Most embarrassing moments

Heard the same complaint about two 2012 musicals (they happen to have the same choreographer, but the fault lies elsewhere).  They’re period pieces, yet something a character says sounded so contemporary, the viewer was completely taken out of the period. Which is a shame, since the rest of creative team successfully applied themselves to the task of transporting us to a certain distant time and place.

But what if they didn’t?  What if they slacked off and didn’t pay attention to detail?

So now I’m picturing courtiers, gliding around a French palace before the revolution. The costumer dazzles us with lacy gowns and frilly cutaways. Abruptly, on comes a guy in a hoodie and those low-riding jeans that reveal way too much butt crack. Almost as one, the audience’s eyebrows shoot up, mouths gape and brains exclaim “Whuck?” 

It’s hard to imagine that ever happening, because costumers are customarily competent.  They look at everything they’ve designed with a meticulous eye that questions whether a thread or button might possibly take a watcher out of the moment.

Writers, however, are all too frequently incompetent. When I hear a blatant anachronism, I want to a call a cop and get the author’s poetic license revoked. And I include composers: I can clearly remember hearing a song by Andrew Lloyd Webber that plays on the major seventh, alternating with the minor seventh chord on the second note in the scale.  Lovely stuff, and very 1960s, just the harmonic world his countrymen Bricusse and Newley used to live in…


… The trouble here, is that ALW was supposed to be depicting 1950s Hollywood, a time and place where major sevenths were rarely played upon. (By the way, that’s the milieu I’m working in now.)

If I’m enjoying a show, set in the past, I don’t like to be whisked back to 2012 unnecessarily, or 1965. And I admit it: I sometimes get pissed at writers who aren’t working as hard as I am, yet managed to get a show on stage anyway. The slackers.

Physician: Heal thyself.Once, I wrote a musical set in 1950 and had a production number about the various ways one could get accused, back in those days, of being soft on Communism.

If you rooted for the Redskins, not the Bengals

Hold some liberal thought inside your head

If you’ve studied Marx or heard of Friedrich Engels…

You could be a red

(Listen to You’re a Red)

Now, I’d gone over my script with a fine tooth comb, and never found the egregious error contained within those lines.  You’d really have to be a serious pro football fan of a certain age to know this, but the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t exist, yet, in 1950.  I’m not old enough to remember a football season without the Bengals.  I’m much more of a baseball fan, and know the Cincinnati Reds have been around a long, long time, so naturally I assumed that…

Which is what makes an ass of you and me.

Nobody noticed my error until the paying audience came in.  And the brother of a good friend of mine, a lifelong football fan (my age) delivered the bad news that the Bengals were born in the 1960s.  Immediately, I thought of the best of the stanzas I’d cut from the song on our way to opening, choosing it to replace the offended paragraph.  And then I spotted critic Peter Filichia coming towards me.

Peter’s older than I am.  But is he a football fan?  I held my breath, and he gave me a look that said “I caught you.”  And then he said “The Bengals…?” and I stammered “I know, I know.  Just learned of their later origin a moment ago.  I already have a stanza to substitute.”

A few weeks later, he wrote a column about anachronisms in shows he’d recently seen, and reported our whole conversation.  But he was so impressed that I already had a replacement line at the ready, he said this was an indication I was a good writer.

Unlike those other bums who’d used anachronisms.

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