Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A lot happened. On Friday, went to see the Roundabout production of Shaw's "Pygmalion"; David Noh invited me to accompany him (of course, he'll include it in his column in Gay City News) and though i jokingly said that i wouldn't prejudice the production by watching the Howard-Asquith film, i was bombarded with the reviews that morning. And all were negative, and Claire Danes was slaughtered. So i had no idea what to expect... and i thought the production was lovely. Technically, it was superb: the sets and lighting were stunning, the costumes were lovely. The cast was quite good, some better than others (Jefferson Mays and Boyd Gaines were terrific, Claire Danes was excellent, Jay O. Sanders never quite seemed to be a Cockney), but all in all a fine production.

Why the bad reviews? Well, on "On Stage", Roma Torre gave the production a positive review, and she said something that was so intriguing: she said that this production restores "Pygmalion" to Shaw's intention, that is, to its status as a social satire, rather than as a "romantic comedy". The romantic comedy connotations came about because of the intent of the musical (and even the original film version), and was especially emphasized because of the casting. So many of the reviewers complained about the lack of "chemistry" between Jefferson Mays as Higgins and Claire Danes's Eliza, but "Pygmalion" isn't a romantic comedy. The ending is not purposely ambiguous, it simply means that Eliza is able to begin her life... but how she decides is up to her, and not to Higgins.

The actual text of "Pygmalion" is so different from what people know (and "My Fair Lady" is based, not on the play, but on the film script: the changes that Shaw authorized for the film, such as the inclusion of the actual elocution lessons, with such lines as "the rain in spain stays mainly on the plains", are not to be found in the original play) and i think that most critics (now) have no idea of what the original was or what it meant.

But the Roundabout production is quite good, and the direction by David Grindley was smooth. The ensemble feeling was very strong: a number of the actors had earlier appeared in Grindley's production of "Journey's End" from last season (Mays, Gaines, Kieran Campion) and their work together was very smooth.

But what was depressing was realizing how an inadequate film (and in its time "My Fair Lady" received almost scathing bad reviews from the serious critics, cf. Stanley Kauffmann, Andrew Sarris, Dwight MacDonald) has now colored the perception about Shaw's play. And it also explains something: to so many fans, you cannot explain that Audrey Hepburn was utterly miscast. Yes, Audrey Hepburn was lovely (hell, she was one of the most beautiful women of the 20th century), but no way is she a Cockney (she was BORN an aristocrat; no amount of "acting" can scrap off what has been "bred" since birth) and her romantic aura (which had been carefully cultivated in the decade since she became a star) pushes the material into an area which is totally at odds with Shaw's pragmatism. Claire Danes is lovely, and she has a sturdy quality which compares well with Wendy Hiller's formidable stature.

But people (now) want to see "Pygmalion" as a romantic comedy, and it's not. And this production of "Pygmalion" is not, but it is a good rendition of Shaw.

Then David invited me to the Sunday matinee, "Broadway Originals", at Town Hall. What an event! I was nervous about the subway (on a Sunday, you never know what's happening, if the D isn't running or the N is running local, etc.) so i left really early. And i got to Town Hall by 2:30 (the performance was at 3) ... David had (jokingly) warned me to prepare myself for the audience ("The Night of the Living Dead") and he was right. I've NEVER been to a performance where there were so many people with walkers and canes and wheelchairs (all arriving early so that they could be properly seated).

Barbara and Scott Siegel have really been working hard on these events at Town Hall. And they've gotten a brilliant idea. "Broadway Originals", for example. To ask a number of Brodaway veterans to do the number they made famous in the original Broadway productions, so you had Alan Campbell singing "Sunset Boulevard" from the musical of the same name; Ken Jennings singing "Not While I'm Around" from "Sweeney Todd"; Taina Elg singing the mother's song from "Nine"; Joan Copeland singing a song from "Two By Two", that musical she co-starred with Danny Kaye... the first performer was Andre De Shields, singing the Wizard's song from
"The Wiz" (which he introduced on Broadway almost 40 years ago!). He came out in a white suit, with this huge white cape, which he swirled and twirled around in, while also dancing across the stage (at one point, he got tangled up in the cape, and there was a scary moment when it looked as if he might trip, but he managed to get himself untangled), and he was just so vivacious and exuberant. And the final performer was George S. Irving! I mean, i can't even imagine how old the man is... he made his Broadway debut in 1943, and then was drafted. (This according to Scott's little introduction.) And then he went right into his big number from the original Broadway production of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (which he starred in on Broadway in 1948). He performed with such effortless aplomb, and such command... this is what is meant by stage presence! It was just amazing.

Well, i've got to write up my audit reports for NYSCA about the Housing Works reading and the Lark Theater.


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