Thursday, January 16, 2014

Spelling Bee Exploits Nerdy Teen Theme

When you combine nerdy teens and simpleton teachers in a 2.5 hour musical play, it’s a thin premise for many theater goers.  Such is the complaint with the  “Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Schneider Theater in Bloomington.
I was recruited to be in the audience for a dress rehearsal last night and I left after the first act.  The young performers are spirited and professional, the sets and costumes are great but it’s not enough to sustain two acts.  Unless one or all of the teens turn vampire I can’t see how this got better.  If the second act was better than the first then they should have just skipped the first.
Several non actors from the audience were recruited to be spellers.
The opera singer who was a standout in ‘Les Miz” is a highlight in the close of the first act ensemble song and dance big number.  This Afro American actor at about seven feet  tall is an enormous talent, but he is cast in the stereotypical street hood role as a “hall monitor.”  “Magic Foot” is a big first act number that might have been inspired by Busby Berkeley.  “Spelling Bee” seeks to profit from the success of “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Grease” and would be promising for several local high schools here.
A professional “laugher,” reminiscent of the laugh track from 1950s sitcoms, cackled and screeched like a banshee for most of the first act and into the intermission.  She must have been sitting on a bowl of feathers, because the gags built around the students spelling aren’t that hilarious.

Obviously the Bloomington Civic Theater is tempting 20 and 30 somethings to drop their I Pads and see “Spelling Bee,” but that may be a risky strategy.  The civic theater had a good run with “Singing in the Rain” and “Les Miz”.  But think of the people who paid big bucks to see “Spelling Bee” on Broadway.  — Dave Zarkin

Saturday, January 04, 2014

CW Affiliate Stumbling With HD Technology

“We’re doing the best we can,” Gwen, the CW TV affiliate general manager said in reply to my complaint that the video resolution of syndicated programming is “soupy” and unwatchable.  I think I touched a sensitive nerve  because Gwen and the chief engineer said they are broadcasting the syndicated shows in “standard definition.”  
But in truth even “standard definition” would be a dramatic step up from the gauzy resolution on WUCW-23.  It is as bad as the 100 resolution on some YouTube videos and I suspect that there is a lot of processing of the media that happens to account for this mess before it goes on the air.  I would love to get a tour of their master control room.  Could they be videotaping on an old RCA VHS recorder from the thrift store?  
Apparently they didn’t get the memo that the Twin Cities TV stations switched to HD about six years ago. I tried watching reruns of the comedy hit “Community” and that prompted my mid-winter outrage.
Gwen claims that they will have HD in March.  We’ll see.  Presently the two hours of CW programs and the Arsenio show are the only HD entries on that channel.

The WUCW (owned by Sinclair) is reminiscent of the Al Yankovich movie “UHF,” about a dysfunctional low budget TV operation.  Yet WUCW is a quasi-network affiliate in a major market so they need to step up and spend some money on new Japanese equipment.