‘She Loves Me’…for very good reasons
Filmed broadcast of this year’s production of the 1960s musical will warm the good old wintertime.
Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz
Zachary Levi and fellow cast members
Photos by Joan Marcus
BroadwayHD brought Broadway into the new millennium with its live stream of a Broadway production, She Loves Me, on June 30, 2016. That evening has been edited and presented at movie theaters through Fathom Events. The outstanding Roundabout Theatre Company revival has been blissfully preserved and brought to many unable to come to New York to see the now-closed production.
Based on the 1940 MGM comedy The Shop Around the Corner, as well as an earlier play by Miklós László, She Loves Me tells a familiar story of two colleagues. Georg (Zachary Levi, TV’s Chuck) and Amalia (Laura Benanti, Gypsy) work together at a Hungarian perfumery and have hated each other since their first meeting. Unbeknownst to either, the two have been corresponding through a lonely-hearts club, and each is quite smitten with the other’s letters. If only they knew their “Dear Friend” was their worst enemy.
The original production lasted only 250 performances, yet all the elements of She Loves Me are in top form. Written by the Pulitzer Prize–winning team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (Fiorello), directed by impresario Harold Prince, based on a favorite Jimmy Stewart film, starring Barbara Cook, and featuring a Tony-winning performance by Jack Cassidy, She Loves Me should have been a blockbuster. Mandelbaum’s book is filled with plenty of shows created by masters who just failed to capture magic, but all the elements of She Loves Me are at top form. The score is a classic, including a cabaret favorite “Ice Cream,” a riff on Christmas standard “Twelve Days to Christmas” and sexy tango number “A Romantic Atmosphere.” Joe Masteroff‘s book is funny and charming, and despite having two protagonists at war, both characters are loveable and never grate on the audience’s nerves. The show always smelled like a hit. Luckily, both a successful 1993 and last year’s revivals burned the flames for She Loves Me adoration.
Both productions were directed by Scott Ellis and his admiration for the score and book are apparent. Every joyous moment leads to big smiles, as he makes the characters irresistible.
The latest cast is luminous. Benanti never fears looking silly. She’ll dance on a bed, bounce around like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, and do anything for a fresh joke. Her soprano voice as always is pristine. Levi makes a winning Georg. His voice is strong, he acts like Peck’s bad boy when taunting Amalia, and he even manages summersaults in the title number. Jane Krakowski, always a delight, is darling as the shop worker romancing caddish Gavin Creel. She focuses on the little gestures. She taps her fingers each time she says “optometrist” to make sure she pronounces it correctly. During “Twelve Days to Christmas,” her ritual of prancing into a cloud of perfume like Giselle gets hilariously more labored as the store gets chaotic in last-minute shopping. Creel is devilish as the snide and hypersexual Kodaly.
David Rockwell’s set is a doll house that opens up into the sparkling perfumery. Though this is not a heavy dance show, Warren Carlyle’s choreography is sprightly and sexy, particularly when Krakowski and Creel tango and at the restaurant when the patrons turn dinner into a PG-rated orgy.
This fathom filming, directed by David Horn and edited by Gary Bradley and Laura Young, is never intrusive. The filmmakers allow the performers breathing room and don’t turn the presentation into an MTV rapid-fire horror show in which the audience cannot follow the action because of quick edits and confusing cinematography. The director trusts the production to delight audiences.
For the glory of theater, one performance from every show should be filmed and broadcast to theaters. So many splendid performances are missing and haven’t been savored by more than several hundred a night. One hopes that this trend will expand over time and even to performances from past decades that had been filmed for posterity: Angela Lansbury in Gypsy, or John Raitt in Carousel, or even some of the notorious bombs like Grind or Taboo.
December 6, 2016
Middle photo: Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi
Bottom photo: Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski
Editor's note: This review was revised to delete an inaccurate reference to "Not Since Carrie."
Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz
Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II
a move that should be more widespread for the sake of our culture, the
National Theater Live, through Fathom Events, broadcasts original-cast
productions taped before live audiences, airing them in movie theaters
around the world. Widening exposure to great performances for people who
may never have the opportunity to see acting talents like Benedict
Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, Helen Mirren, and James Corden in live
theater, is a godsend. However, seeing a filmed play has its
limitations, even an esteemed play like Peter Morgan’s The Audience starring Helen Mirren. A performance that may have dazzled theater audiences doesn’t always translate to the filmed medium.
Expanding beyond the relationship between Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II explored in Morgan’s film The Queen, The Audience
focuses on Queen Elizabeth‘s dealings with most of the other 11 prime
ministers she worked with from 1953 (Winston Churchill) to 2016 (David
Cameron). As a courtesy, once each week, the sovereign meets privately
with the current PM to catch up on the week’s activities. Morgan’s play
presupposes what conversations Queen Elizabeth partook with the 11 men
and one woman who held the elected post and constitutionally outranked
her. The Broadway version included a scene with Blair; however the
original London production, filmed here, excludes him. Morgan’s play may
be a feast for anglophiles; but, for those not up on all the
machinations of 20th- and 21st-century UK history, scenes may confuse
them. Because the movie audience do not receive playbills, chyrons on
screen of dates and name of the prime minister in each scene would have
been helpful. Though a keen observer will eventually catch on, viewers
may overthink these details when they should be listening to the
Morgan intercuts the sequences between Elizabeth and her PMs with
imagined conversations she has with three younger versions of herself.
Because Elizabeth was once a scared girl, unprepared to be heir
presumptive, these scenes are touching and draw the audience toward the
protagonist. Because Morgan is fictionalizing unrecorded historical
moments, the audience must have pure faith that his imagination fits the
facts. Some of the dialogue and moments, like Elizabeth nodding off
mid-conversation, do not ring true.
Shockingly, however, the biggest
issue here is Mirren’s performance. Because she played the role for four
months at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End before this particular
performance was taped, her voice modulations and facial expressions were
formed for those in the back rows. Her stage performance does not
modulate for the camera zoomed up close. She repeatedly mugs for the
camera. She also trips over her lines several times. Her Elizabeth
appears inconsistent from scene to scene, not like a woman maturing but
like multiple personalities. In one scene, she seems to be channeling
Nancy Kulp’s butch Miss Jane Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies.
The rest of the cast is excellent, particularly Richard McCabe, as
her favored PM, Harold Wilson, whose small-town sensibilities and
compassion make him a darling character. Though overshadowed by Meryl
Streep’s definitive performance in Iron Lady,
Haydn Gwynne is hilarious as the supercilious Margaret Thatcher, who
treats the queen like a naughty little child. Maya Gerber, Bebe Cave,
and Nell Williams are rambunctious but heartfelt as the younger versions
of Mirren’s character.
Because of the nature of filming, this broadcast lacks the spark of
live theater felt between an actor and the audience. It’s also dangerous
when the filming director chooses the angle and the specific character
the audiences should focus on. For example, the play emphasizes the
ingenuity of changing Mirren‘s costumes and aging or regressing her in
plain sight. The broadcast even has a segment during the intermission
spotlighting the magic of these changes. However, in one transition,
before Elizabeth clashes with Thatcher, her costume change, though
onstage, is not on camera.
Filmed performances—including The Audience and other NTLive programs Frankenstein, Hamlet, and One Man, Two Guvnors,
are gateways to expose youth and other audiences to theater in its
prime. Hopefully, after viewing one of the screenings, people will
journey to their local theaters, or Broadway, or the West End, to
witness that magic of the live stage. Though the NTLive shows are a
great introduction, there is nothing more thrilling than the symbiotic
relationship between an actor and its audience.
July 22, 2016
Fathom Events Broadcast
Reviewed by Jonas Schwartz
The cast of Miss Saigon in “The American Dream”
On Sept. 22, 2014, the international hit musical Miss Saigon
reached an epoch. It had opened at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane 25
years before, to become a phenomenon on the West End, on Broadway, and
throughout the world. Producer Cameron Mackintosh in conjunction with
Universal Pictures filmed the event, and while the filming raises
artistic concerns, they captured an arresting evening: the fully staged
production of the West End Revival starring a soaring Jon Jon Briones as
The Engineer and a luminous Eva Noblezada as the tragic Kim.
