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Thursday, March 11, 2010

So you think you can dance!

Entry made in collaboration with Naldo.
A lot has been written about the faillure of the musical "Mata Hari" during the course of the years since it's inception, often targetting the perfomance of Marisa Mell as the main raison for this faillure. What people forget or mostly do not know is that Marisa Mell was a classical trained stage actress at the famous Austrian Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna, a fact that not many other Eurocult actresses could present on their CV's. She had followed the whole repertoire to get her degree like courses in singing, dancing, fencing, horse-riding, drama, comedy,.... This musical was directed by Vincente Minnelli. What does he remember from this production as written in his autobiography "I remember it well":

(Vincente Minnelli in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, US, 1984)

"David Merrick asked me to join him in London to talk about the project of a musical centering around Mata Hari. He had already proposed to me other subjects, but I had found none of them interesting enough. The second half had still to be written, but the first part was so exciting that I accepted right away... even if I hadn't been working in Broadway for almost thirty years! Theater world had changed a lot. Back in the old days, preparing a show was always a pleasure; nowadays, it was sort of slave's work. It was out of the question to have people not syndicated, let alone demanding them to supply efforts if it was not written on their contracts... I was used to the more flexible rhythm of working in the cinema world, and I had already forgotten how difficult it was to organise rehearsals and put together a show. I tried to write down the second half of the show, along with Merrick, keeping on mind a clear conception of the main character. Mata Hari was always described as a spy, even as a femme fatale, while in fact she remains a mystery. Many historians have said that she was falsely accused and executed. I wanted audiences to leave the theater wondering about this woman's real personality. Even if it was a very demanding work, I thought it was essential to develop this aspect of the character. At the beginning of the second part of the show, Mata Hari is having an affair with the private of the National Bureau who was supposed to arrest her, but in the end he falls in love with her. I had in mind the scenery of a Swiss mountain house, with a background of birds singing, kind of an impossible dream. The forest where Mata Hari was to be executed had to be occupied with a group of soldiers, who were supposed to remind us of the terrible fate that was to come. While I was on rehearsal, Irene Sharaff worked on the wardrobe. I had showed to her some pictures taken from old newspapers, and we settled that every scene of the show should have a predominant colour. This would range from soft yellow and grey to orange and brown. I had already worked with Irene in movies, but this was the first time we worked together in the theater, which was her main territory. I have to say that she did a wonderful job on the wardrobe, being as good as what she did in « The king and I », both for cinema and theater. On the other hand, I was having some difficulties working with the main stars of the show: Marisa Mell who was Mata Hari, and Pernell Roberts who was playing the private. On top of that, Jack Cole the choreographer got sick and the scenery was not working as well as I had expected! Marisa Mell was very beautiful and she sang really well. She was playing some of the sequences with particular charm, but some of the musical parts demanded her a lot of work. I think that she was not well suited for the part. She loved the theater, no doubt about that, but she was much more interested in her private life! Pernell Roberts had just left the successful tv show « Bonanza », where he was not allowed to show his capacities as a baryton singer. He had played that part with a piece of hair that he refused to wear on our show, and prefered to present himself with his bald head and a long beard. He explained that he wanted to show some authenticity and destroy his public image as a tv young romantic lead. When we arrived at Washington D.C., we had to rush rehearsals as we couldn't postpose the première of the show. David Merrick announced to the audience that they will see the « avant-première »… and then everything went from bad to worse. Scenery and wardrobe changing took much more time than expected, resulting on uncomprehensible delays. Nevertheless, I have to say that after two weeks all these problems were more or less arranged and some people even come to say that they enjoyed the show! Anyway, David Merrick being a very realistic person, took the decision to cancel the show – which had costed almost a million dollars- and so we never reached New York. We remained good friends!" (French version of his autobiography)

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