A helpful reader has pointed La Cieca to an interview in the current Opera News, a publication she picks up all too infrequently, alas. But the chitchat between Brian Kellow and Francesca Zambello is just too delicious to ignore. Ms. Zambello is the director of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a show that just last week postponed its Broadway opening for a month. The official reason given was the stagehands’ strike, but maybe, just maybe, the musical needed a little more work. Out of town critics hated the show, particularly the direction:
Zambello has allowed emotion, charm and enchantment to be drowned in a sea of bewilderingly over-stylized designs …. visual incoherence, plus some not always useful elaboration of a simple, disarming storyline, make what should have been a slam-dunk for stage presentation a waterlogged misstep …. if Disney Theatrical chief Thomas Schumacher‘s aim in enlisting Zambello and team was to develop another eye-popping theatrical event to transcend the kid-fare label, he needs to keep fishing. (Variety)
Zambello takes pains to explain “in a remarkably un-defensive tone” that even without a massive marketing effort, a show with the obscure and forbidding title “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” still managed to sell a lot of tickets in Denver. The damning review in Variety she dismisses as (literal) nepotism, since, as she points out, the editor-in-chief of the showbiz rag is the uncle of Roger Bart, who is the star of Young Frankenstein: The New Mel Brooks Musical. (Having both shows on Broadway simultaneously obviously would split the the “bazoom and fart joke” demographic so key to the success of a Disney musical.)
“Critical standards are dubious at best,” sighs Zambello, whose life partner, Manuela Hoelterhoff won a Pulitzer Prize for cultural criticism at the Wall Street Journal. But, hey, fuck critics anway, because (says Zambello) “Ultimately, the public speaks. What matters is that you make money and that the public is with you.”
Zambello, you will recall, directed Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met back in 1992, a staging that lasted exactly two seasons and then was shelved forever. But the important thing to remember here was the reaction of the public on the opening night:
Then again, these people are probably all related to Roger Bart too, so never mind.
While La Cieca is thinking about it, she should mention she’s just finished Kellow’s Ethel Merman: A Life and heartily commends it to the Mermaniacs in the audience. Not a whole lot of new ground covered here (for the super-scholarly approach, you’ll have to go to Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman) but the style is lively and witty. Brian’s tome is based on over 100 new interviews with representatives of The Merm’s army of friends and foes, with lots of characteristic details about the diva’s foibles. (See, for example, Kaye Ballard‘s pithy critique of Merman’s less-than-stellar nightclub act.)
And for those of you who are wondering: Jacqueline Susann? Never happened, except in Jackie’s fevered imagination. And Benay Venuta was a big old liar.