Based on Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, Miss Saigon
follows the star-crossed lovers Kim, a virginal bar dancer, and Chris
(Alistair Brammer), an American GI Marine, as Saigon crumbles around
them in 1975. As the Americans retreat, Chris is forced to abandon Kim
and return home. Kim must survive in the newly communist country, poor
and hounded by an officer from her past. Her only comforts are her
dreams of reuniting with her young soldier and sharing the present he
once gave her.
Following their blockbuster Les Misérables,
composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg followed up with
this epic modern opera of lush melodies and heightened anthems. ‘‘I’d
Give My Life For You,” “I Still Believe,” and “Dju Vui Vai” are some of
the most heartfelt songs of the 20th century, comparable to Rodgers’s
and Kern’s best. They are counterbalanced by the Engineer’s “If You Want
to Die in Bed,” “What a Waste,” and “The American Dream,” twisty tunes
dripping with satire. Much of the translated lyrics by Richard Maltby
Jr. rely too heavily on strained metaphors and weak rhymes, but there’s
truth and anguish in the songs.
The revival, which is captured on this film, stirs the pot of emotions.
The cast is exemplary. Briones excels at the impossible job of keeping
The Engineer both vile and captivating. He sells our heroine to
prostitution, pulls a knife on her, sells her out to a monster, and uses
her continuously, yet the audience is fascinated by him. Both the
slithering snake and the sniping mongoose, The Engineer in Briones’s
hands is magnetic.
Noblezada’s voice conveys hope and agony, turning Kim into a
quintessential heroine. Brammer is weighed down with a thankless role,
as Chris is rarely a character worth investing in, but Brammer has a
quality voice. Of the supporting cast, Rachelle Ann Go stands out with
the heartbreaking “Movie in My Mind.” Kwang-Ho Hong adds ambitious
layers to the usually one-noted villain Thuy; his vocal and facial
intensity reveals a shattered ego, one that discovers that no matter how
much power he seizes, he never can have what he wishes. The ensemble
sounds commanding in group numbers like “The Morning of the Dragon” and
Director Laurence Connor creates a
multimedia experience with projections, a cinematic set by Totie Driver
and Matt Kinley, and claustrophobic lighting designed by Bruno Poet,
where the light hits the bamboo giving the illusion of prison bars in
the muck of the destitute Vietnamese villages. As this is the 25th
anniversary, the film treats the audience to original stars Jonathan
Pryce (The Engineer), Lea Salonga (Kim), and Simon Bowman (Chris)
singing their original songs, sometimes in conjunction with the revival
stars. After such a heavy evening, the original actors bring levity by
goofing around, swapping co-stars, and teasing their replacements.
Unfortunately, the evening’s only issues are the filming itself.
Directed by Brett Sullivan, the camera relies too often on close-ups and
fast MTV edits, so that the viewers’ eyes barely have time to absorb
the action. The opening number, “The Heat Is On,” suffers most from
this. The camera needs to push out and give the viewers a chance to get
their bearing. Sullivan also over-utilized superimpositions with a main
character singing in focus and other action on the stage overlaid on top
of them. Sometimes the effect is successful, such as in “The Fall of
Saigon” where the cast appears to be hundreds desperately scurrying
around, as the iconic helicopter descends. Most unsatisfying, the
cinematographer constantly decapitates heads when protagonists sang.
Brammer spends half of “Why, God, Why” without a scalp. Why, God, why
Technical issues aside, the capturing of Miss Saigon’s
25th Anniversary show will expose a popular show to audiences across
the world who would normally be introduced to Chris, Kim, and the
Engineer in the theater basement of a church or a rec room with only a
piano to guide the singers. More talent-filled musicals should be
available to the public. The musical is America’s amazing contribution
to the theater, and too many brilliant performances have been lost
September 25, 2016
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