Tag Archives: musicals

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

Comment of the Day: “Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?”

WordPress, for only the second time in three years, was kind enough to include my recent post about Stephen Sondheim’s footnote lament that musicals were the only art form largely reviewed by incompetents. This has brought a lot of new visitors to Ethics Alarms, and I hope they are interested in ethics as well as musicals. One such new reader is a Prof. Ratigan, who apparently does some reviewing himself. Here is his Comment of the Day, on the Jan 3, 2013 post (Here’s something weird—last year’s Jan.3 post was also about Sondheim!) Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?…

Two points. The first is the literacy issue. I think it’s interesting that it would appear that a good reviewer is either a novice or a master where everything in between is amateur. I’ve been reviewing movies for the past year (on a blog) and I’ve definitely felt that in my own stuff. The more movies I watched and connections I could draw, the more it became apparent how much I really needed to do to become proficient. I needed to read a lot more literature, read a lot more scripts, and watch a lot more movies. Otherwise, I would start to create a context but have a nagging feeling that the director/writer/actor (who are often scholars of film) might/probably know more than me and were doing something else. It seems that these musical reviewers aren’t expected to take the next step from reviewer to analyst. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Comment of the Day, Popular Culture, Professions

Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?


OK, but Stephen: compared to you, everyone is an ignoramus!

Stephen Sondheim completed his personal memoirs about his career in American musicals more than a year ago, but they are so thoughtful, detailed and dense that I keep discovering new treasures, provocative observations by a first-rate mind. Yesterday, I found one that was buried in a footnote, in the middle of a technical tangent that most readers, like me in my first tour through the books, probably skimmed.

Sondheim pointedly did not use his erudite analysis and reflections in his two retrospectives (“Finishing the Hat” and “Look! I Made a Hat!”) to settle scores with critics, a group that obviously annoyed and to some extent handicapped him over the course of his long career. In this brief footnote, however, the composer/lyricist delivers a withering verdict:

“The sad truth is that musicals are the only public art form reviewed mostly by ignoramuses.”

At the end of the note, he repeats the indictment, this time changing the description to “illiterates.” Sondheim is accusing theater critics of engaging in professional conduct they are incompetent to perform, rendering expert opinions that are not really expert, and as a result, misinforming the public and undermining the efforts of serious artists, like him.  If he is right, not only are the critics unprofessional and unethical, the media organs that hire and publish them are unethical as well. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Journalism & Media, Literature, Popular Culture

“Legally Blonde” Life Lessons at Loveland High

"I am also high school principal!"

“I am also high school principal!”

As a frequent stage director of musicals, I am so glad this didn’t happen to me in my more excitable days. I may have done something rash that would have had me running ethics seminars from inside a jail cell.

When school administrators combine laziness, absence of diligence and common sense, ignorance, blatant disregard for fairness and abject stupidity, it is remarkable the amount of damage they can do. The administrators at Loveland High School in Cincinnati fired the teacher, Sonja Hanson, who directed its student production of the Broadway musical “Legally Blonde” and cancelled the show because her staging was “too racy.” I have not seen the production, obviously, but I know the Broadway show and the movie, neither of which has material in it that would corrupt the morals of any high school student not home-schooled in Carlsbad Caverns. Similarly, the staging that appears in a YouTube video of the show indicate nothing inappropriate for a high school in 2012.

The many students who labored long hours on the production saw their efforts go to waste; the parents and friends of the performers, techies and orchestra members never had the chance to see the musical performed; and the teacher lost her job. All of this was for one reason and one reason only: the principal who initially approved the show had neither the courage nor the integrity to stand up to critics when they began their attacks, and rather than accept responsibility for the production that had been approved and stand by the students and their teacher, the pusillanimous administrator allowed the show to be cancelled and the teacher to be made a scapegoat. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Education