Last week I saw a concert version of the old Kaufman/Ryskind musical Of Thee I Sing at Carnegie Hall. (Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin.) The concert version was directed by Tommy Krasker and starred (among many, many talented actors) Bryce Pinkham and Denee Denton. The evening was narrated by a very funny Mo Rocca.
Considered bold and daring in its time – it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 – it was interesting to see how topical certain aspects of the musical were – a less than qualified candidate gets elected to the office of the President of the United States. Actually it was interesting how some of the jokes written 86 years ago still resonate today.
And although there were several good laughs there were also many moments where the writing fell flat but the piece held up because of the acting and singing and by the Master Voices chorus and orchestra. In watching the show I was reminded several times that not only has the craft of playwriting advanced significantly in the last 85 years but so have acting styles. I wasn’t around to see any of the 441 performances Of Thee I Sign that played at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway but I am a huge fan of the films of that era – the pre-code films.
Many of those films dealt with the ills of society and were so blunt in their depiction – America was neck deep in its worst economic depression – the government stepped in and forced Hollywood “clean up” its act by imposing the Hays Code on all films made in the United States. The Hays Code ushered in the era of the “feel-good-endings” – an epoch that stifled artistic growth and expression in the film industry in America for nearly fifty years.
If you watch any of the 400 + films made during the pre-code era you will see a good deal of “over-the-top” acting. Many of the actors in those early days of “talkies” came out of vaudeville or had legit theatrical backgrounds where the style was more presentational rather than the representational style we’re used to today. But a lot of actors who were to become major movie stars cut their teeth on those pre-code era films.
Actors like Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney, Claude Raines, the Barrymore’s – all of them –John, Lionel and Ethel, Spencer Tracy, Leslie Howard and many, many more stood out in these early films for their naturalness. And as the movie audiences got more and more sophisticated this naturalness brought forth a revolution in film acting long before the Group Theatre or the Actor’s Studio were established.
This “revolution” in acting continues today but whereas in the pre-code days only a few actors subscribed to it now it is the norm. And I think we all benefit from it. Of course there are some films made today that push the limits of acting, every Stars Wars film, except the first one fall into this category, but we go to to see films like this more to marvel at the technical effects than we do for quality acting or story telling.
Watching the concert version of Of Thee I Sing last week at Carnegie Hall, I thought how lucky I was to be alive now, in this era of acting where, for the most part, authenticity and realism is the goal. Had I seen the original musical, with the sensibilities I have today, I know I would have been disappointed. But because the actors I saw preform Of Thee I Sing were trained to be real instead of just being big, I enjoyed it.
For more on this fascinating pre-code film era click here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Code_Hollywood
Sumalee Montano – booked guest starring roles in: Kevin (Probably) Saves The World (TV); Dynasty (TV- new version).
Susan Santiago – booked guest starring roles in: The Hate U Give (TV – filming now); How To Get Away With Murder (TV).
Jessica Raaum Foster – The Institute of Reading Development (industrial film)
Don R. Williams – The Brave (TV); Notorious Nick (feature film) This film was cast by a former student, Kathy Partak. Rock on, you guys!!
Julie Feskoe – Hallmark commercial.
Diana Craig – booked a co-starring role in Billions (TV).
Let us know the next time you book something so we can spread the word.
Commercial Level 1: 13 Nov. – 18 Dec. (two spots left)
Camera Scene Study: new session starts 5 Dec. 12017 – 6 Feb. 2018 (off 26th Dec. and 2 Jan.) Registration for this class is now open.
For more information about these classes go to: https://johnhowardswain.com/classes-2/
If I don’t see you before, have a great Thanksgiving!