The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: Rock of Ages

Sunday, November 26, 2017


December 18, 2009,  Weinstein   118 minutes

I was nine years old thru all but three weeks of 1962, which as I've already noted was and always will be "my favorite year." The growth of consciousness I spurted then was awash in all the cultural signifers, from design to music to film and TV, and that magical playground they called Broadway. Was it simply a factor of my awakening that everything then looked so stylish & modern? Would I have felt the same if I awoke in 1971? or 1985? Perhaps, but I would rather doubt it. Except for maybe that scuffle over Cuba, 1962 was real swell. And so, too, was being nine years old, living in a five-year-old house in a virgin suburb of Southern California; and seeing for the first time both San Francisco and Palm Springs.

Among other things that happened in 1962, the Italian film director, Federico Fellini--coming off his peak international success: the scandalous and unavoidable La Dolce Vita--wrestled with his next picture, which became the brilliant, epic, and exceptionally cinematic reflection of the artist's eternal struggle with creation: Eight and a Half; the highest peak in Fellini's career and one of the undisputed classics of world cinema. 
                            And a most unlikely prospect for a musical.
The film had its own indelible soundtrack by Nino Rota--with snippets drawn from all over (including one of the most seductive uses of Rodgers & Hart's "Blue Moon" ever put on film). Rota, was of course Fellini's house tunesmith, and their collaborations are a match made in heaven. Tho Rota's music is unique, he doesn't write "songs"--there aren't lyrics to any of his familiar melodies--he's a classicist with modernist inclinations, and yet tho brimming with music, no one would call 81/2 a musical. It was gutsy to think it could be one.

And that was Maury Yeston. Who, like me, got religion at age ten seeing My Fair Lady (tho he saw it on Bway). Factor in his first composed musical as a new adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (my own childhood favorite), and then the audacity of making one of 81/2---this is my kind of guy. (It helps that he writes beautiful melody that doesn't sound like anyone else's, and in particular I mean The Measure of the Age: Sondheim.) Yeston, who has certainly had his share of success, following Nine on Bway with Grand Hotel and the unlikely but brilliant Titanic, has also had some frustrating roadblocks. He had written a Phantom (of the opera) musical just prior to Lloyd-Webber's behemouth, which pretty much cramped his far superior version. Earlier still, Yeston was on board to score the first incarnation of La Cage aux Folles--a re-set in New Orleans to be called The Queen of Basin St. Sounds fun, yes? Not that one can regret Jerry Herman's Riviera-on-the-Hudson swan song. And yet. . . Yeston's music has depth and color, and tho he's twice won Tonys for Best Musical, he's not truly earned the recognition & clamour he deserves--which is no less than that accorded Sondheim or Lloyd-Webber. It was Yeston's audacity to attempt his first major work with the BMI Workshop on such a complex phantasmagoria as 81/2.

Fellini (as a source) was no stranger to Bway, having been musicalized twice before 1970--and entirely divorced from the mark of Nino Rota. His Nights of Cabiria turned into Sweet Charity (a great success), and La Strada as. . . well, La Strada--a four performance flop from Lionel Bart in 1969 (starring a very young Bernadette Peters and Larry Kert). But 81/2  was sui generis--a surrealistic cavalcade of images, a rambling stroll thru one (very un-common) man's crisis of the soul, that was simply breathless in its scope and ambition. It was  instantly among my favorite films when first I caught up with it in 1981; so I could well understand Maury Yeston's obsession--which scarcely a year later was on Bway. The story of Nine's long gestation process (from 1973) is in itself quite fascinating--the evolution from mixed cast to all-women (& Guido), the addition of new numbers right thru, and inspired by, the rehearsal process. The under-the-radar surprise critical smash, the last minute steal of the Tony from Dreamgirls. The sainthood, without further doubt, of Tommy Tune. It would make a good story on its own--a real Broadway story.

None of the women were really stars. Karen Akers a rising local chanteuse, Anita Morris, Shelly Burch, Laura Kenyon (the darling of Ben Bagley recordings) Taina Elg (one-time MGM third-liner) and Liliane Montevecchi--imported from somewhere French, maybe Canada. Each worthy a "star" moment, but further incarnations cast it more "worthy" of the title: Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Mary Stuart Masterson and Chita Rivera in the 2003 Bway revival, or Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson and Sophia Loren in the equally unlikely prospect that came to be: a 2009 film, directed by Rob Marshall, the man credited for reviving the movie musical with Chicago--but who hadn't come much further along that line since.

Of course at the center of this estrogen circus is Guido--a man so necessarily charming he had to be built around Marcello Mastroianni. Wisely, Yeston kept the original film's Italian soul intact, instead of adapting it, say, to Los Angeles. The musical's Guido was the Puerto Rican Prince of Bway: Raul Julia--a man of smooth charm & seduction (a perfect Gomez Addams later), equal to his Italian precursor--and a lovely singer as well. The first revival 21 years later lured Spanish film star Antonio Banderas to the stage. For the screen, Rob Marshall found yet another enchanter, no less convincing even while lacking the requisite Latin genes. Daniel Day-Lewis in accent or affectation is never less than utterly mesmerizing, and for him Guido is no stretch --except, perhaps, vocally. He's not a singer, but he manages to croak out the abundant lyrics to good effect. Daniel first came to my attention in 1986 with such vivid takes on such widely divergent roles in My Beautiful Launderette and A Room with a View. His chameleonic abilities allow him an incredible variety of characters, all played with his underlying aquiline touch: My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, The Age of Innocence, The Crucible, Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln; it's an astonishing resume, (yielding 3 Oscars from 21 movies) concise yet broad in range and high in quality. At age 60 with Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread  in the can, Daniel Day-Lewis claims he's retired from film. Apparently he really enjoys being a cobbler--acting just gets in the way.

