Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, July 08, 2013

Embracing the magic of theater on the small screen

Over this past weekend, my sister and I relived a shared experience in TV viewing by watching the 1984 production of True West,starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich that was filmed for PBS.

This Sam Shepard drama about two combative brothers,one a struggling Hollywood screenwriter,the other a drifter and occasionally thief, who wind up collaborating on a script over the course of a long hot weekend, made a strong impression on us back then and finding it available online was a pleasant surprise.

The play's multiple themes of family,class and pursuit of the American dream hold up amazingly well and while other versions of this play have been and are currently in production, I believe this particular Steppenwolf Theatre Company production is the most definitive of them all.

While I do regret not having seen the 2000 revival with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly(who switched roles many times during the run of the show), the chemistry between Sinise and Malkovich practically crackles with intensity in every scene. Bruce Willis did film a version of True West several years ago(it aired on Showtime) but for this play to work, you need two powerhouse actors in the main roles and Willis did not have an equal counterpoint in this production,according to the critics. The real True West,for me and my sister, is the Sinise/Malkovich one:

Another theater on TV favorite of mine is Into The Woods,which also aired on PBS in 1991. It was a reunion of the original American cast,including Bernadette Peters as The Witch and Joanna Gleason as The Baker's Wife which was released on DVD.

The show has been revived since then and after many delays, the movie version is finally under way,with Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt taking over those pivotal roles of witch and wife. While I have confidence in their upcoming performances, Peters and Gleason did leave very deep impressions on the roles that will be a challenge to follow up on.

At least the cast and crew for this Hollywood version are a very respectable set of folks and if they can bring this enchanting show to life on screen as well as Les Miserables was last year, then it will be worth trekking up the steps of the movie palace to see opening weekend:

I also remember a time when HBO showcased theatrical performances,back in the 1980s with productions of classic Broadway hits like Bus Stop( starring Margot Kidder) and Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park(with Bess Armstrong and Richard Thomas of Walton's Mountain fame).

One of the most memorable that I can recall is Wait Until Dark, with Katherine Ross as Suzy Ross, the preyed upon blind woman and Stacy Keach as Harry Roat,junior and senior, who goes after her in a scheme involving drug smuggling and con artist games. I hadn't seen the classic 1967 film version with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin at the time,so this version made a considerable mark on my theater check list.

The film adaptation is chilling but seeing this story in it's originally intended format makes it all the more engaging as well as more appreciative of it's complex simplicity:

The last time I recall seeing a Broadway show on TV was on the most unlikely of sources, MTV.  They aired the premiere performance of Legally Blonde: The Musical in the fall of 2007(complete with singalong subtitles) and even sponsored a reality series that tracked the audition for a new leading lady once the original one,Laura Bell Bundy, left the cast.

 LB:The Musical was a success with audiences and earned several Tony nominations,including one for Laura Bell Bundy, and while I usually don't find most of these Hollywood to Broadway musicals that great,this was one of those happy exceptions to the rule:

It would be nice to have more stage shows on TV,especially since most of us can't get to or afford to see these productions and keeping live theater going is important to the artistic community. Granted,the Tony Awards do showcase musical numbers but not as many dramas,which is a shame. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the show stopping song fests but drama should have it's due as well.

 With the series Smash being cancelled, this may not be the best time for theater love on the small screen but as the best theater pieces show us, taking big chances can lead to even bigger rewards,particularly for audiences everywhere:

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