KPBS AIRDATE: November 12, 2004
Sometimes, it’s best to leave a classic alone. It doesn’t need to be updated, cross-gendered, race-mixed or musicalized. If it’s classic, it can survive on its own — unadorned. Two current cases in point: “A Streetcar Named Desire” at UCSD and “The Goodbye Girl” at Moonlight Stage Productions.
Neil Simon’s comical movie was a huge hit in 1977 — and it’s still timelessly funny. It wasn’t broke and it didn’t need fixing. But in 1993, Simon, along with composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist David Zippel, created a musical of “The Goodbye Girl,” wisely retaining a preponderance of the film’s zinger lines. But the songs feel derivative, they don’t really forward the action and they make the whole enterprise seem a lot cornier than the original. Moonlight artistic director Kathy Brombacher loves to breathe new life into small, seldom-seen musicals. And she does everything she can to make this one sing.
The story concerns a self-involved actor who sublets a New York apartment that’s already inhabited — by his actor-buddy’s ex-girlfriend and her 12 year-old daughter. In an uneasy compromise, they agree to share the space. The happy ending is predictable, but it’s a fun ride to the finish-line. Here, the outrageousness is toned down and the romance is played up. The cast is engaging, if not show-stopping; Jason Heil is cute and charming as Elliot, Theresa Layne brittle and bruised as the divorcee, Paula; and young Alexa Bergman adorable as the Kid. Renae Mitchell gets to sing a rousing, jazzy/bluesy number, and Marc Ciemowicz gives a hilarious cameo performance. Marty Burnett’s rotating sets are wonderfully malleable, and Cris O’Bryon’s direction of the hot, 5-piece band is great. The whole is less than the sum of its parts, but it’s a pleasant diversion from the daily news.
For a deeper, richer, more satisfying dramatic experience, head to UCSD for its stellar “Streetcar.” I have to confess that Tennessee Williams’ masterwork is one of my favorites. And this production does it proud. Katherine Sigismund is magnificent as the fragile Blanche DuBois, that fading, fantasizing Southern belle who deposits herself into the sultry, New Orleans, working-class digs of her down-to-earth sister, Stella, and her testosterone-fueled brother-in-law, Stanley. Genevieve Hardison’s Stella is clearly deeply in love with her macho-man. As Mitch, Blanche’s gentleman caller, Mark Smith makes an agreeably innocuous Mama’s Boy. Brian Slaten plays Stanley as a buff ex-military guy, buzz-cut and all. He doesn’t have the fire and heat of Brando, but he brings an aggressive energy to the role. Joseph Ward has directed with assurance, wisely getting out of the way of the brilliant text and the inevitable tragedy. The drama is underscored by Joseph Sarlo’s edgy, angular sound design. A finely etched, nuanced production. Classy staging of a classic.
I’m Pat Launer, for KBPS news.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.