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The Scarlet Pimpernel

Saturday Night Fever

Camille Claudel

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22 December 1999

Part Three of Four. Back to Part Two...

NR: As for the future, they're going to do the national tour, which Douglas told me will last for two years.

NK: It's a two year tour.

NR: It's confirmed only till August but I assume other dates are coming up. So, the people in other states will hopefully get a chance to see it.

NK: If they want the show, and it's not scheduled for their town yet, they have to get in touch with the theaters in their towns. Start writing letters and saying, "We want Pimpernel."

NR: And Douglas is only doing through L.A., correct?

NK: As far as I know. He's doing New Haven through L.A. I don't really know any casting beyond that.

NR: Is there a chance that Pimpernel will do a European tour?

NK: Yeah. There's interest in Australia, Japan, England, and Germany. And I may be leaving something out, but I know of those.

NR: When do you think the rights will be available for smaller groups like community groups or schools?

NK: I think you're better off asking somebody else than me. I know there are some kind of strictures and I'm really not sure.

NR: On to Saturday Night Fever - how do you go about adapting a movie?

NK: In this case, there was no question because the producer, who was Robert Stigwood, simply said, "I want the movie up there." Those were the parameters - always. There were some times early on when Arlene Phillips, the director, and I sort of dipped our toes into the water of reconceiving it for the musical stage.

NR: Well, you changed Monty by creating him from two characters.

NK: Yeah, things like that we had to do. There's an enormous number of changes but they're done in such a way that most people don't recognize them. I had to take information that fell in three or four different scenes and put them in one scene. Over and over again I had to put in new dialogue because of the transitions and those sort of things, but I don't think people know that either. But Robert really wanted the movie up there. There was a character of a grandmother in the movie and also in London. Arlene and I both felt that the second act was too gloomy, and also that the family was just left hanging. We really felt that we wanted to have a scene going back to the family, and to develop the grandmother more as a comic character. One of my drafts does that but Robert didn't want anything new or different from the content of the movie. In this case, it was really just take the content of the movie and try to make it as seamless as possible. For me, the most important thing was pulse, that you flew from one scene to the next, and that music be there all the time. If it wasn't there, it was there within the dialogue, and that there was never a feeling of stopping and going stale.

NR: You don't have camera angles like you have in a movie to transition scenes.

NK: Exactly. Essentially the show tries to capture that feeling of cross-cutting, and I think we do it pretty successfully. I think that when movies are adapted for the stage like Footloose or Big...every time you turn around, somebody's bought up another movie because producers today are really wary and they want to do a property that they feel has some sort of built-in guarantee. I think the mistake they make sometimes is thinking that just because something is a successful movie, it will be a successful show. That's just not always the case.

NR: Big is an example of that, but Footloose is hanging in there.

NK: Uh, huh. It is hanging in there, and Saturday Night Fever is doing extremely well.

NR: I know. There's always a line at the box office.

NK: It's really heartening because "my friends" the critics, were again...

NR: You got good reviews in London, didn't you? So, what was the difference?

NK: Yeah, we got good to mixed. Nothing bad.

NR: What was the difference between London and New York?

NK: I think a more unforgiving group of critics.

NR: Was it because it's a New York story and they're more familiar with it?

NK: In London, the critical system is different to begin with. Most critics come on Opening Night, the way that it used to be on Broadway, and they don't view their reviews as pieces of literature. They just view them as something that they're running home and dashing out and printing. They tend to be shorter and they tend to be more relaxed. A typical review that we got for Saturday Night Fever in London was, "Well, you know, you could quibble with this or quibble with that, but it's fun. It's great dancing. Go and you'll enjoy yourself." That's actually the kind of review we got from Time Magazine. I remember when I read the review that Time Magazine gave Saturday Night Fever, I thought this is what all the reviews here should have been, because actually Saturday Night Fever in New York is a better show in almost every way than it is in London.

NR: And it's not great literature. It is what it is.

NK: It is what it is. What I love about Saturday Night Fever is the dancing. I always stuck around for dance rehearsals. That was my favorite part. To watch these kids do these dances is so exciting. I never get tired of watching it - ever. They're just so dynamic and so good. I love Arlene's choreography. It's very sexy, it's very sexual, earthy choreography and I love it. I hope she gets recognized for that come Tony nomination time - God only knows if she will. I think her work is fabulous. I don't know. I feel a little bit cynical about the reviews for Saturday Night Fever. I feel most of the critics had decided what they were going to write before they walked in the theater and it's disturbing. I was just at the theater the other night. I go over about once every week to ten days, take a look, see what's going on, give some notes and stuff. I was sitting with Perry Cline, the Stage Manager, and at the end of the first act, I turned to him and said, "I totally do not understand how this show got such bad reviews." I really meant it. I hadn't seen the show for about three weeks at that point, and I looked at it and I thought, "This is entertaining. This is fun and it moves and it pulses. The dancing's great. Why rip this thing to shreds?"

NR: Personally, I don't think that you were going to win. I read one review that said your adaptation just took pieces of the movie and strung them together. Well, isn't that exactly what an adaptation is?

NK: Right.

NR: Then you were criticized for being too close to the movie, and in another one, you were criticized for not being close enough. You couldn't have won.

NK: No. I also think that there was a bit of an agenda going on in terms of critics thinking, "We have to fight this whole movement of bringing in these rock schlock musicals. This kind of show is a threat to what the Broadway musical is supposed to be, and we want to boot it out of town as fast as we can." I don't know. It's sort of the "intellectually elite" point of view. I didn't feel the kind of pain that I did with Pimpernel, for a lot of different reasons. It really did make me feel disillusioned, because even though I know now that things are not always fair, I still believe that they should be fair. I don't believe that this show got a fair rap. I think the reviews should have been like the Time Magazine review, or the London reviews. I think the reviews should have been "It ain't art, and it's the movie transferred to the stage - it's not reconceived, but you know, these are really attractive, fun, talented kids and they're dancing and they're singing. You'll enjoy it and at the end you get to stand up and dance along and it's a fun evening. Go and have fun." The thing that's interesting to me is that I have people in my building, "conservative investment banker-type" people, who will pull me aside and tell me, "I loved it." My whole feeling about the critics is that it's all Emperor's New Clothes and the critics tell the people what they should think. Then, even before the critics tell people what they should think, there's word of mouth on the street during previews that gets through to the critics telling them what they should think. And it's all Emperor's New Clothes. It goes both ways too. It will often be that way about a show that's supposed to be "the second coming" that isn't really that good. People will hear, "Oh, it's incredible. It is a masterpiece. It is brilliant." Then other people are afraid to say, "I didn't like it very much." When word is that a show is lousy, people are afraid to say, "I like it." So you're always dealing with that phenomenon, and I'm determined at some point to write a show or a play that's based on The Emperor's New Clothes because to me it's so much a part of life, people being unable or unwilling to stand up and say, "Hello. The emperor is naked." No one will do that and I feel that Saturday Night Fever is fun. It's entertainment. Want to have some fun? Go see it and have some fun. That's the way it should have been reviewed and it wasn't going to happen.

On to Part Four...

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