Cricket's Notebook "Thursday, 16 August, 2007 12:20 a m - 12:55 p m: 'Sorrywise: Apologise'"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Thursday, 16 August, 2007 12:40 p m - 12:55 p m:
"Why I Won't Review 'Miss Saigon'
@ Company Theatre"

NOT because it's bad.
At final curtain out in Norwell last night the 350 people who saw it --- including me! --- were on their feet applauding, demanding an extra full-cast bow that was richly deserved. The entire run --- Seven Thousand Seats! --- had already been sold out. It's a hit, a palpable hit on that big stage out in Accord Park, and I congratulate everyone connected with it.
But I think it best to say the production is top-rate, there are original details that are breathtaking (Sally Ashton Forrest's choreography and staging in particular), it's a great cast --- but I really don't like The Show They Were Doing. I don't think anyone benefits from a negative review, but rather than write one I think it best to elaborate the personal prejudices that would make my opinions irrelevant.

First, though, let me say that everyone working on this production for the Company Theatre deserves unstinting praise, from Choreographer and Company Manager Sally Ashton Forrest (who also ran the sound!!), co-Directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman and Musical Director Michael V. Joseph down to Stage Manager Marc Ewart and Head Usher Ken Mackin do outstanding, thoroughly professional jobs. From the proliferation of many hats on everyone, it's obvious that they do it for love and can and do take pride in their work.
My complaints are not with the people who are making this production, but with the people who created the show originally --- and they are quite personal.

First: I don't like opera.
I don't hear anything in the trained operatic voice but the Effort it takes to make those noises. I noticed a distaste for such sounds when first exposed to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald caterwauling in the movies I went to Saturdays during World War II, and nothing has changed my mind since then.

I've thought a lot about this, and decided my interest, in theater performances, is in Words not music. Human SPEECH is a tremendously expressive tool, slight changes in emphasis or pauses can make even the same sentence ring with multiple meanings. That's the reason why "hearing a play" by Shakespeare, again and again in the mouths of different actors, can be such a continually unique experience.

[IMPORTANT ASIDE: I believe Shakespeare is still playable 300 years later because he wrote So FEW stage-directions, so that every generation --- every cast! --- has an opportunity to say his lines in a newly relevent way. People like Puccini froze every inflection in the straight-jacket of his score with hardly any wiggle-room, and his works have become museum-pieces. So I have never been interested in seeing "Otello" but I go enthusiastically to hear "Othello" every chance I get.]

Second: I hate, detest, and abominate "through-sung" anything.
Richard Wilbur's translations of Moliere are not only lyrical, they rhyme --- but intelligent actors find expressive advantage in running around or over the rhymes when everyday details arise. That's a little hard to do when a composer has forced upon a phrase like "Hi, how are you?" notes and rhythms that, contractually, cannot be ignored. I call such sprecht-stimmer "WRETCHED-tatif" and I say the hell with it.

Third: If the music is what is really carrying the emotional weight of the show, that music better be damn good, and well-wedded to everything the words themselves are saying.
The secord or third time I saw "Evita" I managed to ignore the score (Sir Andrew, in my mind, is an artistic excrescence propped up by Tim Rice and his other his lyricists/librettists) and I listened to The Words. And what I heard was a powerful "play with a couple songs thrown in" that could have been Brecht for the new century --- except for the pseudo-Puccini histrionics slathered on top.

And unfortunately I had the same experience with "Miss Saigon" [It was my THIRD production there, too!]: there were good, gifted performers singing their hearts out (and Still Acting! That's my definition of excellence in musical theatre.) --- and I was sitting there thinking "Now, how would that actor Say those lines if she didn't have to Bellow Them at me over the orchestra?"

[Again, I'm not trying to denigrate the fine work of this cast. Kendra Kachadoorian, for instance, turned Ellen --- the American wife confronting a Vietnamese wife And Mother for the first time --- into a real human being grappling with real life; for her few moments centerstage this was Her tragedy!]

Fourth: There are several places in this show when Claude-Michael Schonberg's music, or is it William D. Brohn's orchestrations of it, simply gets in the way.
Again and again, the singing ends, the audience applauds the excellent performance ... but the orchestra (And this is a fine orchestra) plays on with no resolution. There were a couple of times last night when the music actually Stiffled that applause because the enthusiastic audience didn't know how to react there.

In Summation:
I agree whole-heartedly with Steven Sondheim (and Oscar Hammerstein II) that Songs are there either to Advance The Plot, or to Explicate Character, not to be beautiful or to get in the way.

Sondheim's only "opera" is "Passion" --- which no one likes (except me) --- but even there what is between the "arias" is passages of Speech, not singspeech.

In that regard, take the undispited diamond-glittering song "The American Dream". This biographical sketch is a solo for The Engineer/pimp, and in this production John F. King who played him spent the first two-thirds at least of the number alone on the huge, empty stage articulating every syllable, every nuance, every whip-cracked send-up of American values.
[I don't know if anyone else screamed "Bravo!" at his personal curtain-call, but I did. And I can't prove it, but do you believe Alain Boublil wrote those lyrics originally in French and then Richard Maltby Jr. "adapted from the original French lyrics" for this show-stopping gem? Hah!]

Okay, there are my reasons why I shouldn't write a review of the Company Theatre's production of "Miss Saigon" : in a nutsell, I'm unqualified to review this excellent production fairly.
I will point out one detail, however. One member of what's noted as the "Men's Ensemble" --- most notably playing Marines --- came onstage with a crutch. Now, that may have been subtle characterization by the actor, or one of the directors. But I noticed that later, when he was onstage just "to swell a scene" he limp-shuffled off where the director's blocking note to everyone must have been "Just get the hell off stage-left as soon as possible!"
I forgot to ask, but I suspect this actor/dancer wasn't acting; I think he kept himself in the cast despite being "in a cast" of another kind.
Actors are like that. And this is a dynamite cast well deserving of such loyalty.

You can't buy a ticket (7,000 seats Sold Out, remember? I heard even A Critic couldn't get seats!) but you might line up for cancellations or whine your way into standing-room somehow. And, chances are you'll like everything you see, and hear, as much and maybe better than I did.
It's worth a try...

( a k a larry stark ) ===Anon.

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide