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Friday, December 11, 2009

Zac Efron introduces new generation to artistic genius in Me and Orson Welles

click to enlarge WELLES AND GOOD: Richard Samuels (Zac Efron, from left) and Orson Welles (Christian McKay)
  • WELLES AND GOOD: Richard Samuels (Zac Efron, from left) and Orson Welles (Christian McKay)

In the High School Musical movies, Zac Efron has a Pied Piper-like effect on his classmates, who always fall behind him in perfectly choreographed song-and-dance numbers. If there's any justice, Efron will cast the same spell over his fan base and entice teenyboppers to line up in lockstep for the effervescent new film Me and Orson Welles. Today's Tweeting teens could use a course in the old-school pleasures of Shakespeare, live radio, and one of cinema's most prodigious talents.

As Richard Samuels, Efron plays another high schooler with musical-theater chops, only in New York of 1937. Richard's love of the arts and his own ambitions inspire him to read memoirs by the likes of John Gielgud and haunt music stores for the latest hit by Cole Porter. One fateful afternoon, Richard sidles up to a Broadway crowd gathered in front of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre and, within minutes, secures a small part in Julius Caesar thanks to dumb luck and smart positioning.

A role in the Mercury's Caesar, set in contemporary, Mussolini-era Italy, could make Richard's career – assuming the theater doesn't shut down first. The naïve young actor steps into a whirlwind of beauty-obsessed divas, disrespected comedians, dignified stagehands and the hissy fits of John Houseman (Happy-Go-Lucky's Eddie Marsan), who tries to keep the company from becoming a shambles. None of these glittering neurotics can compete with Welles himself (Christian McKay), a national radio star whose artistic genius is only eclipsed by his tyrannical behavior. Richard finds an ally in bright, pretty assistant Sonja (Claire Danes), but also faces intimidating rivals as he tries to romance her.

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(Photo Courtesy Liam Daniel)

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