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May 25, 1976 - Image 7

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-05-25

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tt-& n entTHE MICHIGAN DAILY
Arts & Entertainment HGNDIYPg ee
A ' n e t mTuesday, May 25, 1976 Page Seven
l r Jeffrey 'Selbst
an awoo s orum:rheatr,
S l ote4 opera, aid
W itty, gay, and-flat ____________

By CARA PRIESKORN
The Ann Arbor Inn has come up with a new
idea-progressive dinner theatre. They start on
the eleventh floor with dinner, then when the
masses have finished eating, herd them down-
stairs to a room off the lobby for the theatre part
of the evening. It was in this fashion that I saw
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
Forum.
The stage was sparse and shaky but served its
purpose. The annoying thing was that waitresses
served during the opening scenes of the two acts.
They either did not have enough time in which
to serve the drinks, or they did not serve them
fast enough, but there were too many near col-
lisions between actors and waitresses.
This Sondheim musical is one of the wittiest
composed in recent years. The play is a good
selection for an after dinner, slightly stupefied
crowd. It is clever, in a raunchy manner, com-
plete with mistaken identities, dancing girls,
shrew; slaves smarter than their masters, and of
course, a young Hero and heroine.
The show opened on a weak note with a rather
untimed and unchoreographed version of "Comedy
Tonight." The finale includes the same song, and
it was greatly improved the second time around.
By this time, the audience also knew what was
going on, so the ending was acceptable.
Their rendition of "Everybody Ought to Have
a Maid" was the musical highlight of the per-
formance. The musical director (Jim Wilhelmson)
reverted to the old vaudevillian song and dance
routine, and it worked.
The acting and singing was a balanced mixture
of good and terrible. The hero, aptly named Hero,
was played by Phil Smith. The part did not call
for much acting, luckily for him, but it did dis-
play his beautiful voice. It is one of the nicest
voices I have heard in a long time and he kept
it modulated at a dinner theatre level.
Philia, the heroine (Beth Carpenter) did a poor
imitation of Marilyn Monroe, complete with the
blonde wig. H. Don Cameron who played the
crafty slave Pseudolus did not quite succeed in
his imitation of Zero Mostel, but was nonetheless
lovable. The role is a rich one and I only wish
he would have used his own interpretation of the
part. This would have made him more fluid and
not so 'cute.'

Two of the most noteworthy performances of
the evening were the bickering couple of Senex
(Bev Pooley) and Domina (Pat Rector). Pooley
was winning as the lusty old man tricked by his
own lechery. Rector has a good understanding
of comic timing and did a convincing shrew, par-
ticularly in her number, "That Dirty Old Man."
Unfortunately, not alldthe acting was up to this
standard. John C. Reed played a very confused
Hysterium. Not confused in character, but con-
fused about his character. He never decided
whether he was young and stupid or old and
crochety. His whole performance was very con-
trived and affected, and amounted to a perpetual-
lyhunched back and bobbling head.
Calvin MacLean and Joshua McGowan, who
played the Proteans, did poor imitation of stooges.
They spent the evening stamping their feet and
running around in circles, trying to be funny.
One performance I don't think anyone will
forget was that of Milade Nejat as Tintinabula,
the belly dancing courtesan. Nejat put on quite
a display and obviously knows her craft. She
kept everyone on the edge of their seat for some
time, commanding attention whenever she was
anywhere near the stage.
The other courtesans (Debbie Shontz and Han-
ley Kanar) looked like they were out of ads for
Frederic's of Hollywood with added warpaint for
effect. Neither one of them appeared to have ever
had a dancing lesson, and they did not make
up for it with natural talent.
Kevin Casey did a fine job as Miles Gloriousus,
the vain conqueror of anyone or anything. He
has a lovely resonant voice, and carried himself
with all the arrogance of his character.
The technical qualities of the production were
sadly lacking. The costumes consisted mainly of
long pink underwear and leftover draperies,
Most of the women were wearing bedspreads.
The make-up, when used, looked like the results
of an eight-year old's first attempt at glamour.
Their make-up kit consisted of a black felt tip
pen and a tube of red glitter.
The play, as a whole was enjoyable. It is in-
credibly witty and quite risque, which is always
a good combination. The actors exit and enter
through the audience, the tables are small and
everyone is in close contact. This club-like at-
mosphere of the dinner theatre made the play
that much better.

