bishop, who last starred in the CMT vehicle Annie Get Your Gun (at least that’s what his bio says, but my review seems to note differently). He also played Gaston in numerous Beauty and the Beast versions.

Eric Austin Young, a local fifth grader, played Oliver. He is a regular for CMT, and has had leading roles such as JoJo in Suessical. I didn’t find him that strong; he didn’t give off the right pathos for me.

Lastly, a word about theatre attendees. We had a whole family with a number of little ones sitting in front of us (we have 2nd row balcony). There were kids bouncing on seats, leaning forward and back, and mom or dad were constantly taking one or the other ones in and out, in the middle of musical numbers. Bad form. If you are going to take your kids to the theatre, they need to know professional theatre decorum. If they are not ready for that, take them to an amateur production until they learn it. We moved back one row at intermission, and it helped some.

Next on the theatre calendar: our big theatre weekend. Next Friday night, we are meeting shutterbug93 for dinner, and then walking up to the Colony Theatre to see The Grand Tour. The next night we go to the Pasadena Playhouse to see Open Window. The following day, Sunday, we go to the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to see Pump Boys and Dinettes. Closer on the horizon, however, is Mitzvah Day at Temple Beth Hillel tomorrow.

[crossposted to cahwyguy and socal_theatre]