Friday, August 20, 2010

FringeNYC: Platinum

I saw the Fringe production of Platinum at the Lucille Lortel Theatre today and very much enjoyed it. It's wasn't a great show by any means, but it was a lot of fun.

When Platinum was originally staged on Broadway in 1978, it ran for just 12 previews and 33 performances. And although two of the actors in that production (Alexis Smith and Richard Cox) were nominated for Tony Awards, the play otherwise was panned unmercifully by the critics, with Walter Kerr writing: "I have a feeling that if Platinum could just get rid of its book, its songs, its microphones and its almost arrogantly messy setting, it would be light miles ahead.”

In this developmental production at this year’s FringeNYC, Ben West, the Artistic Director of UnsungMusicalsCo, has accomplished much of what Mr. Kerr facetiously advocated more than thirty years ago. He has pared down the cast from thirteen to five, cut four songs and added two others, and generally focused, tightened and streamlined the whole production. Mr. West has been working on this project with an eye toward returning Platinum to the stage, and his pruning efforts appear to be bearing considerable fruit.

Having never seen the original 1978 Broadway production, nor the 1983 Off Broadway revival starring Tammy Grimes which had an even shorter run, I am not in a position to comment intelligently on the degree to which Mr. West’s pruning and revisions have improved this musical. But from what I saw today and the reviews I’ve read of past performances, I think it likely that Mr. West has been responsible for a vast improvement in this show.

That is not to say that this is now a terrific show. It is not. The story line is a bit of a cliché, revolving around Lila Halladay (Donna Bullock), a 1940’s movie star hoping to make a comeback in the music industry in 1976. The other four characters are equally predictable: Crystal Mason (Sarah Litzsinger), the young former back-up singer, possibly now on the cusp of stardom herself, but, oh, with so much yet to learn; Jeff Rollins (Bruce Sabath) Lila’s former lover and now a hard-nosed intransigent record producer; Dan Riley (Jay Wilkison), the once successful rock star, half Lila’s age and her new love interest; and Jamie Bradbury (Wayne Wilcox), the audio engineer and songwriter wannabe. All five actors perform their roles with great skill but that does not change the fact that, although it is no fault of theirs, the plot itself remains rather pedestrian.

The five characters do all inter-relate but, with all the paring that Mr. West has done, sometimes the relationships are difficult to fathom. Indeed, in focusing, streamlining, simplifying, and paring as much as he has, Mr. West may have gone a little too far: before attempting to move this production to off Broadway, it might be necessary for him to flesh it out a bit more, perhaps by bringing back one of more of the discarded characters and/or one of more of the excised songs.This is an enjoyable show but, with a little more work, it could be even better.

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