Salient: An organ of student opinion at Victoria University, Wellington. Vol. 23, No. 5. Wednesday, June 15, 1960
To The Authors Of "Carry On Phil"
To The Authors Of "Carry On Phil"
Your letter, in the excellently designed programme for Extravaganza, is a serious argument defending the new style of treatment which you have given tills year's production. I admire your ambition and I would rather see an Extravaganza which is "a serious attempt to present to the public of New Zealand (Wellington and New Plymouth surely?) a musical in a modern style," than an amateurish mess. But I think yon have missed a very important point. Extravaganza is unique. Where else in the world can one see political and local dignitaries put under such a barrage of satire? Having built up a tradition of irreverance to local and national dignitaries and institutions, why throw it away in preference to a third rate copy of an American musical? After all, the basis of an American musical is not necessarily its manner of presentation, dialogue, plot or setting. I agree they are very important But it is the music which is vital. The music of The Music Man is far closer to West Side Story than it is to The Vagabond King, which is as "romantic" as the former. One only has to look at English musicals and their attempts at an American style (Expresso Bongo possibly the most successful one) to realise that the music is vital. So until we gel a composer who has an individual style we will never have a New Zealand musical. I do not accuse you of changing Extravaganza as completely as your letter suggests. But if this is "the first step" then please stop and reconsider, you future writers of Extravaganza, what you plan to do with a show that has a tradition and is unique. It would be a pity to exclude the "old" Extrav. in preference for a copy of an American musical.
Little Audience Contact
You mention in your letter that Eric Bently and Kenneth Tynan acknowledge the musical form as "one of the most vital and progressive in the theatre today." But one of their chief arguments was that only in the musical did the audience and the performer come into "direct contact." The actor in most modern plays (Brecht and Behan excluded) keeps within the world of his part; not so in the musical. The actor In the musical talks to the audience (The Pyjama Game) and takes it into his confidence (Gigi). There is a direct contact. Now Extravaganza usually does have this "contact" between the audience and performer. In Carry On Phil I found the cast strangely lacking in any form of zest or excitement. This was certainly no fault of the authors and producers. The script was full of corn, good and bad. It was also at times witty and much cleaner than usual. But above all, the corn and the wit and the general humour didn't slump into the doldrums at any stage.
Smooth and Efficient
The production was smooth and efficent. The scenery was excellent and the costumes were bright and cheerful. The chorus work was probably the best ever. At long last someone has had the courage to cut the chorus down to a manageable size. The song "The Game" was first-rate, much belter than last year's attempt at it. The orchestra, the night that I saw the production, was good and nicely subdued in comparison with previous years.
Where the Zest
Why then the loss in zest and general air of excitement? Where, Oh! where are the Rosemary Lovegroves, Denis Browns and Derek Homewoods of today? Where are the principals who come on stage and bash out a song at the audience so it can be heard all over the theatre? Where are the Varsity students In Extrav.? It took one of the producers to come on stage in a lovely take-off of "The Blue Bird of Happiness" and show the rest of the soloists how to put a song across. Mr Sheat will, I hope, forgive me when I say he is no singer, but he was audible, he did not continually look at the conductor and, more important, he performed as if he cared about what he was doing. Far too many lines were thrown away, too many words were lost, and most of the leads appeared to be far too casual about the whole thing. This is the reason why, I think, there was a lack of pace and zest. Fortunately, there were one or two exceptions. Des Deacon gave his usual suave villain performance Armour Mitchell (do you remember his Danie Craven?) was an excellent Mister Hoffa. There was a time when all leads had their attack and zest.
But I was entertained, so your main purpose was achieved. I agree that "the bringing of enjoyment to a large number of people is a virtue in itself." I hope you found a large number of people in New Plymouth.