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November 30, 2008:

I’M GONNA WASH THE NOTES RIGHT OUT OF MY HAIR AND SEND THEM ON THEIR WAY

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, are we really doing a Bacharach benefit TOMORROW??? Holy moley on rye, how can that be? Well, as our beloved Doris Day once said, Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be). One thing we know is it will be an intense day at the theater in preparation for the show. Oh, yes, it will be an intense day, but I shall keep calm and collected, not necessarily in that order. But why am I speaking of tomorrow when I haven’t spoken about yesterday or today? That is most unseemly. Speaking of yesterday and today, yesterday was a very long day and evening. I got up at nine-thirty, got down to the fitness room at ten-thirty, after answering many e-mails. I did 6.2 miles on the treadmill in forty-five minutes, cooled down, then came back to the room and showered and got dressed. I then managed to do all my cast diagrams (their entrances and exits and which mic they’ll be using and where). That was a big load off, then I left and walked up to Lincoln Center to see South Pacific.

Yesterday, I saw a musical revival entitled South Pacific. Before I get to the production and cast and stuff, let me just say all we’ve heard for years is how old-fashioned South Pacific is, and how the plot doesn’t really resonate because Nellie’s reaction to the Polynesian children and deceased wife don’t make sense to today’s theatergoers. And how the show is pass√© and a little boring. Well, guess what? South Pacific is still great – a perfectly structured and written show, with an amazing score – one great song after another. Now, if this had been directed and produced by others, they probably would have brought in some smart-ass playwright to “fix” it, to cut it down, to streamline it, maybe move a few songs around, and spruce it up with new orchestrations because these fools who do these revivals simply don’t trust the material and frankly they don’t trust the material because they don’t have the talent to make it work. Well, what a pleasure it is to report that this revival of South Pacific is everything you’ve heard it is and more. Bartlett Sher, the director, HAS trusted the material (save for one addition – and it’s the only thing in this revival I didn’t care for). He’s not only trusted it, he’s understood it and given it the most loving and beautiful production this musical could have hoped for. There’s no revisionism, no rethinking, no brilliant directorial (heaven help us) “vision.” There’s just solid stagecraft, inspired choices, and being true to the material and telling its story simply and effectively.

South Pacific may seem odd in today’s theater world. Why? Because theater, like Screenwriting 101, has become about a formula. The opening number has to do this, the second song has to be an “I want” song, this has to happen there, this character needs this arc, and this heart, and on an on and on – which is why every new musical I see (like every new film I see) all looks and sounds and feels the same. South Pacific didn’t follow any of those “rules” because there were no “rules” to follow, and the theater was better for it, frankly. Rodgers and Hammerstein and Joshua Logan were MAKING the rules. What musical today would have the nerve to start off with a long book scene and then four songs in a row in one setting, basically between two characters? The answer: Zero. But that is exactly how South Pacific starts – we get to know two characters and what their deals are and who they are, and by the time that twenty or so minutes is done, we CARE, we’re invested (to use another sickening clich√©). And on it goes, in one great scene and song after another. I didn’t care for the inclusion of the cut song “My Girl Back Home.” I think they cut it for a reason and, for me, it added nothing but time. Other than that, this is pretty much a perfect production.

I’m sure most of you have heard about the marvelous thing they do during the overture – if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you. I will only say I got a huge lump in my throat as it happened and that lump pretty much stayed throughout the entire show. The sets, lighting, and costumes are all wonderful. And I didn’t see one moving light (save for one effect) – just old-fashioned beautiful lighting. The staging is marvelous and never feels like a director or choreographer showing off. It took me a few minutes to warm up to Kelli O’Hara, who I found a little low-key for the first few scenes, but she won me over and she’s a terrific Nellie and really gets her emotion and heart and confusion and her initial inability to get past her prejudices. In fact, the playing of the end of act one is a lesson in artful acting – the scene that the pundits say modern audiences don’t buy went off so stunningly that you could hear a pin drop in the theater. Why? Because the audience understood the period in which the play takes place – it’s that simple. My pal Danny Burstein was a wonderful Billis. I’m afraid my only disappointment in the entire cast was Matthew Morrison as Cable – I just couldn’t get with him and I found him a little actorish and forced. But that’s a minor quibble – he certainly wasn’t bad or anything. The gal who played Bloody Mary gave a fantastic performance – every line, every nuance, every song was marvelous. It’s a great Broadway debut performance and she should have won a Tony for it (or did she?). Which brings me to Paulo Szot as Emile. This guy is the real deal – not only a great singer, but a wonderful actor who really understands what he’s saying and doing (not always easy in this role) – I was absolutely astonished by him. At the end of the show I did something I haven’t done in twenty years or more – I stood up with the rest of the audience because everyone connected with this production and the show itself deserved its standing ovation. The orchestra is amazing, too, and the fact that they used every note of the Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations is so heartening, as they’re quite brilliant (as is his masterful underscore). The first act runs one hour and forty minutes and seems like it runs less than an hour – funny how time flies when you are involved in the show. Act two runs an hour and it’s the same thing – it just flies by. All in all, one of the best pieces of theater I’ve ever seen, and I know all of you know I don’t say things like that lightly.

I then met Adam at the Times Square Brooklyn Diner. It was jammed, but he’d gotten there early and got us a booth. I couldn’t remember what it was that I loved there (nothing on the menu, save for the coconut cake, looked familiar), so I ordered a chicken club sandwich. It was okay – too much chicken, a tiny bit of Russian dressing, a couple of pieces of bacon, on sourdough bread. And that was my meal. We then toddled over to see a play called Judy and Me, which the daughter of a former dear reader, Iris, is in. I don’t need to say much, either than Elyse Beyer did a very good job in the show. The play is one of those catharsis pieces of theater, where the author writes a play to exorcise his demons. I understand it, but unless there’s real artfulness to it, that sort of play just isn’t for me. We then went to Joe Allen, where I had a shrimp cocktail, and then some fruit (with a little whipped cream to spice it up) for dessert. I then came home and had to respond to about twenty e-mails.

Well, why don’t we all click on the Unseemly Button below because I’ve got to finish these incredibly long and endless notes – in fact, I’m gonna wash these notes right out of my hair and send them on their way.

Today, I must try to get up by nine, and get my visit to the fitness room over no later than ten-thirty, so I can then spend at least two hours starting the lighting and projection script. I should be able to get through at least act one before I have to leave, maybe even further. Then I’m seeing the matinee of Road Show with FJL and Miss Juliana Hansen, after which we’ll all grab a bite to eat. After that, I’ll come back to the hotel and spend another hour or so hopefully finishing up the script. If I haven’t finished, I’ll bring it along to our band rehearsal, which starts at seven. I’ll have to cab it up there – it’s a little too far to walk.

Tomorrow, of course, I must be up very early and at our theater at nine for the load-in and to write the light cues with our lighting guy. There’s much to do before the sound check starts at two, and we’re all going to have to work very hard to be ready. Then show time is at seven-thirty and, as Doris says, whatever will be, will be.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, do the treadmill, do the script, see Road Show, sup, do more script, then attend a long band rehearsal. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s free-for-all day, the day in which you dear readers get to 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, and now I’m gonna wash the notes right out of my hair and send them on their way.

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