Tag Archives: musicals

White Christmas Ethics (UPDATED)


I just watched“White Christmas” again when my wife wasn’t around (she hates it), and was again struck by how entertaining it manages to be while making no sense at all and containing one ethics breach or gaffe after another. Ethics Alarms did an ethics review of the film in 2012, and reading it now, I realize I was too kind. This is an update.

Yes, I still get a lump in my throat when the old general, played by Dean Jagger, gets saluted by his reunited army unit, which has gathered at his struggling, snowless, Vermont inn on Christmas Eve to remind him that he is still remembered and loved. Nonetheless, it is by far the strangest of the Christmas movies, and also the most unethical. Though everything works out in the end, the characters in the sloppy plot spend the whole movie lying, extorting, betraying, manipulating and generally mistreating each other, always with no recriminations at all, and usually with no consequences either.

The movie starts out with guilt extortion. Army private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) rescues his smooth-singing captain, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) from being crushed by a falling wall in a World War II bombing raid. (It’s not a plot feature, but the battlefield set for the entire opening sequence is itself unethical by being chintzy even by musical standards: it looks like they are filming a skit for a Bob Hope Christmas Special.  I thought it was lousy when I saw it as a kid.) Phil then uses Wallace’s debt of gratitude to coerce him into accepting the aspiring comic as a partner in Wallace’s already successful civilian act. This is obviously unfair and exploitative, but Bing accepts the ploy with good spirits, and the next we see  the new team of Wallace and Davis knocking ’em dead and rising in the ranks of stage stars. Now they have a show on Broadway, and as a favor to a mutual army buddy, they agree to watch the boonies nightclub act of “The Haynes Sisters” (Rosemary Clooney as Betty. and Vera-Ellen, of wasp-waist fame, as kid sister Judy. Did you know that in the “Sisters” number, Clooney sang both parts? ). Bing is immediately smitten with older sister Rosemary, but there is a tiff over the fact that younger sister Judy fooled them into seeing their act: she, not her brother, had sent the letter asking for a “favor.”

This is the first revealed of many lies woven into the script. This one is a double beach of ethics: Judy uses her brother’s name and contacts without his permission or knowledge, and lures Wallace and Davis to the night club under false pretenses.

Bing dismisses Judy’s cheat by noting that everyone “has an angle” in show business, so he’s not angry. Rosemary is, though, and reprimands Bing for being cynical. That’s right: Vera/Judy uses their brother’s name to trick two Broadway stars into watching their little act, and Rosemary/ Betty is annoyed because Bing/Bob (Bing’s bandleader, look-alike, sound-alike brother was also named Bob) shrugs off the lie as show business as usual. True, Betty is technically correct to flag the Everybody Does It rationalization, but shouldn’t she be grateful that Bob isn’t reaming out the Haynes sisters and leaving the club in a huff? OK, nice and uncynical is better than nice and cynical, but Bob is still giving her and Judy a break.

As we soon find out, however, Betty is prone to flying off the handle.

Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Popular Culture, Workplace

Comment of the Day: “Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…”

Blogger and esteemed commenter here Rick Jones shares my passion for theater and is also, like me, a stage director, but seldom has a chance to weigh in on that topic. My post about the troubling lyrics in “Standing on the Corner,” the best known song in Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella” gave Rick a chance to swing at a pitch in his wheelhouse, as the baseball broadcasters like to say, and he didn’t disappoint.

I want to clarify something from the original post. Having noted the lyrics, I was no way  criticizing them or the song, or the musical itself. Older shows are valuable and fascinating in part because they serve as windows on past cultural values and attitudes—that was one of the reasons for the ambitious, important and doomed mission of the theater I have been artistic director of for the last two decades. Such politically incorrect references should never be excised in performance.

“The Most Happy Fella” is a slog, however. Ambitious, sure, but too long, too sentimental, and with too many unavoidable “wince points,” as I call them, to make the show worth the huge investment in talent, money and time that it takes to produce competently. Any time the best songs in a musical are the ones that have nothing to do with the plot (“Standing on the Corner,” “Big D,” and “Abondanza!”, which in in the clip above) it’s ominous. The 1925 Pulitzer Prize-winning hit play this pseudo-opera was based on, “They Knew What They Wanted” by Sydney Howard, is much better.