Yeston's score was so instantly commanding that I'm sure I internalized it before seeing the show on Bway in October '82--four months after its surprise Tony win. I'd bought two orchestra seats far in advance, and on the appointed evening brought a NY friend to the 46th St. Theater (now the Richard Rodgers) where I'd had many an enchanted evening in years past, only to find at Will Call that my tickets were for the previous night! With the show sold out I was stunned into such visible shock that an angel stepped out of the ether and literally handed me two extra orchestra tix, entirely gratis. Thus, it was meant to be. The show was so fresh and melodic that I was back to see it scarcely two months later with TC in NY to celebrate my 30th birthday. (The album later became a staple of Sunday mornings for TC.) On Bway Nine utilized a single unit set, white tile boxes and columns evoking a Venetian spa; and its stageful of women, all in black & white costumes--a Neapolitan Ascot. It was a brilliant concept by stager Tommy Tune. But even more so was Yeston's smart adaptability translating Fellini's epic surrealism into a compact space without sacrificing the scope. Or simply put: cinema into theater.  It  was  a  gutsy  gamble that paid off. But to then make a film of Nine, is to be changing it back, now with inevitable comparison to Fellini's original--even while laden with extra baggage of its own.

Rob Marshall has stated his problem with film musicals: he needs justification for the singing. Which to me seems like an apology instead. Music and singing--much of it coming out of left field--has been in movies from the introduction of sound. I don't buy the argument that contemporary audiences (raised on MTV and YouTube) don't "get it." We all accept the most outrageous of alien or superhero scenarios. Yet Marshall needs to rationalize musical numbers by framing them as fantasy--all in the mind of the leading character (as if anyone slips into a vaudeville number to escape reality.) That was his big epiphany in restructuring Chicago for the screen--a narrative which worked there, so why not here? Well, for one thing it means a good share of Yeston's score must be sacrified, and Arthur Kopit's libretto must be rewritten, changing entire sequences and characters. Aside from cutting no less than (stupidly ironic) nine numbers (including the title song) adding two (which are at least by Yeston); the screenplay--begun by Anthony Minghella of The English Patient & Talented Mr. Ripley (who died midway) and finished by Michael Tolkin of The Player--then omits the show's central fantasy section: Guido's run with Carla's inspiration: Casanova in Venice, and the mini-musical that is "The Grand Canal." The film's Guido remains clueless to his imminent project thruout, even adding a "2 Years Later" coda to wrap the story up, where it never had to go before. Another casualty is Guido's French producer, Liliane LaFleur (on the not entirely unreasonable argument that European film producers  are rarely women); replacing her with British costumer and substitute Mommy (still called Lilli--and tailored to Judi Dench) as Guido's one true confidante. Film critic Stephanie Necrophorus is now an American correspondent from Vogue. And whereas the musical maintained a symmetry with its title focussing on nine women in Guido's life, the film drops two entirely: a columnist, Lina Darling, and a nun from his childhood, Mama Maddelena. In the end, Nine is one of the more bowdlerized Bway musicals to hit the screen since the 1960s.

Javier Bardem and Antonio Banderas were both in serious contention for Guido, until Daniel Day-Lewis sent the produers a self-made audition tape. And even knowing how British he is, we are entirely seduced and convinced by his Italian mastery. Marshall claims Sophia Loren was the first woman cast, having told her he wouldn't make the film without her. As the only Italian among the principals, she holds the spiritual center of what became an smorgasbord of casting from across the continent and beyond. A wide range of Hlwd's top actresses came in and auditioned for various roles. A Spaniard, Penelope Cruz, was considered for Luisa and Claudia before finding her way to Carla. (And earning the sole Oscar nom within the cast). For Lilli (originally French) they brought in Marion Cotillard, who landed Luisa instead. So Lilli jumped the channel to let Judi Dench put her British stamp on it. Kate Hudson was given a newly invented fashion journalist role with a sycophantic, slightly silly production number that evokes the era of Hullaballo and her own mom, Goldie Hawn. A more unusual choice was American pop-singer Fergie for the earth-mother-whore Saraghina. Marshall first cast Chicago's Velma, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Guido's muse, Claudia--but upgraded to Nicole Kidman, whose statuesque beauty and '60s styling evokes Anita Ekberg. So now Claudia is a Swedish siren played by an Australian actress. Each and every one would do their own singing.
Onstage Nine assumed a contemporary ('80s) time frame. The movie sends it back to 1965, allowing for more direct reference to Fellini and the Italian style of the period--which has some logic to it. Marshall begins with Guido in mid-interview; "You kill your film several times," are his first words--hopefully not an excuse for what's the come. But shortly we are on a Cinecitta soundstage where, alone, Guido conjures a parade of the women in his life (past & present) on the half-built set of his next movie (Italia--big title, with no concept.) There are shades of Follies here; an exciting opening with stirring music (using the show's choral overture) giving each character a true star entrance. It's quite theatrical but works well cinematically. Marshall brings most of the numbers back to this set, whether they start there or not--narratively anchoring Guido's imagination. This made more sense for Roxie in Chicago because her dream was starring in Vaudeville. But there's no mention that Guido is making a movie musical--why would ruminations on his life and film come out as musical fantasies? Escaping the pressures of his production crew and a press conference, he slips into "Guido's Song" as a form of mental escape. It's a great "wanting" song--filled with conflicts and ego; and has one of Maury Yeston's very best lyrics:
     I want to be Proust
     Or the Marquis de Sade    
     I want to be Christ, Mohammed, Buddha   
     But not have to believe in God

The pic has him athletically bouncing around the studio set, intercut with his escape from Rome (in a vintage Alfa Romeo taking sharp turns with stunning views of the Forum and Amalfi Coast). The song's coda adds a cathedral of women gyrating, but the editing is sloppy, haphazard; a missed opportunity for the sort of breathless excitement the music commands. With the entire concept of "Grand Canal" discarded, Venice is replaced by Anzio (south of Rome on Italy's west coast)--and the spa (in both show and 81/2) is now a hotel--the very one that figures prominently in Fellini's Amacord. So the film loses "The Germans at the Spa," a wonderful choral number, which even in the show is actually extraneous--no Germans figure later in the show. And tho so much of the score is cut, at least the extended scenes are well written--much as they are in 81/2.

