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January 15, 2008:

EVELYN WOOD

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, I think I shall write these here notes as fast as I can. I think today’s notes will be the Evelyn Wood Speed Writing notes. Oh, that’s right – Evelyn Wood was Speed Reading. Is Evelyn Wood alive? Did Evelyn Wood actually exist? Who IS Evelyn Wood and why was she so insistent that everyone read so fast? Well, baby, I am the Evelyn Wood of today’s notes, only it’s Speed Writing – you may read them at your own pace. I now want to know everything about Evelyn Wood. Is she like Charles Atlas? Did Charles Atlas actually exist? Does anyone exist? Was that an existential question? Have these here notes suddenly gone all existential? I gotta tell you. I must admit that I have no clew as to what the HELL I’m going on about, but I must also admit that even though I have no clew as to what the HELL I’m going on about, I’m going on with speed, like a gazelle with acid reflux. Does acid reflux exist? Where was I? Oh, yes, Evelyn Wood Speed Writing. Did she teach speed writing or only speed reading? Can someone please have Miss Evelyn Wood drop me an e-mail or a telephonic call? Speaking of an e-mail or a telephonic call, yesterday flew by, like a gazelle swallowing a cherry pit. I got up, got to work, wrote four pages very quickly, did some work at the piano, finished the lyric and music adjustments I’ve been working on, then had a little local field trip to take some notes for some descriptive prose I had to write for Ye Olde New Book. I picked up some packages (finally), and then made myself a steak. Have you ever made yourself a steak? How did you like being a steak? Was it fun? I also made myself a baked potato – talk about schizophrenia in the home environment. Man, am I writing these here notes fast – thank you, Evelyn Wood. If Arthur Murray taught me dancing in a hurry, did Evelyn Wood teach me fast reading good? After my lunch, I kept on writing. I stopped after what I thought was eight pages, but I’d mis-counted and had actually written over ten pages, which is a LOT of pages for the likes of me, who used to do three to five at the most. By the time I finished it was already late in the afternoon. I then caught up with some things on the computer, whilst listening to CDs, and then I finally sat on my couch like so much fish.

Last night, I watched the taped theatrical version of Sweeney Todd on DVD. I haven’t seen it in years, but everything I didn’t like about it came back to me instantly. It was especially illuminating to see it after seeing Mr. Burton’s film. I saw the original Broadway cast (well, most of them – Betsy Joslyn and Chris Groendall had already gone into the show), and I thought it was one of the greatest evenings of theater I’d ever seen, most of that due to the extraordinary score of my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, the direction of Harold Prince, and the beyond brilliant star turns of Mr. Len Cariou and Miss Angela Lansbury. There were little things in the show that I didn’t care for, like some of Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir, and the Parlour Songs, but most of it was just incredible. I saw the show again in LA, this time with Miss Lansbury and George Hearn taking over for Mr. Cariou. While I thought Mr. Hearn did a fine job, he just couldn’t touch Mr. Cariou’s performance. I also was extremely disappointed in the tour set, which was but a pale shadow of the Broadway original. Unfortunately, that’s the version that was taped by The Entertainment Channel and RKO. I saw it when it was first shown, and I remember how everyone lauded the TV director Terry Hughes for his brilliant TV direction. I think I was the only one on the planet who thought he did a terrible job – no, not as terrible as David Sheehan on Pippin, but terrible in its own way. And watching it again, I think it’s actually worse than I remembered, and the whole thing has not aged well. You cannot do extreme (and I mean extreme) close-ups in a show like Sweeney Todd, especially with performances pitched the way Mr. Hearn and Miss Lansbury’s are. Just keep waist shots and you’ll be fine. Also, it was Mr. Hughes’ “brilliant” idea to do tons of pickup shots with just the cast, with the cameras on stage doing shots that would not have been possible from the audience, and also with new lighting just for TV. Those shots, of course, don’t match anything else in the show and boy are they irritating. Also, after seeing the terrific young Ed Sanders as Toby in the film, I cannot watch Ken Jennings anymore. But, the most interesting thing for me was that as I watched the show in its entirety it just bolstered my opinion that the majority of the cuts in Burton’s film worked just fine. The only thing I would have done in the film is The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd. Mr. Burton is on record that they recorded it and had designs done for “ghosts” to sing it, but that it just didn’t work. I think the solution was a simple one and one that’s a time-honored device – certainly it’s what I would have done. We’re in London. Buskers. Street performers. Storytellers. I would have had a crowd of people around a street storyteller telling the story of Sweeney Todd – I would have had him do the song whilst the credits played out, and then he begins to recount the story and we’re into the film proper. I don’t think you would have ever had to go back to it, just used it as an intro, and maybe, after the final shot, roll the end credits over the crowd dispersing. But, I digress. On the video, Mr. Hearn fares okay, but by this point in the run, Miss Lansbury was really over the top. I preferred what I saw on those Dorothy Loudon videos the other day – they seemed much fresher. Edmund Lyndeck was almost definitive as Judge Turpin, but Betsy Joslyn is so awful as Johanna that you just want to kill her the entire show – that screechy voice, the over the top “acting” – it makes you really begin to wonder about Mr. Prince – whether all he can do is create really interesting worlds for his shows, but can’t get normal performances out of actors who clearly need directorial help – it happened with several Raouls and Christines in Phantom. The way Mr. Hughes shoots and cuts the video is awkward and rarely gives you the geography you need to know what you’re looking at. And boy did I miss the original set. The band sounded fine, though. The show remains, for me, a near masterpiece of musical theater. I just wish it had been taped in New York, with Mr. Cariou, and the original Anthony and Johanna.

Well, why don’t we all click on the Unseemly Button below because by gum and by golly and buy bonds we’re doing speed writing here and we must move inexorably to the next section, where Miss Evelyn Wood is already waiting for us, as she reads so fast that she finished reading this section before I finished writing it.

Today will be a day. Today, I shall write more pages, I will, at the end of the day, most likely print out what I’ve written and deliver it to muse Margaret (or I may wait until tomorrow – we’ll see). I also have a bunch of telephonic calls to make and e-mails to write, and then I’ll be going to the DGA to see a screening of No Country For Old Men.

Tomorrow will be more of the same, as will Thursday. I’m also supposed to get a new dishwasher today – the one here has been broken since last June, and they just got around to replacing it. We’ll see if it actually arrives.

I also have to finish the last few things on the musical I’m mentoring, so that the act one scripts can be Xeroxed and made ready.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, write, write, do errands, write, and then find some time to eat, and then see a screening at the DGA. Today’s topic of discussion: What plays and musicals do you think were completely botched for the screen and do you think they could be remade today, and if so, which projects would you greenlight, and who would direct and star? Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, and let’s all give a salute to the queen of speed, Miss Evelyn Wood.

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