Here is Rick’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Now That Was A Rape Culture…”: Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Literature, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

Now THAT Was A Rape Culture…

I just happened to be surfing past the  Broadway Channel on Sirius XM, and found myself startled at the tone of the lyrics of that Hit Parade smash from the 1956 musical, “The Most Happy Fella,” by the great composer/lyricist Frank Loesser, “Standing on the Corner (Watching All The Girls Go By)”—especially at the end:

Saturday, and I’m so broke
Haven’t got a girl, and that’s no joke
Still I’m living like a millionaire
When I take me down to Main Street and I review the harem parading for me there..

Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by
Standing on the corner underneath the springtime sky!

Brother, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking
Or for the “Woo!” look in your eye
You’re only standing on the corner watching all the girls
Watching all the girls, watching all the girls
Go by!

Nobody saw anything wrong with these sentiments in 1956. It was fun, it was cute, it was innocent! A bunch of guys hanging out, leering and ogling women as they walked on the sidewalk, with “woo”—that is, lust— in their eyes and illegal thoughts in their brains, and periodically wolf-whistling at “the harem.”

Sometimes we forget—sometimes women especially forget—that our culture’s ethics regarding sexual etiquette and respect does advance, and has, as much as self-serving activists would have us believe otherwise.



Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Popular Culture, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote of the Week: Ampersand on “Alas! A Blog”

Into the Woods

There is no reason in the world, other than Hollywood’s endless racism and lack of imagination, for this movie (or the original play, alas) to have an all-white cast. Why do movies feel like they’d rather die than show us a diverse cast? (And please don’t say “they cast the best people for the roles.” I thought the whole cast was good, but Streep was the only one who turned in a performance so unique that you couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the role.)

—–Ampersand, a.k.a. Barry Deutsch, opining on the assets and deficits of Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of “Into the Woods” on his blog

I hate to pick on Barry—OK, that’s not true, I enjoy it immensely—but this statement could stand as the distillation of knee-jerk liberal thinking on race, and it is wrong in so many ways that I hesitate to start counting. The sentiment, however, poses a nice counterpoint to the discussion here about the black James Bond controversy, so I can’t resist taking aim at it.

1. So casting a mega-million dollar film—-in a dicey genre (Have you heard? Big budget Hollywood musicals died in the Sixties…) and a limited audience—with actors who comport with that audience’s expectations of the musical the film is based on is racist, eh? More unfair words and inexcusable race-baiting were seldom uttered in word or written in ink. If a director had a vision that supported casting African American actors in traditional Grimms’ fairy tale roles and could make it work, I would salute him, but Rob Marshall had other priorities. He knew that every cut would be scrutinized and attacked by the Sondheim fanatics (which, by the way, are as white as a dove convention in a blizzard); he knew that the show itself was seriously flawed; he knew that every single adaptation of a Sondheim musical (“West Side Story” doesn’t count) has been a critical and box office bomb. He had every reason to keep his casting choices as close to the traditional images of the characters and the way they were portrayed on Broadway, and none of those reasons were racism.

2. It’s impressive how casually a race-obsessed progressive will accuse a professional of racism as a first response. Irresponsible, unfair, disrespectful, and in this case, ignorant of both commerce and art. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Professions, Race

On Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, And Ethics Of Applying Political Correctness To Art And Literature

Cultural events earlier this month brought to light, on two continents, the problem of maintaining the integrity of art and literature under the onslaught of political correctness.

In Sweden, a controversy has erupted over the re-broadcast of a 1969 television adaptation of the Pippi Longstocking books, the children’s classics authored by Astrid Lindgren. The Swedish national TV station, SVT, announced that it is revising a scene from the 1969 television series about Pippi  which she says her father is “king of the Negroes,”a direct quote from one of the stories. Believe it or not, this has set off a contentious national debate.

The family has approved the station’s  desire to change the TV version, but is keeping the term in future editions of the books. In 2006, the family added a preface explaining that today, the word is considered “offensive,” but that when the books first appeared, “Negro was a common expression for people with black skin who lived in other parts of the world than ours.” That’s a sensible solution. Period and context is important in art and literature: the urge by some to constantly purge the world of any reference, word or attitude in past creations that seem out of place now leads to a form of cultural self-lobotomy. Erik Helmerson, a columnist at Dagens Nyheter, an influential Stockholm newspaper, called the changes a form of censorship. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that people are offended by the N word,” he said in an interview. “I’d never use it myself.” He even called revising the TV series  “a huge interference into freedom of speech.”  “Where do we draw the line? What do we cut and what do we keep? Who should decide? Who needs to be offended before we cut a word?” Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Etiquette and manners, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society

Ethics Quiz: Critic Ethics

How I love critics...