On stage Anita Morris made "A Call from the Vatican," while rolling around in a see-thru body suit; Penelope Cruz gets a full-blown Burlesque number on silk bannister and ropes. This is one song I've never cared for in any incarnation--it's just a bump & grind, and tho it seems to stimulate that cliched tired businessman, it does nothing for me. I'd like to think it's Cruz's scene work that earned her Oscar attention beyond this vampy number. Judi Dench gets some nice scene work too, and I suppose it isn't too much of a stretch to believe a Brit learned her trade sewing costumes at the Folies Bergeres. Her musical-hall performance reminds those who forgot (or never knew) that Dench was the original Sally Bowles in London; and later played Desiree Armfeldt as well. Facile bromides ("Try harder") from a cardinal sends Guido down memory lane (in black & white) to his nine-year-old self, seeking the whore Saraghina on the beach to teach him life lessons. But "Be Italian" quickly segues back to color and the soundstage set, now covered in 40 tons of sand, and Fergie on bistro chair--joined by an army of whores, kicking sand up in their tambourines. It's a

rousing number--the show's signature of sorts--and Fergie sings it well indeed, but aside from the fact that she's just too young (she looks like she just stepped out of high school) there's just nothing inherently believable about her as an Italian. Her Anglo-Irish-American looks work against the song she's singing. Couldn't they at least have died her hair black? On Bway and in Fellini, Saraghina was more corpulent and weathered--a bit of a hag. Perhaps if Kathy Bates sang. . .

Luisa arrives at a working dinner, and fades into her own reverie ("My Husband Makes Movies") tho it isn't clear if this is her vision or Guido's: imagining her viewpoint in song--the strain of Marshall's concept showing. (There was no such ambiguity in the musical, where this was her response to a question at a press conference.) Marion Cotillard sings it well, without fancy trappings--tho again we have drifted to the soundstage set. Carla's arrival sets tempers aflame, and in retreat Guido gets picked up at the bar by American fashion scribe Kate Hudson cueing a song revering, even fetishizing "style"--with no substance. I don't know what go-go dancers in Swarovski crystals has to do with  "Cinema   Italiano"---but  the  wind-blown,  sped-up 
catwalk choreography is a welcome uptick in energy at the mid-point. Surely one can't argue against Sophia Loren as (everyone's) idea of Italian motherhood. But wouldn't Guido recall a much younger mama than the 74 year-old we have here? Loren had put a few songs over in her 20s Hlwd years ("It Started in Naples," "Houseboat") so her own number was required here: an instrumental waltz from the show was given new lyrics by Yeston; "Guarda la luna"--essentially a lullaby set by Marshall in a neverland of candles. I wish I could say its impact met its intentions.

Mention should be made of the occasional use of ghosts--summoned by Guido's fancy: Mama riding in his Alfa Romeo; A wench stroking a cardinal while he's damning sex; Claudia watching Guido forge an autograph & kiss on her photo, while laying in her lap. Claudia appears only in his imagination until well into the second hour, arriving at last for costume fittings and begging for a script. In her first musical since Moulin Rouge Nicole Kidman gets the exquisite ballad "Unusual Way"--which is beautifully set on a  late  night  walk  thru  deserted  Roman  streets  (a direct 
steal from La Dolce Vita--there's a fountain, too, but her somber mood precludes wading in it--ala Ekberg). The song begins seamlessly on real cobblestone locations, but Marshall is constrained by his on-going concept; thus bringing a fountain to the soundstage set, before concluding back in front a real one in Rome. More invented scenes lead to Luisa's final straw, and we have again a confusion of perspective (hers or his?) in another burlesque bit; a new one "Take it All" (inexplicably nominated for an Oscar); a striptease with metaphoric pretensions--giving Cotillard, alone among all the women, a second number. With this final collapse Guido agonizes thru his final song, "I Can't Make this Movie" with one beautiful image, tearing down a sheet projecting film images. The story cuts to two years later, Guido walking with Lilli in a grey seaside village. She suggests he go back to work; he claims the only story he could write would be about a man trying to win back his wife (i.e. himself)--and of course, that's the spark. Where Fellini left off with a bubbly circus parade invading his outdoor Sci-Fi set, Marshall brings Guido back to Cinecitta shooting an intimate scene, while his armada of past women (and men) enter from above, as if in curtain call-- to a jaunty instrumental of "Be Italian"--to take their place behind him. He's joined lastly by his nine-year old self (who, I've not yet mentioned is adorable) who climbs on his knee on the camera crane as it lifts into the sky; as the music fades his final word is. . . Action. It's beautiful--just the right bit of softness, yet packing an emotional wallop.

Nine premiered in LA on December 8, and a week later in NY. I was fortunate to see it in the fabulous George Lucas ILM theater in SF on the 15th, prior to its main release on Xmas Day. The movie grossed a paltry $19 million domestic and only $54 million worldwide, falling far short of its $80 million budget. Tho hopes were high that Marshall would pull another Chicago out of his bag of tricks, the outcome can't be considered surprising. Tho catnip to some (and count me among them), ultimately who cares about the problems of an exalted Italian film director? One place the film falls short is in bringing out the full connection and resonance of 9-year-old Guido, with the 50 year-old. Yes, there are a few such moments; luring Saraghina from her beach hut; being caned by the priests, and that final joining on the camera crane. But his songs, "Getting Tall" and "The Bells of St. Sebastain" are missing--not to mention the title tune sung to him by Mama--giving weaker meaning to the title: Nine.

I was having my own reach back to the age of 9 that year (2009), reacquainting myself with the desert eden I first laid eyes on at that age in 1962. Since moving away from LA I hadn't been out to my hedonistic paradise, but with frequent trips to LA to see friends and theater, I began to include this detour in February. With renewed intention to retire there one day I was lured by Open House signs to casually check out the real estate market. Almost implausibly, I fell in love with the second house I saw; and loitering in it at length gave me the acquaintance of a realtor, Dave Stukas, who would become something of a friend. Dave wrote comic gay mysteries on the side, and had the same love for mid-century modern desert architecture.
Six years after my father's suicide, my mother, who wanted nothing more than to join him was still inexplicably clinging to life despite having shrunk to skin and bones, increasing dementia, conjestive heart failure and massive doses of morphine. On July 31st she finally gave up the ghost--quite literally as I later discovered from her Ukranian care-taker, Svetlana--as her struggle to let go was in battle with a dybbuk that apparently had possessed her for some time--which went a long way in explaining her behavior during those last years--short-tempered, unpleasant, ironically obsessed with "identity theft"--so unlike the Mother I once knew. 88 and long reclusive, there was no need of a funeral or burial; and for the second time The Neptune Society got my business. I had not an ounce of sorrow for the occasion, only relief. As it happened, I had a long-planned vacation scheduled the following week, which was the perfect release from all the concomitant stress. From San Francisco I drove first to Ashland, Oregon to see dear friends Lisa Loomer & Joe Romano, now relocated from LA, then on to Portland and Seattle where I was to meet up with Larry (flown in from LA) for us to catch the pre-Bway tryout of Catch Me If You Can--a thoroughly delightful show (ironically about identity theft!) I suppose there's some karma in my finding solace in a musical--much as I had built my own perfect world in my childhood bedroom, in protection from whatever horrific, war-torn secrets these people who conceived, birthed & raised me, deliberately and fatally kept from me. Yet I should thank them for allowing me to find my own kind of bliss.

