Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 17, 2010
Okay, get ready for a little schmaltz — cause that’s what unites two current productions.
First, you need to know that there are two types of schmaltz: the edible and the equally unhealthful mushy melodrama.
The real definition of the malleable Yiddish word is ‘chicken fat.’ And the idea of larding productions with heaps of maudlin sentimentality gave rise to the more metaphoric meaning.
Andrew Bergman knows his way around schmaltz, having collaborated with Mel Brooks on the screenplay for “Blazing Saddles.” In his 1986 play, “Social Security,” set in an upscale, Upper East Side apartment, no schmaltz is actually eaten, but gefilte fish does make a comical appearance. The chichi daughter and her flippant husband are art dealers. Her sister, who lives a more pedestrian life in Mineola, Long Island , is married to a schlumpy , clueless accountant. Both women are driven nuts by their mother, a demanding, walker-wielding, guilt-dispensing harridan. Palmed off from one daughter to the next, she’s about to make life miserable for her current, unwilling hosts. But then, in a remarkable turnaround that could only happen in a farcical work of fiction, Mom meets a wealthy, 98 year-old, internationally-known artist and they fall instantly in love. Sophie tosses the walker, turns sensitive to her offspring and finds meaning in her life.
The ‘carpe diem’ message may be heavy-handed, but the comedy is light, and Scripps Ranch Theatre nails it, with a fine and funny cast, under the assured direction of Charlie Riendeau . And you don’t have to like gefilte fish to enjoy it.
But you probably need to savor spectacle over substance to see “Miss Saigon,” the 1980s musical that logged in more than 4000 performances in London and New York . Based on Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” it was created by the same writing team – Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil – that gave us “Les Miz ,” similarly overstuffed with fraught ballads and flag-waving anthems. Despite its overwrought emotion, “Miss Saigon” tells a compelling tale of our misguided adventure in Vietnam , and the damage we left behind. The story resonates with our two current overseas exploits, especially in this 35th anniversary year of the Fall of Saigon.
Moonlight Stage Productions has mounted a stunning production, skillfully directed by Steve Glaudini , choreographed by Carlos Mendoza, with a superb 17-piece orchestra conducted by Kenneth Gammie . There are several noteworthy performances, but the production belongs to Johann Michael Camat as the Engineer, a conniving pimp who harbors a deliciously cynical view of “The American Dream.” Camat has played the role repeatedly, and he presents a perfect portrait of glittering, unfettered greed.
You’ve gotta know that, as food or entertainment, schmaltz isn’t the most nourishing thing money can buy. But it can be mighty satisfying if you know what you’re getting when you go for it.
“Miss Saigon” runs through September 25, at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista .
“Social Security” continues through October 9, at Scripps Ranch Theatre on the campus of Alliant University .
©2010 PAT LAUNER