Thursday, July 19, 2007

As the Dollar Plummets

So as I look forward to my brief European sojourn at summer's end, today's New York Times tells me how I will hardly be able to afford a coffee. The good news is that I had a visit from my most wonderful souvenir of Belfast-- you remember, the place that was the apotheosis of problems until George Bush switched the focus-- Fiona, who was, when I visited there for a piece for the Journal, the Lady Mayoress, married to David Alderdice, a moderate, a philosophy and position no more favored there than it is here, given as we seem to be to an age of extremists. Fiona is more than a breath of fresh air, she is a zephry. So I was able to fully appreciate where and how I live through her very clear, blue eyes. Also we went to a spa in Lake Arrowhead where none have gone before from my circle, which is about the size of a rubberband. All the men wear baseball caps, so my mother, if alive or reincarnated, with her addiction to believing men were the solution, would not find it good prospecting. But it was interesting to discover the high desert region near San Bernardino, and having missed the turnoff to 10 on the way out of town, we traveled unintentionally to El Segundo, where surely no one from Northern Ireland has ever been. Anyone can go to Las Vegas.
Having returned Sunday night in time to go to the theater, in order to make her trip as close as you can in LA to cosmopolitan, we attended the Pasadena Playhouse re-production of 'Can Can'. Here, my review.

The much touted re-do revival at the Pasadena Playhouse of the 1953 Cole Porter-Abe Burrows musical 'Can Can' did not live up to expectations, yet another argument why you shouldn't have them. In spite of great sets by Roy Christopher, promises in the program and in publicity for the show, which features for all of its failings a few miracle songs, it remains a disappointment. The problems of the original book have not been solved; the first few songs are third rate Porter, and silly. But when a male lead with a truly wondrous voice opens up his throat and his talent in the bridge of a ballad, "I am in Love"-- you remember what a great musical comedy was about. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
Not that this was that good in the first place. But it is an elevation to the spirit to hear a truly musicianly phrase sung by a genuine Broadway voice, even if Broadway is three thousand miles away, and this kind of musical is over half a century old. Kevin Earley, as Aristede Forestier, the uptight magistrate who doesn't want those naughty dances, has the glorious pipes, and is winning (enough) in a role that is stilted and cliched. Allegedly this was written as an homage to the late, great Abe Burrows, whose son Jim, the writer, is a hero to David Lee, the re-Creator, in partnership with Joel Fields. Lee is one of the brains behind 'Frasier', but his real love is supposedly the theater. In particular, the musical theater, which 'Can Can' is a sometimes satisfying remnant of. But the show that failed the first time isn't fully rescuscitated now, in spite of all efforts to breathe life into it. Still, Lord, Lord, there are those songs! "C'est Magnifique." "I Love Paris." Not even Porter at his best, they are still pulse-quickeningly better than most of what we've had since, and anything we have now. Hum me a ballad from 'A Light in the Piazza.'
MIchelle Duffy makes a noble go at the role of Pistache, the scampish proprietress of the Bal du Paradis in Monmartre, circa the '90s(the ones before the last.) In rehearsal and in full view, derriere too, is the dance that's causing all the fuss. Pistache has a passion for the success of her demimondaine dance hall, and a past deep amour for Forestier, the back story Lee and Fields have given them to enrich the book and make it work. It still doesn't. But she looks darkly attractive, in wonderful gowns by Randy Gardell, and tries to seem savvy in the songs, but isn't. Her voice is okay, but as Pistache she makes a Pastiche of such simple and wonderful lyrics as 'Oo La La... c'est magnifique!' running the words and the notes together in an arythmic way, a clear try for originality in a song she treats as though we have heard it every day and are tired of the same old delivery. In fact, we have not heard it, or anything like it in a musical for far too long, so it would be a treat to have it sung straight out, authentically.
Wonderful things are done by the orchestra, a good joke that is played on and with the audience. Adorable as a would-be dancer in the Bal du Paradis, is Yvette Tucker, whose energy and smile are radiant. She is partnered with Amis Talai as a sculptor who lives off her and whose supposed talent is later revealed as ludicrous which is supposed to make a comedic point. It doesn't. Except maybe 'Let Sleeping Musicals Lie.' But, wait a minute! Isn't it great to hear those songs?

So there you have it. My debut as a theater critic. You will not be stunned to know that the online theater website I wrote that for as a favor turned down the review, saying... what was it exactly...? that I should make it kinder and gentler, that that was what gave critics a bad name. Really? i thought that was what made them honest and sometimes witty.
In the same e-mail slog that brought me my debut's rejection came news that three Jane Austen novels, author disguised, character's names changed, chapters and outlines offered, had been turned down for representation by eighteen British literary agents, saying they would not know how to place them.