Sound troubles sink 'Showboat'
The Michigan Daily-Tuesday, October 31, 1978-Page 7
By NINA SHISHKOFF
Way back in 1927, when musicals
were produced without microphones
and speaker systems, Showboat opened
to immediate success. Now, 50 years
later, it took these marvels of modern
technology to ruin the Michigan Opera
Theatre's production at the Music Hall..
During the entire first act, a malfun-
'ction caused the amplified. sound to
flicker and fade, turning the best efforts
of the singers into undistinguished
mush. During the second act, the
speakers worked perfectly, but this
transformed the faint but exciting
'sound of a live performance into the
acoustically perfect, yet detached,
sound of a stereo recording.
JUDGING THE quality of the per-
formances, therefore, was a tricky
thing. When Barbara Meister, who
played Magnolia, daughter of the
showboat captain and the heroine of the
,-story, sang her first few songs, she
didn't seem to be able to keep time with
the orchestra. Was it her fault, or was it
,caused by some distortion of the
speakers? Were Barbara Bean and
Wayne Bryan, as the second-rate
comedy-dance team, really giving such
,bad performances, or did it just seem
Not only was the timing of the first
few songs off, the timing of the whole
first act seemed flawed; time dragged,
and the scenes seemed choppy. Each
scene was a mini drama: a meeting at
the dock; a conversation in the kitchen;
the performance of a play-within-a-play
in the showboat's auditorium. The
bridge between them was always a
short passage of music from the or-
chestra to signify a passage of time. As
the orchestra played, a slide-projected
image of the showboat was shown
against the lowered curtain. Unfor-
tunately, for reasons unknown, the ap-
pearance of that image came to be win-
eingly painful, like Chinese water tor-
ture. Perhaps if director Frank Egan
had skipped the musical pause just on-
ce, it would have made the crucial dif-
the third scene, and only reappears
later to sing the knock-out song, "Bill."
We are left with Magnolia as our focus;
she is so unprejudiced and sweet, that it
is very tempting to dislike her. The
famous songs from Showboat, "Ol' Man
River," "Make Believe," and "You are
Love," seem to have become famous in
spite of the show; any power they might
have had is deadened by endless
repetition as the sixteen-year span of
the story just keeps on rolling along.
AND YET THE Opera Theatre's
production can't be condemned. It has
many strengths, all of them simple,
basic strengths that don't stem from
fancy acoustics. _
song on the stage-within-a-stage is a
comment on he surrounding action.
The frames around the back drops and
even the playful use of a spotlight to ac-
centuate key moments reinforces what
is implicit in the story itself - that the
lives of the performers are a con-
tinuation of their performances.
THE COSTUMES are subtle and very
effective. All the white women wear
pastel shades, while the blacks wear
earth colors. Julie wears gold, so that
she contrasts with the rest of the
Southern belles even before the
disclsoure of her mixed parentage.
The most basic strength is the talent
of the performers. After a slow start,
Barbara Meister and Ron Rusmann, as
Magnolia and her erring husband, per-
form very well. Meister even manages
to make Magnolia likable. Dan Tullis
sings "Ol' Man River"with admirable
restraint, never once falling to his
knees or wiping sweat from his brow.
As Cap'n Andy, skipper of the
showboat, Dick Solowicz steals the
One scene alone, when an over-
excitableaudience member scares
away all the actors during a showboat
performance and Cap'n Andy has to
finish it playing all the characters him-
self, is worth the admission price. Julie
is played rather nondescriptly by
Gloria Hodes, until she gets into the
song "Bill." The sound system made it
hard to tell, but it might have been the
musical highlight of the show.
With a production like this, spon-
taneity is the key. Even bad sound is
excusable. A live performance, even an
uneven one, is better than a fine stereo
recording. The use of amplified sound
for a live performance, becomes a
grave issue in a case like this, if the
final result is to produce a stereo re-
cording of a mediocre performance.
Daily Phone Numbers:
Ellie (Barbara Bean) warns the local girls about "Life Upon the Wicked Stage"
in Michigan Opera Theatre's production of "Showboat."
HOWEVER, HE had to work with
what he had. Showboat, a Kern and
Hammerstein musical based on Edna
Ferber's novel, is a hopeless case.
Although it purports to be seriously
toned, dealing with interracial
marriage and marital desertion, it
wades. in piousness and melodrama
that kills any significance it might have
Good characters are wasted. Julie,
the black woman passing as white, has
the potential of being the powerful focus
of the story. Instead, she disappears in
No fault can be found with the
opening panorama. It shows the double-
decked showboat with the dock in front
of it, the branches of trees above it, and
the river sweeping back majestically.
The backdrops in the minor scenes
have painted frames around each one
- a deliberate attempt to remind us we
are watching theater.
The musical is about the showboat
and its performers, and each play or
FRITZ LANG DOUBLE FEATURE
SCARLET STREET (at 7&0O)
A middle-aged mousey cashier falls in love with a gorgeous
gold-digger, who is abetted by her sinister boyfriend, to break
him. With EDWARD G. ROBINSON and JOAN BENNET.
