Thursday, April 27, 2006


PBS, the home of Pretty Bland Stuff, managed to wake up out of its CPB stupor last night and broadcast some brilliance. "South Pacific in Concert" presented the Rodgers and Hammerstein score on Carnegie Hall's enormous stage, and it came across better than the helplessly literal movie version. Reba sang "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy," one of Rodgers' many infectious waltzes, with a sharp country twang that sold her character as actually hailing from Little Rock ARK (Mitzi Gaynor, in the movie version, never seems less than a showgirl and is totally unbelievable as a WWII nurse.) Brian Stokes Mitchell, in white dinner jacket, gave even the overdone "Some Enchanted Evening" a sexy and masculine quality. There were biceps galore on the Seabees in their two big numbers, and Bloody Mary's rendition of "Happy Talk" was incredibly happy. South Pacific has never been one of my favorite shows, in spite of my family's history (the original cast production on Broadway was my parent's first date.) I've always felt the music was just OK, and the times I've watched the movie I've wondered how they got all that seawater, sand and those airplanes onto the Broadway stage. But stripped down to its basic elements, the music showed its dexterity (by the time Rodgers wrote the score he'd had enough Broadway experience for ten composers nowadays) and the story flowed with charm. PBS showed a similar program early last year - a concert version of Bernstein's "Candide" - that was also incredible and entertaining and just plain wonderful. I love it when theater is shown as theater on television. Opening up plays and musicals, like ABC did with The Music Man , Bye Bye Birdie, and Annie, just does not work! (Well, maybe Annie wasn't so bad, although I HATE that show and anything they did to make it shorter made it better than the stage version and light years beyond John Huston's nightmare movie.) So, in conclusion, WHY DO WE HAVE TO SUFFER THROUGH SO MUCH CRAP ON PUBLIC TELEVISION JUST TO GET ONE OR TWO GOOD PROGRAMS PER YEAR? I mean, "Lighthouses From the Air," "Masterpiece Theatre's Finnegan's Wake," and "What The Hell Do I Have In My Attic That I Can Bore Somebody With" do not make anyone smarter or want to go buy theater tickets or listen to Mahler. And don't even talk to me about the execrable "Blenko Retro."

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