It certainly wasn't in San Jose. Having never lived in that house myself, I had no reason whatsoever to hang on to Mother's haunted manse (still crusted in steel bars from my father's paranoia)--even as a rental property. Better instead to invest in my own future in Palm Springs. In November Dave had another Open House in a neighborhood I hadn't yet considered, and I had to admit this was the one. 5 lesbians had gone bankrupt keeping it up as a golf weekend getaway, and were losing it in a short sale. I had yet to sell Mother's house, but I clung to hope that no one else would snap up my PS dream in the meantime. One way or another I was going to find my way back to this desert paradise that first seduced & enchanted me when I was--but of course--nine.

Report CardNine
Overall Film:  B
Bway Fidelity:  C
Songs from Bway:  8
Songs Cut from Bway:  9
Worst Omissions: "Nine" "The Grand Canal"
New Songs: 2 1/2: "Cinema Italiano"; "Take it All";  
      "Guarda la Luna" (lyric added to Bway "Waltz")
Standout Numbers: "Overture" "Be Italian"
Worst Addition: "Take it All"
Casting: Starry, International
Standout Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis
Sourthumb Cast: Fergie
Cast from Bway:  None
Direction:  Lively, peripatetic
Choreography: More staging than dancing
Scenic Design: One unit set on soundstage
Standout Location: Anzio
Costumes: Slinky, swanky, Oscar worthy
Titles: End titles over numerous film clips
Oscar noms: 4: Penelope Cruz,
               Art Direction, Costumes,
              Song: "Take it All" (Yeston)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mamma Mia!

July 16, 2008,  Universal   108 minutes

I was struck by a comment from the Irish-American author, J.P. Donleavy who just died at age 91 that “Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.” My problem is that I can't seem to do that. I prefer my writing to take me away from my worst moments, not quarry them for mental therapy or literary revenge--let alone money. Sure, I'd love to quantify my musings into currency (any takers?) but really I'm compelled more by love to note this sentimental education, while I still have the memory to do so. For lately it seems to be slipping. At least for latter day events--fewer of which seem important, or hold any fissure of impact or excitement. And that is as good a place as any to start with Mamma Mia!  As with more than a few latter day Bway musicals--and biggest hits--here's another one I couldn't get much interested in.

If Zorba's Greeks were depressing to Ethan Mordden for pretending to be life-affirming while embracing an amoral nihilism, Mamma Mia! could be seen as a corrective on steroids. Every moment with these "Greeks" bursts with life-affirming intentions. Yet all of these main characters are anything but Greek. Only the chorus--a literal Greek Chorus natch-- lends any native flavor beyond the scenery, which is that added element Bway couldn't supply to make this jukebox musical a Hlwd blockbuster. It was no slouch on Bway either, running over 5,000 performances over 14 years. The original West End production first starting partying like it was 1999. It was. And from there the show moved across the planet like a virus, such was the pop contagion that was a Swedish band called ABBA--a moniker formed of the first name initials of its quartet (they could as easily have been BABA.); two married couples, no less, inevitably headed for divorce. Winners of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest the group captured numerous foreign markets, but not quite so rapidly in America. At that time my take on their glam-pop sound was the definition of Eurotrash, as dismissable as disco; and equally surprising in its durability, which is what Mamma Mia! not simply proves, but fairly flaunts. A Greatest Hits album laid on an innocuous past-catches-up-with-present story, set in a Greek inn. Purists may scoff but who can argue its commercial success?

Mamma Mia! was the brain-child of British producer, Judy Craymer, whose idea of setting ABBA's pop hits to a narrative story was initially met with skepticism by its own authors, Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus. Nonetheless British playwright Catherine Johnson was engaged, and a story was laid out--one that drew comparisons with a '68 Melvin Frank Hlwd comedy, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. (Three Americans return to an Italian village where their one-time wartime romance--with Lollabrigida--yielded a child. But whose?) MM inverts this so that none of its male trio are aware of a child--who is the one inviting them back to determine her parentage. In time Andersson & Ulvaeus succumbed to the show's creation--tho no new material was offered. By then the duo had embarked on their own forays into legit theater with Chess, and a Swedish language epic, Kristina. Putting it all together was stage director Phyllida Lloyd--completing the triumvirate of 40s Brit birds (all born within weeks of each other), making this a rare femme-centric production from the top down. A prolific stage director, Phyllida wasn't an obvious choice for film director, Still, if Julie Taymor could prove her talents translated to film, why not Lloyd? And as it happens, she does a surprisingly fluid and cinematic job--especially considering how static the stage show had to be. The movie soaks in the Greek Isle milieu, much as The Sound of Music gave us Salzburg as porn. I could see similarites between the two pics in their pride of place and contagiously crossover songs--qualities which helped make each the highest grossing movie musical of their time.

Is there anything Meryl Streep can't do? I'm convinced she could transform herself into Hattie McDaniel, should she so desire. Just as Julie Andrews was that unquantifiable X-tra that sold The Sound of Music; Streep's contribution here is incalculable. Aside from making each moment on screen count for something, who knew she could sing? Well, some of us did--she had her climatic moment in Postcards from the Edge, and there was some pseudo-musical comedy in Death Becomes Her, but she tears into the songs here, convincing you she really was head of pop group back in the day. She has quite a few numbers as well, and they range in moods and styles. Her vanity & indulgence in "Money, Money, Money" is hilarious.; she's a pied piper thru "Dancing Queen," a heart-sick belter in "SOS"; a sentimental mother lamenting with "Slipping Thru My Fingers"--and managing to keep it maudlin-free. And then topping it all with her eleven o'clock number: "Winner Takes it All" making it an entire master class of acting. She isn't just Donna Sheridan, she's Medea reading Jason the riot act. She sells the hell out of it--and her vocal stands up to any classic Bway turn.

