Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Revive This!

Even though no one I know seems particularly excited by the prospect of the 3rd Broadway production of Les Miserables in as many decades, we're got it anyway, and it's selling out.

The splashy, often star-studded revival is something the theatre has a love/hate relationship with.  On the one hand, since theatre is not a fixed medium like film or print, the only way to expose new audiences to classic shows is via revival.  The best revivals help remind people of the brilliance of past hits, while also allowing works that were ahead of their time to receive the appreciation and attention they deserve.  Revivals can also provide a road map for making seemingly dated shows work for contemporary audiences via script and structural tweaks (with the creators' permission, obviously).  And of course, there's the thrill of seeing theatrical greats tackle some of the medium's juiciest roles.

On the flip side, you can argue that every revival produced steals funding and talent from a new work that probably needed it.  And if the show in question is just not very good, a revival can feel like a massive waste of time and resources that could have been used to mount a better show.  Adding to the sometimes barely hidden resentment towards revivals is the fact that the window between productions continues to shrink; this Sunday saw the opening of the 3rd incarnation of Les Miserables to play Broadway in the last decade, and Roundabout is bringing back their Tony-winning Cabaret a mere decade after the exact same production closed at the revamped Studio 54.

In this (hopefully) semi-regular series, I'm going to call attention to the shows I feel are deserving of a revival; if I was a producer, these are the shows I would try to make happen.  What makes a show "deserving" of revival?  While there are no hard and fast rules, generally speaking the show in question needs to be well written.  However, if a show has one strong element and another not so strong element (for instance, a great score with a problematic book), it may still merit the kind of rexamination/retinkering modern revivals seem to have little qualms about doing.  Also, for my tastes there needs to have been a good amount of time since the show's last major New York production (20 years or more, typically), as that seems to be the point when a production can begin to be judged on its own merits and not just mercilessly compared to what came before.

With all that in mind, here are a couple of shows I would love to see revived on the Great White Way sooner rather than later.

Crazy for You

Very rarely can you go wrong with pink ruffles in a musical comedy.

This is the show Nice Work If You Can Get It wanted to be, but wasn't.  A reworking of Gershwin standards into a new story that loosely parallels their 1930 romp Girl Crazy, Crazy for You is one of the best musicals to come out of the artistic wasteland known as the early 90s.  Because they had the entirety of the Gershwin catalogue to draw from, the creators were able to cherry pick the best tunes to create a score that is overflowing with classics like "Someone to Watch Over Me," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It."  Even better, all of those amazing songs are folded so seamlessly into the show's central plot about an aspiring dancer trying to save a run down theatre that they feel as if they were all written specifically for the show.  Also, the book is charmingly old school in its comedic sensibilities, with a rapid fire set-up/punchline rhythm that feels both contemporary and timeless even 20 years after its premiere.

This show just makes you feel good, and it is a damned entertaining spectacle with showstopping production number after production number.  There's a fantastic tap routine for the male lead and female chorus early on set to the catchy "I Can't Be Bother Now," a couple beautiful pas de duexs for the male and female leads, and the glorious 8-minute "I've Got Rhythm" that closes Act I puts even the recent Anything Goes revival to shame.  Speaking of Anything Goes, that revival's Tony-winning choreographer Kathleen Marshall would be the perfect person to helm Crazy for You, as her choreography has the whimsical inventiveness needed to make this show sing.  Susan Stroman would also be an excellent choice, but as she won her first Tony Award for choreographing the original I say let's get a new perspective on the whole thing.

Unfortunately, because of its similarities to the ill-advised and underwhelming Nice Work, I think we are at least 5 years removed from any potential Crazy for You revival.  Which is a shame, because I really believe if they had done Crazy for You instead, the show would still be running.

Once on this Island

When Paper Mill Playhouse produced Once on this Island a couple of seasons back, I was really hoping for a Broadway transfer; sadly, that never materialized.

This early Flaherty and Ahrens work (who we'll pretend aren't involved with the underwhelming Rocky) is an absolute delight, and I wish some adventurous producer would take a chance on reviving it.  The show isn't a guaranteed hit, but it also can be done with a smallish cast and minimal set, so the capitalization and running costs would be relatively low.  The plot, about a peasant girl who saves the life of a rich noble and falls in love with him, has the same timeless quality of Romeo & Juliet (even if Island's ending is decidedly more bonkers).  The show is family friendly - it uses a framing device in which the plot is literally being told to a young girl to calm her down during a storm - with just enough sophistication and racial/class undertones to hold adults' attention.

At the end of the day, it's the gem of a score that makes this show worth revisiting.  There are beautiful ballads and rousing uptempos, plus some inventive storytelling and musical scenes.  The music is also just begging to be tackled by powerhouse singers who can belt it to the rafters, and the ensemble nature of the piece means lots of performers would get their chance to shine.  In fact, the biggest knock I can make against the show is that it's a bit too predictable in its structure (every named character, without fail, is given a solo), but with a lean 90 minute runtime that is in no way detrimental to its overall effectiveness.  I would love to see someone like the Roundabout Theatre Company revive this for a limited run (with the option to extend), although it doesn't quite fit into that non-profit's established brand.

Bonus casting idea: Patina Miller as Asaka, Mother of the Earth.  Just imagine how fierce the Tony winner would sound singing "Mama Will Provide."

I have plenty of other ideas; if you have any, feel free to share them in the comments!


  1. Rumor has it a revival of Once On This Island is now indeed in the works, with Michael Arden attached as director.

    1. And I am all for it! I won't get too excited until there's a theatre and dates announced, but I hope it happens!