Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An original new movie musical arrives: Paul Chau's LIFE OF AN ACTRESS: THE MUSICAL

There are so few new and original musicals these days -- it's all of the jukebox variety, with at least half of them schlock -- that the idea of one popping up on your local movie theater screen is, at the very least, enticing. Imagine: a new musical with original songs, characters, story and plot. Be still, my heart. Further, this one has a cast of professionals who can sing and dance and act, and who've already made their mark on Broadway and elsewhere.

LIFE OF AN ACTRESS: THE MUSICAL has a cast in which there is not a lemon in the bunch. The story -- of three actresses/waitresses (above: age 25, 30 and 40) continually trying to crack into the big time, middle time, even the small time, by landing a role -- is a perfectly acceptable one, if certainly tried and true. And the performances are so good -- real, energized and, as the parlance goes, always in the moment -- that watching them work is a pleasure.

But what about the music and lyrics, which of course supply the measure by which a musical lives or dies? You had to ask. The writer and director of the film, as well as the man responsible for the music and lyrics, is Paul Chau (above, second from right, with some of his cast members), whose only other film, according to the IMDB, was the 2009 thriller called Scalp, which, to the best of my knowledge, was never released. Mr Chau's work here is not acutely embarrassing, in the manner of last week's Isn't It Delicious. It's simply... well... not very good.

Mr. Chau has bitten off quite a bit more than he can chew. It pains me to have to say this, too, because the movie does have its moments, some scenes that are rather nice, and a few songs that work pretty well. And the actors are good enough to merit better, which is, in its way, the most difficult part of watching Life of an Actress. You keep praying, hoping that it will take off for the sake of these performers who are clearly giving it all they've got.

And it does take off, sort of, in the final, title song, in which all that we've been watching comes together. But by then it's too little, too late. The major problem here is that Chau's music sounds far too much alike from song to song (featuring style and tempo that are too similar), while his lyrics are the sort that rhyme "bad" with "sad" and use not-quite-rhymes too often along the way. (Chau does flirt with a tango tempo in one song, but it comes to little.)

Everything is unnecessarily repetitive, as well. How often must we hear that Carlos and Jen (above) should be together, or wonder whether Sandy will give in to that slimy, would-be producer or if maybe Charlie's coughing is going to lead to something worse? Too often, as it turns out.

The movie does try to show us bits and pieces of its titular "actress' life" -- the ridiculousness of auditions (three photos above), the difference between SAG and non-SAG performers (in one of the better songs from the movie, above), the frustrations of the "callback." And its tackling of the specific fears of the aging actress, brought to wonderful life by Orfeh (shown below) in the film's best performance, is brave and moving. She takes, as do the other performers, Chau's straw and spins it into something approaching, well, at least gold leaf.

As a filmmaker, Chau has much to learn. His movie literally cries out for split-screen work and added energy from its opening number onwards. Whether his budget was simply too minimal to allow this, I don't know. He finally gives us a touch of split-screen in a much later number, as well as some choreography and chorus work, but the filming is mostly pedestrian.

In the role of the youngest actress, Jen, Taylor Louderman (above, left) is nimble and cute, while Allison Case (below), as the intelligent, on-the-cusp Sandy, brings occasional fierceness a bit of fire to the proceedings.

In the male roles, Bart Shatto (below, left) as the diner owner, Charlie, and Xavier Cano as Jen's boy, Carlos (shown two photos up, at right), are both fine, with Mr. Shatto particularly compelling. His final scene, which ought to be silly, he and Orfeh manage to make moving instead. And, as the villain of the piece, Richard H. Blake (below, right) proves mean, smarmy -- and sings well, too.

I can't honestly recommend Life of an Actress: The Musical to anyone except die-hard musical fans, who might want to catch it for its occasional moments.  They're there, all right, along with all the rest. The movie opens this Thursday, December 18, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's NoHo 7, and here in New York City on Friday, December 19, at the Quad Cinema.

Personal Appearances at New York's Quad Cinema: 
Q&A with director and cast moderated by Michelle Park (TV Host & Lifestyle Expert) after the 6:30 PM show on Saturday, December 20. Q&A with cast moderated by Paul Chau (Producer and Director) after the 6:30 PM show on Sunday, December 21. Q&A with director and cast moderated by Paul Wonterek (Creative Director & Editor-in-Chief of Broadway.com) after the 6:30 PM show on Monday, December 22. Q&A with DP Ben Wolf and Editor Dan Loewenthal moderated by Paul Chau (Producer and Director) after the 6:30 PM show 
on Tuesday, December 23.

No comments: