Friday, March 24, 2023

Revivals, Recreations or Revisals...

I'm old enough to remember a time when revivals of classic shows were near exact duplicates of the original. Think Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! re-staged every few years to match Gower Champion's original staging. Think Yul Brynner in The King and I with the original staging by Jerome Robbins. This was a common thing all the way through the late 80's - the latest I recall personally seeing was the 1987 tour of Cabaret starring Joel Grey, painstakingly recreated from the Joe Layton original. Perhaps the best analogy for these carbon copies would be popping in a VHS tape of a beloved film. Nostalgia, beloved performances, iconic Broadway! I can understand it, though. I mean, think about bootlegs, and the clamoring for any shows given the pro-shot treatment. Think Hamilton, Into the Woods, Passion, Sweeney Todd, Catsetc. The only difference, it seems, is technology, and not desire.

Let's go back to that Cabaret revival, first on Broadway, then on an extensive "farewell" national tour. It wasn't exactly a carbon copy. As I recall, at the time, there was much hullabaloo about this version containing additional gay-themed material that expanded the role of Cliff, and additional music. Was that the starting point for "revisals" - fully re-conceptualized, overhauled (modernized, etc) take on classic shows? Maybe, but the tide really turned with the 90's revival of Guys and Dolls, big, splashy, rearranged, redesigned and staged with an eye toward modern sensibilities and spectacle. That Jerry Zaks revival took Broadway by storm, made Nathan Lane, Peter Gallagher and Faith Prince household names. Suddenly, the thought of bringing in a classic as-is was taboo, and the era of reexamination and, I think, increased imagination began. Audiences still wanted familiar titles, sure, but they didn't want to see their parents' King and I anymore. 

With the new century came the era of John Doyle, Sam Mendes, and now Michael Arden, as well as theater companies with missions to focus on reviving American classics like Roundabout, Classic Stage Company, etc. Among these new stagings that have outrun their classic originals are Cabaret, West Side Story, Porgy and Bess, She Loves Me, Peter Pan, Oh! Calcutta! and the grand daddy of them all, Chicago. Parade and Merrily We Roll Along will definitely join this list.

Not all of them are successful in some way, be it artistically, financially, or just a lack of audience interest. Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, the first Into the Woods re-do. Others were brilliantly re-conceived and just had limited runs like the recent Once On This Island, Pippin, Oklahoma! Company and Spring Awakening. Still, it seems the audience's desire for fresh takes on Golden Age shows is alive and well.

But then...

Some shows are just so iconic for their staging (and not so for their stars) and design, that there seems to be a divide among Broadway fans - some who want completely new takes and more that say, "don't touch a thing on the original!" Cats's revival was a near carbon-copy, but remember the outcry when Andy Blankenbuehler was brought in to re-do Gillian Lynne's famous feline moves? Miss Saigon? Virtually the same, right down to the theater. A Chorus Line? Color-blind casting, fine. Change anything Michael Bennett did with it? No way! And lengthy articles have already been written about changes made to The Phantom of the Opera...

Which brings me to the current revival of Bob Fosse's Dancin'. When a show like this, which is purely an original revue created to show off the creator's talents, can a revival be anything but a carbon copy? Would any even minute change have a place in such a recreation? Of course, the production answered it for us: Fosse's daughter and Verdon/Fosse Legacy have approved of everything currently seen at the Music Box. Still, Broadway fans seem split. Many hate the additions, and still more don't like the perceived lack of true Fosse technique, which many have pointed out is a much about intent and psychology as it is about jazz hands and bowler hats. (Since I actually saw the original, I'll have to let you know how the new version compares after I see it.)

My money is on any show that has a fully realized production that engages the mind and takes me away from it all for a few hours - be they new works or revivals, recreations or "revisals."

Where do you stand on this?

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