Once Upon a Time in the City of New York Review
|Title:||Once Upon a Time in the City of New York Review|
|Fandom:||Beauty and the Beast (TV)|
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When word first came over the "pipes" that a first-reading of the play mentioned above was being done an January 9th and 10th at Lincoln Center in New York, I was somewhat skeptical — to put it mildly. Like many of you, I'd had my hopes dashed one too many times to accept, especially by word-of-mouth, that something new in the way of our "Beauty And The Beast" was actually going to be performed live, and free to the public.
So naturally, when Teri Milliman called, asking if I could do a review of the play for SOULMATES - A NEVERENDING DREAM (SND), I must admit to having a few misgivings. After all, I'm only a fan. How can a fan write an unbiased summation of a show that she loved, still loves, and shall always love? But, I agreed to try, so keeping in mind that in a small way I was "there for all of you," please bear with me. Here we go . . .On January 9th and 10th, 1995, in the city of New York, the impossible happened folks! Yes! Yes! Yes! The initial reading of the play, "Once Upon A Time In The City Of New York . . ." was performed, and I don't mean to sound excessively gushy, but all things considered, it was an extraordinary experience.
The reading began with a somewhat stern-eyed gentleman sitting perched on the edge of a very uncomfortable looking metal chair, staring out at the audience over the rims of his spectacles, which in itself was enough to intimidate me into shutting my so-called "cake-hole." Then suddenly he smiled and in that moment everything changed. He looked friendly. He looked kind. And if we squinted our eyes REAL tight, he looked just a bit like a very tall Father chastising us for being 'overly boisterous.' Then, slowly and in a very clear, cultured voice, he began to read the opening explanation of scene one. He remained on stage throughout the performance, giving brief interpretations as each scene progressed. And just that quickly, all of the enchantment bias back as though it had never been taken away from us.
Scene one opened in Charles Chandler's law offices. The man chosen to portray Chandler was quite believable in the role, especially when engaged in dialogue with his attractive daughter, Stephanie Douglas, the lovely woman who played Catherine, was very thin, and her speaking voice had just the right touch of upper-class New York high society to it. As for her singing voice, it was excellent; clear, clean, and with surprising resonance for such a slim woman.
Scene two opened in Central Park, where the Tunnel residents united in song to tell us why they are there in that world. The role of Mouse was done well, by a thin, shy-looking man with just the proper amount of heart-blenching vulnerability. When he sang, the words and tone of his voice brought tears to many eyes, mine included, with his thin face and darting, apprehensive appearance, for one magical moment he became Mouse.
Scene three opened with Vincent finding Catharine and carrying her Below to his chamber. Michael Park, the man who had the formidable task of portraying Vincent was competent in a quite demanding role. Of course, he didn't have that "whispery" tone to his voice we've all come to cherish, and he spoke his lines just a little too hurriedly, but he seemed to be really into the characterization, as though he was indeed feeling the words, not just reciting them from a notebook. As this was only a reading, make-up and scenery were not allowed, but with the right makeup and clothes, a bit more exploration into the character, and proper sets, Michael should do all right. I do hope that he takes the time to watch a few more episodes of the series. If he learns to "understand" Vincent a bit more, and his way of speaking, it should help his overall performance a good deal. He has a deep voice — one that fairly demands you listen to him, and we did. His singing voice didn't have the same quality as Stephanie's Catherine, but he managed to, as the saying goes, hold his own in duets with her.
Scene four opened with Catherine removing her bandages and seeing Vincent for the first time, and yes, it hurt to watch the anguish in his eyes as she screamed. There bias quite a bit of sniffling going on in the audience at this point, and sharing of tissues seemed to be the proper thing to do.
Scene five opened in the District Attorney's office with Catherine, Edie and Joe Maxwell searching for Carol. Edie was . . . Edie; funny, sharp and very much like the Edie we remember. Sadly, though, the man who played Joe wasn't all that he could have been. He seemed to be just "going through the motions and it showed.
Scene six takes place, again, in Vincent's chamber where Father and he discuss his bond to Catherine. There were many fine lines of dialogue in this scene — sharp ones that made some of us wince. After all. how can one hear Father tell Vincent about "a life that can never be" again without groaning?
Scene seven opened with Catherine and Nancy Tucker, "doing lunch." The song here was "When I Compare My Life To Yours." The slightly robust woman who played Nancy didn't make much of an impression on me. She was a bit hesitant in the role and not quite believable as the woman we've come to know as Cathy's friend.
Scene eight takes place in the art gallery where Catherine meets Elliot Burch. I found myself shifting uncomfortably In my chair at this point. Perhaps that was due to the fact that the actor portraying Elliot wasn't quite old enough or distinguished looking enough to handle the part convincingly. Overall, this was a very slow-moving and somewhat cumbersome scene.
Scene nine takes place at Carol's apartment. I won't say much about this portion of the reading because there honestly isn't anything to be said. Catharine talks to Carol through the door and leaves her card. End of scene.
