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August 6, 2008:

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, this week is speeding by, like a gazelle choking on a chicken bone. As you know, I’ve been jogging on a different route for the last few days and it is very interesting. Apparently, back in the 1950s all the way through the late 1970s, Ventura Blvd. was a haven for motor inns – you know those drive-in motels with courtyards, which were all the rage in decades past. Motor inns aren’t really as prevalent as they were back then, and many of the ones that lined Ventura Blvd. are gone, replaced by strip malls or whole new buildings. Some of these can be seen in TV shows from the 60s and 70s – in an episode of The Fugitive there are great shots of a motor inn in Sherman Oaks, right next to where there is now a Ralph’s Market – the actual location of the motor inn is now a half-block long bunch of shops and a restaurant called CafĂ© Cordiale. But in the reverse shots, all the buildings across the street are exactly what they were back then. And I mentioned an episode of Cannon, shot mere blocks from my home environment – that is now the site of a strip mall that includes the restaurant La La’s. Again, the view across the street is exactly what it was back then, just new shops. So, in doing my jog, I took notice of the fact that there are still about eight of these motor inns between Laurel Canyon and Vineland. Most are in disrepair, a couple are closed, and a couple look like they’ve at least been kept up a little bit. There are two obvious places that once were motor inns but are now used as offices – you can clearly see what used to be the front, and the courtyards are the same. In my old neighborhood, the neighborhood of Benjamin Kritzer, La Cienega had quite a large number of these motor inns, and, in fact, I write extensively about one of them that we stayed in the night my mother saw a rat in our house (most of the ones on La Cienega are still open for business). Motor inns were convenient, inexpensive, and fun. I do remember that in the 1950s you had to put money in the TV in order to watch it, and the beds had what they call “Magic Fingers” – for a quarter the bed would vibrate for a while. The majority of the motor inns were just rooms – no coffee shops or restaurants, but there was something really charming about them. I loved the names of some of them, like the Safari Inn, with its Safari-like design (the motor inn featured in The Fugitive). My goodness, have I been waxing nostalgic for the motor inn? I do believe I have. I wonder if someone opened a new one and/or cleaned up an existing one and made it fun and popular, if they’d come back into favor. I’ve been thinking that if someone, for example, opened a movie drive-in again, I’m guessing that could come back into favor if they did it right. Everything old is new again. Speaking of new again, yesterday was a very long day – and I did manage to avoid mine fields (barely) so keep those excellent vibes and xylophones coming, because it’s going to get more difficult to avoid them in the coming days, and yet we must avoid them like the plague. I got up early, did a two-mile plus jog, then got ready for our music sessions, which began at one. They went very well, and it was fun to hear other people singing the songs, rather than me. The session lasted until about 5:45, and then I went to Gelson’s and got a whole roast chicken. I immediately discovered that I had no idea what to DO with a whole roast chicken, how to separate its various and sundried parts, so I just cut as much white meat from the breasts as I could and that was my meal o’ the day – only there wasn’t all that much meat and I was still very hungry. So, later, I went to Jack In The Box and got three of their weird tacos, which are actually very low in calories. They really hit the spot. Prior to that, I’d been sitting on my couch like so much fish.

