growing up in New York City, I didn't get interested in theatre until
Data General sent me to London for
several months. That's where I saw the Rocky Horror Show, Annie and
several other musicals, as well as a number of comedies and
thrillers. And thus began a love for theatre that seems to grow with
each passing year. (I never found a CD of the London cast
of Annie, so I had to settle for the Broadway version.)
London time a colleague introduced me to the
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
He had some of the original radio broadcasts on tape and later
ordered a copy of the record album from Harrods. Since then I've seen
it performed as a play, read all the books, seen the TV series and
played the Infocom game. (Anybody remember them?) The original
radio series, released as a boxed set of six CDs, is still the best way
to experience it. And comparing the radio and TV series makes me
realize that we lost something magic when we lost radio drama.
When I was growing up, the local TV stations would run a lot of old, cheesy science fiction movies. There were certain films that would show up repeatedly. And I'd be there, glued to the tube, every time they came around. Forbidden Planet definitely qualifies, although it was far less cheesy than most. Based on The Tempest, it's a well told story with amazing effects and a better than competent cast. A few years ago, I encountered Return To The Forbidden Planet at the Cambridge Theatre in London. Take Forbidden Planet, use really cheesy props and effects (like hairdryers as ray guns), mock Shakespearean dialogue and a score of 50s and 60s rock songs and this is what you get. I later got to see it performed while vacationing in Melbourne. Inspired silliness! My big regret is that I didn't make it to the off-Broadway run.
I've loved detective stories since my Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew days, graduating in short order to Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald and so many others. City of Angels was made for me: a paean to the 50s detective movie. It's a story within a story: the hard boiled detective fighting his deceitful client, vicious criminals and police out for his blood; and his creator, fighting Hollywood phonies and his own frailties as he puts his character on the screen. I caught it in London, where the acting, the staging and the music were all brilliant. (The American accents of the British cast were even mostly believable!) Aside from an ending that comes out of nowhere and offers some interesting opportunities for interpretation, I'd put this at the top of my list of theatrical experiences.
usually don't go to the big name shows. Most of my theatre-going takes
place during business trips. Since I'm never there very long I have a
choice of bad seats for the big tourist trap plays or good seats for
the other stuff. But when Phantom came to San Francisco I sent for
tickets. I had to wait four months to get anything reasonable for a
weekend night. But I did see it. And you know, I was kind of
disappointed. The music is nice (I bought the CD the next day). And
there are some neat effects. But the play didn't really work for me.
Kind of the opposite of my reaction to Miss Saigon: loved the play (we
all cried at the end) but don't care to listen to the music again.
And will someone explain why there's only one cast CD available for Phantom? There are other singers with voices as good as Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. And much better actors. Having seen her in other performances, I'm not sure Sarah Brightman could act wet in a rainstorm.
been running forever. I finally saw it last year on Broadway. It's a
weird experience: there isn't exactly a story, there are only sort of
characters and a sort of structure. As much as I admire the
participants' efforts (acting so catlike for a couple of hours a night
would make me bonkers), I can't say I understand what the fuss is
about. They say that Olivier could captivate an audience just reading
from a phone book. Maybe this is Lloyd Webber's proof that he can do
the same with a bunch of poems about cats.
Tommy on Broadway during the same trip that I saw Cats. I kind of
wondered how I'd feel about music I'd heard so much a long time ago.
(When I saw Jesus Christ, Superstar at the end of its London run, it
struck me as old and tired.) The surprise was just how fresh and new
and at the same time familiar the whole thing seemed. The staging was
exciting, the acting on a par. It was almost good enough to help me
forget that Ken Russell travesty and that scene of Ann-Margret diving
into baked beans.
love a love story. One of my favorite old movies is a little thing
called The Shop Around The Corner. It stars James Stewart and Margaret
Sullavan as employees in a little leather goods shop who can't stand
each other but are carrying on an anonymous correspondence. (You can
see the ending a mile off, can't you?) In the early 60s the same story
was made into a musical by the team who later did Fiddler On The Roof.
I caught it in London recently and liked it. Didn't love it, but I
liked it. There's some awfully good music and nice performances. But
you know, James Stewart is just too tough an act to follow. Kinda like
those nobodies who followed Sean Connery in that James Bond role.
As you may already have noticed, I like silly. And I like musicals.
So a silly musical is my idea of a good time. Alan Ayckbourne and
Andrew Lloyd Webber first attempted a musical about Bertie Wooster
& his all-knowing butler Jeeves in the 70's; it was a flop. (Yes,
even Andrew Lloyd Webber can bite the big one now and again.) They
tried again twenty years later, removing any hint of seriousness and
using a peculiar and very low budget play-within-a-play technique to
tell a typically contrived tale of mistaken identity and ludicrous
schemes by characters from the shallow end of the gene pool. I
loved it. Maybe if Sunset Boulevard had used less spectacle and more
goofiness it wouldn't have left its backers quite so high and dry...
It's a cliche to complain that most books have their guts ripped out
in their translation to the screen or the stage. The Scarlet
Pimpernel is a rare exception: an earlier age Harlequin Romance that
gained depth and stature in the move. So when I heard that a musical
treatment of the story would arrive on Broadway I was thrilled. This
is a story that has it all: courage and passion, loyalty and betrayal,
heroics and villainy, all surrounded with horror and big laughs. I
couldn't wait to see it for myself. And when I did I wasn't
disappointed. This is a story that was meant for the stage, fleshed
out with a magnificently over-the-top romantic score. I still wonder
what the New York critics saw that I didn't; they hated it. Or maybe
they're the ones with myopia. Does every play have to end in tragedy
and anguish to be worthy of our attention? Among the tears of Les Miz
and Miss Saigon and Phantom can't we find a little room for derring-do
and an old fashion happy ending?
Much as I love theatre, I refuse to take it all that seriously. And
for those who also love but don't exactly revere it, what could be
better than spending some time with a talented team of parodists who
have a little fun at the expense of Broadway's pretensions? Whether
it's making Les Miserables a little less miserable or skewering
Blood Brothers David and Shawn Cassidy and stage mom Petula
Clark with songs like I Think I'm Acting and Down
Show (which it was), the tiny cast of Forbidden Broadway
presents a spectacle as rich as any other in town. Just with bigger
laughs. (At least theirs are intentional.)
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California