Glitzed up guides bring artist and celebrity voices, music, interviews, even other images into the picture.
Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer
The hair is of biblical proportions, long and silvery, straight out of "The Ten Commandments"; the famous eyes scanning the script are Dr. Zhivago's. But the voice, softly evoking Egypt in a Beverly Hills hotel lobby, is unmistakably Omar Sharif's, and he's preparing for a new role, this one entirely off-screen.
With just days to go before the L.A. opening of "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," Sharif was in town to lend his voice to a countryman, the boy king. In a few hours, he would head to a Santa Monica studio to record the English-language version of the museum audio guide for Tut.
But first: Does Mr. Sharif know that when Tut's treasures last came to the U.S., in the 1970s, the now-deceased Orson Welles recorded an audio guide for that show? The actor, 73, groaned. "I can't compete with that," he joked.
Since Tut II opened June 16, exhibition organizers say 60% to 65% of visitors -- twice the usual rate -- to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art have plunked down $6, on top of the average $20 exhibition ticket price, to rent the guide and hear the Egyptian actor lead them through the treasures of the tombs.
What they get, at Tut and most shows that offer a guide, is far removed from the straightforward recordings of the past. Changing expectations on the part of gallery-goers primed by a media-saturated society are prompting museums to demand Hollywood-style production values coupled with star power.
If you can watch a movie on your phone and tote your entire music library in an iPod, why should your audio guide be any less entertaining? And who better than a personality -- recognizable, quirky or just cool -- to meet the demands of an audience used to holding state-of-the-art entertainment, quite literally, in the palm of its hand? These days, guides are incorporating not only narration but unscripted interviews, archival recordings, poetry, music and, in a few cases, images.
The day after Sharif's recording session for Tut, another celebrity recorded the script for the show in Spanish: Jorge Ramos, a Miami-based evening news co-anchor for Univision Communications, the Spanish-language network. (Ramos is seen at 6:30 p.m. on KMEX-TV Channel 34 in Los Angeles.) Ramos has no particular connection with Tut, but he believes he has the right voice for the diverse Spanish-speaking communities in the cities where Tut II will tour -- Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Chicago; and Philadelphia, after the L.A. run ends Nov. 15. The guide is being offered in English and Spanish only; the Sharif and Ramos versions will travel with the show. "Latinos are very sensitive to different accents," Ramos said from Miami, where he recorded. "I sort of lost my Mexican accent, and that's what they were looking for in this case -- some sort of neutral accent that could be understood on both coasts and in different Hispanic communities: Puerto Ricans on the East Coast, Cubans in Fort Lauderdale and Mexican Americans in Los Angeles."
Sharif's connection to Tut II is more personal: Besides being a longtime promoter of his nation's culture, he is a friend of Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief antiquities official and the person primarily responsible for the return tour of Tut's artifacts.
It seemed only natural, Sharif said, that just after playing Jethro in "The Ten Commandments" -- a big-budget ABC miniseries to air next season -- he would volunteer to read about 58 pages of Tut text -- and agonize over the pronunciation of ancient Egyptian names: "Tutankhamun's wife's name was Ankhesenamun [onk-sen-a-MOON], and it's in there a few times," he said, eyebrows raised in mock
Narrated by Cheech Marin with music, sound effects, sound design and interviews with George Yepes, Chaz Bojorquez and Diane Gamboa. The exhibition was organized by ClearChannel Exhibitions and sponsored by Target.
"Although I generally skip audio tours because they distract from viewing, I'm moved to endorse the Marin-narrated guide accompanying this show. An extra five bucks buys you snippets of interviews with the artists along with personal and art historical background delivered in Marin's infectious, folksy style."
Jessica Dawson, The Washington Post