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Pippin: His Life and Times (1981)
Extraordinary? Not quite...
I first saw this movie while I was acting in a production of the show...just to get a feel for the songs and the choreography, not really paying much attention to the quality of the performances or the show as a whole. On repeated viewings since, however, I can say that...well, frankly, it doesn't make a very strong impression on me. I suppose there are several reasons for this; first of all, there's a lot of the script missing. But which script? There were actually two different "Pippin" scripts, which shared most of the songs and basic structure, but very little else. This production seems to be a mishmash of elements form both versions.
There are certain things I liked... Ben Vereen, of course, whose Leading Player was nearly flawless. William Katt did not sing as prettily as John Rubenstein, the original Pippin, but he seems to have a level of guts and passion that was missing earlier, as well, so that's okay, too. The nauseating "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" was cut (thank God). All good things.
But outweighed, unfortunately, by some negative aspects. First, casting...Chita Rivera has no place in the show. She doesn't sing it well, and the dance break seemed to be so that the producers could say, "Hey, look! We've got Chita Rivera!" The editing left a lot to be desired as well...there were whole expository scenes missing, and some really unnecessary ones left in. And most of all, it was just so FAST! Everyone spoke as if they would be penalized if the show ran over two hours...Ben Rayson as Charlemagne is most indictable for this, but all of the cast (even the incomparable Vereen) are guilty of it from time to time. I also felt that the ending was WAAAY too abrupt...there's so much more to be done with one of the most powerful final scenes in musical history, and they took the easiest possible exit.
All in all, I own it and watch it simply because there are way too few filmed stage versions of musicals available (the only others I can think of are Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Jeckyll and Hyde, Putting It Together, and Sweeny Todd).
I like movie musicals, but I like seeing them done on stage more than anything. I just wish there was a better reason than that for owning this one.
Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997)
Flawed, but lovely...
I had the good fortune to see the play in New York, with it's almost original cast; many of the actors who appear in the film were still in the roles on stage when I saw it. This leads to the film's only (in my opinion) flaw...it's not the play. The theatre creates an intimacy that is perfect for the issues and performances in this piece. However, we allow ourselves a detachment when seeing it as a film that really doesn't mix with the story. Here's the thing for those who have a problem with either the overt homosexual themes, or the stereotypical characters...imagine if half the cast were women and the other half were heterosexual men...would you feel different about the piece if Arthur and Perry were a hetero couple? If Ramon was a female dancer instead of a male? The thing is, the piece is not primarily about the fact that the men are gay, or about how gay they are. It's a love story, a story of friendship, and a story of loss. The fact that all of them are homosexual is simply a backdrop to everything else going on. Excellent performances by John Glover, Jason Alexander and Steven Bogardus. I see what everyone is saying about not being able to get Seinfeld out of their heads, but I didn't have that problem. The rest of the cast is only adequate, but no one lets the ensemble down.
There is a trend of making filmed versions of stage performances available to the public...this would be the perfect piece with which to do that. The movie is good, and I very much enjoyed it...it just doesn't have the vibrancy and immediacy of seeing these characters live.