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June 14, 2008:

ALMONDS AND APRICOTS

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, I must write these here notes in a hurry because all too soon she of the Evil Eye will be arriving. I’m eating almonds and little dried apricots as I write these here notes. I always think that these little dried apricots look like mutant ears. So, I eat almonds and little mutant ears as I am typing these here words. The almonds are very crunchy and the mutant ears are very chewy and so it is a cacophony of crunching and chewing noises pervading the air. Speaking of crunching and chewing noises and mutant ears, yesterday was quite an odd day. I woke up, did an errand, came home and packaged up some orders, then took them and shipped them, after which I had a late luncheon and then did more errands. I then came home, did work on the computer and had to have a few telephonic calls, after which I sat on my couch like so much fish to relax and watch a television program on DVD.

Yesterday, I watched the pilot episode of Mannix, starring Mike “Touch” Connors. I wasn’t a fanatical fan of the show back when it was first on the air, but I did watch it every now and then. I haven’t seen it since those days. So, it was fun to watch it. The pilot was directed by Leonard Horn, who directed several good Outer Limits episodes. Mr. Connors is a very good Mannix, but the show seemed to be finding its feet in the pilot. Of course, the Lalo Schifrin theme and music is terrific. The pilot was mostly shot in Palm Springs (Lloyd Nolan guest-starred, along with Kim Hunter, a very young G.W. Bailey, and a pre-Ironside Barbara Anderson. The pilot plot didn’t amount to much, but I’m now looking forward to the rest of the first season episodes, many of which, I’m sure, will have LA location footage. Paramount may finally have seen the error of its ways with their TV series DVDs – instead of splitting the first season into two separate volumes, all the first season episodes are included in this one set. Transfers are, as usual with Paramount TV DVDs, excellent. It’s funny what memories stay with you forever – when I went to the Paramount lot to shoot my very first guest-starring role on a TV show, I arrived at six in the morning, parked, and began walking to the soundstage. As I was walking and probably looking petrified, I passed Mike Connors on his way to the Mannix stage. He waved at me, smiled, and said, “Good luck.”

After that, I toddled off to go see our very own Miss Beth Malone in a new musical called Pest Control. So, let me get the obvious out of the way quickly – Miss Beth Malone was great. She’s the real deal – endearing, funny, charming, and a voice to die for. The rest of the company was also quite strong, none more so than the great Cleveant Derricks. And it’s always grand to see the theater’s producing director, Kevin Bailey, one of the nicest people on the planet. Pest Control is based on the quirky comic thriller novel by Bill Fitzhugh, a first edition of which I have in my BK library. I remember thinking it was a quirky comic thriller novel, and I remember enjoying it. It wasn’t exactly crying out to be musicalized, however. I’m not going to dwell on the show itself, other than to say it didn’t work for me for a whole slew of reasons. The tone was never firm, the rock score was way too repetitive and the several rap numbers became irritating, the humor of the novel was missing completely, and the storytelling was confusing. A lot of the numbers are just people screaming musical notes at the top of their lungs. It took about twenty minutes before one got a sense of what the plot actually was going to be, and that’s not a good thing for any show – play or musical. And, in the second act, they just started going for the self-referential humor, which so many musicals do these days – only here it came completely out of left field – the leading man, having problems with the leading lady, suddenly says, “Gee, back in act one I thought we had a chance.” Basically, I’m done with the show right there, because they’ve just violated their world for a cheap laugh (and a laugh that certainly didn’t land more than a titter). But what I really want to talk about is the production. This show is playing in a nice 99 seat theater in North Hollywood. The first thing you notice about the production is the Broadway-ready lighting, the set, the Broadway sound system, and the no expense spared costumes. Before I begin to say what I feel about that, let’s just remember what Waiver theater started out to be – a way for small companies and actors and writers to do shows in small spaces (99 seats or less), with no pay to the actors, and shows that could be done on small budgets. In other words, a way for actors to do plays or musicals they might not normally get to do, to stretch their muscles, for writers to see their plays, and all without back-breaking budgets. Of course, you just knew that within a few short years everyone would start to abuse the plan, and that is indeed what happened, when theaters like The Matrix, the Tiffany, and their ilk, would get shows with name talent and still benefit from the 99 seat theater rule, even though the producers and/or theaters were spending a ton of money on the shows (by ton I mean over a few thousand bucks). When we moved Stages to the Matrix, I remember it cost the princely sum of $10,000, amazing for a show with no sets. A few years later, when we did my play The Good One, in the same theater, a five character one-set comedy cost $17,000. Many years later, when we did What If at the Hudson Theater, the budget for a five-person one=set (not even a set) show with a piano was $40,000. And Deceit cost $10,000 above it. So, the real purpose of Waiver theater was basically gone, and shows in small theaters kept upping the bar and reviewers got spoiled, so that theaters that didn’t have the wherewithal to spend those obscene amounts of money were then criticized for the low-budget look of their shows. And if you think What If was expensive, it had already become a regular occurrence for high-profile Waiver shows to spend upwards of $100,000, with lots of that going to a PR person. Obviously, no show that cost that much money would make its money back in a Waiver space unless it turned into some kind of freak hit. No, they began using the Waiver plan as a sort of high-priced workshop and a way to get the show seen and hopefully moved. Which brings us back to Pest Control. This show has finally made the Waiver plan a complete joke. And the fact that EQUITY allows this plan to be used in this way, so subverting its original intention, is somewhat shocking, although, when you hear the entire tale, understandable.

