EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - These days, Broadway musical theater just doesn't excite me as much as it used to. The "let's-put-on-a-show" enthusiasm of a lot of famous Broadway musicals often strikes me as energetic trivialities, and I'd be hardpressed to remember the content or even the songs of many of the ones I've seen (although, that said, compared to how many films I've seen over the years, the number of musicals I've seen is relatively few). Sorry if that makes me sound like a grinch, but honestly: film simply intrigues and excites me more than Broadway musical theater, which, to be honest, seems less and less relevant by the year---except, perhaps, as a New York City tourist attraction for out-of-staters...like myself, I guess.
Still, I suppose I'm not immune to the possibility of at least having a good time at a Broadway musical, and so sometimes I will go see one, whether or not it's on Broadway or simply being put on by a community group. Which is why I suppose I decided to go see Plays in the Park's most recent production of The Scarlet Pimpernel tonight. Heck, I had nothing better to do anyway, since I took a day off from Megamovies.
I don't really have much to say about the musical itself---technically, it was a well-mounted production, although some of the humor seemed labored, and Billy Piscopo's central performance as the British nobleman who becomes known as the Scarlet Pimpernel struck me as wildly uneven (conceptually interesting at best, garishly unfunny and irritating at worst). But, as I watched The Scarlet Pimpernel, I found myself concentrating less on the music and lyrics, and more on the themes and satiric undertones of the show. It seems that my habit of looking out for such things while watching films has a tendency to translate to the way I look at other art forms, even if I suspect I probably should be looking at something different for a theater production as opposed to a film.
The most interesting thing I picked up about The Scarlet Pimpernel is its connection of actors to the outward images we project towards people. At least two of the main characters in Pimpernel---the main character and his French actress wife---are keeping identity secrets from each other, and in order to cover up their identites---as a do-gooder rogue in Sir Percy Blakeney's case, as a French spy in his French wife's case---they put on facades...facades that hurt each other in the process. I haven't read the original novel by Baroness Orczy, but I wonder if she was suggesting something about how people believing in outward images led France into the Reign of Terror in the first place: using the ideals of the French Revolution to justify mass slaughter.
That's the kind of stuff I thought about as I watched the stage musical adaptation. Not about how catchy the tunes were (although I think "Into the Fire" is probably the most memorable tune, in my mind), or how fancy the costumes were or how convincing the sets were. Instead, I thought more about the kind of stuff I'd think about at a movie: if there are any consistent themes to the film, and how those themes are expressed. I'll probably never have much of an intellectual capacity for writing authoritatively about plays and musicals as I believe I can about film. (But heck, if a newspaper or web publication is willing to grant me to space to give it a try, I'll do it. Freelance writer Stephen Metcalf was allowed to rant about how overrated The Searchers was over at the online magazine Slate, even though his deliberate attack on us "film geeks" simply exposes how little he understands film as an art. I wonder if the piece was actually meant to be taken seriously, or if it's just Metcalf's attempt at getting a cheap rise out of people.)
Dunno if there was a real point to this post, but make of it what you will, heh.
Oh, and for the record: the best musical I've seen is probably a Livingston Theater Company production of A Chorus Line. A Chorus Line is probably the most brilliant and moving musical I've seen, less memorable for its tunes (I guess "One" is its signature number, although I've always thought it was a terribly awkward fit at the end of the musical, giving it a false sense of Broadway-style uplift) than for its seemingly honest and sensitive take on the hard life backstage.