When Garbo Talks: A Theatrical Review
Whoever said that theatre wasn’t written for the older generation of theatre goers anymore needs to re-think their statement. Buddy Kaye’s production of When Garbo Talks, now playing at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center in the International City Theatre is a production of true imagery and spectacle.
Telling the story of Greta Garbo, the beautiful and glamorous actress who made a name for herself with the early stages of the motion picture industry with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, When Garbo Talks is a musical production that spells out not only the historical knowledge of Garbo, but many of the intimacies of her life. Originally Greta Gustafsson, a Swedish young actress discovered by Swedish director Mauritz Stiller is sucked up by the conglomerate that is MGM by Louis B. Mayer himself. Eventually, after loosing her friendship with Stiller and being held to a contract with Mayer, Garbo became the first real female performer of the silver screen. She was notoriously private with a reclusive lifestyle, but her beauty and mystery gave her the ability to both demand and receive treatment and pay equal to that of her male counterparts.
With an elaborate set of elegant gowns to accentuate her personal Angelina Jolie looks, Jessica Burrows portrays a Greta Garbo that is both mystifying and wonderful. Her vocals exceed the rest of her cast, as does her presence which is how it should be with her portraying the character of silver screen icon Greta Garbo. Accented by a wonderful baritone voice provided by Michael Stone Forrest, portraying Mauritz Stiller, Garbo finds her true calling in the world of motion pictures. Life deals her more than a few blows, many of which are delivered by the demanding and possessive Matthew Henerson, portraying Lois B. Mayer, who is a truly fine actor in his own right. She learns to let herself love a man in the character of John Gilbert, portrayed by Christopher Carothers, but in the end cannot allow her to sell out to anyone by Garbo. Touching only loosely on the questions of her personal sexual preferences and the various wild rumors that ran freely about her life, When Garbo Talks is actually about the finding, creation, development, and implementation of the woman who the world of the silver screen knows as Greta Garbo.
The script as a whole is a bit confusing. With moments of emulating Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick from the Producers in the characters of Louis B. Mayer and Eddie, and other moments of romantic love and antics of South Pacific with Greta and Mauritz Stiller as well as Greta and John Gilbert, it almost seems as though the writer was desperately attempting to copy others success. Yet on the other hand with his own original lyrics, and information gained mainly from the work of his father’s passion, When Garbo Talks stands on its own. True, there are many that will not find this production their particular cup of tea, to quote a pun. There are others, however, that will sing its praises for a production that is written about iconic figures of the past that helped to shape the present.
The production offers a live musical accompaniment offered by Brent Crayon on the piano, Oliver Steinberg on the bass, Eli Hludzik on the drums, Adrienne Geffen on woodwinds, and Billy Thompson on the keyboard. It offers an ever changing set, which occurs in the dark in front of the audience, designed by Stephen Gifford, brilliant costuming designed by Kim DeShazo, and delightful direction by Jules Aaron. The International City Theatre is perhaps one of the most elegant theatres in Los Angeles County, and the arena in which it is located – a bustling section of downtown Long Beach – makes this location, theatre, Production Company, and yes this production a success.
When Garbo Talks runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM through November 7, 2010. The Long Beach Performing Arts Center and ICT is located at 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach, CA 90802, and reservations for tickets can be made by calling 562-436-4610 or logging onto www.InternationalCityTheatre.com.
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