Last night, I watched a homegrown DVD that was sent to me of the Encores’ production (or presentation) of Follies. I’d read so many gushing, fawning, drooling raves of this, with everyone pleading and begging for it to move to Broadway. Well, had the producers been idiotic enough to move it, it would have lost every penny – whether they’d kept it open because of ego, or folded it quickly. Because the one thing we know, is that outside of musical theater freaks, people just don’t go for Follies. As most of you know, for me Follies was the best production I’ve ever seen anywhere, anytime. It was so brilliant on every level – the writing, the direction and choreography, the design, the lighting, the costumes – everyone was obviously operating at the top of their game and were, in fact, on a whole different plane than most folks have ever been, creatively, most especially the cast, which was sheer perfection. I’ve seen many productions of Follies since – some have meant well, some have been inept, and none have understood what really made the show tick that first time around. It became fashionable to knock the book of Follies, and the author did revise it and not for the better, if you ask me. Then there was the London revisal, for which Sondheim wrote a few new numbers, and things like The Road You Didn’t Take were cut. Now, anyone who would cut The Road You Didn’t Take should not be directing Follies, period, the end. The Roundabout revival was, for me, dreadful on every level, but still, the Sondheads and the fan-atics were there, screaming their bloody heads off, cheering and whooping and hollering. Then there was the Papermill version, of which I’ve only heard the recording. I liked a couple of people on the recording okay, but again, anyone who would cast someone like Ann Miller (or Polly Bergen) as Carlotta Campion, just doesn’t understand the show. I love those two ladies, but it just makes hash out of the part as written, and thus the show becomes about something it shouldn’t. It becomes a cheering fest for all these old performers and the heart and soul of the story becomes secondary. I began watching the DVD with high hopes. They were dashed instantly. For me, and it’s just my opinion folks, the director had no clew at all what the show was about or how to present it. The staging was awkward, with people wandering aimlessly, and the choreography was less than ordinary. I know they have to put these things together quickly, but as presented it’s like this weird mutant thing – it’s trying to be a production, but people have scripts in their hands and don’t always look prepared. But, it’s not a concert – I don’t think it knows what it is, frankly, and I think they need to go back to their roots because, at least for Follies, it just doesn’t work. They observed the terrible intermission – it ruins the show, it’s that simple. Mr. Prince and Mr. Bennett and company found out quickly that the show had to be intermission-less – there was no place to break it. Of course, in those days, people didn’t have these infernal water bottles with them twenty-four hours a day, chugging down gallons of water. They could go the two hours without having to pee. I just don’t get it, actually – people are fine sitting in a movie theater and watching a movie for two hours without getting up – so they can damn well sit in a theater for two hours without their intermission. Prince also knew that pace was everything, and the original Follies was really cinematic in that way, with things going in and out of focus, happening all over Boris Aronson’s brilliant set. Here, as I said, we get wandering, lots of slowwwww scenes and long pauses, and very slow music tempos. And since it’s not really a production, the whole Loveland sequence sort of falls flat – the scene leading into that, where the past and present Buddy/Sally/Ben/Phyllis begin confusing who they’re talking to was one of the most breathtaking transitions in the history of the theater. Here, the staging didn’t make clear what was going on and the whole thing just fell flat as a pancake. And after Ben’s breakdown in Live, Laugh, Love, when the past events and numbers of the evening come vomiting up with total cacophony, well, again, it was just extraordinary – here, we get nothing at all, and then we get the really bad revised ending. The only two cast members I feel really sort of “got” it were Christine Branski, who understood Carlotta but was a little too low-key and who didn’t quite get all the nuances of I’m Still Here, and Mimi Hines, who was a terrific Hattie. Victor Garber probably would be a terrific Ben with a different director. The other actors are all good talents but whether they were just left to their own devices or if they were directed to do what they were doing, it just didn’t quite work for me. The four leading roles in Follies are really complex – again, the original company was flawless. Dorothy Collins WAS Sally Durant Plummer, slightly overweight, slightly blowsy, and completely believable in her delusions. Alexis Smith didn’t play at Phyllis, which is what every other actress I’ve seen since does. She was regal, she was down and dirty, but she was always natural about it – she just was that person. Gene Nelson was a fabulous Buddy – desperate, funny, and you could see and feel the hurt and what he’d been dealing with. And John McMartin as Ben was beyond brilliant. His performance was unique – he just inhabited Ben – sardonic, witty, bitter, but always subtle about it, never forced. And his forgetting of the lyric in the finale was one of the most chilling things I’ve ever witnessed on stage. The audience tensed up and you could have cut that tension with a knife – they really thought he’d gone up on the lyrics, and then when they realized what was actually happening, it was so powerful that you could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the theater. I know I should not be talking about the original production, because every production should be judged on its own merits, but I thought the comparisons were apt, because clearly the folks who did the show originally, really understood its complexity and subtext and how to convey all of that and have it be totally clear. And no other production has come within a country mile of doing so – which, for me, means that Follies is not a show that should be tackled very often. Sure, do a concert of the score – it’s glorious. But to do the show as nostalgia, or to do it without understanding what the show is really about, is not good for the show, and not good for the audience. The audience, of course, was whooping and hollering and stomping – it sounded exactly like the crowd at the Roundabout revival. Perhaps it was the same crowd.

What am I, Ben Brantley all of a sudden? That was the most long-winded bunch of palaver ever. I just love Follies so much, and it pains me to see it done less than wonderfully. Well, why don’t we all click on the Unseemly Button below because, after all, everything old is new again. Or should that be everything new is old again?

I’m going to keep this section VERY short after all that yakking in the last section. Today, I have a lot of mine fields to avoid (with your help), and a lot of errands to do, e-mails to send, and hopefully the first batch of books to ship (I was hoping they’d have arrived already).

Tomorrow, our second day of music rehearsals, and more errands to do, and then it’s on to the big weekend.

Perhaps we’d all better put on our pointy party hats and our colored tights and pantaloons, perhaps we’d better break out the cheese slices and the ham chunks, perhaps we’d better dance the Hora or the Texas Two-Step, for today is the birthday of dear reader td. So, let’s give a big haineshisway.com birthday cheer to td. On the count of three: One, two, three – A BIG HAINESHISWAY.COM BIRTHDAY CHEER TO TD!!!

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, jog, do errands, avoid mine fields, and eat something interesting. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s Ask BK Day, the day in which you get to ask me or any dear reader any old question you like and we get to give any old answer we like. So, let’s have loads of lovely questions and loads of lovely answers and loads of lovely postings, shall we. And let’s do remember that everything old is new again.

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