Scene ten opened on Catherine's balcony where she and Vincent have an excellent duet. The song was Of Love And Possibilities." The words to the song were quite poignant, and seemed to go over well with the audience. (As a note of interest, there seemed to be genuine affection between the two principal characters, as we witnessed for ourselves when they came out front to say hi about an hour before curtain time. Imagine gut delight to find that Vincent (Michael) had Stephanie (Catherine) perched on his shoulders piggy-back style! It was adorable and I don't think that it was a "put-up job." At least I hope it wasn't. I find myself wondering how many reproductions we'll be seeing of that pose in the next crop of fanzines?)
Scene eleven found us back at Carol's apartment, where of course, she's been murdered. From there, we are drawn into the uncomfortable scene where Vincent slays the men that did it. Yes, it brought back some very unpleasant memories to watch that again.Scene twelve takes place, once again, in Vincent's chamber, where he asks Father the memorable question: "What am I?" Wherein, Father responds on cue, "Part of you," etc. Hiss . . . boo! The scene shifts to Catherine and Vincent singing "The Price Of Love For You." This song didn't really go over too well. The lyrics seemed to be a bit out of "sync" with the accompanying music.
Scene one commences with Catherine and Elliot in the park. The man who played Elliot had a tentative voice, and to be honest, he didn't seem well-suited to the role at all, in more ways than one, with his long, curly hair and disheveled clothing.
Scene two: Instead of beginning in the psychiatrist's office, we find Catherine and Nancy in Central Park where Catherine is telling her about Vincent and Elliot and the choice she feels forced to make. Nothing new here except on a personal level I found it very difficult to believe that Catherine would ever talk to anyone but the aforementioned psychiatrist about her secret relationship with Vincent. For me, this scene just didn't 'ring true.'
Scene three takes place at the Whispering Gallery Bridge uith Vincent writing in one of his journals. Father enters, and after a brief exchange of words, asks him to read what he's written. It's a poem to Catherine. It's a BAD POEM to Catherine. 'Nuff said. Alone, and losing hope of ever being "truly" with the woman he loves, Vincent sings of "The Life That Can Never Be." This song worked. This song was "tear out my heart and stomp it with your boots, Vincent." It ripped most of the audience up pretty good, and left us struggling not to blubber all over ourselves like utter idiots.
Scene four takes place in the D.A.'s office. Here, we got some deliberately planned comic relief. Not only does Elliot bring Catherine lunch, he also sings and plays his guitar far her, doing a song about lunch. Oh Lord, talk about rolling in the aisles I I swallowed my gum!
Scene five opens with the moment in "A Happy Life" when Catherine leaves Vincent, at his request. The song she sings, "If That's What He Wants" depicted her heartache quite well. Ouch.
Scene six: Okay, are you ready for this? Elliot takes Catherine to Nancy's! (No way did this work for me.) Catherine dreams, wakes up, makes up her mind, and bids adios to Elliot, wherein he bursts into song. Well, at least he tried to sing, cut both the song and his voice were "iffy."
Scene seven: Now, this scene was just right. Catherine runs to Vincent. Vincent runs to Catherine. YES. A kiss. A real kiss. Not one in the *!*! bond this time, folks! And my oh my, what a kiss it was. A collective sigh seemed to rise from the audience, followed by shrieks of delight and wild applause. As you can well imagine, this scene brought everyone to their feet. I now know the true meaning of the word pandemonium!Closing scene: The entire cast came on stage and sang of love and hope. They tried very hard to please us, and we gave them a standing ovation. The members of the cast, as well as the musicians, worked hard, they really did, and seemed to care about our reactions to their efforts. After all, they knew what they were getting into. It takes courage to try and portray someone else's dream, and most of the cast is to be commended for giving it everything they had.
After the final curtain, I spoke to Michael, asking him about a scene that I had been told would be included in the production, where Vincent sings a duet with his "dark side." It seems that one and a half hours had to be cut from the production due to time constraints. It was disappointing to learn that, as many of us were looking forward to hearing that duet!
There were many lines of dialogue that mere taken from various other first season episodes, which were carefully interspersed among the reading. Most of them worked, but to a degree it distracted my attention from the overall performance, as I found myself trying to remember what lines came from which episodes. I counted twelve, but there may have been more than that.
Was the experience worth an eight hour bus trip — each way — for me from Boston and back? Yes. would I do it again7 In a hot minute. Could I suspend my concepts of Vincent and Catherine long enough to enjoy the reading? Yes, but at times just barely.
In conclusion, if — and this is a very big if — Cindy Mitchell, who seems to be strictly a classic season fan, can get the proper backing, this play could do very well as a Broadway or off-Broadway production. No, it isn't the movie we all long far, but it was new, it was "our world" back again as we remember it, and this time, HOT DAMN, we got our happy ending!