Sunday, July 24, 2011

Beeman--Review of H.M.S. Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, July 24, 2011

H.M.S. Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. July 24, 2011. Here is a brief review.

I have no problem with adapting even very sacred stage works. We have Peter Brook's A Magic Flute at the Lincoln Center Festival and his former La Tragedie de Carmen as well as Jeune Lune's Figaro and Don Giovanni. There is also the Hot Mikado, the Jazz Mikado etc., but every one of these doesn't pretend to be the original. This production falls very far from the original, but doesn't bother to change the title or the authorship. It introduces new music (from Princess Ida and Iolanthe), cuts out much other music (the Overture for one), and adds new story lines.

Mostly, however, Andrew Cooke, with the apparent blessing of the producer and director, has given this the Chanhassen Dinner Theater makeover. He has rewritten almost every note of the show in a cross between Andrew Lloyd Weber and Kander and Ebb with Jimmi Hendrix thrown in from time to time. Of course Sullivan's meticulous orchestration is completely gone. Cooke changes time signatures, running pieces written originally in 3/4 in 4/4 fox-trot tempo. Sometimes it works. Buttercup's (Christina Baldwin) numbers in Latin rhythms are amusing. But he also redoes the harmonies, adds measures to the music and cuts out many others. It is not respectful of Sullivan--not that that really matters theatrically, but his changes-for-the-sake-of-change don't really add to the piece. I mean, does Cooke think he can do better word setting than Sullivan? If you know the original you know that he can not. One over-the-top change was to give the full Phantom treatment with ooh and ahh chorus in the background to Captain Corcoran's (a lithe Robert O. Berdahl) second act piece "Fair Moon." Admittedly this often falls flat at the lowest point in the arc of the show, but I expected Bea Arthur to swing down on her crescent-moon prop at the end. It threw the show off balance, as the plot needs to build from this point, not drop.

Ralph Rackstraw (Aleks Knezevich) is a great actor and dancer, but he is not a tenor. Dick Deadeye (Lee Mark Nelson in this performance subbing for Jason Simon) is not a bass. Their "money notes" are taken up or down an octave. Josephine's (Heather Lindell) second act aria, "A Simple Sailor" could be perfect in a pop styling if Cooke had left the harmonic rhythm in place. It sounded rushed and nowhere near a beautiful and affecting as the original, as if Cooke didn't think the audience could listen to five minutes of sustained solo music.

The original show is short--it is often done with a curtain-raiser. The added dance numbers (a tap routine for "He is an Englishman" and other extra music) lengthens it by a half hour. The production team obviously thought people would be bored by a straight production, so they gild the lily and pull out all the stops--stage machinery, mirror balls, balloons, birds, fish, tangos, tap numbers and drop-trou slapstick comedy.

All that said, the cast is outstanding, as is the snappy stage direction. The cast members work their tails off, and if one has no idea at all about the original show, it must certainly be entertaining, but I winced at every silly Broadway mid-number cliche key change and meaningless pop-styling. Innovate, yes, absolutely, but don't innovate just to do it, and for heaven's sake, be true to the musical values of the original.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Beeman--David E. Sanger and William J. Broad once again distort Iran's nuclear program

Once again the intrepid team of David E. Sanger and William J. Broad have printed one of their "Saturday specials" ginning up specious, unsubstantiated information about Iran's nuclear program as they have for many years.

The latest article: "Survivor of Attack Accelerates Iran's Effort to Produce Nuclear Material" Saturday, July 23,
is characteristically full of anonymous quotes: "What concerns [unnamed] inspectors and European and American officials is Iran's announced effort to increase production of uranium enriched to nearly 20% purity." They then go on to hang their story on one substantive quote, that of William Hague, the British foreign minister, which they picked up from The Guardian. Hague is re-quoted as saying "When enough 20 percent enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qum . . . it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons-grade material."

Let's examine this:

A. Mr. Hague is not a nuclear physics expert by any stretch of imagination. His statement is therefore political, absent any real.
B. Centrifuges have not actually been introduced into the Qum (Fordow) facility. In fact it is only a suspicion that they will be.
C. What does "enough" mean in Mr. Hague's statement? I doubt even he knows, but certainly an imprecise term like "enough" is good enough for Sanger and Broad. Iran's announced plans are to generate a small amount for a research reactor, which would not be enough to make a weapon. Hague (and Sanger and Broad) imply that they will make much,.much more. This is pure paranoid speculation.
D. The "additional work:" Mr. Hague mentions is actually a huge, complicated process using facilities that Iranians have not even put on the drawing boards.

The story ostensibly centers on the work of Fereydoon Abbasi, who has now been put in charge of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Sanger and Broad try to imply that Mr. Abbasi is somehow very dangerous, or at least not as sophisticated as his predecessor--"not as skillful--or as comfortable" to quote another of their anonymous sources.

The stinger at the end of the piece is to report that Dr. Abbasi announced in June that Iran would triple production of this concentrated form of uranium. That sounds ominous until you realize that "triple" only depends on how much is being currently produced, which is miniscule.

This story continues the kinds of neo-conservative attacks we have seen against the NIE and the U.S. intelligence community, as well as the IAEA who have consistently, incessantly, insisted that Iran does not have a weapons program, and that no nuclear material has been diverted for military use. Sanger and Broad are dismissive: "Senior Obama administration officials . . . do not sound alarmed."

Nevertheless, the headline on Sanger and Broad's piece will be all that most people read: Iran, accelerate, produce, nuclear material. It is all that the "attack Iran" crowd needs as red meat for their relentless campaign to draw the United States into a debilitating conflict in the Middle East

Bill Beeman
University of Minnesota