How I love critics…

This is a delicate one for me; the names have been omitted and details disguised to protect…well, for a lot of reasons.

Last week I posted about the mixed-gender version of “I Do! I Do!” I directed for The American Century Theater, which I co-founded and where I am the artistic director. The show met all my objectives and expectations, even surpassed them, and until today, all of the reviews have been raves.

Today, though, a non-rave came out on a local theater website. It is the kind of review I detest, where the standard of the critic is “why didn’t you do it this way? That’s what I would have done.” The answer to that is, bluntly, “Direct your own damn show, then.” Snap judgments from one-time viewers, even extremely sophisticated ones, about what they would do if they were the author, actor, director, or designer of a stage production—when if truth they never have been or could be—are inherently unfair, incompetent and also obnoxious. After considering and experimenting and testing various artistic approaches to any problem over months of preparation, meetings and  intense rehearsal with a large production and artistic team, any production deserves the respect of being assumed to have considered and rejected for cause other solutions, which for various reasons didn’t work.

This is not, of course, a professional reviewer, though a reader could only know that from the quality of the review. Among other tells, the critic misidentifies which performers sing what, and the whole concept of non-realistic sets seems to be alien to him: yes, dear, we could have afforded a four-poster bed; the director felt the show would be better without one, and in fact, it is. Okay, the reviewer is a boob: that’s fine; most theater reviewers are.  I would not make an issue about one sloppy and badly reasoned amateur review, because if I did, I’d be in a padded room.

However, after the review was published, I learned that our company had a prior experience with this reviewer: he had been on the crew of a show last year, and we had to fire him. In 17 years and over 80 productions, he is the only person to be fired from that particular job.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz with a theatrical bent:

Does a critic who has a past relationship with a theater company whose production he or she is reviewing have an ethical obligation to disclose it as part of the published review? Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Jumbo, Professions, Quizzes

An Inclusive “I Do! I Do!” for A Post-DOMA U.S.


I wasn’t going to mention my current theater (at Arlington, Virginia’s American Century Theater) project here, until I dropped Ethics Alarms’ conservative warrior Steven Mark Pilling a note on Facebook that I had just posted on the topic he is most passionate about, preventing the abuse of child actors in Hollywood. Steven is not, to say the least, a fan of gay marriage (this might be the topic he is next most passionate about) , and I realized that my Facebook thumbnail, showing two same-sex couples in an intimate moment from my show, might put him off.

The show I just finished directing ( with the assistance of Quinn Anderson and my musical director Tom Fuller)  the old Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones chestnut, “I Do! I Do!”, ( Remember “My Cup Runneth Over, Ed Ames fans? Hello? ) the tw0-actor Broadway musical based on the 1950 play “The Fourposter.” Back in 1966, when Robert Preston and Mary Martin starred in the musical, it was considered an affectionate and  perceptive look at the institution of marriage, and the show has attracted nostalgic, usually elderly married couples to regional and dinner theaters ever since. Productions of  “I Do! I Do!” are becoming rarer, however, because the societal developments have rendered the tale of the epic marriage of Agnes and Michael Snow increasingly alien to the current American scene. In particular, what was once a musical intended to speak to all married couples and candidates for future nuptials now appears to exclude the very group that comprises musical theater’s hardiest supporters: gays.

In marked abandonment of my theater’s usual principles (we don’t update shows, believing that it is more interesting and fair to the authors to let audiences reflect on what has changed since an original production, and what has not), I decided that for the benefit of audiences, the culture and the show itself, it was time to re-conceive “I Do! I Do!” so it would gain renewed relevance and vitality in a post DOMA age. My approach, courageously and generously approved by the authors, was to show the marriage of the show’s couple through a constantly rotating prism that alternately revealed them as a same-sex female couple, a same-sex male couple, and the traditional heterosexual couple of the 1966 version. This required four very versatile and gutsy actors who could pull off the illusion of showing one marriage three different ways without giving the audience whiplash or confusing them hopelessly. In Steve Lebens, Esther Covington, Chad Fournwalt and Mary Beth Luckenbaugh, I found the dream cast. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Love, Popular Culture, U.S. Society