To make it short and sweet, I’ve been told that the budget of Pest Control was/is two million dollars. Yes, Virginia, you heard that right – two million dollars for a 99-seat theater production. Apparently, the production company has deep and endless pockets, and that’s fine, but why not just go into a non-Waiver house and be what you really are? But where did that two million go? Well, the actors were all put on salary back in January on a full EQUITY HAT contract. They apparently brought in a whole new lighting and sound system – Broadway worthy. And so what you’re seeing on that stage is so unfair to other Waiver houses, and it so ups the ante, that I just sat there amazed and mostly not amused. Because, suddenly spending upwards of $100,000 on a Waiver show is chump change. And every reviewer went out of his/her way to talk about how magnificent the production was without really understanding why. But all that money is not a substitute for storytelling – oh, you get the style all right, but not the substance. If you stripped away all the style and just did the show then the authors and producers would know that there was much work to be done. But, that’s not what this is about – this is about throwing as much money as you can at something and hoping that all that flash will alleviate any problems with the show – but that never works. The house was full, although there were many friends there, and a whole section of young teens whooping and hollering whenever anyone hit a high note or moved their finger or whatever. Take the show to New York, put it in a theater filled with paying strangers, and I don’t quite think the reaction would be the same.

I like the theater where this was done, and the director has done a good job trying to disguise the flaws of a piece that needs a lot of work. But, in case I didn’t say it loud enough, Miss Beth Malone is the real deal.

What am I, Ben Brantley all of a sudden? Why don’t we all click on the Unseemly Button below because I’ve blabbed on so long these here notes are quite late.

I have eaten way too many mutant ears and apricots and I now want to vomit on the ground.

Today, I have almost no plans other than to drive about in my motor car. Tonight I’ll be seeing A Very Brady Musical. I will, of course, have a full report.

Tomorrow, I have no plans, other than our annual Tony Awards partay – and, as those who’ve attended in the past know, this is the only place to be on Tony Awards night.

This coming week is filing up fast with meals and meetings and whatnot.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, drive about in my motor car, do a few errands, and see a musical comedy. Today’s topic of discussion: I feel we need to talk about cheese. What are your favorite cheeses – and I’m most interested in hearing about exotic cheeses I might not know about. And if you have any fun recipes that involve cheese, let’s hear them, as long as they’re not too cheesy. Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, as I try not to vomit on the ground from the preponderance of mutant ears and almonds that I’ve eaten.

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