Moonlight & Magnolias

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

01/04/2008 - 20/04/2008

Production Details

Find out what really happened during the making of Gone with the Wind.

Moonlight & Magnolias was the original title of the famous American Civil War story, Gone with the Wind by 1937 Pulitzer winner Margaret Mitchell.  The book was sold for $50,000.00 US for the screenplay, and is the most ever paid for a novel.

The play takes place in Hollywood in 1939 during the week when legendary producer, David O. Selznick, fired the original director and secretly shut down production of the film, determined to rewrite the script in only five days and nights.

He engages the reluctant services of ‘script doctor’ Ben Hecht – who has never read the book – and director Victor Fleming straight off the set of The Wizard of Oz.

With his studio and reputation on the line, and the press on his tail, Selznick locks the doors, holds his calls, and orders brain-food of peanuts and bananas. Selznick begins to act out the epic novel to Hecht, who types up the dialogue, with Fleming playing the other parts. 

This play is a race-against-time, with 1930’s and 40’s Hollywood slapstick, repartee and physical theatre.  The New York Daily Post said, ‘Frankly my dear, this is one funny play.’

Based on fact, the ‘inside-story’ of the Hollywood production of the greatest movie ever made by the heavy-weights of the silver screen is an exhilarating ride back to a golden era in movie-making. The movie, Gone with the Wind went on to become one of the greatest movies ever made.  It premiered in Atlanta, Georgia in the summer of 1939, and has been re-released nearly every two years since. 

Moonlight & Magnolias debuted in 2004 at the famous Goodman Theatre in Chicago before receiving its New York presentation the following year at the legendary Manhattan Theatre Club.   This year it will be the fourth most produced play by professional theatres across America. 

David O. Selznick - Julian Wilson
Victor Fleming - Matt Wilson
Ben Hecht - Malcolm Murray
Miss Poppenghul - Anna Henare

Set Design - Peter King
Lighting Design - Alan Surgener
Costume Design - Maryanne Wright Smyth

Stage Manager - Elizabeth Webster
Set Construction - Peter King, Matt Best
Lighting Operator      Rebekah Sherratt
Lighting Support - David Good, Martyn Roberts
Sound - David Good
Props - Elizabeth Webster, Brendan van den Berg, Maryanne Wright Smyth

Gone like the wind

Review by Anna Chinn 07th Apr 2008

"The blood-red sky … Then what?"

Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight & Magnolias tells us this is how the screenplay for Gone with the Wind was begun from scratch by Ben Hecht in the office of producer David O Selznick, just a week before the cameras rolled on the great 1939 film. Hecht, called in as a rewrite man, has not read Gone with the Wind, hence Selznick’s reply: "Then Fleming and me act out the book for you." And this imagined statement summarises the plot of Moonlight & Magnolias. It is not quite the play based on the movie based on the book, but rather the behind-the-scenes play of the movie of the book. [More]  


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Frankly my dear, it’s a great play

Review by Barbara Frame 07th Apr 2008

Moonlight and Magnolias was the working title of David O. Selznick’s 1939 film of Gone with the Wind, and Ron Hutchinson’s play imagines the process of turning Margaret Mitchell’s much-loved novel into a movie. Production has broken down and Selznick has hired Ben Hecht, apparently one of the few Americans who haven’t read the book, to rewrite the screenplay in five days.

The two shut themselves up with director Victor Fleming, and a supply of peanuts and bananas, to incubate the script. Amid mounting squalor the madness and fights of the accelerated gestation give way to periods of introspection and sober examination of the entertainment business.

Murray Lynch’s snappy direction brings out excellent characterisation. Julian Wilson is all focused determination as Selznick, Matt Wilson’s Fleming is both suave and abrasive, and Anna Henare exploits the comic possibilities of Miss Poppenghaul, Selznick’s secretary, to the limit.

The most sympathetic character is Ben Hecht, clinging fiercely to his Jewish idealism while battling exhaustion, moral outrage and the conviction that he’s working on a flop. Malcolm Murray plays him an engaging mixture of toughness and charm.

Selznick’s remark about Gone with the Wind that "It’s a melodrama," applies equally to Moonlight and Magnolias, but this is a melodrama with more heart than most. In this play about the film of a book, the hilarious plot synopsis of the novel embedded in the script tells you all you need to know if you’ve never read the novel, seen the film or even heard of Scarlett O’Hara. Last night’s near-capacity audience had a great time.