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (at 9:05)
The story of a three-time loser, dogged with his new wife to a
tragic fate, despite their hopes. With HENRY FONDA and
One Show $1.50OLD ARCH.
CINEMA GUILD .B.
Bth Shows$1$2.50 ODAU.
The Ann Arbor Film Cooperafive presents at Aud. A
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31 SISTERS
(Brian de Palma, 1973) 7 & 10:20-AUD. A
De Palma's pre-CARRIE thriller features Siamese twins, a gruesome killing,
and a surreal, hallucinatory dream sequence in a Hitchcockian mix of humor
and horror. Brought to a high-tension climax by a chilling Bernard Herrmann
soundtrack, SISTERS ranks with PSYCHO & CARRIE as one of the scariest films
ever made. "A bizarre film! Macabre fascination, horror chills . . ."-CUE.
"An ultimately skin-crawling triumph . . ."-Rex Reed. With MARGOT KIDDER,
THEY CAME FROM WITHIN
(David Cronenberg, 1976) 8:40 only-AUD. A
Aphrodisiac parasites attack the residents of a modern apartment complex
and turn them into raving nymphomaniacs. "An unabashedly lurid and mar-
velously imaginative amalgam of science fiction, pornography, a nausee,
and obscene horror."-CINEFANTASTIQUE. "One of the bloodiest films ever
made-and the audience thought it was funny."-Frank Jackson. Be warned,,
this exploitation classic is not for the prudish or frail of heart!
Tomorrow: Bunuel's ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE and
THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALD DEL LA CRUZ
A circus? No. Under
the glitter, just magic
CUL DE SAC
A tale of a whimpering asexual whose gorgeous wife loves him enough to
dress him in her nighties. Interrupting this strange form of bliss is a gang-
ster needing a hideout. Mean and sadistic or slapstick comedy depending
on your perspective. Berlin Film Festival-Best Film Award. Polanski still
thinks it is his best film. With DONALD PLEASANCE, FRANCOISE PORLEAC,
JACK MacGOWRON & JACQUELINE BISSET.
WED: Alain Tanner's RETURN TO AFRICA
BY JOSHUA PECK
"Hi, I'm Blackstone, Jr., and I owe
my present career to Jiffy Pop pop-
corn!" While a little bit too commercial
at times, Harry Blackstone Jr. came
short of saying that during his Sunday
performances at Power Center.
Overlooking the circus animals, and a
saturation of crass music and dancing;
the dark-haired magician amused and
ultimately astonished his faithful
followers, though one is moved to
question the sanity of those who would
shell out $10 for two hours of deceit. It
Jcomes a lot cheaper than that,
-especially during election season.
Unfortunately, there was a lot in the
show that should have been discarded.
~tFlabby-thighed dancers hoofed out two
perfectly awful numbers. One
capitalized on the overworked sci-fi
theme, as the dancers leapt gracelessly
about the stage in hideous costumes
and wigs while the band blared out Star
Wars and Close Encounters music.
ANOTHER NUMBER saluted
America in the basest, most moronic
fashion. ,For three minutes, it seemed
that salutes and the colors of the flag
are the country's sole admirable
qualities. My companion, an education
major, thought this segment of the
.show thinly veiled indoctrination aimed
at the many young children watching.
But the heart of the show -
Blackstone's sorcery - was enter-
taining and diverse. The magic tricks
he performed ranged from the bizarre
to the mundane. An effect labeled "the
.greatest in the world" was, ironically,
the easiest to unravel. A woman climbs
into a cannon. It is fired, and she
vanishes from the cannon.
The "trick" becomes painfully ob-
vious, however, as we see the woman
"materialize" in a box onstage via a
passageway on the stage's floor. The
real magic of this trick is that he was
able to avoid choking on his words as he
again called it the world's best.
HOWEVER, there was also the most
baccling trick of all - involving a light
bulb which defies the laws of physic's,
as well as the audience's expectations.
Unscrewed from its socket offstage, the
bulb continues to glow as it is carried
across the stage by Blackstone. Not a
big deal but then the truly inex-
The luminescent orb leaves thea
magician's hands upon command, and
begins to hover over the house, above
the watcher's stunned expressions.
Wires are out of the question as an
explanation, as audience members
could hold the bulb and check, and they
would have been seen or felt as they
moved over the crowd.
Apart from the spectacle of a woman
being sawed cleanly through by a
rotary power saw, sanstthe usual con-
cealing box, Sunday's show contained
nothing objectionableseven to the
youngest child, Does that make it min-
dless trash? Hardly. It's just that won-
der is a sensation people of all ages can
enjoy together. If he would just ditch
his horde of clumsy dancers,and his
godawful salute to Amerjca,
Blackstone would appeal even to the
snobs among us.
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at the UNION
Nov. 1st& 2nd
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ANGELL AUD A.
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Design logo for Cinema II (to be used on our film schedules & posters) & WIN
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S $50in cash prizes for 4 top costumes *
& dozens of other prizes
no cover charge for those in costume
over 950 people last year
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