Saturday, November 01, 2003

Oooh! Bouncy! 

The official reviews of the Kennedy Center production of Bounce have come out, and they're pretty universally poor: we've got the Washington Post, the NY Times, and Talkin' Broadway so far.

I was lucky enough to see the show during previews -- it was an interesting show, if not a perfect one. In fact, it was difficult to watch the show without analysing it -- what had changed since Chicago, what still needed some tweaking. The only thing we were certain was new was a bit of staging during Addision's travels-round-the-world -- poor Richard Kind had to sing while tramping up and down a teeter-totter of a ship's gangplank. Your heart just went out to the actor needing to keep his balance & sing & act all at the same time. This Playbill article gives a vague run-down of some of the things that got changed, none of which we would have guessed.

My areas of concern:

  • Two, count 'em TWO, songs that are sung by characters confined to their bed. Both in the first act. This is what we call a staging nightmare -- how on earth do you make that interesting to watch?! At least during the first song, we could watch the brothers acting "young" mere moments after watching them be advanced in years, and then, well, dead. But mom's deathbed song had no such distractions available, and i found my mind wandering.

  • I don't know if it was a matter of acting, or writing, or casting, or what, but I just didn't find Howard McGillin as con man Wilson Mizner charming or compelling. Occassionally, and usually only with Michelle Pawk at his side, could i believe in his success. But overall, i couldn't see how he exerted such a strong influence on his steadier [if initially more naive] older brother.

  • The focus on the two brothers seemed imbalanced to me. They had equal stage time, but i found all my interest firmly focused on Addison. If I were doing the tweaking, i'd change it from a "tale of two brothers" to a story revolving solely around Addison, and work on getting the audience to care about his story.

  • Gavin Creel, as Addison's young lover Hollis, was not believable. Let me qualify that -- he was believable as an idealistic young artist; he was not convincing as a gay lover. I believed Addison cared for him; i never really bought into Hollis returning the devotion. At first i wanted to blame the disconnect on the age difference (Richard Kind is 47, 20 years older than Gavin), but i really think it's just a lack in the acting.

  • this will put my credentials as a Sondheim fanatic in jeopardy, i know, but the music didn't grab me. No, i didn't expect to walk out humming a tune, i know the drill. but usually Sondheim's music works in the moment, and much of the time, it didn't. One personal low point for me -- on Addison's reprise of the title song, he ends with an angry repetition of the word "Bounce!"... a bit too reminiscent of "everybody rise.... Rise.... RISE!" from The Ladies Who Lunch for my taste, and this realization took me completely out of the moment.

    On a side note, for those wondering how much time had passed between the Boca Raton bust & the Mizner's deaths.... Addy died in 1933 at age 61. he had moved to Boca Raton in 1918. so we've got at least a 13 or 14 year jump in time that somehow slipped by me. For some more historical background, check out this Washington Post piece.

    To put the griping into perspective, I need to say that i had an enjoyable evening, and am very glad i saw the show and not just from a sense of historical curiosity. It's more that it seemed like a community production of a musical by a local writer rather than a pre-Broadway tryout -- but a decent production, not a disappointing one at all. Let me also say I loved Richard Kind & Michelle Pawk. Those two alone were worth the ticket price. Their singing, their acting... yup, those were casting coups. Have the show center around the two of them, and i think you've gone pretty far in getting this gig to Broadway.

    Whether or not it goes to NYC (and really, do we think it won't? this is Sondheim & Prince. Even with two straight cities of disappointing reviews, i bet there are plenty of backers who think they can fix things), there will be a cast recording. So the immortal line "You'd think, when you're dead..." will be preserved. And that's a good thing.


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