The New York Times has a great piece today written by Ben Brantley about the 3 uber musical revivals this season. An excerpt:
It’s rare that the race for best revival of a musical is the sexiest category at the Tony Awards, which will be bestowed this year on June 15 at Radio City Music Hall. But what’s most striking about “South Pacific” (first staged on Broadway in 1949) “Gypsy” (1959) and “Sunday in the Park With George” (1984) is how much fuller and juicier they feel than any of the newer musical fare this season.How true! These 3 productions were the best musical fare the season had to offer (along with Adding Machine, the only new musical this year that I thought was brilliant. Expect an album review shortly).
Looking back at a list of new productions this year, it's amazng to see there are 3 of the best musicals ever written playing down the street from one another. And what's more, all 3 productions of these musicals are perhaps the best versions I've ever seen of each. Since when have Broadway audiences been treated with so much wonderfulness? I'm sure if I research a bit, there are a few seasons that were just astronimcal in terms of great productions, but nothing springs to mind right off the bat.
Of the 3, Sunday was my favorite. I'm a bit biased though towards Sondheim's creations. But for me, this production was so innovative in its use of technology to foward the art of the material itself that it left me feeling excited about the possibilities of the new era of the musical theater. Minus big star names, it managed to utterly astound me. I only hope that it drew in new crowds of people so they could experience one of the great literary and musical works of all time.
Not to take anything away from the South Pacific and Gypsy, though. The best thing about both of these shows is their direction and superb casts.
Ben Brantley goes onto mention a few other noteworthy musical revivals over the years (Carousel, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd) that he feels were great but for different reasons than the current crop of South Pacific, Gypsy, and Sunday. However, while I loved John Doyle's teeny Sweeney, I still prefer the original. Teeny Sweeney acts as a companion peice to the original production - taking its directorial cues from oustide the source material. It still remains one of my favorite revivals and interpretations of all time, but like Brantley says, these new produtions of Gypsy, South, and Sunday, reach within the text and create fresh mountings out of older shows, further highlighting the strengths of the resepctive source material itself.
It's all very exciting for me! I'm a nerd when it comes to "great art." Of the three shows (once again, each classic masterpieces), South Pacific has the weakest material. Of course this is all relative. However, it overwhelmingly has the some of the best production values to ever grace the Broadway stage. And most people seem to think it's the best of the lot and will win at this year's Tony Awards.
Gypsy provides a legendary performance under the direction of a legendary writer/director. Patti LuPone has taken Ethel Merman's claim to Mama Rose for herself. For me, she is the definitive Rose. And her supporting actors are the definitive cast of Gypsy. By keeping the focus on Rose and keeping that what revolves around her just as magical, director Arthur Laurents showcases the strength of his and Sondheim's own work. As good as Patti is, Boyd Gaines as Herbie and Laura Benanti as Louise are just as superb. It elevates an already classic show to a truly powerful, masterpiece for the ages.
All in all, what a year for classic shows. I only hope the trend continues throughout the following seasons. Broadway goers, relish in this time. It may be a while before we are so lucky again.
Thoughts on your favorite revivals? What was your favorite of the three? Am I full of shit? Let me know.
All photos by Sara Krulwich.