WHEN GARBO TALKS! by Buddy Kaye and Mort Garson– International City Theatre – Los Angeles (Long Beach) Theater Review

by Tony Frankel on October 26, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles

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DIDN’T GARBO SAY THAT SHE WANTED TO BE LEFT ALONE?

Any great auteur will tell you that the opening number of a show should let the audience know what they’re in for: Jerome Robbins asked the Fiddler team, and they came up with “Tradition.” He asked the Forum team, and Sondheim came up with “Comedy Tonight.” When the cast of When Garbo Talks! asks, “Will They See What We See in Her?” I thought, “Uh-oh. A bunch of nameless Swedes is asking if Hollywood would recognize the star quality of Greta Gustafsson – soon-to-be Garbo. Certainly, that’s not what this show is about.”

Act one proved me wrong. That’s exactly what the show, up to intermission, is about: Swedish Director Mauritz Stiller teaches the unknown Garbo about film acting and directs her in a film that catches the eye of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, who brings Stiller and Garbo out to Hollywood. Stiller doesn’t do so well, but Mayer loves Garbo. End Act One.

In the second act, Garbo gets engaged to co-star John Gilbert and stands him up at the altar, where Gilbert smacks Mayer for making a crude remark. Garbo arrives after the melee and she and Gilbert immediately make up. Gilbert sings another song…but they don’t get married anyway. Meanwhile, Garbo is a star and demands more money. Mayer wants her gone, but she seems to have a perfect voice for talkies, so she stays. Curtain.

Weak concept. Incongruous songs. Broad representational characters.

This misguided musical sure gets points for trying. Director Jules Aaron brought together a most talented cast and an always capable Kay Cole as choreographer; unfortunately, he was not able to help Richard D. Kaye, son of lyricist/librettist Buddy Kaye, develop the piece. With the hackneyed music of Mort Garson, the songs had nowhere to go. They were pastiches of the kind of song Broadway turned into hits back in the 30’s, from torch ballad to broad, bouncing, buoyant belters that tried to be straight out of Vaudeville (Mayer and his cohorts sing, “A Little Bitty City Called Hollywood”).

During the exit music, an announcer tells us what happened to Garbo after 1930. A voiceover while we are leaving the theatre? Ouch. This musical doesn’t need an overhaul. It is simply an idea with some songs thrown in. Sadly, the elder Kaye and Garson have passed on, so the show couldn’t be rewritten even if we asked them to.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Shashin Desai

scheduled to close November 7 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://ictlongbeach.org/?p=86

This misguided musical sure gets points for trying. Director Jules Aaron brought together a most talented cast and an always capable Kay Cole as choreographer; unfortunately, he was not able to help Richard D. Kaye, son of lyricist/librettist Buddy Kaye, develop the piece. With the hackneyed music of Mort Garson, the songs had nowhere to go. They were pastiches of the kind of song Broadway turned into hits back in the 30’s, from torch ballad to broad, bouncing, buoyant belters that tried to be straight out of Vaudeville (Mayer and his cohorts sing, “A Little Bitty City Called Hollywood”).

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