"Revisals" Vs. Revivals: Changing Musicals' Original Playbooks

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - 01:23 PM

There's an article in today's Wall Street Journal that gave me pause. It talks about how some producers and directors of musical theatre are tinkering with many musicals' original playbook; adding or subtracting songs, replacing dialogue that might sound out of date--essentially changing something written in or for a specific place and time.

Now this isn't the same as, say, setting Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in a version of modern day Miami, as director Baz Luhrmann did in his 1996 film. It's more of what the WSJ calls a "revisal"--performers singing numbers that may not have been in the show the first time around.

Clearly, the right to make these changes rests with the composer or the composer's estate--but should it be done just because it can be done? Movies do remakes all the time, so what's the problem? Is a live performance something so special that it needs to hew to the original script and score? Is there room for improvement in even the most beloved shows?

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Comments [2]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from www.WagnerOpera.com

We are used to seeing Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" performed with updated, more relevant to the times, dialogue. Bernstein, Lenny, approved of this since it made his political points clearer and the casts did not reject learning new material.
In the past the Italian and German and French and Russian composers were not averse to having the lyrics of their operas translated into the language of the country they would be performed. This was particularly true in cases where the opera companies were "provincial" houses, not the La Scalas, Bolshois, Metropolitan Operas and their like, where sophisticated more cosmopolitan audiences insisted that the original text, which, obviously, best suited the lilt and note values and phrasing of the music, be the one performed. Wagner was particularly outspoken in this regard. He wanted the largest possible audience for his operas. Verdi and Mozart wrote operas in languages outside of their native language. In Verdi's case, "Don Carlo" was written in French and Mozart " wrote, among others, "Don Giovanni" in Italian although his birthplace was Salzburg, Austria.
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor and opera composer: "Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare" and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where actors are trained in the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers in the Wagner opera roles.
My website: www.Wagneropera.com, where 37 complete selections from my four solo concerts in the main hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall are downloadable at "Recorded Selections," "Live" from Carnegie.

Apr. 26 2010 01:32 PM
Harry from Brooklyn, NY

Broadway musicals have rarely been viewed as sacred texts. Hundreds of songs have been moved in and out of shows over the years. True, after OKLAHOMA! showed that music could serve the drama, these decisions became more complicated.

For instance, in the original production of PROMISES, PROMISES, Bacharach wrote songs for Dionne Warwick,a great singer, and later learned that hardly any Broadway actress could perform the score.

At the time, a long list of stars not cast in the show circulated around the rumor mill. Eventually, songs were deleted and the unknown Jill O'Hara was cast opposite Jerry Ohrbach. Chenowith has a real voice, so it makes sense to restore songs for her.

A few seasons back, the revival of PAL JOEY also stirred debate. Roundabout Theatre was quite candid about commissioning a new book, while restoring the long-censored lyrics. The plot revolves around sex; the changes worked for me.

Then the are the Sondheim shows that had different musical numbers in London. So let's go with the flow.

Apr. 26 2010 01:18 AM

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