Seen at the Movies: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a cult phenomenon you either get it or you don’t. I don’t get it. Of course, I never read the five-book “trilogy” by Douglas Adams that the movie is based on, but then again the movie should still at least be engaging. It wasn’t. The movie starts off slow and essentially doesn’t really pick up speed at all, which is odd considering the spacecraft in the film move well beyond the speed of light. That being said, it was at least attractive to watch. Igor Jadue-Lillo’s cinematography was crisp and gave the outer limits a very polished feel. The costumes by Sammy Howarth and Sammy Sheldon were whimsical without being too “out there” ala the Star Trek and Star Wars movies. The sets by Joel Collins, like the costumes and lighting, were certainly very nice indeed; there was no big budget feel to them and they weren’t too caught up trying to go the “way into the future” route. Again, if the script were as interesting as the scenic elements, Hitchhiker might not be hitching a ride out of theatres so soon.
Seen on Broadway: For the past week or so, the stars of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang directed by Adrian Noble at the Hilton Theatre have been telling anyone who will listen that the show is not about the car. The car does get the final curtain call, however. But it’s not about the car. The only song you will remember as you leave is the title tune, but it’s not about the car. One actor even said that Chitty is as much about the car as Phantom of the Opera is about the chandelier. Hogwash. That show is not called Scary Falling Chandelier because the chandelier is a set piece that plays an integral role in the story. That being said, despite what you’ve heard, it is all about the car as much as Gypsy is about the lady playing that titular role. Glad we got that settled.
From a visual and aural point of view, Chitty is about as perfect as a show can be. The sumptuous sets by Anthony Ward beckon even the biggest kid among us to get up and play on them. Likewise, Ward’s costumes are rich with bright colors and evenhandedly gesture the time an place; there’s no way you could be anywhere else but England! The sound by Andrew Bruce ably fills the cavernous theatre quite nicely but some of the dialogue was a little muffled by the actors affecting British accents here and there. Mark Henderson’s lighting is well suited as it captures the antics on the stage as well as the antics above the stage. The scene where the chandelier—sorry, I mean the car--finally takes flight at the finale of Act I is one of the most remarkable scenes I have ever witnessed in live theatre. And the show finale where Chitty takes off with the heroes on board and flies off in a star-filled sky was nothing short of breathtaking.
For anyone with small children or fond memories of the original 1968 movie the musical is based on, this is a definite must-see. The night I saw it, there were scores of kids and parents all of whom were having the times of their lives. However, the show does drag in places, especially the added dance numbers. While the choreography by Gillian Lynne is fun to watch, the dances themselves don’t add anything to the show and seem to simply be added just to push past the 2-hour mark. But man, that car was awesome!
Glengarry Glenn Ross at the Royale Theatre doesn’t have flying cars; it just has a stellar cast that takes flight on the words of David Mamet in this electrifying revival. Director Joe Mantello keeps the machine gun rapid fire of Mamet’s dialogue moving along faster than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies over the crowd, leaving you almost breathless by the time you amble out of the theatre. I would trade 15 minutes of Alan Alda on stage for two hours of flying vehicles any day. Seeing Alda at work is to see a genius of our time at the top of his game. Alda is vividly supported by an amazing cast that includes Jeffrey Tambor, Gordon Clapp, Frederick Weller, Tom Wopat (in the thankless, small role of a henpecked husband) and, most notably, Liev Schreiber as the smarmiest of salesmen, Ricky Roma. You better wash your hands after shaking hands with this guy.
Each act of Glengarry has its own set. The first act is in a Chinese restaurant and the second is in the sales office. To say both sets were realistic would be an understatement. Santo Loquasto is a master and his sets should receive billing above the title. The Chinese restaurant was somewhat welcoming with its comfy banquettes and a wall-sized fish tank. The polar opposite is true of the office set. Act II begins abruptly with the flickering on of the office’s many fluorescent tubes. If ever a light source would drive a man to drink, it would definitely be these! The real estate office makes other offices look almost homey, i.e., TV’s The Office or the movie Office Space. Never has a cubicle looked so good in comparison to the standard issue desks and chairs that populate Loquasto’s set. The cheap paneling further added to the desperate surroundings of the desperate men. The costumes by Laura Bauer were sufficiently frumpy for this disparate group of working stiffs. Ricky Roma had a polished outfit, sure to make a good first impression while Alda’s Shelly Levine looks like he slept in his clothes. Kenneth Posner’s lighting further added to the ambience, if you can call it that. The sunlight just beyond the office’s glass doors looked so inviting that you wanted the cast to step outside for a breath of fresh air. --Mark A. Newman