Nilsson Able to Make His 'Point' Again

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Giant bees, balloon people, Rockman, Leafman, a blue dog and a little boy in exile--it's the return of "The Point," Harry Nilsson's musical fantasy about prejudice in a land where only the pointy-headed are acceptable.

A stage version of the 1971 animated feature, which won several film festival awards, opens Saturday at the professional Chapel Court Theatre in the Hollywood United Methodist Church.

Harry Nilsson is quite pleased.

"I've seen the rough run-through," he said. "It's like visiting an old friend--I'm really glad it's being staged. From what I saw, it's a good cast and everyone's working their tails off."

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter-producer Nilsson, 50, was a big part of the wild and free '60s pop scene; major artists, including John Lennon, were fans. He recorded several albums and wrote hit songs for groups as disparate as Three Dog Night and the Monkees; many went platinum and gold.

In 1971, Nilsson's television special "The Point" was a prime-time triumph when it premiered on ABC. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman (Ringo Starr narrates the home video version), with music and lyrics by Nilsson and based on a story he wrote, it was the first made-for-TV animated feature to be produced in the United States. One of its songs, "Me and My Arrow," made the Top 40.

Written for adults as well as children, "The Point" is the story of Oblio, a round-headed boy born into a land where everything and everyone has a point. For being different, he's banished with his dog Arrow to the Pointless Forest. His odyssey there shows him that he does have a point in life. The cartoon and Nilsson's music are notable for quirky, satiric humor and floating free association, reminiscent of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine."

Recent years have been quieter for Nilsson. He's now the father of six, ages six months to 14 years and he continues to write and perform songs for film and television productions. "Popeye," starring Robin Williams, is one of his movie scores; he also sings on the new Terry Gilliam film, "The Fisher King."

Of the songs he has written especially for the stage version of "The Point" "to fatten up the score a bit," one of them, "Blanket for a Sail," can be heard on Walt Disney Records' recent benefit album "For Our Children."

"Nobody can sing those songs like Harry Nilsson sang those songs," said Esquire Jauchem, who adapted and is directing the Performing Arts Conservatory production. He's trying to stay in Nilsson's "laid-back mood" with a live rock band and additional songs from other Nilsson albums.

"It's going to be a little different from what anyone has seen previously," Jauchem said. "It's a fun show, lots of crazy characters, puppets, dancing--there's wonderful choreography by Janet Eilber." Eilber is a former Martha Graham star dancer.

Jauchem first adapted the film for the Boston Repertory Theatre stage in 1975. It was restaged in 1976 and 1977 at the Mermaid Theatre in London's West End.

"The rights were tied up for a number of years" after that, Jauchem said. Because so many people were involved in the making of the cartoon, "there was some controversy as to who owned it and who had the right to do what with it.

"That took over 10 years to get resolved," he said. When it was, Jauchem began making plans with Nilsson to restage the show.

"Harry and I used to bemoan the fact that for so long we couldn't do it. I thought, well maybe its time has come. There's now a big revival of '60s and early '70s music, like it's come full cycle."

"We had already agreed on the potential stumbling blocks," Nilsson noted, "and all the problems were solved in advance, so he's going ahead and staging it as we agreed to over the years."

According to Jauchem, the current production includes one 8-foot-tall character, "the three Fat Sisters--balloons with clothes on them--and fog and strobes and bubbles to accentuate the comic, colorful aspect of it."

Oblio's faithful Arrow is played by an oversize fluffy blue puppet, operated by designer Pierre Vuilleumier.

"We've wrapped the show around the audience on three sides" of the 66-seat theater, Jauchem said. "And our production designers have done a lot with moveable pieces that turn around and turn into other things.

"We also do a lot of stuff out in the audience: the bees attack, the townspeople are coming in and going out, the narrators are sometimes out in the audience, the Fat Sisters fly overhead."

(Nilsson describes the story as "the world's longest pun.")

Jauchem hopes audiences--adults and children--will "have their consciousness at least tweaked a little bit, if not raised."

"I think that's why little kids get so attached to it," he said. "Somewhere it touches them inside in a way they identify with it. I think they get that what happened to Oblio happens to them in little ways: They don't get picked for the school team and they have that feeling of not being included, and being made to feel they're not OK."

Nilsson will be satisfied if they "walk out humming 'Me and My Arrow' and think about what fun they had."

All three would like to see the show eventually move to a larger venue where Oblio can "really fly" and the production can expand. Or as Nilsson puts it, "I hope that someone with a lot of money sees it and puts it on in a big theater. That's really where it belongs."

* "The Point," Chapel Court Theatre in the Hollywood United Methodist Church, Franklin and Highland, Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m. Indefinite run. $10-$17.50 Opening night benefit and reception for the Performing Arts Conservatory, $50. (213) 874-4527.

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