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Classic screwball comedy given sleek, confident production

Review by Terry MacTavish 07th Apr 2008

"Find out what really happened during the making of Gone With the Wind", promises the blurb, accompanied by a seductive image of a barely-covered Scarlett clasped in Rhett’s arms.

Initially it is a little disappointing to find the secrets to be fully uncovered are not those of the glamorous actors, but of the behind-the scenes team of producer David O. Selznick, director Victor Fleming, and their reluctant scriptwriter, Ben Hecht. But there is no time to repine as we are instantly swept up in the cracking pace of this lively production, apparently based on fact.

"You didn’t read the book?!" screams Selznick to Hecht. "Everybody in the world has read the book!!" Because everybody has indeed read Gone with the Wind (or seen the film of course), this play has immediate popular appeal, but it is because the hijacked screen-writer has not read it, that we have a play at all.

Selznick, his film on the brink of disaster, has shut down production for a week, while he locks Fleming and Hecht into his elegant Art Deco office (courtesy Peter King) to gestate "a scenario I can believe in."

Efficient secretary Miss Poppenghaul is ordered to supply them with bananas and peanuts, which Selznick designates brainfood, but which suggests he regards his minions as monkeys.  As Hecht didn’t make it past the first page, which he contemptuously dismisses as ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’, the other two must enact the entire novel, while he makes frantic efforts to type their gorgeously camp rendition into a workable script.

Actors across the nation will be salivating at the thought of the splendid opportunities offered for virtuoso performance. Director Murray Lynch and his very able crew have bagged the New Zealand premiere of this hit, however, and they don’t miss a trick.

Julian Wilson is tight-arsed and fabulous as the driven Selznick, hounded by his off-stage father-in-law, MGM head Louis B. Mayer, but determined to realise his vision. "It’s my studio and I can do any damn thing I want." He switches from character to character with enormous aplomb, convincing as all and ravishing as Scarlett.

He is ably seconded by Matt Wilson as producer Fleming who has been pulled off The Wizard of Oz to help with the rescue. ("You mean I don’t have to go back to the Munchkins? I can live with that…The little bastards were singing, ‘The bitch is dead’!") Wilson, who dazzled Dunedin in multiple roles in Stones in his Pockets, has a ball alternating saintly Melanie giving birth, with dawdling slave Prissy. These two are responsible for some of the best purely physical comedy I’ve seen outside the circus, and add zest to the already witty script.

As Hecht, the cynical yet idealistic ex-journalist, Malcolm Murray has less scope to be madly versatile, but on him depends the play’s attempt to be more than merely entertaining. As a 1930s Jew, Hecht is the one who is sensitive to the inherent racism of a novel that glorifies the slave-owning South. Murray conveys just the right manic intensity to make Hecht a convincing though not altogether sympathetic character. His attempts to impress his views on Selznick, actually a fellow Jew, provide some of the play’s few reflective moments, notably at the beginning of the second act, by which stage all three men are verging on nervous collapse. Although rather disappointingly nothing is really resolved, this makes for a brief period of welcome calm, just as all the clever sniping and shouting is in danger of becoming tiresome.

Lovely Anna Henare as Miss Poppenghaul is far less well-served by the script, but still delights as the increasingly distraught and dishevelled secretary, scampering on and off, babbling, "Yes Mr Selznick, No Mr Selznick!" Pity she didn’t get the chance to don a crinoline and play Scarlett, really.

The whole cast project an excellent sense of period and show great stamina in maintaining a punishing pace to distract us from the predictability of the plot. After all, we know that the movie will be a wild hit (how clever are we?!), though all but Selznick are sure it will be a turkey.

Altogether this is a sleek, confident production of a play that has carefully mixed its proven ingredients. In recent Fortune productions Hitchcock Blonde turned the movie backstory into a gripping mystery, while three contrasting characters locked up together made a superb psychological study in Someone who’ll watch over me, but in Moonlight and Magnolias these elements become something else entirely.

Author Ron Hutchinson, a successful screen-writer himself (despite the distinction of having won the Golden Raspberry for Worst Script of 1996), is clearly in love with the halcyon Hollywood of the thirties, the larger-than-life characters and smart frothy dialogue, and he has concocted a classic screwball comedy that slips down as easily as any cocktail.


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