The Siegel Column

The Da Vinci Code: 3 Stars

It's anybody's guess if The Da Vinci Code will turn a profit on its reported $125 million budget (it's usually assumed that a film must double its budget in order to get into the black). After all, this is not a movie teenagers will see over and over again. It's an educated, adult thriller that requires the full attention of the viewer. In fact, despite its considerable cinematic flair, this is a movie that theatergoers can and probably will embrace because it is essentially a provocative, smart story about ideas, and nothing intrigues a devoted theatergoer more than a good story with lots of smart talk.

Oh, there is one other thing we stage people are drawn to: great acting. And truth be told, we prefer our own. One step below the film's two compelling stars, Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, you will find a trio of exceptional stage actors performing their magic, this time on celluloid: Sir Ian McKellen gets to keep his title while playing the pivotal character of Sir Leigh Teabing with all the fun and flair you would expect from this masterful actor. Alfred Molina, who was recently Tony-nominated for his performance as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, changes religions in this film to become the radical and dangerous Bishop Aringarosa. Paul Bettany (better known to playgoers in the UK, but who has starred at our Long Wharf Theater) delivers a chilling performance as Silas, the mad monk.

On its own terms (separate from your experience of Dan Brown's novel), The Da Vinci Code is a satisfying, though by no means scintillating, thriller. There are enough action scenes and sudden visual jolts to keep you engaged on that level, but the real fun of the film is the fictional and intriguing history lesson that reinterprets the last 2,000 years of Western religion. In other words, it's a good yarn. It's also two-and-a-half hours long. The film has so many surprise twists that at a certain point near the end it starts to feel anti-climactic. Nonetheless, it's an unusual Hollywood summer movie insofar as it combines car chases with intellectual pursuit. We'll take that any day over the other big budget movies coming our way during the next several months.

Of Thee I Sing: 4 Stars

Of Thee I Sing [thank you, Encores!] should provide our contemporary musical theater community with a lesson in the vitality of political and social satire. George S. Kaufman might have coined the expression, "Satire is what closes on Saturday night," but he surely didn't coin it in 1931 when Of Thee I Sing was a Broadway hit and a Pulitzer Prize winner. What's more, audiences at City Center could not help but notice how little has changed in Washington since Kaufman and Ryskind wrote the book for this delicious lampoon of American government. Time and again, the booming laughs from the audience were a product of the resonance between the politics of 1931 and 2006.

Another surprising revelation of the Encores! production was that the contributions of the score by George & Ira Gershwin seemed rather secondary to the wonderfully nutty book. So often when one looks back at shows from that era it's the music that's most worth salvaging, not the libretto. While there are two genuinely great songs in the score, the title tune and "Who Cares?" there is little else that's half as good as those two tunes.

The recent production also made something else abundantly clear: Jefferson Mays is a comedy star waiting to happen. His stunning success in I Am My Own Wife brought him to wider public attention but probably also marked him as an eccentric actor. His hilarious and critically acclaimed performance as the invisible Vice President Throttlebottom will surely lead to major roles for Mays for which he might not otherwise have been considered. We hope so.

J.A.P. Chronicles: 0 Stars

J.A.P. Chronicles, a one-person musical, may sadly represent a case of its creator following the famous dictate: "Write what you know." Vulgar and vacuous, it was written, composed and is performed by the ubiquitous Isabel Rose. The music is generic, and the lyrics are mostly rhymed in a simplistic fashion that is only slightly more sophisticated than moon/June. Rose's performance as a variety of characters has more to do with changing sunglasses and adding broad accents than any sophisticated acting techniques.

An attractive young woman who may well have some untapped talent but clearly has no taste, Rose has given us a musical about a slew of unlikable characters, chief among them an adult documentary filmmaker bent on revenging a wrong perpetrated against her (and her body) when she was a kid in a rich, Jewish summer camp in Maine. The premise is laughable (not in a good way), and the rest of her characters are so overdrawn that many who are tolerant of Jews who make fun of themselves might yet find this play offensive. We did.

[Please note: The Siegel Column is using a 5 star rating system with 5 being its highest rating.]

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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