Monday, March 09, 2009

Broadway’s Latest Bid for Golden Age Respectability: Revivals of West Side Story and Guys and Dolls May Fail to Redeem a Bleak Season ...

With the arrival of Guys and Dolls and West Side Story, my story line going in was to have been "Great White Way proves why it ruled the world of musical theatre in the fifties."

Drop that one. Guys and Dolls didn't revive very well, just opening to reviews that, upon quick perusal, do not look good at all.

West Side Story is still safely in previews, dancing towards a March 19 opening night. Best of all — theoretically speaking — Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original libretto, is directing. Hopefully, he will not deconstruct a masterpiece as can be the case when directors, anxious to prove how relevant they still can be at the age of 90, tamper with original materials and render them botched up resurrections. They’re talking a lot about honoring Jerome Robbins’ brilliant choreography in Sunday's New York Times. On one hand, they seem to say, we must do it his way. On the other, but wait a moment, they have their own fresh vision to apply -- just here and there, you know. Sure, I know. And they are tinkering with certain scenes. Sure. Open the door to rethinking and you risk rethinking your way into obscurity. Still, as of this perilous moment, I'm banking on a blockbuster revival for the musical that virtually changed Broadway.

And yet, I have alternate Story Line Number Three, just in case: Will yet another revival of Hair, the '60s hippie songfest slated to make another try for retro respectability, this time resonate with tourists and towners? That's the musical that dares to sing of things I dare not mention. Here's the angle in its sleazy favor: American society, careening over a rigged 401K cliff into economic ruin, finds solace and closure in long-hair tuner celebrating free love in drugged out communes over crass materialism. This was one of the anti-musicals that gutted Old Broadway, following which Stephen Sondheim held court with his fan club until Andrew Lloyd Webber arrived to fill up theatres again.

Don’t count on the Age of Aquarius to save anything. Who really wants to go back to the '60s? I’m advancing to story line numbered 10: I hate being such a picky nuisance in mentioning: the golden age does not always look as golden as it was touted to be. After all, now and then the New York of today delivers terrific new tuners that have it in spades – examples, if you’ll pardon me for daring to affirm a few: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, In the Heights, Light in the Piazza, among some newer musicals that have totally engaged me and, from which in exit mode, I did not rue the past but cheered the present.

Broadway, get back to work on the present tense. No, make that present tune.

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