Monday, May 19, 2008

My Favorite Year

‘MY FAVORITE YEAR’—dated script is misdirected

I can’t fathom why Beck Center, which has been on a positive role for picking good scripts and staging strong productions, decided to stage the very dated and poorly written ‘MY FAVORITE YEAR.’ I also can’t grasp how William Roudebush, who last year directed the outstanding ‘EQUUS’ got so off course with his interpretation of this musical.

‘MY FAVORITE YEAR,’ with a book by Joseph Dougherty, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, centers on the experiences of Benjy Stone, a young comedy writer who works on “The King Kaiser Show,” a program much like the classic “Show of Shows” which starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

When Alan Swann, an Errol Flynn-like movie star is signed to make a guest appearance on the King Kaiser Show, all hell breaks lose. Swann is an alcoholic, in a state of depression over his failed role as a father, and a womanizer. It becomes Benjy’s duty to “baby sit” the star and make sure he stays sober until show time. Of course, many stumbling blocks must be jumped over.

The script has a troubled past. After 45 previews in which there were constant rewrites, the show opened on December 10, 1992 and ran only 36 performances, in spite of a cast that included Tim Curry, Josh Mostel and Lainie Kazan. It generally got negative reviews, including one that called it a “barren Broadway musical.” Many of the references are dated, only understood by those around in the early days of television. The show was rewritten in 2007 with an eye to a Broadway opening.

If the Beck production is anything of what the future holds, the Big Apple isn’t going to like this version any better than the last one.

Maybe Beck chose the script because of their successes with ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE’ and ‘RAGTIME,’ which had music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Maybe they chose it because no other theatre in the area has staged it. Whatever, it was a big mistake. The script is bad and the music unmemorable.

Roudebush misdirected the show. It is a farce! It needed lots of shtick. It needed fast pacing. It needed a Sid Caesar, bigger-than-life attitude. It had none of these.

And, then there was the set. Richard Gould went over the top. There were so many massive set pieces that the cast spent more time schlepping and pushing set pieces than they did singing, dancing and acting. Roudebush seemingly spent more time figuring out how to get the sets on stage than in directing the cast.

Several of the leading actors were quite good. Shawn Galligan (Benjy), has a nice Mathew Broderick look and quality, and he sings better than Broderick. Unfortunately, he proved in the dance numbers, that he is not a hoofer.

Matthew Wright was right-on as Alan Swann. Wright, as usual, is a delight to watch on stage. The guy can act, sing, dance and carry on a great sword fight. (Thanks to John Davis the fight director!) It’s almost worth going to see the rest of this train wreck just to see Wright.

Jean Zarzour was fun as Benjy’s mother, but even she couldn’t get out from under Roudebush’s heavy hand. This lady is funny…let her loose to do her thing! The same goes for Rachel Spence (who played Alice Miller, aka Imogene Coca). She has the right look, but was way too restrained.

John Polk was either miscast or misdirected as King Kaiser. He was absolutely not funny. Funny was a requirement for the role.

Choreographer Martin Cespedes tried valiantly to produce some creative dance numbers, but was hindered by a cast which appeared not to have a single accomplished dancer. He also had to figure out how to work around all those set pieces which came rolling in and out. I’m surprised no one has gotten maimed from all that stuff.

I took my grandsons—Alex (12) and Noah Berko (11)—the kid reviewers--to see the show as I had expected it to be a farcical laugh riot. They were basically bored. They liked the sword fighting scenes. Noah kept getting confused with who was who because “the same people were playing lots of parts.” Alex, a talented musician, thought the band was too loud at the start but settled in and Shawn Galligan had a nice singing voice though he flatted in several songs.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: In spite of a wonderful performance by Matthew Wright, ‘MY FAVORITE YEAR’ was a major disappointment. With a weak script and a poor directing vision, the show just never took off!