archive
links
essays

Moonlight and Magnolias

Europe was on the verge of the second World War, but in the offices of movie mogul David O. Selznick, the crisis was getting the filming of Gone With the Wind (GWTW) back on track. After rejecting efforts by some of the best writers in Hollywood and putting the production on hold for $50,000 a week, the famous "boy wonder" producer pulled director Victor Fleming off the nearly-completed Wizard of Oz, grabbed A-list writer Ben Hecht, and locked the doors for a week while the three of them hammered out a new script.

Erik Sandvold as David O. Selznick
Erik Sandvold
as David O. Selznick
Photo: P. Switzer
Part fact, part fiction, this farcical look at the movie business and a few of its famous characters uses all the tricks in the bag—some riotous, some belabored—but credit for the overall success of the Arvada Center's current production falls to director Bev Newcomb-Madden's lean pacing and fine performances by four seasoned actors with the chops to take the material to another level.

Figured for inflation, GWTW still claims to be the highest grossing film of all time, though its age, melodramatic elements, and Confederate take on the Civil War make it an unknown experience for younger theatre audiences and an increasingly less sympathetic one for the population in general. Nevertheless, it's a cultural icon, and one that provides an entertaining window into the grit behind the glamour of celebrity.

Erik Sandvold as David O. Selznick
Erik Sandvold
as David O. Selznick
Photo: P. Switzer
In a whirlwind performance equal in gusto to his award-winning 2006 tour de force, I Am My Own Wife, Erik Sandvold, as Selznick, sets the agenda, directs the action and, come Hades or high water, gets what he needs to shoot his magnum opus. Whether waxing on about the magic of movies, the primacy of the producer, or the politically apathetic nature of his American audience, Sandvold's Selznick is absolutely riveting, enrapturing us with a glorious panoramic vision of Tara, then shifting beats to play slapstick version of Scarlett delivering Melanie's baby.

Jordan Leigh as Ben Hecht and James Nantz as Victor Fleming
Jordan Leigh as Ben Hecht
and James Nantz as Victor Fleming
Photo: P. Switzer

In front of him, laying on the stage with his legs aloft and garters flashing in an hilarious take on Melanie's labor, James Nantz reveals the Vaudevillian heart of Fleming, a former chauffer who otherwise has fully assumed the debonair and dashing image of a Tinseltown director and the trappings of the Los Angeles establishment.

His natural rival, Hecht, is a Jewish writer with a social conscience. Here, Jordan Leigh—inventive as always in face and body language—conjures an acerbic and deadpan insouciance that effectively plays against Hecht's incisive, jolting social commentary.

Leslie O'Carroll as Miss Poppenghul
Leslie O'Carroll
as Miss Poppenghul
Photo: P. Switzer
Fleming and Hecht's tug-of-war over the relative importance of their roles in the moviemaking process provides both a proving ground for Selznick's management skills and a platform for his own glorification. Sandvold's showmanship in this role as ringmaster is bolstered by Leslie O'Carroll's straight woman, Miss Poppenghul, whose endlessly renewed takes on "Yes, Mr. Selznick," "No, Mr. Selznick," and "Of course, Mr. Selznick," as well as the buffoonery of her polished physical comedy, provide rueful benchmarks as the mayhem progresses.

Laura K. Love's spiffy set showcases the elegant fruition of the Art Deco period, with strong all-around support from the other crafts.

Though we know how Selznick's efforts turned out, GWTW was deemed a folly by industry pundits while it was in production. Fleming took a lump sum for his efforts, rather than a cut, and Hecht's work was uncredited. Selznick had the last laugh, though, his team winning eight Oscars, plus two special awards. There's a lesson in his commitment, and he even coughed up some money for Hecht's favorite cause, Jewish Relief, as the Holocaust was coming to light.

The Arvada Centers production of Moonlight and Magnolias runs through October 7th. 720-898-7200.

Bob Bows

 

Current Reviews | Home | Webmaster