Wednesday, September 18

'The Ten Commandments': A musical journey


Director Robert Iscove sheds light on the Max Azria production

It’s not at all surprising that Robert Iscove is feeling
under the weather. As he spoke by phone last week during his lunch
break, the director, whose credits range from the bubble-gum
romantic comedy “She’s All That” to choreographer
for the Academy Awards, was in the middle of rehearsing a project
so ambitious that it’s tantamount to parting the Red Sea
““ literally and figuratively. That’s because about
eight months ago, Iscove was tapped by fashion mogul turned theater
producer Max Azria (of the eponymous and ubiquitous BCBG line) to
helm “The Ten Commandments,” a glossy pop musical
version of the story of Moses set to make its U.S. premiere Sept.
27 in Los Angeles. Despite feeling overwhelmed and rundown by a
rehearsal process that he affectionately refers to as “the
madness,” the highly unusual circumstances surrounding
“The Ten Commandments” are not lost on Iscove. He
admits that the idea of working with Azria and his producing
partner Charles Cohen, two men with little to no theater
experience, did originally give him a moment’s pause. He also
readily acknowledges some of the challenges involved with opening a
show at the Kodak Theatre, a venue famous not only for acoustical
problems but also untested as a home for a big Broadway musical.
That the Kodak is in Los Angeles, a city accustomed to receiving
musicals only after they have been vetted either in smaller markets
or on Broadway, only adds to the sense of risk. Not to mention the
logistical nightmare that any production of this scale means: a
cast of 50 led by the notoriously temperamental Val Kilmer as Moses
(though Iscove insists Kilmer’s reputation is a myth ““
the actor is a joy to work with), brand-new songs by
Madonna’s former composer Patrick Leonard (the songs from the
original French musical on which “The Ten Commandments”
is based were deemed aesthetically wrong for an American audience),
and, of course, that pesky Red Sea business. Nursing a well-earned
stuffy nose, Iscove attempted to explain just what it was that made
him make the leap of faith required to direct “The Ten
Commandments.”

dB Magazine: What attracted you to directing this show?
Robert Iscove: You rarely get an opportunity to mount something
like this in Los Angeles. So having the challenge of doing
something like this here was really appealing. L.A. is usually a
very tough theater town. dB: Are you worried at all about not
having workshopped the play somewhere else first?
RI:
We’ve done performances with small groups of invited people
already. But as in any show, until you’re doing it in front
of an audience, you just don’t really know. dB: How did
you get past your initial concerns about working with producers
with no theater experience?
RI: Max’s enthusiasm
overcame that. He is such a spiritual person, and is doing it for
all the right reasons. dB: What will be different about this
version of Moses that we haven’t seen before?
RI:
Charlton Heston was the Moses for a ’50s generation, which
was fine. But I wanted to ask, what is the Moses for this
generation? He’s more approachable. He’s questioning
why he was chosen to do this all along. He gets that quiet moment
on the top of Mt. Sinai when he’s saying to God, “Tell
me why I’m doing this.” This Moses is expressing all of
our doubts and fears as far as the question of why should we be
spiritual. dB: Does the wild financial success of Mel
Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” make you
hopeful about prospects of another Biblical story like “The
Ten Commandments”?
RI: When I go in to do a show I
can’t do it thinking that, oh, since this film was successful
then this show will be, too. I just have to make it as good as I
possibly can. The state of the world today is probably what’s
making people be receptive to stories like this one. Although this
is a piece of entertainment, it does still have relevance. dB:
Do you worry anyone might be offended by telling this revered story
through pop music?
RI: I would beg to differ (with someone who
felt that way). In the 16th and 17th centuries, Mozart was a very
popular composer, and people then would say that Mozart
shouldn’t be composing a requiem. dB: There have been
reports that the special effects have caused the show to go over
budget ““ any hints on what we might be able to expect?

RI: Well, we’re going to part the Red Sea on stage. dB:
How are you going to do that?
RI: You have to see the show. It
doesn’t do anything to describe it unless you actually see
it. It’s part of the magic of theater. -Sommer
Mathis

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