The Sweet Sound Of The Music Critic

The Music Critic is a very entertaining short evening of music and comedy, featuring John Malkovich as the most acid-tongued critic in music history. The show is currently on tour with upcoming dates in Chicago and New York, before departing on a European tour. See for more information.

First some general notes about attending live theatrical performances in Los Angeles: We don’t do it enough. Theaters are closing, on hiatus (the Mark Taper), or barely filling up as was the case the other night when I went to see John Malkovich perform in The Music Critic.

It is very hard to get people in LA to leave their homes, or to go East of the 405 if they live in West LA, and to go downtown if they live pretty much anywhere else (even downtown).

But it is worth it. Each time I actually turn up at a performance, I am glad I did (almost every time in any case). There is nothing like the experience of seeing someone perform for you on the stage and sharing that moment with a room full of patrons as eager for the experience as you.

Created & conceived by Aleksey Igudesman, a Russian-born violinist, who also performs in a comedy duo with the show’s pianist Hyung-ki Joon, the show is an evening of short classical pieces, performed with brio by a quintet of performers.

Malkovich who has become such a singular presence in movies that he oftens appears to be playing himself, here appears as the meanest, most effete, music critic ever – and we buy it fully.

The format is simple: The musicians perform a piece by a noted composer such as Dvorak, Beethoven, or Bach, and Malkovitch reads from some of the worst reviews of their work. I wish I could recall all the insults, and clever putdowns in which the assorted critics demonstrated their own cleverness. But Malkovich delivers them all with conviction, and the appropriate dollop of snobbery. So, for example, Tchaikovsky himself delivers this appraisal of Brahms in his diary: “‘I played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms — what a giftless bastard!'”

Or this critic’s appraisal of the talents of Chopin: “Mr. Frederic Chopin has, by some means or the other which we cannot divine, obtained an enormous reputation too often refused to composers who possess several times his genius. Mr. Chopin is by no means a composer of the ordinary; he is worse.”

Claude Debussy, is simply just “ugly.” And what of the great Beethoven? He is, in the music critic’s estimation “Bizarre.”

As the evening progresses, each of the musicians gets their moment to shine, and in some cases the opportunity to skewer Malkovich himself.

Igudesman, as the show goes on is able to show himself to be both a accomplished musician and performer, as well as capable of performing in a manner that is itself comic, such as playing with half a bow, or on his knees genuflecting, or standing, or even dancing a tango while still playing.

Go see The Music critic for an evening’s amusement amd for the pleasure of seeing Malkovich at work.

Now, as a digression or a more general comment on the Music Critic which reminded of musical comedy performances of an earlier era – Anyone remember watching Victor Borge on the Ed Sullivan show?

When I was younger, I felt like the general population of adults around me had a greater classical education than we do today. Whether because they listened to orchestras performing on their radio, or played records, or even listened to the classical music radio station, there was a certain fluency in knowledge of Classical composers. Leonard Bernstein was on the Tv regularly performing his young people’s concerts, and figures from the classical music world including conductors, pianists and vocalists such as Arturo Toscanini and Arthur Rubenstein, Vladmir Horovitz, Robert Merrill, were all celebrities and household names who appeared on talk shows, and on variety shows and specials.

As a corollary, or complement of sorts, there used to be comic entertainers whose acts were musical, and classical, and humorous all at the same time. Names such as Liberace, Oscar Levant, and, yes, Victor Borge were international sensations, not to forget those original musical comedians, the Marx Brothers, (Harpo with his harp, and Chico with his finger pointing playing style – and Groucho the song and dance man), and of course Jack Benny and his violin.

They all seem like from another era, long, long ago – and they are. But last Friday night, while watching The Music Critic, I thought of them all again. And I laughed……

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