|A scene from Deaf West's production of Spring Awakening, soon to transfer to Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre.|
Now that all of the buzz has died down from the 2015 Tony Awards (one more hooray for Kelli O'Hara!) the industry has turned its eyes firmly forward. The dates and venues for next season's shows are firming up, and following a week of intense speculation producer Ken Davenport has officially announced a Broadway transfer of Deaf West's production of Spring Awakening, which uses both hearing and deaf actors to perform the material in spoken English and American Sign Language. Originally an unsourced rumor from Deadline, the posting of a detailed casting breakdown on the Actor's Equity Association website let the cat out of the bag about the revival, and today Davenport confirmed that the show will be taking up residence at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre just a month after It Shoulda Been You in early August.
The problem, at least for me, is that the original production of Awakening closed only six years ago. Ever since the early 90s when revivals (and specifically musical revivals) became a major factor in the Broadway landscape, the timeframe between productions has steadily shrunk. With rare exceptions made for popular star vehicles like Gypsy or Death of a Salesman, most shows would go 15 years or more between Main Steam productions. Lately, it's not uncommon to see something like La Cage aux Folles revived twice in a decade, or the mere five years that separated Bernadette Peters' and Patti LuPone's Gypsies. Hell, the last two Macbeth revivals premiered within mere months of one another in 2013!
Deaf West's Spring Awakening is the third revival of the upcoming season to occur less than a decade after the previous Broadway incarnation. John Doyle's stripped down The Color Purple is opening almost 10 years to the day after the show first premiered (and marks the long awaited Broadway debut of Oscar and Grammy-winner Jennifer Hudson). A View from the Bridge last played Broadway in a well-reviewed production in 2010, but Lincoln Center is reviving it once again for a limited run in the fall. And while 11 years will have technically passed between Alfred Molina and Danny Burstein's Tevyes in Fiddler on the Roof, the timing of the 2 productions still seems a little close for comfort.
Given the well documented Broadway theatre crunch - there are far more Broadway-aimed productions than there are available theatres - one has to ask if the growing abundance of such closely timed revivals a good thing for the industry. After all, these aren't just shows we've seen, but shows we've seen recently. Even if the new production radically reinvents the property (and removing the turntable from your set does not count as a "radical reinvention," Les Miserables!), the audience may not be ready to digest such a major rethinking of a familiar show so soon after their last go round with the material. As much as I love revisiting old favorites, I love being exposed to new stories and talents even more, and between long running hits like Wicked and Phantom and the steady parade of revivals, getting those new works in front of a Broadway audience has become increasingly difficult. In general, I would prefer the time and resources being expended on these revivals be put towards new works, so we can create a new generation of classics rather than revisiting the same material over and over again (a practice that is slowly killing the opera world).
That said, at least The Color Purple and Spring Awakening have the good sense to come in with concepts substantially different from their initial Broadway runs, limiting the number of direct comparisons. A View from the Bridge and Fiddler both sound like fairly traditional takes on well-worn material, which makes them harder to justify no matter how strong the talent involved. This doesn't make either show an immediate lost cause - the LuPone Gypsy was specifically designed to be a traditional take on material which had been unsuccessfully reconfigured to accommodate the non-traditional casting of Bernadette Peters in 2003, and LuPone's rendition is quite possibly the greatest theatrical production I've ever seen. But doing the same material in the same fashion does create a higher benchmark for the new productions to surpass to justify charging Broadway prices and eating up Broadway resources.
Like every artistic endeavor, there are no hard and fast rules about when the time is right for a revival. It took 38 years for Broadway to get a miscast, poorly directed Promises, Promises that did little more than convince most audience members the show was hopelessly dated. Meanwhile, Roundabout brought back the exact same Tony-winning Cabaret they produced in 1998 and proved that Kander and Ebb's deliciously dark masterpiece is just as shocking, fascinating, and illuminating as it ever was. But overall, given the abundance of both new material and older shows that haven't been seen on Broadway in the new millennium, I can't help but wish that producers would place a little less emphasis on the familiar. Artistically, I think the industry would be better for it.