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November 9, 2008:


Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, it is late, the notes are late, and the whole damn shebang is late. Therefore, I have no time for pleasantries and chitchat, for I must dive into the notes headlong, like a gazelle eating a Fig Newton. I wonder if a Fig Newton ever ate a gazelle? Just asking. Speaking of a Fig Newton, yesterday was a most pleasantly pleasant day. For example, I got up. That was most pleasant. I did the long jog, and that was most pleasant. I then did a bit of work on the computer and did some errands and whatnot. I finished putting postage on the rest of the packages, filled out all the UPS shipper waybills for the big orders and then I shaved and showered and made myself presentable. I then went over to Stanley’s and had the Cajun chicken pasta and a small Caesar salad, which was an excellent early dinner. I then came back home, did a few more things, and then headed out to Long Beach to attend the opening night of a re-imagined production of Silk Stockings at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts. Upon my arrival, I met up with our very own Alet Taylor and we went to the stage door to retrieve our tickets, and we said break a let to her ever-lovin’ Andy, who’s playing one of the leads. We went into the theater and waited for the doors to open. I saw Mr. Sheldon Epps, he of the Pasadena Playhouse, and said hey to him and his ever-lovin’. And I saw my pal Jim Jimirro, who’s a huge musical comedy fan – he owns and runs National Lampoon. Other than that, I didn’t really know anyone. We took our seats and a little after eight the show began. I found it a bit odd that on the opening night of a new production of a re-worked musical that there were quite a few empty seats. I was also a bit surprised to see they were using the entirety of the stage, which is huge, especially the width. Why they didn’t make a false proscenium to bring in the stage a bit became more mystifying as the evening progressed.

Last night, I saw a re-imagined production of Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings, with a revised book by director Stuart Ross. I’ve never seen Silk Stockings on stage, so I have no idea how good or not good the original book was/is, but when you have Abe Burrows and George S. Kaufman as the authors, well, they’re pretty good. Within the first thirty minutes I couldn’t imagine the original book being any worse than what I was seeing and hearing. Right from the first image of the play I knew we were in trouble – why is a ballet dancer doing a solo turn during the overture, when after the overture we find ourselves on a soundstage with a movie crew shooting a musical film. It’s so arbitrary, this male ballet dancer pre-overture. Then, before any musical number occurs, we have a ten-minute (maybe more) book scene. Interestingly, that is one of the things I was struggling with in the Nudie Musical adaptation – the fact that the show started with a seven-page book scene before the first number. While there are successful musicals that have that structure, they are actually few and far between. I eventually added a little ninety-second musical number before the scene, which really helped the opening of the show. They ought to consider doing the same. Mr. Ross, who obviously has done good work with Forever Plaid and the recent production of Enter Laughing at the York, is clearly out of his element on a huge stage. The blocking is perfunctory and pointless, with people either standing in a line, or wandering around aimlessly. While the dance numbers have energy, they all look and sound the same. There are occasional chuckles (the kind where four or five people giggle somewhere in the vast crowd), but not one of the jokes lands with a big laugh, and this was an opening night friendly crowd. In fact, the only joke that landed a big laugh in the entire evening was a reference to Alaska – a cheap shot and easy laugh that has no business being in this show. The cast tries hard, but there’s no there there in terms of the characters, at least not in this production. The leading man has no charisma and the widest vibrato I’ve ever heard. The Ninotchka is okay, but doesn’t have enough variety, both in the writing and the playing. I don’t blame the actress, though. Andy does the best, but he’s got absolutely not one funny thing to say or do – but somehow he manages to come through fine. I had no idea my pal Paul Kreppel was in the show (he’s one of the three Russians who are the comedy relief – except in this re-imagining they are completely and totally unfunny) – the other two are Stuart Pankin and director Nick DeGruccio, who here returns to his acting roots. Darcy Roberts does okay as the movie star. The score is not top-notch Porter, although it has a few nice moments. The end of act one is way too weak, and the resolution of act two just sort of happens and then the show is over. I can’t imagine the original version had all these problems, but maybe it did. And for the first time in recent memory, in this day and age of audiences standing for any piece of crap, not one person gave the show a standing ovation.

The technical end of the show was actually shocking to me. The “set” was not worthy of a high school (basically, there was no set, and the times where set pieces were moved on and off were interminably slow), the lighting was basic on and off (someone should explain to the lighting designer what a blackout is – it’s not a fade out – you don’t get your laugh on a fade out you get it on a blackout), and the sound was atrocious – the band was too damn loud, and so they kept pushing the vocals louder and louder and it’s ridiculous. Plus, whoever the board op is kept shutting off people’s mics if they were between lines – I’ve never heard of any sound operator doing that – this person kept missing parts of lines because the mic was brought up late and/or too slowly. I have to presume that this group, Musical Theater West, has a budget. Last year’s All Shook Up at least looked and sounded okay. This is a world premiere of this re-imagined Silk Stockings, so I’m not sure why it looks and sounds so cheap. I wish people would stop re-imaging and rewriting these older musicals. Let them be or do them as they were done – trust the material or don’t do it at all. If it’s too dated or doesn’t work, let it be. If Silk Stockings was never a strong show, then no amount of re-imagining is going to make it anything else, especially if it’s this sort of re-imagining. I don’t even know what that means – re-imagining. I do understand it’s a work in progress, and that this is its first production, and I’ve been told that changes are ongoing – they have some pretty serious work to do, however, if this is to continue on.

What am I, Ben Brantley all of a sudden? Why don’t we all click on the Unseemly Button below because suddenly I’ve got Fig Newtons on the brain and I’m not quite sure what to do about it, as it is very annoying to have Fig Newtons on the brain. In fact, the very name Fig Newton is one of the most annoying things I’ve ever heard.

Today, I have several things that need doing, and therefore I shall do them. I’ll do the long jog, for that needs doing. I have several important errands to run, and some work to do on the computer – in other words, it will not exactly be a day of rest.

Tomorrow, I have a lunch, errands and whatnot, and a lot of Bacharach to deal with, and then I’m seeing The Most Happy Fella at the Alex Theater.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, do the long jog, do errands and whatnot, write, and ponder the Fig Newton. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s free-for-all day, the day in which you dear readers make with the topics and we all get to post about them. So, let’s have loads of lovely topics and loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst we all eat a Fig Newton in honor of the Fig Newton.

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