IT IS AN inevitable thing this insidious idea of dinner theatre. It
is the direct offshoot of drive-in movies, TV dinners, and Guy
Lombardo on New Year's Eve.
It wouldn't be nearly so frightening were it not geared quite
so firmly, nor tied so closely, to the American celebration of the
mediocre.
What do I mean by that phrase? Just that Americans are
often intimidated by excellence, and do not like mixing the intellect
with more "substantive" realities. In a song, by Stephen Sond-
heim, the lyrics are "They both go right to bed/When they feel
intellectual""and the satiric intent is clear. Why, one is tempted
to ask, does dinner theatre concentrate on reviving ribald farces,
light musicals, and such? One argument that has been seriously,
mind you, advanced, is that people cannot do any heavy thinking
on an evening out. Why? Because they're out to have fun. Why
again? Because they can't have any fun when they think.
My God.
I MENTION this on the occasion of having just seen the Ann
Arbor Inn Sandalwood presentation of A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to the Forum, a show which I found, on the whole,
dismal. The play is cute, and witty, the songs either masterful or
very close (Stephen Sodheim again). The performance was rather
weak, featuring the wickedly bad acting of Phil Smith and others.
In any case, it encouraged thoughts on the dinner theatre
as a mode of mass entertainment. These organizations usually
stick to performing things like Forum or Fiddler on the Roof,
because that's what draws people in.
But what ever happened to the idea of a "night out," when
one went from one spot to another, sampling various kinds of
entertainment, culture, and thought? Even if the food at the
Sandalwood were perfectly delicious, which is wasn't, and even if
the show were marvelous (no comment), the night would have to
seem static at best, and a rapacious bore at worst. Why?
Trace the roots of the phenomenon if you like, but the enigma
remains. Do people actually like this deadening mental and
physical inactivity? Cards and letters are welcome on this question.
I'd like to see just one dinner theatre put on Medea or some-
thing. Or maybe Thorton Wilder. Anything. Theatre goers of the
word, Awake and Sing!
Now it can be told. There is, in fact, a place in town, The
Spaghetti Factory, where one can ingest a decent dinner and
listen to opera. Opera, you say? Why, whatever for? But opera is
a musical treat, comparable to sculpture, ambrosia, and a magnum
of Dom Perignon, beside which all other aspects of art pale.
To hear music of a non-insulting variety played in a restaurant
is, in itself, a delightful surprise. Musak, the usual noise heard, is
the curse of the ages, brought down on our heads by none other
than that lovable old composer, Erik Satie. At least he is credited
with this doubtful triumph-I daresay he will go down in history
next to the dear Dr. Guillotine, that other innovative old French-
man.
In any case, the Musak of today has perverted Satie's dream
of a background musical noise that would synthesize with visual art
such that neither the audio nor the visual would work independently
of the other. Today, it is simply noise. The worst thing one can
dismiss a budding young string player as is a "Thousand Violins"-
type.
So it wa sa pleasure to hear opera as I slurped spaghetti the
other day. The progran was listed by the door as we walked in.
Puccini's Suor Angelica was the first selection, followed by Bizet's
Les Pecheurs de Perles, Giordano's Andrea Chenier, and finally,
the inimitable Callas recording of Rossini's classic I Barbiere di
Siviglia.
The management was actually kind enough to let us sit for
a long time, swilling coffee, and listening to the rich cadences of
the music. Of course, we tried to make dinner last and last. The
waitress would come by every so often, "What, finished?" we
would say, in mock dismay. "Hardly."
Come to think of it, opera ought to be played in more public
places. Think of it: standing in bank lines, listening to The Magic
Flute, riding up to the twelfth floor to Der Rosenkavalier, and-
well, it could go too far at that. I recall hearing the Anvil Chorus
from I Trovatore played in bad calliope fashion on a merry-go-
round at Cedar Point. There are limits.
NOTE: Cards and letters on any and all subjects treated in this
column are more than appreciated, they are welcomed. The most
articulate will be printed.

All together, now!
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mstislav Rostropovich, Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Bernstein, and
Isaac Stern give a performance of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus May 19th. This illustrious group
formed to mark the 85th anniversary of the opening of Carnegie Hall.

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