News & Features » Miscellany

"Evening at the Pops" loses its polish when it veers from its tried-and-true formula.

A Comedy of Errors

by

comment
Brush Up Your Shakespeare
PBS-TV
8 p.m.
Thursday, June 24

Stick with what you know best.

That's a bit of advice that "Evening at Pops," celebrating its 30th season on PBS-TV this summer, would do well to follow.

Capitalizing on the recent popular interest in the Bard of Avon, "Evening at Pops" kicks off the season with "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." The program's title is from a song in the Broadway musical "Kiss Me Kate," which was based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." Appearing with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra are Shakespeare & Company, one of North America's most popular Shakespeare performing groups.

The program mixes music and drama, presenting scenes from "Romeo and Juliet," "Richard II," "Othello," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Macbeth," along with the music they inspired: Verdi's "Otello," Cole Porter's "Kiss Me Kate," Mendelssohn's "Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream," Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" and Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story."

The music is precisely what you've come to expect from the Pops — well-orchestrated, well-played, and designed to delight an audience of romantics. It's also clear that Boston station WGBH, which produces the Pops series for PBS-TV, has learned over the course of 30 years exactly how to broadcast a Pops concert: Every shot of the orchestra and its conductor is exactly on time and is specifically calculated to show the viewer how the music is being made. In addition, the pace of the cutting is just fast enough to keep even the most jaded MTV palate satisfied. In short, WGBH could write the textbook on how a large orchestra should be shot for TV.

But "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" can't meet that same standard when it comes to the staging of its Shakespearean dramatic scenes. The visual tautness that "Evening at Pops" has mastered so well when it comes to music disappears when the actors show up. The cameras can't keep up with the dialogue. Characters are seen — when they shouldn't be — taking their places for the next scene. The cutting is tentative, and there's a sense of uncertainty, as if the director were working without a script.

The actors bring audio problems onstage with them, too. Microphones sputter and pop. Scenes begin off-mike when that's not the way it's supposed to be. Clothing gets in the way of microphones. In short, the crisp audio clarity and fidelity that is the hallmark of the broadcast's music is completely absent from the dramatic scenes.

"Brush Up Your Shakespeare" is not a total write-off, however. Host Claire Bloom and Shakespeare & Company do bring to life, despite technical difficulties, some of the Bard's most beloved scenes, and the music, of course, soars as always.

But WGBH would do well to invest as much time and forethought into the drama of such productions as it clearly invests in the music. And if that's not possible, then "Pops" should just stick with what it knows best and leave televising drama to

Add a comment