Important English teacher philosophy: You breathe in by reading, and you breathe out by writing.
Writers read, and what you read influences how you write. I love reading the likes of Willa Cather and Jane Austen and Richard Wright because I learn so much and it inspires me to write things that aspire to their heights.
There’s been a lot of discussion about revivals on Broadway and how they take up space for new works. As someone who wants to write those new works, I really hope there’s plenty of space for new works. When my times comes, I don’t want to have to wait two years for a theatre to open.
At the same time, we need something to breathe in. As I said in a blog last month, I loved seeing The Color Purple and The Wedding Singer, but I still don’t think many of the big shows of today yet compare with the big shows of the past. You’ve got to have amazing, flawless works staring down at you as you write so you can ask yourself, is this even close to being as good as Kiss Me, Kate (or The Music Man or Guys and Dolls or The King and I)?
On Broadway you get the best performers, the best directors, the best choreographers. Where else but Broadway could you get Brian Stokes Mitchell as Fred Graham, Faith Prince as Ella Peterson, Kelli O’Hara as Babe Williams, or Michael Cerveris as Sweeney Todd?
There are tons of productions of any number of great classic musicals all over the country. At any given time, I can see a high school doing Anything Goes, a college doing Guys and Dolls, a community theatre doing Annie, and maybe even an Equity production of The Music Man. In fact, I’ve seen them all, but none of them have come close to seeing them on Broadway. I live in a city with a very large theatre community, but we generally get 2-5 Equity productions of great Broadway musicals a year, and there’s typically nothing to compare with the Paper Mill Playhouse or the Pasadena Playhouse.
The first time I saw The Music Man, it was at a community theatre. It was an okay show, but I didn’t walk away in awe of an amazing score or libretto. When I walked out of the Susan Stroman revival, however, I felt like I had seen a spectacular show.
That’s because nobody does it like Broadway. Seeing a community theatre production of Oliver! is comparable to watching an epic film like Gone With the Wind on DVD. It’s better than not seeing it at all, but it’s the way the show was meant to be seen.
Not only does Broadway do them better, Broadway provides opportunities for shows to get produced that wouldn’t otherwise be seen. I think I could die without ever seeing a middling local production of Bells are Ringing; Kiss Me, Kate; The Pajama Game; Sweet Charity; 110 in the Shade; and a host of others, let alone a first-class Broadway production surrounded by first-class Equity talent.
In fact, I wish people like Tommy Tune who, in the Rick McKay documentary DVD, complain about revivals taking up New York theatres, would put their money where their mouths are and direct great touring productions of classic shows that haven’t been tampered with (like the Michael York Camelot was revised). He could give us Broadway names in Call Me Madam, Gypsy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and a host of other shows that would help fill out the gaps between great new Broadway shows coming into town on tour.
The good news is that all Broadway musicals are a gamble. You have the revivals that make money, like Kiss Me, Kate and A Chorus Line, but then you have those that don’t run long and probably don’t make money—Wonderful Town, Sweet Charity, Bells are Ringing. So, people get a chance to see these amazing shows, they run their season, and they generally quickly open up space for new productions, just like new shows do the same thing.
Mame is a Broadway musical, and it was meant to be seen on Broadway. You can see the Mona Lisa in a book, but if you are really passionate about experiencing and studying art, you don’t settle for a book in the library. If new creators want more new musicals, then they need to create shows that deserve that space, both to inspire the next generation of writers and to delight audiences to keep them coming back to Broadway. Until then, revivals play an important part not only in providing opportunities to see these great shows in the way they were meant to be seen but also in allowing the next generation of creators to learn from them.
July 6, 2007