A name like Candy Darling belongs with "Peter Pan," not a disaster like "Censored Scenes From King Kong," a pint-sized "extravaganza" a couple of blocks north at the Princess. Candy (if I may make so bold) is "dance captain" of last night's addle-brained exhibition, and she's also listed as understudy for the two girls, one plump and one skinny, who break into clumsy dance steps now and then. I don't know whether Candy is plump or skinny, but she's sure lucky just being an understudy and not having to climb up there into this godawful mess to talk and sing and hoof, things I don't think she's ever going to be called upon to do. Candy Darling is a pretty name. "C.S.F.K.K." is a lousy evening. The worst.
It gets its name from the search of a distracted young Londoner - he supposedly wakes up in Japan after having been missing for five years, and is promptly sent back to London with a mission - for some reputedly censored love scenes from the movie classic "King Kong." (Actually, the only scenes cut from the 1933 release were a few - they were excised when it quickly became clear that early viewers were taking the big ape to their hearts - showing Kong going ape over natives, gnawing at them and throwing them away and tramping on them, things like that.) Mixed in with this search, which involves several strange encounters and mistaken identities, are his old gang consisting of a journalist, a black piano player and two girls, the four of them trying to work up a nostalgic "Ha-Cha" (that's London spelling for "Hot-Cha!") nightclub act. The '30s-type club is the permanent setting.
There are six people in "C.S.F.K.K.," all of whom have done respectable work in the past, so that one can't imagine how they got into this. There is also an offstage pianist and recorded music, and there are six dumb songs, three to each act. The players try on English accents because this is an English show, and wouldn't you know it. I think it's supposed to be funny, like one of those English jokes.
Getting back to Candy Darling, though: Candy (if you'll forgive the familiarity), the theater isn't all fun, but it's not all this bad, either. Honest. Mosey over to the Lunt-Fontanne when you're free, which should be any minute now, and see for yourself.
Obviously even in a theatrical season as bad as the present something had to be the worst - even though the competition is rather stiffer than usual. But somewhere out there, there is a gold medal to be claimed by the unutterably awful, the stupendously bad, the pitifully dismal.
The season still has a fair distance to run. However I doubt whether anything is going to outmatch in horror a little number called Censored Scenes from King Kong, which for some reason beyond rules of common sense or commercial propriety, recklessly opened at the Princess Theater last night.
The Princess Theater was previously known as the 22 steps. Actually after last night's debacle I personally think it should be called the Duchess Theater or even the 21 Steps. Some note of falling off should surely be taken. No theater is quite the same after an experience like this. This was a show that had a flatness that could de-bubble champagne, extinguish a coloratura soprano or turn a Reubens woman into a beanstick. Fun it was not.
It is an English export - probably the most tedious since William Penn - that follows roughly along the lines of such camp, hysterical, pastiches as The Rocky Horror Show and Bullshot Crummond. However in both of those shows the authors were clearly parodying a specific genre. Like them or lump them, their purpose was apparent.
The purpose of Censored...Kong is anything but apparent. The supposition seems to be that certain scenes were censored from the original Fay Wray version, and that the censorship had some political motivation. The action takes place in an unsuccessful night club in Wrapping, a district in London nowadays distinguished for almost nothing but its name.
The author - always presuming one goes along with his fantasy of that grandeur - Howard Schuman tried desperately to be facetious at the expense of not being funny. His humor is limp-ankled and could not walk its way to the post office to deliver a message. There is music by Andy Roberts, but in fairness you are not likely to notice it. There are a couple of choruses of No Business Like Show Business and I trust ASCAP is arranging for Berlin to receive royalties. Why should everyone suffer?
The play includes, indeed embraces, the rehearsals for a night-club act that is deliberately awful. It succeeds beyond its dizziest dreams.
I am depressed by the camp sensibility - homosexual in origin but nowadays frequently heterosexual in exploitation that insists that if the bad is bad enough it is good. Maria Montez never was Eleanor Duse - even with both legs, she wasn't even Sarah Bernhardt - and these '60's style camp extravaganzas are strictly for the birds. The dodo birds.
The otherwise distinguished English producer Michael White and Eddie Kulukundis should be ashamed of themselves for wasting New York's time and money. The cast and the director, a London film cameraman, can regard themselves as ignored but forgiven. They ought, however, to have some purposeful dialogue with their agents.
"Censored Scenes from King Kong" by Howard Schuman, an American writer living in London, is billed as "a comic extravaganza," which might be considered a case of mistaken identity. This British import, which opened last night at the newly named Princess Theater on Broadway - the former 22 Steps and the late Latin Quarter - is sparse on laughs and about as spectacular as a cocktail piano, the centerpiece of scenery in this awful exercise in what the author calls the "camp dialectic."
Actually, the story has possibilities. It is Mr. Schuman's notion that certain scenes in the movie "King Kong" were supposed to provide information to secret agents, but were cut for European consumption, forcing the spies to wait for "Son of Kong." Why was "King Kong" censored and what was left on the cutting room floor? On the track of this mystery, a former investigative journalist (Stephen Collins) travels from Tokyo to Brixton, and keeps running into Peter Riegert in a variety of villainous disguises.
Mr. Collins's confidants are four quondam friends, associates in a tacky nightclub called the System (all symbolism is intentional). Chris Sarandon is the tough proprietor of the club and Edward Love is his faithful piano player. They are stand-ins for Bogart and Dooley Wilson in "Casablanca," which only confuses the movie motif. Carrie Fisher and Alma Cuervo are the Fantoccini Sisters, singing, dancing, wisecracking and changing costumes. With some desperation, this quartet is trying to get away from the 60's. As Mr. Sarandon says, "We're traveling light into the 80's," and, watching the show, we have no reason to doubt his veracity. "Censored Scenes" is as whimsical as it is witless. It rates as sub-Monty Python.
As if aware of the rockiness of the venture, the author, in concert with his director, Colin Bucksey, frequently undercuts his own work with voice-overs - a producer and playwright with English accents as thick as treacle censoring scenes from "Censored Scenes."
Wearing a smile as bright as satin - she can even grin through clenched teeth - Miss Fisher resembles her mother, Debbie Reynolds, while playing a pocket-sized version of Ethel Merman. Her character is Little Miss Show Business, with a brassy rejoinder for every question. Miss Fisher, who is the most pleasant aspect of the show, has a strong singing voice. Unfortunately, Andy Roberts's brief score is unmusical. Periodically, the actress also offers bars of "There's No Business Like Show Business."
As her partner, Miss Cuervo is a kind of mock-Monroe, wearing a blond wig and fluttering her eyelashes while breathily emitting such comments as "Divoon!" Mr. Collins is sorely saddled with the role of the bedraggled hero, but Mr. Sarandon manages to inject a note of caricature into his role as the slick opportunist.
In one of his ubiquitous incarnations, Mr. Riegert plays a collector of King Kongiana, a crippled man supported by two metal walkers. The actor does a soft shoe, spreads sand on the stage and neatly clicks his canes in place - with a certain humorous intensity. The actors make "Censored Scenes" occasionally tolerable, but they are unable to keep Mr. Schuman's craft from capsizing. Perhaps Miss Fisher has the last word when she says, "What a load of banana oil!"