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Started by scenicdesign71, Apr 16, 2021, 07:09 pm

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Apr 16, 2021, 07:09 pm Last Edit: Apr 17, 2021, 06:32 pm by scenicdesign71
Following some random internet wormhole all the way to Brendan Gill's rave review (in the May 2, 1970 issue of The New Yorker) of the original B'way production of Company, this passage gave me a start:

QuoteCompany is the kind of musical that a number of increasingly distracted champions of Broadway have been begging for -- not a conventional adaptation, however skillful and energetic, of a previous success in some other incarnation, but an original piece of work, and one, moreover, that joyously breaks new ground.  Not all that much new ground, mind you -- just enough to let one reflect that My Fair Lady happened fourteen years ago and Oklahoma! twenty-seven years ago, and that, since everything else in the world moves, the musical theatre ought to be capable of moving, too.

It's worth noting that Gill's assessment of 1970 Broadway, in the first sentence quoted above, might have been written yesterday.  But what shocked me were the figures in his next sentence.  Only fourteen seasons separated My Fair Lady's B'way opening from Company's!  Though he's suggesting that that's a substantial length of time for the American musical to have awaited its next notable innovation, from a 21st-century perspective it seems astonishingly brief.

Consider that 14 years ago (now), the 2007 B'way season gave us Curtains, Legally Blonde, Xanadu, Young Frankenstein, and on the artier end of the spectrum, Harold Prince's short-lived Weill/Lenya bio-musical Lovemusik.  Also revivals of 110 in the Shade (starring a Tony-nominated Audra McDonald) and GreaseGrey Gardens closed in July after not quite nine months on Broadway, and Next To Normal opened Off Broadway at the beginning of 2008 (arriving on B'way a year later).

And 27 years ago, 1994 offered the baleful spectacle of Passion competing against Beauty and the Beast for the Best-Musical Tony; other highlights included Sunset Boulevard with its attendant casting brouhaha, Lincoln Center's import of the NT Carousel,  Prince's Show Boat revival, and precious little else (unless you count Grease's very first B'way revival -- done up by the Weisslers, in hot pink, as one of their signature exercises in interchangeable stunt casting -- or  The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public as highlights).

It's not that there have been no major innovators since then: Jonathan Larson, Duncan Sheik, Jeanine Tesori, Lin-Manuel Miranda -- we can always argue about who makes the short list.  But even the most accomplished of these artists has had no more than two or three Broadway productions that really moved the needle artistically over the past three decades, compared to Sondheim's ten during the 27-year period from 1970 to 1997.  Which isn't to denigrate them -- I'd argue that Tesori and Miranda, at least, are working on equal footing with Sondheim -- but I guess just to point out that, as SJS and Prince (among others) have said innumerable times, the economics of B'way just aren't what they were.

Mostly I was just stunned to realize that, while some of the 1994 and 2007 productions cited above were fairly forgettable, none would necessarily feel all that dated on today's Broadway stage; nothing like the difference Gill cites between Company and its oh-so-distant-seeming (but actually startlingly close in time) forebears.  Granted, Company's plotless storyline was set in a self-consciously up-to-the-minute present-day 1970, whereas My Fair Lady and Oklahoma! were both written as period pieces (though, for another shock, consider that MFL's Edwardian England and OK!'s turn-of-the-century statehood were both only about 40 years past when each opened on Broadway; for comparison, Merrily We Roll Along and Dreamgirls both turn 40 this year).  But the differences that make R&H's and L&L's shows feel like artifacts from an entirely different century than Company have only tangentially to do with their settings.