Of her former band-mates (The Dynamos), I find Christine Baranski the more believable and enjoyable to watch. She gets her own production number with "Does Your Mother Know?" Julie Walters seems a bit too frumpy, and I find myself constantly wishing it were Tracey Ullman, who would have brought a bit more sparkle to the part (as well as recalling the great chemistry she had with Streep in Plenty.) The 3 potential fathers are a former James Bond, Pierce Bronson; Bridget Jones's crush, Colin Firth; and Stellan Skarsgard, a Swede (changed from the play's Australian.) Perhaps these are a middle-aged woman's fantasy trio--they're not mine. In truth none of their characters are interesting, even with  Firth "coming out" by the end, flirting with a hirsute Greek (which is redundant I suppose). The script doesn't help them out by making the guys too slow on the uptick--wouldn't Sophie's age immediately suggest their potential parentage?--particularly paired with an invitation to her wedding? Duh. 
But Amanda Seyfried scans well against Meryl, her singing as laudable and their familial resemblance uncanny. Her boy-toy groom-to-be, Dominic Cooper provides eye candy with his half-naked, sun-tanned bod. And a deep-black British kickboxer with electro-shock hair and a killer smile, Philip Michael, pops up from time to time as a strangely ardent suitor of Christine Baranski. Not a bad group of people to spend a couple of hours with.

Universal released the film in July, boosting it to a global take over $600 million, the 5th highest grossing film of 2008 (in which it must be noted the rest of the top ten were either superhero, animated or action flicks.) Here was a real throwback, a musical! And yet despite my respect & love for Andersson & Ulvaeus' Chess, a score stiched from ABBA pop hits had no purchase on my interest, which kept me from seeing the movie until December. With mild surprise, I liked it more than expected, but apparently not enuf to see it again until now. Nor did it awaken any new desire to see the show on stage--where it remained lodged in the Winter Garden for another seven years after the film's release!

That summer I returned to NY for the first time in 3 years, and found to my dismay an unfamiliar antagonist: oppressive humidity--which consequently impacted my heavily scheduled week of theatregoing far too much. 9 shows in 8 days: Young Frankenstein, The Country Girl, Mary Poppins, August: Osage County, Gypsy (with Patti Lupone), Spring Awakening--none of which resonated like they promised. Hairspray (then in its last year; with Bruce Villanch) proved the single true highlight--even tho I arrived late, on the run the final 12 blocks, hyper-ventilating and sweating into the Siberian air-conditioning.  I was sure  I  was  having  a  heart attack  the 
next night, thru In the Heights--a false alarm that didn't fully abate thru my final hoped-for enchanted evening: Bartlett Sher's South Pacific--one supposedly for the ages, but not, alas, for me in my frazzled state. Had it come to this? Was I over New York? Had I become my father?

More enjoyable trips were made to LA and Vegas. Larry & I took a train to San Diego to see the Bway-hopeful adaptation of MGM's Bandwagon musical (retitled Dancing in the Dark) which (deservedly) went no further. 9 to 5 trying out at the Ahmanson did get to Bway--another unecessary movie-turned-musical, with an uninspired score. Closer to home, I trekked to Mt. View to see a well-done Grey Gardens, albeit lacking Christine Ebersole's indelible mark; and in SF: The Drowsy Chaperone on national tour--cute, but thin. And tho I no longer frequented  the  resurrections at  42nd St.  Moon,  curiosity 
compelled me to see Rick Besoyan's Bway flop following Little Mary Sunshine: The Student Gypsy. And also their postage-stamp version of Coco--as I had first suggested this to Andrea Marcovicci when she came to do On a Clear Day. I was right; she was perfect for the role and sang it miles above Katharine Hepburn--tho without much of a production the show is a wash.

As I noted at the time, 2008 was a mixture of hope & suffocation--an anxious year. A tense constipated sense of world affairs at the collapse of the Bush term reflected my own creative stassis at the time. For once I wasn't capable of anything but watching the fate of the world unfold. With Greg still healing (at great expense), and Mother still hanging on (ever more erratic) was it any wonder I started having panic attacks, which Kaiser readily medicated. Effective as these drugs were I didn't particularly enjoy them enuf to develop an addiction. But one doesn't need new addictions with the cable universe. TV was well enuf to fill any void; particularly when the quality was on the epic level of Mad Men or Pushing Daisies--among dozens of others. A few theatrical films made lasting impact: Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Limited and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood were the comedy & drama of the year, but the musical was Julie Taymor's Across the Universe. Another jukebox tuner (using the Beatles catalog) the film, alas, is egregiously underrated--one of the best original musicals in many years. One more must be mentioned for merely one scene: the last. After a series of adventures getting to the sea, Mr. Bean's Holiday ends with Bean finding a open door, and at last, sight of the Riviera. Filming with his camera, Bean steps out onto a roof, and Magoo-like descends an unlikely but magical staircase that forms from street traffic and other objects placed in his path, carrying him down to the beach; scored to Charles Trenet's "La Mer." (The French pop tune that became "Beyond the Sea" in America) By the time the film's cast is lipsynching to the full-bodied chorus I am happily brought to tears. (It's easily found on Youtube). Rahadlakum like this is precious gold. It fills me with hope.

There was an enormous infusion of hope that November when after a closely watched year, the Man I backed (who had me at hello) made the most remarkable, unprecedented ascent to the presidency. Not since JFK had there been such a sense of new energy, style and common sense, and I had a new hero: Obama. But the pendulum swings, and now that it's swung to the point of idiocy; nuclear trash-talking, public snipers and a parade of natural catastrophes (hurricanes in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico; fires in California), the state of the world is very depressing. Over this time I watched Mamma Mia! five times; it's songs rattled my brain nonstop for weeks (they are the fiercest earworms). In the end, for me the surprise of Mamma Mia! was that its value is essential and clear. Something silly, tuneful and lovely to look at becomes a comforting balm in hard times. Apparently that isn't lost upon the film's creatives: an original film sequel is now on the way: Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again.

