PV-TV TONIGHT … LETTER FROM PERSONNEL … HRC COMMISSION MEETS NEXT WEEK … plus … PLANET REVIEWS ‘A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC’
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, JULY 17, 2014) — Tonight, be sure to catch PLANET VALENTI TELEVISION as we present our 10th Anniversary Show. PV-TV: You won’t believe your eyes and ears. And catch all of our past episodes on YouTube at
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Tomorrow, THE PLANET posts the response we received from Pittsfield personnel director John DeAngelo in response to our request for the addresses of city department heads, managers, and exempt employees. You have to see the letter to believe it, and THE PLANET shares it with you tomorrow.
Clue to its content: “Transparency.”
HRC Meets July 22; Will it Take Action on Wade’s Charges of ‘Racism” Against Bianchi?
The Human Rights Commission has another meeting coming up. No doubt Doreen Wade has more than a passing interest in the thought process of these adjuciators, who are sitting in judgment of Wade’s allegation of racism against the mayor. Serious charges, those. The commission includes Pummelin’ Pam Malumphy, who is also part of Bianchi’s “outhouse cabinet” (cupboards like that don’t belong in the “kitchen”). One wonder how she can possibly render an objective consideration of Wade’s contention that Mayor Dan Bianchi is a racist.
HRC chairman Josh Cutler informs us that the next meeting will be Tuesday, July 22 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. At its most recent meeting, the HRC tabled Wade’s allegations, and they remain under unfinished business. Cutler said he expects that the matter will be discussed next week.
“I anticipate the discussion will mostly likely be a wrap-up of the evidence that has been gathered and discussed over the past two meetings,” Cutler said. “There may be some action taken once all is said and done. I also anticipate the discussion and ratification of a code of procedures for future hearings.”
SEND IN THE CLOWNS, BUT CHUCK THE REST
A THEATRICAL REVIEW
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
You can “Send in The Clowns” but leave the rest of the baggage backstage. That can stand as our one-sentence review of A Little Night Music, now playing through July 19 at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.
Steven Sondheim, like a martini, is an acquired taste. At first taste, THE PLANET took to martinis a lot better than we did to Sondheim. THE PLANET enjoyed him in his 20s as a lyricist (West Side Story, Gypsy) for the memorable tunes written by Leonard Bernstein and Jule Styne. As a lyricist-songwriter, the whole shmere on his own, Sondheim has the one hit mentioned in our first sentence. Period.
Thus, going in, the able cast of the Berkshire Theatre Group‘s “Night Music” finds the current swiftly against them. If this were a political campaign, the bumper sticker would read, “It’s the material, stupid.” It’s a problem director Ethan Heard cannot get around. Heard hears well Sondheim’s tuneless songs and reads well Hugh Wheeler‘s storyless narrative, but he has trouble filling the Colonial stage with them.
One idle thought: Is the Colonial’s majestic stage too big for Heard, who last year did such a fine job directing The Cat and the Canary for the BTG? Ah, but “Cat” was staged at the intimate Unicorn Theater, a lovely little bandbox of a venue, to cop an Updike. The Unicorn is Fenway Park. The Colonial, by comparison, is Yankee Stadium — the old Yankee Stadium.
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One song, even a great one like “Clowns,” cannot a musical save. Neither can imaginative, atmospheric lighting (Oliver Wason), a functional, stylized set (Reid Thompson); or opulent costuming, especially the women’s gowns (David Murin). Musicals, especially those as devoid of a clear and interesting narrative, live or die on the tunes. Audiences can forgive the veneer provided by thin, weak plots, but they cannot overlook songs that are ungrateful and dead.
Unfortunately for the cast, Sondheim can’t write music to save his clef let alone enhance his puzzlingly inflated reputation. THE PLANET understands the need to play it safe on the main stage, but this safe?
“Clowns” excepted, every other song in Night Music wears on the nerves with the repetitious tedium of a metronome welded to a jack hammer. Listening to the 16 non-“Clown” numbers involves an ordeal for the audience in trying to stay awake. Chief among these musical tautologies is the dreadful “A Weekend in the Country,” which closes the first of the play’s two acts. This endless song, with its maddening redundancy, induced flashbacks to that day in 1980 when we were stuck in one of the “Small World” pontoon boats at DisneyWorld with “It’s a Small World Song” repeating without end.
Sondheim is not Songheim. He’s barely Soundheim.
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A Little Night Music is perhaps the most overrated musical of the American stage, though, admittedly, it also is an acquired taste for which a certain type of theater goer can mindlessly consume. Such, um, “patrons” were well in attendance the night THE PLANET was there. Predictably, they loved it, although we did note a number of people leave at intermission and not come back.
The play, loosely based on the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s film comedy Smiles of a Summer Night, is derivative for all the wrong reasons. We shall spare you the details.
Poor Maureen O’Flynn. Outside of a fabulous rendition of “Clowns” to set up the reconciliation of love interests at play’s end, she has little with to do her outsized talent except to look radiant and make the most of what Sondheim gives her, which isn’t much. As Desireee, O’Flynn joins the company in “A Glamorous Life,” sings a duet with Fredrik (an excessively thin and reedy Gregg Edelman), and then gets lost in two other songs sung by the entire cast. What a waste.
Other than O’Flynn, there are no A-list voices in Night Music. Most are serviceable in a routine, workmanlike way (Penny Fuller, Kate Baldwin, Monique Barbee, Denis Lambert, Graham Rowat, Jamilyn Manning-White, Patricia Noonan, Phillipa Soo, Eric Van Tielan), while others might have been cast straight from a campus production (Ashton Hayle, Matt Dengler, Gabriel Douglas). Emma Foley nearly steals a scene or two as the irrepressibly cute Fredrika Armfeldt. Foley’s work becomes more impressive when you think she’s a Pittsfield girl about to enter Taconic High School in the fall as a freshman.
In the end, however, one gets the feeling that the cast somehow knows they’re in a snoozer. Done in by Sondheim’s Sominex, they must try to muster every ounce of their training and experience just to appear interested, Night after A Little Night after A Little Night.
As one Sondheim critic said of the composer: “Supremely overblown and fantastically dull.”
“I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope, / and gather dust and chaffe, and call / To what I feel is Lord of all, / And faintly trust the larger hope.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, from “In Memoriam,” last quatrain from stanza LV, 1850.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.