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“Importance Of Being Earnest”
 

Back in the early 1980s, the premium cable channels HBO and Showtime were desperate for content to fill their new 24 hour format. One of the options was televised versions of regional plays with famous actors; “Sweeney Todd” starring Angela Lansbury and George Hearn, “Wait Until Dark” with Katherine Ross and Stacey Keach, and “Bus Stop” with Margot Kidder and Tim Matheson gave audiences a glimpse of the Broadway world, particularly for kids who loved theater but lived too far from New York. A new trend of filming productions, this time with the Broadway casts that are wowing New York audiences nightly, has begun across the country in movie theaters these days. And though, there are minor issues, this is a trend that benefits the American public greatly and will hopefully become what Hollywood THINKS 3-D should be, a nostalgic constant.

The Tony nominated comedy “Importance Of Being Earnest” was the first out of the gate. Besides profiting from the witty flow of Oscar Wilde’s dialogue, this production benefits from the casting of theater genius Brian Bedford as one of the pivotal roles.  It may have originally sounded kitschy for the regal actor to portray an uptight aristocratic woman, yet his performance of Lady Bracknell is a comic triumph.  Never a drag show, Bedford fully employs the mannerisms of an upper crust woman.  Audiences have to continuously remind themselves this is NOT a real woman on stage. The rest of the cast, including Dana Ivey and Paxton Whitehead, are impeccable. The only issue with the production and one that should be addressed if HD filmings are to continue in the future, the make-up and sets for “Earnest” was applied to create an illusion for the audiences in the balcony and mezzanine.  In HD, the sets look like abstract color images, the make-up like an Elizabethan era tart. Maybe two different productions can be shot and inter-spliced for future productions; one before the audience and one to an empty house where more realistic make-up and set pieces won’t look so distracting in HD.

The next production, a filmed version of the NY Philharmonic’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” features the pantheon of theater talent: Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Craig Bierko, Katie Finneran as well as popular TV stars Jon Cryer, Christina Hendricks and Martha Plimpton. For Middle America, whose exposure to such shows as “Company” would be community & dinner theater, to witness an archive of a top notch cast is quite a coup.  Harris brings such nuances to the perpetual bachelor Bobby. His ambivalence towards women is more pronounced. As the sloshed bitter Joanne, LuPone knocks “The Ladies Who Lunch” right out of the park.  It was the first time I realized Joanne isn’t patronizing others in the song, but reflecting on her own failures.  In the difficult role of dim stewardess April, Hendricks is vulnerable and sweet.  It’s obvious that she’s not as stupid as she pretends.

George Furth’s book never seemed so sly, with these comedians twisting his words around, adding layers rarely so blatant.  Like” Earnest,” the camera-work of this production was a bit archaic.  On television, the static cinematography would be fine, but on the large screen, it lacks surprise and that energy you need at that grand size.  Obviously there will be limitations filming a live performance that would not allow you the fluid camerawork of Rob Marshall’s “Chicago” or Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz.”  With an audience watching the performance, the director could not cheat with cranes and isolating actors to get the proper shot, but there is a median ground to be found that will happen in time.

The New York Met has been bringing audiences the stagings of Opera greats for years.  With the potential historical significance of archiving these productions, hopefully more shows will be presented in all their glory on the big screen.

 

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