Five Months of Guffmania

From: Dan Lybarger

August 3, 1997

Many Hollywood executives wonder to themselves if their movies will appeal to Midwestern audiences, or if they "will play in Kansas City." Director Christopher Guestís comedy Waiting for Guffman has easily met that challenge. After almost five months, Guffman is still playing to full houses at the Fine Arts Theatre in Mission, not bad for a low-budget movie scheduled to go to video on August 12.

For those who havenít seen it, Waiting for Guffman concerns the efforts of the outrageous and effeminate community theater director Corky St. Clair (Guest). He is trying to mount a stage production of the history of his town, Blaine, MO. Corky and his talentless collaborators hope that their play will appeal to Broadway talent scout Mort Guffman.

Guest is best known for starring in and co-writing the cult favorite This is Spinal Tap. Both movies are pseudo-documentaries and both were primarily improvised.

All of this acclaim comes as a surprise to Fine Arts proprietor Brian Mossman. He recalls, "We originally had it scheduled only for two weeks. We had no idea it would last this long. Sixty percent of the shows (last week) sold out. Weíve added a matinee since last week. There were 30 or 40 people in for a 2:30 p.m. (weekday) show. Youíd think people would have to work, but theyíre still coming in."

Although Guffman has opened to good reviews and a small, but respectable gross ($2.7 million for a movie that cost less than $2million), Kansas City has taken to the movie more than most other cities in the US. Mossman explains, "When I talked with Sony Classics (the distributor), they told us that we had the longest run in the country on a consecutive basis. Maybe people in other cities have brought it back from time to time, but weíve had full show times from the opening. This is probably the longest run Iíve had since The Gods Must Be Crazy (which ran 85 weeks). We played (Gods) before video hit in the mid-eighties. Itís really hard to get a long run now even in the major cities."

Part of the movieís growing cult in this area may have to do with the region. The filmís on-target but gentle satire of community stage seems to resonate for a lot people. According to Todd McClary, an Ottawa, KS resident who has been a veteran of community theater productions, the movie might mean more to residents of this area than in other parts of the country. "I think a lot of the appeal has to do with the fact that itís set in a small, but fictitious Missouri town. Thereís also a significant appreciation of non-Equity and community theaters in the Kansas City area. I think people recognize the subject matter more so than they might recognize slick Equity or touring productions. Those arenít nearly as numerous."

McClary has seen the movie three times, partially because it recalls his own experiences. He states, "Corky St. Clair and the couple with the matching sweat suits (Fred Willard and Catharine OíHara) are people I know under different names and contexts in community theater. There are a couple of people who remind me of Corky. Even in small towns the ĎCorky typesí somehow find these community theatres."

Guffman has also appealed to those who arenít familiar with the world portrayed in the film. Royal Scanlon has seen the movie seven times, and likes Guffman even though he has never lived in an area like Blaine. He says he likes the film because itís funny and because of its tone. He explains, "Guestís portrayal of Corky St. Clair is done in a loving way. Itís not demeaning. It just says this is how this character acts and reacts. When people are trying out for the play, (the tone-deaf) Dr. Pearl (Eugene Levy) is completely unaware of reality when he gets up and sings, and Corky St. Clair loves it and thinks itís brilliant. That just adds to the charm of the character and the movie."

He adds, "Itís a wonderfully freeform sort of movie. Itís like a bunch of actors just got together and played. Some of it just makes you double up with laughter. We need more of that in this world."

It should be noted that Kansas Cityís fondness for the movie isnít unprecedented. Speaking by phone Angela Johnson, a publicist for Castle Rock Entertainment (the company behind Guffman), says, "There are other theaters that have reported this back to us. I know here in L.A. it was the celebrity following at the theater it was playing at. Winona Ryder came four times and she kept bringing people, and all these celebrities were coming to see this movie. Everybody loves the characters."

While the film has made the Fine Arts a popular place, Brian Mossman has an awkward confession to make. "Iím so busy with all my businesses, I havenít had a chance to watch the whole thing yet."



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This page was last updated on 10/29/97.
Ó 1997 Dan Lybarger


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