1 June 2004 | BrooklynTheatre
A Really Exciting "Almost"
I have to say, first off, that it is terrific that the TV Studios are participating in the current revival of screen musicals. In fact, they invented it. Fortunately / unfortunately, this film seems to waver between great musical theatre, and just plain wrong.
Being very close to the original Broadway production, this film gets a bit wordy and long as a movie. It is surprising that all of the dialogue was left in. Seems like if you're going to add three or four songs, you need to trim elsewhere. The TV film of "Annie" was very successfully trimmed while still maintaining the spirit of the show.
The cast ranges from divine to pointless; but I suppose we had Hollywood concessions to deal with if we wanted this film made.
First the divine. Vanessa Williams as Rosie. Miss Williams Rosie is fiery, classy, and beautiful. Really, a terrific performance. Dancing, singing, and presence is equal to the best of them. Another fine performance is given by Brigitta Dau in the small role of Ursula. She is wonderful in song and scene, and really pulls of the addition of the title song in grand style. It is always fun to see stars in musical roles, and Tyne Daly is plenty fun as Mrs. Peterson, if a bit underwhelming sometimes. Broadway baby Sally Mayes is great as Mrs. MacAfee, almost begging for more material. Marc Kudisch (another Broadway performer) is a terrific Conrad - singing and dancing it with bigger spirit than ever, and a nod to the King.
On the down side, Jason Alexander was a bit strange as Albert (and the rug bothered me). I think I had trouble getting "George" out of my head. He sang and danced well, but just not an Albert. Chynna Phillips, alas, is just plain awful as Kim. She can't belt, she doesn't have any high notes, she seems to be half-asleep, and she sticks out as way-too-old far more than Ann Margaret ever did. And on the bottom, George Wendt simply wastes a ton of great material as Kim's Father. Paul Lynde originally forced the supporting role of Mr. MacAfee into a star role with his brilliant comic acting. George Wendt simply lacks the skills required for a musical.
On the music end, I absolutely loved the addition of Miss Dau and friends in the title number. Best thing in the show. I liked the addition of "Let's Settle Down" for Miss Williams, but it did sound like a pop-song from an smooth jazz radio station. Still, she performs it beautifully. The endless padding for star Jason Alexander is just plain awful. "Giant Step" stinks and he doesn't pull it off (besides it drags down the end of the film), and his "What Did I Ever See in Her" is just plain dumb. I'll agree with the shortening of "Spanish Rose" for TV, but I would have rather seen one of Mr. Alexander's songs cut. "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore" was put over well enough by Tyne Daly that it is now included in the live stage show.
The new orchestrations are inspired - a really nice new sound for the show with lots of fun and the spirit of the original. The direction is good and suitably "made bigger" for modern audiences; but one would have thought that Bob Fosse's bearer of the torch, Anne Reinking would know enough about showstoppers to send the musical numbers skyward. This is not the case, and in fact, the dancing is minimalist and non-existent in most places. The choreography succeeds beautifully in the title number and in Miss Williams songs, but there is little else to recommend. "Happy Face," "Telephone Hour," and "Lotta Livin" are left flat.
All in all, I still enjoy watching it, and some performances aside, it is a really good translation of a musical from stage to screen. Besides, you can FF through the ponderous book scenes.