Sunday, August 26, 2007

Theatre Review
    — Young Frankenstein

The new Mel Brooks’ musical, Young Frankenstein, is in the middle of its world premiere engagement here in Seattle, prior to it heading to Broadway.  This is the fourth big musical to have such a premiere here in recent years: Hairspray, The Light in the Piazza, and The Wedding Singer preceded it.  We saw it this afternoon.

“Ah, sweet mystery of life…”

The biggest problem with this show is the most obvious, but also the one no one really puts their finger on in the reviews: it’s not in black and white!  (You have to have seen the film to understand what I mean, I’m sure.)

More seriously, they did a great job with the show.  Perfectly dandy casting — especially for Christopher Fitzgerald as Igor (channeling Marty Feldman), and Megan Mullally’s Elizabeth has a love of the late Madeleine Khan in her.  (It’s a deep love.  You have to see the show to get that joke.)  Roger Bart isn’t Gene Wilder, but he was quite fine as a loopy brain doctor (having previously been most familiar to me from Desperate Housewives, playing a loopy pharmacist; typecasting?).

Few of the songs are especially memorable, but that really means only that they are there to feed the jokes and to advance the story.

The show is definitely still new.  There were a few flubbed lines in today’s performance — most notable Inga saying “Put the candle in!” (huh?).  And a couple schticks just don’t have the timing down yet: the “Where wolf?” bit thudded, and the “hump” jokes didn’t come off as well as they should have.  I’m sure those will be patched up before it gets to Broadway.

Of course, this brings up the really big matter: when you’re doing a musical version of a beloved film, how can you preserve everything that’s important to people who can quote the film back to front?  (Mind you, Young Frankenstein is probably my fourth most watched film, after The Rocky Horror Picture Show [which had a musical on Broadway recently], Monty Python and the Holy Grail [which had a musical on Broadway recently], and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [God help us if it ever has a musical on Broadway].)  It’s a tight line to walk, getting in all the quotable bits and adding 10-20 songs. Sometimes they manage it, and sometimes they don’t.  (Spamalot didn’t, in my opinion, and came off the worse for lifting a song from Life of Brian and not having any crucifixions to go with it.)

Fortunately, Young Frankenstein succeeds admirably.  Right now in the other room, Josh is watching the movie and I’m listening to bits, and being pleasantly surprised by some bits that I forgot about that did make it into the show after all.  (The two significant bits lost that I’ve noted — and there are surely more — are “You take the blond, I’ll take the one in the turban” and the game of darts.  Oh, and “Damn your eyes / Too late”, but without Marty Feldman and close-up camera work, that one’s quite forgivable.  I didn’t miss people not understanding what Kemp says, either.  And indeed, even the lost bits are adequately covered with new content which precludes the original pieces.)

Of note as well is that Brooks didn’t just add a bunch of songs, he added some new running jokes, fleshed out some back story, and did a decent job of avoiding things feeling like it was just songs pasted onto a movie script.  (And let’s not forget Susan Stroman’s choreography.  There some really great hoofing in the show, and that includes the horses pulling the [roll in the] hay cart.)

The show only runs in Seattle through next weekend, so you’ll probably have to wait for it to go up in New York.  Until then, take your sedagives and wait.

Updated on December 21, 2009

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cat Scratch Fever

So there I am, lounging on the couch, watching Pearl Harbor — yeah, I know, that was my first mistake — when the 11-month old kitten zooms down the stairs, around the corner, bounces once on the carpet and leaps for the back of the couch. Only my face was in the way.

Damn good thing she’s so cute.

This is one time that the over-used movie line “That’s going to leave a mark” would have been appropriate.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Couldn’t You Try a Little Harder?

I get leery of places and things which have to tell you up front how good they are in order for you to partake.

I first noticed this back in the mid-90s, when I was working for a gay newspaper and was asked to review a novel (Iowa, by Patrick Moore).  Unlike those which have pull quotes on the back touting how ground-breaking and fantastic the novel is, for this one the publisher put a quote on the front, which implied that they didn’t think that the title, author’s name, and photo of a hunky farmboy would sell the book.  (Instead, they needed a quote by someone I had never heard of, like that would help sell it?)

(You might think that I remember the book so it must have been good.  No, I remember it because of the stupid pull quote on the front, which I even tagged in the review I wrote.)

Later in the decade, I started noticing a motel chain called Quality Inn.  If it’s good, quality should be expected, so if you have to tell me that it is “quality”, I’m inclined to disbelieve.  (This went a step further a few years later when I chanced upon a small restaurant in Kansas City, the Quality Diner.  Er, no thanks!)

And now for the latest: the DVD of Eddie Murphy’s film Norbit just came out, and it touts “Hysterically funny!” in huge letters on the cover, nearly as prominent as the title.  Was this the best review line they got for the film?  Heck, by the whopping 9% rating it garnered at Rotten Tomatoes, it may be the only good review line they got.

Updated on December 21, 2009
I now see that the pull quote on that Patrick Moore book was from Karen Finley, apparently one of the NEA Four.  That should help sell a novel how?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Stupid, Stupid Ads!
    — When is Christmas?

“Stupid, Stupid Ads!” dissects ads that try to do something underhanded or just plain stupid.

On the way home from work tonight, I heard an ad for the latest promotion from Sleep Country USA, a Pacific Northwest mattress store.  The ad proclaimed how the savings were almost like Christmas… in July.  And the savings only last until Monday!

Um, okay, but it’s not July.  It’s August.  Shouldn't the promotion have ended last weekend, when the ads wouldn’t sound, um, stupid?

To add to the poor implementation on their part, when I accessed the website, I found the attached image.  And clicked on the arrow… which did nothing.  Only clicking on the linked text actually went to the promotion page.  (You may also note that the box below the ad is a few pixels narrower than the ad.  Again: poor implementation.)

Updated on December 18, 2009
Okay, admittedly the web ad does show an August ending date, but the radio ad didn’t.  And that still doesn't excuse an ad that stresses July running in August.