ALLAN JEFFERYS: Hardened Theater Cynics Afraid to Let Tears Show
One of the theater critics for The New York Times recently wrote a piece about the revivals of two Broadway hits that originally opened 10 years apart: "South Pacific" (1949) and "Gypsy" (1959).
The gist of the article was to zero in on the differences 10 years can make. As he continued, the writer also singled out "The Sound of Music," which he called syrupy. It seems that today's reviewers cannot refer to that musical without appending words like saccharine, sugary, syrupy. It is almost as though they are afraid that true emotion might slip into their columns.
This Marvin Macho approach begins to sound a bit silly if you analyze it. To me, the true test of a fine play or movie is that it makes you feel something. It can be sympathy, hate, love, rage or humor, but it is something other than clever words or music.
"The Sound of Music" more than fits that description, as does everything Oscar Hammerstein II wrote. That others agreed is evidenced by a run of almost 1,500 performances and a movie that still packs 'em in.
Even some hardened critics have been known to let their emotions hang out. I can remember more than a few shows that moved me so much that I was glad the house lights stayed dim for curtain calls, lest my tear-filled eyes would show.
Most men, of course, have long been afraid to let anyone see them cry. Yet men do cry. Real men. Macho men. Those of us who have been in wars have seen a lot of tears. Not tears caused by wounds or pain, for most of us still try to hide those. But tears of feelings and emotions. Watching innocent victims of war -- especially children or animals -- brings forth spontaneous tears as you look on helplessly.
We cry as we share the pain of a friend; we cry at the loss of a friend; we cry when love flies out the window, and then cry with joy when love walks back in.
I read the other day about a very macho nature photographer who was camping with his wife and who cried for no good reason at the sight of a magnificent dawn overlooking a canyon. We humans are an emotional lot. We cry. And we laugh and we cheer and we praise and we offer helping hands. That is who we are.
Why, then, do too many of today's critics feel the need to put a honeyed adjective in front of "The Sound of Music?" Do they feel that "Do-Re-Mi" is too simplistic?
Sometimes it isn't necessary to be overly complex to be good. A song Kathryn Grayson sang in "Anchors Aweigh" called "All of a Sudden My Heart Sings" is nothing more than a musical scale. I once told the composer, Harold Rome, that I could have written that one. "Maybe so," Rome countered, "But I did write it." Touch.
The more plays and movies that are produced, the more difficult it becomes to come up with something new and improved. But new is not necessarily improved. One of the reasons a clich becomes a clich is that the original phrase was good enough to warrant repetition. Of course, some new approaches are far superior to what we used to have. Take animation, for example. That marvelous film "Ratatouille" is a far cry from early Walt Disney. And today's dancers are far superior to yesteryear's.
Some of the newer movies are truly superb. "No Country for Old Men," "Atonement" and -- especially -- "The Kite Runner" are all worthy of Oscar nominations. I do confess that there have been occasions in the past couple of years when I have walked out on some winners after only 20 minutes. But then, generations have no monopoly on what holds up. Some of the so-called classics of years ago make you cringe because they are so dated.
But not all. "Casablanca" still stands tall. "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" are ageless. And, in my book, so is "The Sound of Music."
Fortunately, the film version is one of those rare theater-to-movie productions that is, if anything, superior to the original stage musical, and it is still around. If you haven't seen it recently, give it a try. And don't be afraid to let a tear drop from time to time.
It is really not a sin to let go -- especially in the dark. This is not to suggest that a great movie must turn the faucet on. Just that real men occasionally do eat quiche and, when it's called for, tear up.
So let's drop the sneering labels about shows like "The Sound of Music." I, for one, long for an occasional spoonful of sugar. Like the song in another favorite, "Mary Poppins," says, it makes the medicine go down.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic, entertainment editor and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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