By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If bad acting were a federal crime, Tony Curtis would be locked up in Leavenworth. In the much-ballyhooed, hooey-filled Some Like It Hot, now finishing its run at the Dallas Summer Musicalsat Fair Park, Curtis does it all. Which is to say, he can't do any of it. Can't act, can't dance, can't sing even a little. Can't even memorize his few lines.
Not About Nightingales continues at Plano Repertory Theatre through August 4. Call 972-422-7460.
As the horny old tycoon Osgood Fielding III (the Joe E. Brown role in the classic 1959 Billy Wilder film), Curtis, bewigged and befuddled, recites his dialogue and croaks out his song lyrics with the help of two large prompt screens located downstage right and left. Having to read his lines kills any timing of the jokes (lame though they are). And since he can't sing, he tries to Rex Harrison the lyrics, with little success.
Curtis is the star pony of a rotten acting rodeo. Director-choreographer Dan Siretta allows Arthur Hanket and Timothy Gulan, as "Josephine" and "Daphne," the guys-in-drag (played brilliantly by Curtis and Jack Lemmon in the movie), to get away with half-baked Bosom Buddiesdouble takes and a staggering amount of awful mugging. When Hanket has to pretend he's Osgood, he uses an accent that's half Tony Curtis-doing-Cary Grant and half Crocodile Hunter.
Jodi Carmeli as Sugar could win a Marilyn Monroe sound-alike contest but is too petite and hard-bodied to qualify as a blond bombshell of Monroe's generous proportions (the script describes her as "Jell-O on springs"). She also lacks the great sex symbol's flair for comedy. Carmeli can sing--she belts a big boring number toward the end of the show--but as Sugar, she's too saccharine.
Only William Ryall as Spats, the Chicago mob boss trying to rub out murder witnesses Joe and Gerry (Hanket and Gulan), gets it right. The lanky, comically menacing Ryall rat-a-tats in tap steps instead of machine gun bullets. He's a phenomenal dancer with stage presence to spare.
Good new musicals have been made from old movie comedies, The Producersand 42nd Street, to name two. Promises, Promises, a Broadway hit in the late '60s, was adapted from the film The Apartment, also directed by Some Like It Hot's Billy Wilder (and also co-written with I.A.L. Diamond). Wilder, long recognized as a genius of film comedy, allowed Hot to come to the stage once before in the '70s, retitled Sugarand set to music by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. The new version, back to its original title for a yearlong road tour, uses some of Styne and Cahn's tunes from the '70s, some of the movie's songs ("Runnin' Wild" included) and some terribly schlocky newer stuff by Styne and Cahn.
In this show you get rhymes like "quandary/laundry," "slays 'em/gymnasium" and "One was a gypsy on the Q.T./One was a partridge in a pear tree."
And you get Tony Curtis, pretending to dance while he's being danced around and trussed into a short, double-breasted tux jacket that makes him look like an overfed organ grinder's monkey.
It's almost too easy to think of ways to slam this terrible show. Some like it not!
If Wilder were alive today, seeing what they've done to his wonderful movie would kill him.
Williams, who died in 1983 at the age of 71, was only 27 when he penned this brave three-act play, based on actual events at a Philadelphia prison where a sadistic warden routinely starved prisoners and buried them alive in a secret torture cell called "Klondike." The playwright submitted Nightingales to a contest at the famously earthy Group Theater (home of Clifford Odets), which rejected the work. Williams tossed it aside, but kept writing plays. His first big success would come with The Glass Menageriein 1945. Nightingales was never produced in his lifetime.
The script was rediscovered only a few years ago by actress Vanessa Redgrave, combing through the Tennessee Williams archives at the University of Texas while researching another Williams play. She took it to her brother Corin, who subsequently starred in its successful world premiere in London in 1998. The play since has been produced at Houston's Alley Theatre and on Broadway and just now is starting to make its way onto regional stages. The Plano production is the first in this area.
Unfortunately, Plano Rep's efforts fall short in everything but running time. The performance goes on so long, the audience starts applying for early parole (bolting in droves during the second intermission). On opening night, a few depended on the kindness of strangers to find the exit door during the third act.
Plano Rep's draggy, weakly acted, stiffly staged production just isn't up to the demands of a great play. Written in 22 tense episodes, each depicting some aspect of prison life, Nightingales surges with quick-cut cinematic pacing, building to a final sequence of a prison riot and its aftermath that should be brutal, haunting and yet full of hope that reforms will be made. The writing calls for a loose, natural style of acting (which the Group Theater introduced to the American stage), but the cast here never achieves it.
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