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Moonlight Madness

Here's the skinny on Moonlight and Magnolias, Julius Caesar, Passion, and Mimi Hines's recent act at Feinstein's.

By New York City
Douglas Sills in Moonlight and Magnolias(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Douglas Sills in Moonlight and Magnolias
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
A lot of people take their Gone With the Wind very seriously. Your reaction to Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson's screwball comedy about the making of that classic motion picture, will depend largely on your willingness to see what may be your favorite movie in a new and playfully silly light.

The play was inspired by the the true story that Ben Hecht was brought in at the eleventh hour to rewrite the script of GWTW, even though he hadn't read the book. Also true is the fact that the famously fast Hecht reworked the screenplay in a week. Hutchinson makes the improbable but amusing leap that Selznick locked Hecht in his office with the movie's director, Victor Fleming, and that Selnick and Fleming acted out the entire book for the writer during that frantic week of rewriting.

As Selznick, Douglas Sills fires the comic engine that drives the play. He understands that the laughs must be grounded in an emotional reality, so he keeps his comedy tied to Selznick's acute need to remain successful in the Hollywood that destroyed his father. Sills can play big, and that's just what's needed to create the bigger-than-life aura of Hollywood's most daring producer. David Rasche is outstanding as the swaggering Fleming; his is a fearless, full-fledged, comic performance. Where the production suffers is in the casting of Matthew Arkin as Hecht. Arkin comes across as soft, whereas this tough Chicago crime reporter who wrote The Front Page and was Hollywood's most sought after screenplay doctor should have a veneer that's all sharp angles. This hurts the play's dynamics. However, Margo Skinner is a scream in the delicious supporting role of Selznick's game but wildly overworked secretary.

Lynn Meadow directs the play with a light touch and a sure sense of screwball comedy. The end result is flawed but fun.

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Denzel Washington inJulius Caesar(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Denzel Washington in
Julius Caesar
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Caesar Salad

Julius Caesar was stabbed in the back! This time, he was murdered on Broadway, ironically done in by his pal Mark Antony -- or, rather, by actor Eamonn Walker, who plays Antony. This may well be the worst performance of a Shakespearean role that we have ever seen; Walker has neither the vocal prowess nor the acting skill to play this pivotal figure in one of the Bard's most riveting dramas. The production, which stars Denzel Washington as Brutus, has problems before Walker arrives on stage, but there is little to recommend it once his deflating presence is felt.

As for Washington, he gives a genuinely committed performance, but Shakespeare's words do not come naturally to him; there's something lumbering about his delivery. Still, he's no embarrassment, and we applaud the fact that he's using his star power to draw a wider audience to serious theater. One only wishes that this were a better production!

The usually subtle director Daniel Sullivan has given us a heavy-handed interpretation of the play in which even the set design, by Ralph Funicello, weighs down the proceedings. Jack Willis does a nice turn as Casca and William Sadler is effective in the title role, but in a crowded theater season, this Julius Caesar is missable.

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Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris in Passion(Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival)
Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris in Passion
(Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival)
Happiness

The recent concert presentation of Stephen Sondheim's Passion with Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, and Michael Cerveris in the leads was a thrilling conclusion to Lincoln Center's American Songbook season. All three performers had previously done Passion in concert at the Ravinia Festival, and it was great that New Yorkers got to see them in these roles. (The American Songbook presentation was also televised.)

LuPone's Fosca was more physically needy than Donna Murphy's interpretation of the character in the original Broadway production, but both performances were searingly valid in execution. McDonald sang the part of Clara beautifully, and we expected nothing less; yet, in this concert performance, the role seemed to suffer from a lack of focus. Cerveris, however, was able to wring every drop of tortured humanity out of his military officer caught in a love triangle that he neither controls nor fully understands. Not only did he act the hell out of the piece, he sang it with -- there can be no other word for it -- passion.

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Mimi Hines at Feinstein's(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Mimi Hines at Feinstein's
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Who Taught Her Everything?

Musical theater history was not just alive and well at Feinstein's at the Regency last week, it was singing. Mimi Hines, who took over the role of Fanny Brice in the original Broadway production of Funny Girl when Barbra Streisand left the show, performed at the swanky East Side club for one week to the delight of musical theater aficionados. Hines was in great voice, belting out quite a few of Jule Styne's famous songs from that memorable score. We only wish that she had revealed more backstage stories about Funny Girl; her patter was decidedly lacking. Still, the songs were great to hear, and one could not doubt the authenticity of the performance.

Feinstein's continues its season with imaginative bookings through the spring: Tony Danza opens there tonight, followed by (among others) Keely Smith, Debby Boone, Bruce Vilanch, and Jimmy Webb & Glen Campbell.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]


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