Friday, October 05, 2007

Moonlight and Magnolias: American Heartland Theatre

Eschewing the usual fare of a musical review, the American Heartland Theatre's current production is a wonderful comedy-drama that was easily the most well acted production there since "A Dog's Life".

The premise of "Moonlight and Magnolias" is somewhat unusual and on the surface not all that compelling; 1939, the world on the verge of war, a Hollywood producer is making what he hopes to be his biggest blockbuster out of one of the most popular books of the time. But it is not going well and he needs a new director and a major rewrite.

The producer in this case is Hollywood legend David O. Selznick, screenwriter Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming; the film... the immortal "Gone With the Wind."

Mixing humor, a bit of Hollywood history and name dropping, physical comedy and the drama of a world about to go to war, the diaspora of European Jews, anti-semitism and race relations, the fast paced play touches on a lot of issues yet never seems contrived or unfocused. The 3 men lock themselves (Fleming and Hecht reluctantly)in Selznick's office to make sense of the story and make a credible screenplay out of Margaret Mitchell's book.

AHT regular Craig Benton plays Selznick with just enough passion yet lightness in the more comic moments, never letting you forget this film and the rewrite will make or break the film and their carriers.

Scott Cordes plays Fleming, who is the most detached from all the drama of the movie; providing a lighter contrast to the rest of the characters.

William Grey Warren plays the former newspaper man turned screenwriter Ben Hecht with a moral seriousness that contrasts with the more devil may care Fleming and the success driven Selznick. The character of Hecht reminds both Fleming and fellow Jew Selznick of the rampant anti-Semitism in Hollywood and the troubling racial stereotypes of "Gone With the Wind." Still, Warren exhibits flashes of sharp comic timing for big laughs.

The lone other character, Miss Poppenghul, Selznick’s long suffering secretary, is dryly played by Jennifer Mays. Most of her lines are simply "Yes, Mr Selznick" delivered with a deadpan humor that sometimes even steals a scene.

Fast paced, interesting, well acted, I was surprised that I enjoyed the show from my initial reaction to the storyline. Well worth an evening at Kansas City's best theatre venue.

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