Up next: Nine

Report CardMamma Mia!
Overall Film:  B+
Bway Fidelity:  B+
Songs from Bway:  17
Songs Cut from Bway: 5
New Songs: 1 "When All Is Said & Done"
Standout Numbers: "Money, Money, Money"
               "Mamma Mia" "Dancing Queen"
Casting:  Starry but successful
Standout Cast:  Meryl, Amanda, Baranski
Cast from Bway:  None
Direction: Surprisingly sprightly, fluid
Choreography: Some
Scenic Design:  Exquisite Pinewood sets
               Travel porn location scenes
Costumes: Some
Titles: Over Donna & the Dynamos 
     performing, joined by the b.f. trio
     all in ABBA couture
Oscar noms: None

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sweeney Todd

December 3, 2007,
         Dreamworks/Warners   116 minutes
Are we required to revere all acknowledged artistic genuises? Is there a hard & fast rule of taste? I can't deny the high cultural status of Stephen Sondheim. As a lyricist he's second to none; but as a composer, to my ears he falls short of the likes of Rodgers, Porter, Kern, Berlin, Styne, Loesser or Stouse. Not that he doesn't know how to take my breath away. Take "Lovely" from Forum--it's almost pastiche yet so solid, so melodically sweeping, so, well. . . lovely. But it's not the kind of Sondheim tune that pops up in his songbook concerts. Or "Me and My Town," the "Kay Thompson" number from Anyone Can Whistle. Thrilling. And who would dispute Follies' "Beautiful Girls" as every bit the equal of Berlin's "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody." But this isn't really Sondheim's metier--his true voice--the new music--which often takes on a sardonic or bitter harmonic line, to match his chosen subject matter. Challenging or improbable themes for a musical; grown-up themes that demand grown-up attention; artistic chores that earn, nay demand our admiration. But not our glee.

My New York years were concurrent with Sondheim's renaissance, and I traveled thru Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, and even caught Merrily We Roll Along in its two week run. But the one that got away was Harold Prince's production of Sweeney Todd. To be sure, some of that was proximity. I'd left NY for San Francisco the year before, but tho I visited twice during the show's Bway run, I wasn't inclined to see it. The truth was from the moment I played the OCR upon its release, I just hated the score.    I could barely stand to listen to it. Not that either Night Music or Pacific Overtures had been in frequent play on my turntable, but at least they had some appeal. Sweeney Todd both assaulted and bored me. Whatsmore, by this time, a year into my transition to SF I was listening to all kinds of music other than Bway musicals, tho of course that deep vein could still be tapped with some fresh melodic heroin (as On the Twentieth Century proved the year before); Sweeney Todd was painful to my ears. And so it stayed on the shelf. But if Sondheim was increasingly turning me off, his stature was exponentially growing, and in very short order Sweeney was considered by many to be his masterpiece--not to mention a classic of musical theater. An opinion that only persists with time. The show is essentially an opera--tho Sondheim prefers to call it a "musical thriller" And he's right, for the show is not in fact sung-thru, yet even the dialogue scenes are underscored in the rich tradition of old Hlwd movie scores by composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner & Bernard Hermann. It has in its two leads, Todd & Mrs. Lovett, roles of great substance attractive to actors of stature (Imagine great duos of the past in these roles: Lunt & Fontanne; Tracy & Hepburn, Cronyn & Tandy, Steve & Eydie.) And a supporting cast--young & old--of rich characters as well. But the beating heart of the piece is its compliance with the Grand Guignol tradition--naturalistic horror, often graphic and amoral; the shock effect. You can decide what this says about Sondheim's psyche; that of all his works this is the one that he himself initiated. But as Walter Kerr once pondered (about Pal Joey, no less), can you draw sweet water from a foul well?

Over a quarter century passed as my initial aversion faded into apathy, then reluctant acceptance and finally a little curiosity. Enuf, at least to take in John Doyle's celebrated 2005 Bway re-imagining, which came thru SF's venerable ACT company two years later. This was the production that dispensed with a chorus and had the actors double up as the orchestra. (Come see Patti Lupone on tuba!) The concept was more impressionistic than literal--Grand Music Hall more than Guignol. (Judy Kaye played the tuba in SF.) I found it less abrasive but not much more appealing. And while I couldn't entirely hate the score anymore, neither was I any closer to loving it. Only two months later the movie musical hit the screen. Or should I say, slashed? Tim Burton's 13th feature was one of the first he ever imagined. Long before he had a toe-hold in Hlwd, he was enthralled since he first saw the show--3 nights in a row--in London, 1980. Burton approached Sondheim about a potential movie once his film career took off, but distracted by other projects, didn't follow thru. When years later, a long-developing film version by Sam Mendes fell apart, Burton eagerly stepped in--as tho it were destined all along. And so it probably was.

It seemed a perfect match of man & material. Burton having long since proven himself a master of dark content and visual panache. I was a fan from his first weird feature, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, both for his surrealist style and offbeat humor; a technique he developed thru Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorshands, and perfected in my absolute favorite Burton film: Ed Wood. But Batman bored me to the point of leaving midway thru; and thereafter I wasn't often in thrall: Mars Attacks, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Eh. Still, if anyone could make Sweeney Todd proud, it figured Burton was the one. First off, this wasn't to be the filmed stage play--Tim's imagination was beyond that from the start. Besides which, Prince's staging was filmed for PBS, preserving much of the original cast, including Angela Lansbury--in her crowning (& 4th Tony-winning) musical role. 25 years later, Burton quickly cast his longtime ally, Johnny Depp as Todd, and his then-spouse Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett--an act of nepotism that might have rankled some.  Both might 
have seemed a bit young at first, but in fact are more appropriate than the 50-60 year-olds who often play the roles. Todd's absence from London was only 15 years, which would place him at most in his 40s. With this trio of names on top and a gothic vibe & subtitle (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) the film was broadly advertised with little hint of its musical nature. A singing serial killer!? Inevitably there would be a number of walkouts.

