Last season brought a lot of exciting new musicals to Broadway, particularly the extremely popular The Book of Mormon and the sadly underrated The Scottsboro Boys (and my personal favorite Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). It was not a big year for revivals, however; the season featured only two — Anything Goes and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. While the production of original shows is undeniably important, it’s just as vital that new audiences experience classic musicals through bold and updated revivals. This upcoming season will feature three revivals (Follies, Godspell, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), but surely we can persuade some big Broadway producers to give these other musicals a chance!
Stephen Schwartz and Robert O. Hison’s wacky meta-musical about a Middle Ages prince finding his purpose in life has never had a revival, which is truly a shame. The original 1971 production, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Ben Vereen, Irene Ryan, and John Rubenstein in the title role (and featuring a then-unknown Ann Reinking in the ensemble cast), featured a groovy pop score and included songs popular enough to inspire Motown recording artists like Michael Jackson and The Supremes to record cover versions. While I can’t foresee Beyoncé’s version of “We’ve Got Magic to Do” reaching the top of the pop charts, the show deserves a fresh take for a new generation. The historically anachronistic, surreal style of Fosse’s original production lends itself easily to an updated staging with nods to the original (Ann Reinking could come out of hiding to choreograph the show in Fosse’s signature style – where has she been?!). And recent Tony nominee Lily Rabe, daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh, could fill the role originated by her mother, provided that she can sing a tune or two.
It’s almost time for another presidential election, and with the country still teeming with Tea Party fervor, what better way for Broadway to reach out to the middle American demographics than to reboot a whole musical about our nation’s founding fathers? This might be a long stretch, as 1776 is certainly not a particularly exciting musical (It’s hot and crowded in that room in Philadelphia! That’s about all I remember about it!), and the show doesn’t lend itself to the NASCAR kind of spectacle like Spider-Man (part of that show’s allure, I think, was the excitement of watching something – or someone – crash onto the stage). But a grand finale featuring a massive pyrotechnic display to celebrate The country’s independence might convince audiences to fill those seats; after all, what’s more American than historical re-enactors and fireworks? USA! USA!
The Music Man
If 1776 proves too uneventful or controversial (it’s New York, so there’s a good chance that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams would be played by homosexuals!), perhaps Meredith Wilson’s classic Americana musical would be a bigger hit with the tourist set. After all, the original production beat out the much less white bread and wholesome West Side Story for the Tony for Best Musical back in 1957. Casting this show is important: perhaps Promises, Promises co-stars Sean Hayes and Katie Finneran could step into the roles of Harold Hill and Marion Paroo, respectively. Can you imagine the articles about Hayes playing the part that his Will & Grace co-star Eric McCormick took on (after replacing Craig Bierko) when the show was last revived in 2000? They will write themselves! You’re welcome, critics!
The 1954 musical adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s classic fantasy starred 41-year-old Mary Martin, who won a Tony for her portrayal of a little boy. I’m sure this sounds much more bizarre and a lot less adorable than it did fifty years ago. Setting aside the casual ‘50s racism (not only were the Indians of Neverland portrayed with the usual stereotypes, but Tiger Lily was a blonde), there are some amazing gender politics at play here. Why not revive it with a hard look at those issues? Perhaps we could convince John Cameron Mitchell to return to the theater (and stop making super sad movies about dead kids – even if his adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole was fantastic), and just imagine the sight of performance artist Justin Bond floating above the audience in those green tights! (A somewhat unrelated question: between this show and 1959’s The Sound of Music, do you think Mary Martin really hated kids?)
No jokes: I think a revival production of Cats should be exactly like the original production because it is so perfect in its absolute insanity that there could be no possible way to make it better. How can you improve those costumes? That set? That make-up! Then why, you may ask, should Cats be revived? For the simple fact that seeing Cats on stage is a rite of passage for any kid, and if I had to sit through it when I was twelve, so should everyone else.