Seen in Pittsburgh:
I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about attending the musical version of beloved children’s movie Dr. Dolittle (not the Eddie Murphy version, folks, the Rex Harrison one), but those doubts flew out faster than Polynesia the parrot 10 minutes into the first act. The production at the Benedum Theatre by the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera was, by and large, delightful. Maybe it’s because I was overly familiar with a number of the tunes from a Sammy Davis, Jr. CD given to me on a lark in 1989, but I found the production to be a feast for the ears and the eyes.
As the title veterinarian, Tom Hewitt acquits himself nicely and plays the doctor with charm and perfect aplomb. The Pittsburgh production is only the first leg of a national tour that is scheduled to run well into next summer. While comparisons to The Lion King will be inevitable-after all, Michael Curry did create the animal puppets-I found these animals to be more entertaining than that Disney spectacular. The scenery by Kenneth Foy was delightful and captured Victorian England with a cartoonish sensibility. Likewise Ken Billington’s lighting served the production well as did the costumes by Ann Hould-Ward that connected the puppeteer with the puppet with a whimsical flair. The sound design by Duncan Edwards was a bit bombastic at times, as if it was trying too hard. Some of the actors sounded like their audio was being blasted out of the speakers, especially when they would say or sing words that ended on hard consonants. However, there were a few moments that were less than awe-inspiring, most notably when the Giant Pink Snail and the Lunar Moth make their appearances. For the show to be truly stupendous, these need to be moments when the audience is blown away rather than have a giant pink snail shell painted onto a drop as it follows a costumed actor onto the stage. And the Lunar Moth looked much too fragile to hold the good doctor, much less he and Miss Fairfax at the show’s finale. Aside from that, Dr. Dolittle is joyful show that will appeal to Baby Boomers and their kids, or, since it is 2005, their grandkids.
Seen at the Movies:
Perhaps my reaction to The Aristrocrats says more about my own sensibilities than it does the film makers’ (comedian Paul Provenza and magician/comedian Penn Jillette) as I found it kind of boring. The title takes its name from the punchline of an infamous joke that comedians have been telling for generations. The joke, without going into detail, concerns a guy who goes into an agent’s office and explains his new act. The act starts off nice enough but then soon degenerates into acts of vile depravity until the agent asks name of the act. The answer? The Aristocrats (cue rimshot). The beauty of the joke is that it allows comedians to "riff" on the middle part in describing the act; incest, murder, scatology, bestiality, and much more are all included. The highlight of the film is the number of comics who get into the act. From Robin Williams to Drew Carey to George Carlin to Phyllis Diller, legends young and old, past and present get their chance to chime in. As directed by Jillette and Provenza the movie purports to let us in on a beloved inside joke that comedians have adored. While I have no problem with filth, I just didn’t think it was all that racy. Maybe I’m jaded or maybe it’s due to the cast of characters that I hang out with, but it was pretty tame to me. Then again, I’m not a fan of jokes per se; I find observational humor-Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, a host of others-much funnier than anything with a set up, ala "A guy walks into an agent’s office…" Shot in documentary style, The Aristocrats is a series of "talking heads" and at 86 minutes, it’s about 30 minutes too long. Once you get the joke once, you pretty much get it the next 40 times.
A clear 180 degrees from The Aristocrats is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp in the role of candy man Willy Wonka. The reviews on this film have been hit or miss and oddly, they’re all accurate. The movie is not darker, as has been mentioned, it’s just colored in different hues by production designer Alex McDowell who’s created a dreamlike candy land that any child-or adult for that matter-would love to romp in. Cinematographer Phillippe Rousselot captured the sets in glorious light for the factory scenes and created a nice depressing atmosphere for Charlie Bucket’s shambles of a home. The costumes by Allan McCosky and Gabriella Pescucci were spot on and seemed to add to the annoying factor of the horrible children who get their comeuppance Wonka style. The movie is very much a live action cartoon and I found it an ideal way to spend a couple of hours escaping from the wretched heat of a Manhattan summer.
--Mark A. Newman