Burton was less concerned with enbalming a by-now well-established Sondheim opera, than making a Tim Burton interepretation of the piece. And this would entail a great deal of editing and shortening of the score. I have no complaints on that front. To my taste the show is far too serious and lacking in humor. What there is comes from the razor wit of Sondheim's lyrics, but that is in short supply too; most prominently featured in "A Little Priest"--which, let's be honest, is awf'ly clever for these working-class characters, don't you think? It's Sondheim showing off, pure & simple--which I'm not disparaging, for it provides some genuine dark-comedy into the melodrama. But the show is operatic in the Sondheim key, and that feels so off-key to the material on display--particularly this palette of naturalism; so dismal & dirty. The narrative is at odds with the music--it's an artsy imposition not a natural, or even ironic counterpoint--a Music Hall style by a Lionel Bart say, would feel more natural. Sondheim's rapid patter songs, "The Worst Pies in London," "By the Sea" ""God, That's Good," are a chore to absorb and the ballads dreary. "Pretty Women" sounds like some jazzy thing from an entirely different musical, a contemporary show, or French new wave movie; the sort of song Charles Aznavour or Tony Bennett might record. Or Michael Buble. It feels so odd in this scene, in this musical. Todd might as well be singing Sammy Davis's "Too Close for Comfort"--which lyrically would be more on target. But Burton, smartly doesn't coddle the score; he cuts to the chase; dispensing right from the start with the choral opening, "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd..." and just getting on with it. Do we need an invitation?

The film actually opens with a spectacular credit sequence, in photographic animation, tracing the flow of blood from attic to sewer. The story proper pricks thru the London fog as a ship arrives in the blue night bringing our protagonists, Todd and young Anthony into town. Their abrupt break into song is a bit jarring, but the verses are kept short and we're off to London. Here's another cinematic amuse-boche, Burton's sped-up zoom thru labyrinthine streets (which must be model sets of extraordinary atmosphere & detail) coming at last to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop  and the atelier upstairs where Todd once 
plied his trade as barber. It's a tracking shot that may be the best thing in the entire movie. (Throw it in the bin with Burton's Greatest Hits.) He's also refreshingly unfussy about the musical segments, content to film them without flashy editing or dizzying camerwork--not that these numbers would suggest such an approach. Depp wears his usual restrained intensity as expected--with a healthy dollop of his Edward Scissorshands; and Bonham Carter overcomes initial discomfort (both hers and ours) to give a surprisingly warm performance. Watching their entwining unfold makes the movie look promising. The opposite effect is generated by the secondary love-interest, Anthony & Johanna. Even allowing for the Love-at-first-sight musical trope, few are as insipid as this one. Burton doesn't help; it happens thru a closed second-story window, as Anthony first spots Johanna singing thru a closed second-story window, a song, "Green Finch & Linnet Bird,"  unlikely to draw anyone near. She too is instantly smitten (tho admittedly she might be looking for anyone to release her from this prison--her guardian's home.) Thus without even so much as hello Anthony is propelled into committed pursuit. It's... "Maria, I've just met a girl named Maria..."--yes, but he hasn't really met Johanna yet--he's told her name by a passing madwoman--whose claims might well be questionable; and instead of Bernstein's soaring symphony we get Sondheim's dour ballad, "Johanna," with its studied "wrong" note every third bar. And the kids in these roles: Jamie Campbell Bower & Jayne Wisener--are real teenagers so bland they almost seem like animated Disney   characters.    Alan  Rickman,   who'd  made  a  rich
career by now playing villains, relished this one with a nasty gleam; his Judge Turpin ruthlessly sentences a child to a hanging; locks up his ward, Johanna, even as he contemplates marrying her--after raising her from infancy; stealing & seducing her mother while banishing her father (Todd). As his co-conspirator, The Beadle, Timothy Spall's looks  alone  make  you  shudder.   As the fake-"Eyetalian," 
Pirelli, Sasha Baron Cohen brings a surreal intensity to what's little more than a cameo role. His amusing sartorial getup suggests a trans Eleanor Bron. As his orphan slave, Tobias, Ed Sanders could've come fresh over from Oliver! Oddly, the former stage Mary Poppins, Laura Michelle Kelly played the haggard Beggar Woman--She was then 26--which would suggest she was a wife and mother at age 11? A curious casting choice.

Maybe it's my advanced age but 15 years doesn't seem very long; certainly not long enuf to render Todd so unrecognizable. OK, Lovett & Perelli catch on soon enuf, but what about Judge Turpin? When Beadle brings Turpin for a shave how could either not recognize this man, this barber in Benjamin Barker's old flat, who looks just like Barker? The man whose life Turpin destroyed and whose wife & child he stole. The child he still owns, but whatever happened to said wife? If she was worth stealing, why was she so (quickly?) discarded? That's one piece of the puzzle never explained. Of course it turns out--Spoiler Alert!--she's the Beggar Woman now haunting the streets. When Anthony asks her whose abode Johanna resides in, she responds, "the Great Judge Turpin" without a trace of a suggestion she had anything to do with him other than knowing his name. A real false note. Seen barely under a hood, it's forgivable Todd doesn't recognize the Love of his Life, the Motive behind his Vengeance; but is Lucy really so daft as to not recognize him--even if only his voice? Yes, she does occasionally ponder, "Don't I know you?" But hard to believe she doesn't put it together. I can only assume Barker's return was a mere 15 years later so as to place Johanna at her prime virginal bloom; as bait for Judge Turpin and young Anthony--and fuel even greater paternal rage for Todd. But is that really long enuf to eviserate their memories?

After a well visualized "A Little Priest" (with Todd & Lovett scanning street traffic as they jokingly speculate on the quality of meats), the movie descends into the truly gruesome. Burton spares no blood in showing Todd's murders, and as if it weren't enuf to view a parade of throat-slittings  (set to music!)  as  graphic  as  any  slasher 
film, we see each victim fall thru a trap door, to land a storey below on their heads with a curated sound effect that's guaranteed to make us cringe. Meanwhile Lovett is running a suddenly thriving beer garden serving plates of Todd's victims--tho how so many are killed without anyone but the Beggar Woman noticing is a mystery. Blind to Todd's single-mined  mania,  Lovett  imagines a  domestic 
bliss in "By the Sea" which Burton smoothly tran-sitions to fantasy and back (the bathing costumes are adorable); and nurtures her maternal instincts in protecting her new ward, Tobey--who puts the final snuff out--slashing Todd's throat after Todd has killed the Beadle, Judge Turpin, his own wife, Lucy, and Mrs. Lovett as well (throwing her in the furnace, letting us watch her burn alive--arguably an even more disturbing image.) Don't bring the kiddies.

