1 item from 2002
The London musical theater scene deserves a sharp, insightful documentary. "West End Story", unfortunately, is not that film. While shining the limelight on a few stars (Petula Clark, Lucie Arnaz), a number of success stories (Frances Ruffelle, Barbara Dickson) and one aspirant (a singer-actor still waiting tables), the movie is more than a bit of a jumble. At full feature length, there's a lot going on but in several disjointed directions.
Divided into sections with chapter titles such as "Getting There" and "Staying There", the docu opens with an abbreviated (read: hurried) history of the English-speaking theater from Shakespeare's Globe onward. The emphasis of the film is on the late 20th century Anglocentric musical theater, the apparently effortless transference of musicals from London to Broadway and, most importantly, the life of the musical theater actor. In fact, "West End Story" does succeed in examining the devotion and dedication of a cross section of actors, from small-town Kansan Brent Barrett to Jerome Pradon, the hardworking lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Whistle Down the Wind".
Pradon, a Frenchman living in London, provides viewers with a look at the daily regimen of the working musical theater performer. We see him with a vocal coach, trying to perfect his enunciation in a foreign language, warming up his pipes in the confines of his small dressing room and putting on makeup and a tattoo -- a nightly ritual for months on end. We also see him socializing, post-performance, with mates in a West End pub and even enduring an unorthodox chiropractic therapy. The access to his life is revealing. As the film unspools, Pradon and many other actors reflect on the lack of much personal life during the frequently long runs of these Lloyd Webber/Cameron Mackintosh-era behemoths ("Cats", "Les Miserables" and the like). These poignant discussions of sacrifice provide some of the film's best moments.
Yet, even during the Pradon sequences, there is little connection made between an actor's interview and its correlation to his or her work onstage. The snippets of performance we do glimpse of "Whistle Down the Wind" oddly do not feature Pradon, instead highlighting the young female lead. Possibly it may have proved too difficult or costly to obtain permission to use as much performance footage as originally intended. But there are scant clips of nearly all of the interview subjects' musicals, including Clark (a stage performer since childhood) and Jerry Herman. The composer of such classics as "Hello, Dolly!" and "Mame" discusses both those legendary successes in his interview. Hearing from various producer and choreographer types involved with a musical called "La Cava" has the distinct feeling of being some sort of favor for the opportunity to showcase performance snippets of their large-scale show.
"West End Story" is nothing if not well-intentioned. Actors and showbiz aficionados should enjoy it (especially "Miss Saigon" actor Simon Bowman's story of being approached by several Vietnam War veterans). The problem is, it feels more like a primer your high school drama teacher might have shown to warn theater hopefuls of the perils of the London and Broadway stage. The film simply wants to cover too much: a middle-aged composer who has spent 25 years trying to launch his dream musical or a talent agent and a casting director who detail the harsh realities of the business. Had it been pared down, more tightly written -- and fact-checked -- and opted to concentrate solely on the actors' lives, it might have richly deserved its own ovation.
WEST END STORY
Lynmar Prods. and PM Films
Director-screenwriter-narrator: Paul Cross
Producers: Paul Cross, Marianne Quinn
Executive producer: Linda Steinhoff
Editors: Bryon Jost, Steve Wellington
Running time -- 101 minutes
No MPAA rating
1 item from 2002
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