Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Revive This: The Diva Edition

Several months ago, I posted what was intended to be the first in a semi-regular series about musicals I would love to see revived.  Now, many moons later, I have two more shows I'm dying to see some Broadway producer take a risk on.  One of the positive things about this upcoming season is the three announced revivals (On the Town, On the Twentieth Century, and The King and I) are all shows which, in my opinion, merit Broadway revivals.  They are respected properties that aren't produced with a great amount of frequency, and it has been close to two decades since any of them have had a major New York production, making them ripe to be refreshed and reimagined for a new generation.  (The much-rumored but yet-to-be-officially-confirmed transfer of the Kennedy Center's Side Show also fits this description, and I really hope producers announce a theatre and start date soon.)

Here are some other shows I'd like to see tackled on Broadway sooner rather than later:

My Fair Lady

If done right, a revival of My Fair Lady could "make it rain" in Spain and everywhere else; I think there's a lot of money to be made there.

My Fair Lady is, for me, one of the most frustrating musicals in existence.  The score is exquisite, overflowing with classic tunes in the Golden Age mold that just make my heart sing.  "I Could Have Danced All Night" has been attempted by almost every aspiring soprano in existence, but when someone really nails it the song is absolutely thrilling.  The characters and relationships are also much more complex than in your typical musical, and the show raises some really interesting issues regarding identity, appearance and self worth.

Unfortunately, the show is also alarmingly misogynistic.  Henry Higgins is an unforgiveable lout of a character who uses and abuses Eliza at almost every turn because he sees her as a thing instead of as a person, and unlike in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the musical's Eliza simply puts up with it.  I can't even watch the final minutes of the generally stellar film version because Rex Harrison's smug little grin as he says "Fetch me my slippers" upon Eliza's return makes me want throw everything within reach at the screen.

I would love to see a contemporary (female?) director and cast tackle this undeniably important musical through a modern, more feminist viewpoint.  A first rate revival could provide a blueprint for how future productions can address the narrative's disturbing social underpinnings, similar to how contemporary productions of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew have to find a way to keep Kate strong while she essentially advocates female submission.  Even though I love a lot of Alan Jay Lerner's book, I wouldn't be opposed to slight revisions of the show's final moments to make it a more clearly about Eliza coming to realizer her own value independent of any male influence.  If it was up to me, the show would end with Higgins sobbing while he plays the recording of Eliza, which would simultaneously allow Eliza to embrace her own self worth (by refusing to put up with his bullshit) and make Higgins just a tad more sympathetic, since if played correctly the moment could be Higgins realizing that he did this to himself and not just sobbing because he didn't get the girl.

Caveat: I have ZERO interest in Clive Davis' proposed revival, because his statements about the show and Broadway in general prove he has no understanding of either the theatre or the property.  First of all, its hard to work in a medium as collaborative as theatre when you think no one has done anything worthwhile in decades.  And I don't understand why anyone would think Anne Hathaway, as brilliant as she was in Les Miserables, has the vocal ability to sing Eliza eight times a week.  (I will concede that Colin Firth would likely be an excellent Henry Higgins.)  I want a legitimate production starring actors with legitimate vocal and theatrical talent - someone like Gentleman's Guide Lisa O'Hare or a young Kelli O'Hara - and I want it done big.  Lincoln Center would certainly have the money to pour into a lavish physical production with a full orchestra (which would be essential), and their go-to director Bartlett Sher has proven that when you approach a musical as a drama first and foremost you can reap stellar results (see: South Pacific, The Bridges of Madison County).

Hello, Dolly!

Carol Channing is so synonymous with Hello, Dolly! that producers have been hesitant to produce a major Broadway mounting without him.

Admittedly, part of my reason for wanting a Hello, Dolly! revival is that I have never seen it, and I'm curious what all the fuss is about.  But that larger-than-life reputation is also what makes Dolly such a prime candidate for a Broadway revival.  The show was a phenomenon when it premiered, and although its enduring popularity has led to plenty of regional and amateur productions, it has also caused the show to be looked down upon by certain segments of the theatre-going public.  Because the show is so associated with school productions and low-budget dinner theatre, a common conception is that it is not the type of show "serious" artists would waste their time on.

To which I say "hogcock!" (Tina Fey's brilliant portmanteau of "hogwash" and "poppycock," as heard on the dearly departed 30 Rock.Dolly is practically begging for a major New York production featuring the industry's best talent to restore the show's reputation as a fantastic example of musical comedy writing.  Also, the show is so closely tied to memories of Carol Channing - who originated the title role to Tony-winning effect and played it on Broadway and off for over 30 years - that it would be nice to see a different actress be given the chance to put her own stamp on it.

I believe the inevitable comparisons to Channing are the main reason no New York producer has been brave enough to tackle the show without her (the only Broadway outing not starring Channing was a brief, all black revival with Pearl Bailey in 1975).  You would have to cast a name star, someone who could sell tickets while still having the theatrical chops to actual pull off the role.  There was a brief period a few years back where producers were rumored to be courting Patti LuPone for a planned revival, but that production failed to materialize.  I would suggest a different bit of casting: Kristin Chenoweth.  The Tony-winner has not been shy about her desire to play Dolly, and I believe at this point in her career she has the mainstream clout to actual make a revival financially viable.  Like Channing, Chenoweth is a bit of an oddball comedienne, but in a very different mold - which would help limit comparisons - and she certainly has the comedic and vocal abilities to tackle the gargantuan role.  Plus, in my experience, seeing anyone perform their dream role is generally worth it, because they will pour every bit of themselves into the process.

Are you listening, Broadway?  Someone lock down Chenoweth before she goes back to Hollywood and her concert work.  Surround her with top tier theatrical talent and maybe one other bit of appropriate stunt casting to help guarantee ticket sales.  Don't skimp on the production costs, but don't go crazy either (please, no projections!).   I would be first in what I suspect would be a very long line to see her.


  1. Hello Dolly! is now happening with Bette Midler.

    1. I'm well aware and very excited! Not someone I had initially considered but a great choice!

    2. Jerry Herman said she was his ideal choice.

    3. Hello, Dolly! just set a new record for having $9 million worth of tickets bought the day they went on sale.

  2. According to one of Michael Riedel's recent columns, they're still trying to get a My Fair Lady revival with Colin Firth as Henry Higgins off the ground. Carey Mulligan and Anne Hathaway are apparently the top choices for Eliza Doolittle.


    1. I really don't think they should stunt cast Eliza. You need someone with legitimate musical theatre training to be able to sing that score 8 times a week.

      I love Anne Hathaway, but I don't believe she has the vocal stamina to sing Eliza day in and day out. She might be able to pull off a pretty good film version where she doesn't have to sing the entire score straight through in one day, but on Broadway I fear either vocal damage or constant call outs. And since Carey Mulligan is a complete unknown to me as far as vocal technique, I can't get behind her casting either.

      I think Colin Firth as Henry Higgins is fine, and that is the role you should stunt cast as it was specifically written for someone who was *not* the best singer.

      For a brief moment there was a rumor of someone trying to get a production with Kelli O'Hara and Kelsey Grammar off the ground which I'm much more in favor of. They would both be exceptional!

    2. Carey Mulligan had some good singing in the movie Inside Llewyn Davis.

  3. According to recent reports, a My Fair Lady revival directed by Bartlett Sher is officially set for spring 2018, but no casting has been announced yet.