In my current immersion of Sweeney Todd I finally got around to viewing the original Harold Prince production, which has long been available since its initial PBS broadcast in 1982. Filmed at LA's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the cast features George Hearn as Todd, and original cast members Lansbury, Edmund Lyndeck (Turpin), Ken Jennings (Tobey) and understudies sprung to stage: Cris Groenendaal (Anthony) and Betsy Joslyn (Johanna). Filmed for TV with well-placed cameras allows for the intimacy of close-ups. But this visual upgrade isn't taken into account by the director, for the cast is aiming for the balcony with their emotions and facial contortions. Lansbury, who had an entire career of subtle performances seems unusally hammy and broad here, where she might seem fine from the second balcony of the Chandler. Of interest too is the (fabled?) physical production of Eugene Lee, with its industrial scattershaw purged from a Rhode Island foundry. But mostly I saw a central rustic box which twisted and turned (with stagehands) to serve as the pie house and barber shop, among other locales. You can see where Burton's mind went wild with ideas for filling these spaces to the max. What's apparent too, is how all of the cast seems 10-20 years too-old for their roles, especially Tobey who comes across less a child than a mentally defective adult. Which reinforces how much of a correction Burton's casting makes. Depp is so obvious a choice (given their long-time collaboration); not least for the Edward Scissorshands connections; both masters of razors--Sweeney even looks like an older Edward, his single white hair streak (like Susan Sontag's) the sign of a hard-lived life. He doesn't sing his arias in full-throated opera, but he goes a long way in making a convincing Todd. Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs. Lovett is equally varying from the Hal Prince template (which led to the likes of Dorothy Loudon & Imelda Staunton), by being less of harridan; softer and more perfect a match for Depp's Todd. And with Burton's approach of naturalism over the cartoonish performances on the stage, Helena proves the film's biggest surprise.

Altho Sweeney Todd opened at the end of December, 2007, I didn't see it until it was released on disc in April. Apparently content to confine that experience but once until now, I had other factors to deal with the last half of '007. Five years after his catastrophic accident, my longtime partner, Greg began developing new and serious maladies, in part from his insistence on holistic remedies over prescription meds. A growing abscess on his backside resulted in another lengthy hospital stay--which left me a solitary home life up on Twin Peaks. With medical coverage up in 100 days, and Greg still not ready to return home, we struggled to find a board & care facility that would take him, given the stage of his wound (which nonetheless was healing well). In the end, a prophetic and expedient solution was found to park him at my 86 year-old mother's home in San Jose for a month or so. This, I figured might also allow her to get used to having a live-in nurse, which was something she was already close to requiring, but fiercely resisted. It proved considerably less than a good idea, but provided Greg an inside view of this woman, who was soon to become consumed by an entity not her own; which ultimately makes him the only other person I know who got insight into Valentina (The Demon Mother of Greengate Drive), my strange, pathetic & ultimately tragic maker.

My nights alone at home were now filled with new treats, such as the discovery of Bluegobo, one of the first musical-centric websites coming thru with previously cold-storaged clips of many a Golden Age Bway musical from vintage TV shows like Ed Sullivan, with such archival treats as the entire opening of Do Re Mi, a multi-song slice of Flower Drum Song, and Alice Playten knocking it out of the park for Henry, Sweet Henry. Aside from the internet, watching TV became practically a vocation; between a good many serial dramas there were the competition shows of cooking, designing & traveling. I'd also fallen into a steady diet of MSNBC, now more fascinated/consumed/disgusted with national politics than anyone would ever have predicted of me. And tho I no longer ventured out to the cinema, I kept up with films as they came to Netflix, altho fewer new movies than ever interested me. One of my life's pleasures is discovering a vintage picture that hits a core emotional nerve. It was during that autumn that I came upon Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse on TCM, which fed some primal wanderlust for another time & place. Deep into the movie at a busy outdoor cafe, the populace breaks into spontaneous song a moment so genuine and enchanting it brings me to tears of joy. But no such emotion has ever swayed me in any of Sondheims's score for Sweeney Todd, other than--at best--an academic appreciation.

Burton's mise en scene is so masterful and the Oscar-winning art direction by Dante Ferretti so breathtaking I found myself reluctantly surrendering to what I've long resisted, at least for awhile. But after Todd blows his chance to kill his nemesis, Turpin (by indulging in a lounge rendition of "Pretty Women") he curdles into indescriminate evil, all of humankind gone to hell and he's out to kill those who cross his path. Among the strongest, most shocking (to me) opinions Ethan Mordden has ever put to paper declares this "one of the ugliest, most life-denying pieces of evil shit ever perpetrated as a Bway musical." Well, I'd certainly concur with that, if he was writing aboout Sweeney Todd--for surely all that & more applies. But no, he wrote that of Zorba (!) Yes, that Stein, Kander & Ebb musical offends Ethan, "Not least because it pretends to be beautiful and life-affirming." Sweeney doesn't pretend nor aspire to being either, and (to me) that makes it all the more despicable. I felt similarly about Silence of the Lambs--which disgusted and angered me for its gratuitous exercise in depravity, whose sole reason for existing is to terrify. That may well be the whole point, but such a purpose is pointless to me--at least or especially in musical theater. Mordden defines it as "a unique masterpiece." Do people come out of Sweeney Todd feeling thrilled? Entertained? Aroused? Contented?  I come out feeling bludgeoned, pummeled, depressed. This was Sondheim's passion project. After such bloody passion, I need me some Hairspray.

Next Up: Mamma Mia

Report CardSweeney Todd
Overall Film:  B--
Bway Fidelity:  B
Songs from Bway:  26
Songs Cut from Bway:  7
New Songs:  None
Standout Numbers: "A Little Priest"
               "By the Sea"
Casting: A generation younger
Standout Cast: Helena Bonham Carter
Cast from Bway:  None
Direction: As distinctive as the material
Choreography:  Not exactly
Scenic Design:  Exactly & perfectly so
Costumes: More so
Titles: Trail of blood from attic to sewer
     (a masterful animated sequence)
Oscar noms: 3, Johnny Depp, Costumes
               1 win: Art Direction