Hollywood’s Heyday on Stage in Vertigo’s “Moonlight and Magnolias”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Movie history took over the Masonic Temple stage Friday as Vertigo Theatrics opened its 14th season of dinner and dessert theatre in downtown Flint with a Ron Hutchinson comedy,  Moonlight and Magnolias.   Could it be that more emotion, drama, and angst went into the writing of Gone With The Wind than even the film itself portrayed?

Set in the Hollywood studio office of producer David O. Selznick, the time is 1939 and one of the greatest films of all time is about to be born. This peek at the supposedly wild gestation period and final birth of the script makes for a comical evening’s entertainment.

Producer Selznick’s movie isn’t doing well. The novel has been “read by everyone” and he is determined to reproduce it exactly as Margaret Mitchell wrote it – even to using only her dialogue. He has shut down production until an acceptable script and director can replace the disastrous situation at hand.

Clearly an era of no unions, Selznick, played with gusto by Matt Morgan, summons script doctor Ben Hecht (Benjamin J. Segal) to rewrite the script. One problem, Hecht hasn’t read the book! No problem – Selznick commandeers Victor Fleming (Marwan Prince) from his post directing The Wizard of Oz where he’s having trouble coping – he slapped Judy Garland! These two will act out the story for Hecht and he can write from that.

Now Selznick’s angst over this film that he’s sure will be a classic takes over.  His solution is to lock the three of them in his office with only bananas and peanuts as sustenance until the script is completed. That’s where the fun begins.

Morgan’s mincing portrayals of Scarlett and Melanie are spot on and delivered without relinquishing his clear dominance. His near manic enthusiasm is what seems to bind the trio.

Prince plays a man’s man with little time for unprofessional behavior which makes his moment acting out the birth of Melanie’s baby so unique.  He balances the comedy and the character’s stress well.

Segal sets this story’s tone from the top with his “I haven’t read the book!” said in as many ways as possible.  His portrayal of the high-principled artist proclaiming, “ No Civil War movie ever made a dime!” continues on target as he tries to walk out but is lured back by the healthy Hollywood paycheck.

The situation degenerates as the three lose suit coats, then shirts and finally even pants as the five days that they agreed to drag by. Even Selznick’s secretary Ms. Poppenguhl (Ann-Marie Christman) begins to look glassy-eyed and disheveled.  Each scripted scene emerges after much shouting, threats and one funny moment when the gents test out ways to appropriately slap young Prissy by slapping themselves in rapid turns.

Director Ted Valley’s set is Hollywood-appropriate with its grand desk backed by large windows to the studio lot. Film photos are framed on the wall with Selznick’s name inscribed in large script centered overhead.

If there’s a flaw in this production it would be that the diction at times obscures what’s being said.  Acoustics at the Masonic often swallow speech when actors face away, and speed of delivery can also add to the problem.

Still, Moonlight and Magnolias is a fun and entertaining backstage look into Hollywood’s heyday.  To add to the fun at this production, an exhibit of GWTW memorabilia is on display from the collection of Kathleen Marcaccio who was on hand Friday to answer questions and trade memories.

Performances continue through October 2. For tickets and information contact Vertigo Theatrics at 810-239-7469 or online at www.vertigotheatrics.com .

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