Tuesday, March 21, 2017

If It Ain't Broke, Don't 'Fix' It?

The Dance Class (La Classe de Danse), 1873–1876, oil on canvas, by Edgar Degas
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. Edgar Degas

Happy Tuesday! March 21st, 2017!
Today is the 80th year of the year. As I sat down to write today's blog, I was listening to a compilation CD called Cinderella: Songs From The Classic Fairy Tale. It was the appropriate background music as I embarked on my blog. Cinderella has been interpreted in various retellings over the years.
The Ruby Slippers are a product of MGM's version of The Wizard of Oz. It has remained in subsequent retellings

Photo credit: Michael Lee Stever. MY art is MY art!
Even my favorite version, Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1965 version starring Lesley Ann Warren, has had a different script with songs being shifted around each time it has been presented. The intent, however, has never wavered.
The same thing with The Wizard of Oz. There have been many versions and even sequels and prequels. The underlying themes, however, have always remained intact.
The idea of today's blog came about because of two classic musicals in the news. Those musicals are Hello, Dolly! and Oklahoma! 
Hello, Dolly! is now in previews on Broadway with an April 20th opening night.
Oklahoma! is being presented at a theater in Oregon.
There is a reason why Hello, Dolly! has never been revived on Broadway except with two of the leading ladies from the original run, Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey. Very few actresses dared to touch it and the timing had to be right. In its original Broadway run, each actress brought their own followers and fans, and star personae, and a built-in audience, which is why David Merrick utilized the star replacement trick over and over.

Jerry Girls, Mame (Angela Lansbury) and Two Dollys (Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing)

Most people who have come along have wanted to put their own stamp on it instead of the intent of the original creators. Sometimes that might work. Nine times out of ten, however, it fails.

Working on my book project, I have seen many productions: amateur, professional, and high school.
The ones that succeeded are the ones who stayed true to the original intent.

Does it really make the show 'better' by changing the color of Dolly's
Betty Grable made Dolly her own without changing anything.
Harmonia Gardens Dress, or changing the way Dolly makes an entrance into the Harmonia Gardens, or replacing the opening number with Barbra's from the film because the director wants to put THEIR own stamp on it?
Carole Cook told me that an orangutan could play Dolly, it is so audience proof. ALL of the ingredients are there. Lee Roy Reams, who has directed more Dollys than anyone, including Channing, and even playing Dolly himself, says that it is akin to making a red velvet cake.
We all know what a red velvet cake looks and tastes like, but suppose we want to make a red velvet cake, but instead of using the three most important ingredients, we decide we want to replace those ingredients with ingredients of our own choosing. It damn well better taste better than the original, otherwise why bother?
Thank God that producer Scott Rudin, director Jerry Zaks, and Wayne Carlyle, musical arrangements by Don Pippin, are honoring the Dolly that we all know. Add to that mix, Bette Midler, it would be next to impossible not to hit a bull's eye.
It started with their marketing campaign.
 From the very beginning, it has become clear that this is an homage. Their advertising reflects the David Merrick Red with white block lettering.

From what I'm hearing from preview audiences that have been lucky enough to see it so far, it delivers in spades. I'm holding out hope for an invitation for opening night on April 20th! Saw this on TripAdvisor: Went to see Hello, Dolly! last night. Bette Midler is fabulous! 4 standing ovations.. The cast, costumes, choreography, scenery and directing all make a VERY special experience!
Dorothy Lamour's Dolly played Vegas and around the country but sadly, for her, she never made it to Broadway (Photo credit: Stephan DeGhelder)
Original Broadway Playbill
Some one wrote that they felt Dolly was dated.
One other person weighed in: I don't understand the concept of "dated" when a show is playing in 2017 and its action takes place in the faraway past. Even when it was done in 1964, it took place in the faraway past. COMPANY can be dated because it was set in 1970 and opened in 1970; things have changed A LOT since then. But DOLLY? 
Unless "dated" means poor libretto and/or not-so-good score at Any time.

Then there is the upcoming Oregon Oklahoma!
The headline reads: Oklahoma!will get an LGBTQ makeover at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Whether you like it or not, people are talking about it. One friend posted, he was not part of the 'clutch my pearls' outrage. Whether you agree or not, people are talking. My apologies to all who got caught up in my 'experiment' today. I even lost a Facebook friend by my pointed questions.

The bottom line is, I've been told, that Ted Chapin as the representative of the R &H estate has okayed this concept. 
I urge you all to listen to his interview on the podcast "Behind the Broadway Curtain ". 
He doesn't speak about this particular production but he does explain where and why he allows this kind of experimentation. 
Hello, Bette!
Thanks to my Facebook friend who alerted me to this.  
Richard Rodgers was a stickler for how his music would be sung. Both Celeste Holm (original Ado Annie) and Lee Roy Reams (will Parker, 1966 Lincoln Center) have shared with me that it was almost detrimental to sing a Richard Rodgers song at one of his auditions because of his strict adherence to what he wrote.   

Phyllis Diller Played Dolly as written without the Dolly shtick
The comments coming from some of the threads on Facebook are enlightening. If I personally have a message to get across, I would choose material that addresses the points I wish to get across rather than trying to rewrite or recreate something just to get my point across.  I am finding myself open to different interpretations.
Here are some comments:
COMPANY, which I know well having appeared in, is adaptable to a same sex interpretation due to its modern day setting, albeit 1970+. I've seen one of the women changed to a male and it does work. OKLAHOMA! on the other hand wouldn't make sense! There'd be a massacre during Farmer and the Cowman.
Carol put HER stamp on Dolly. So did every other actress (and a few good men!) It's now Bette's turn!
If theatre is to live and not be a dusty museum piece than artists need to be able to reinterpret. Some will fail, some will succeed. Oklahoma! is strong enough to stand up to a little experiment.

It still gets down to the authors' intent. They NEVER intended it to be a same sex musical story any more than Lynne Riggs did when she wrote "Green Grow the Lilacs". If the Oregon festival wants to do a same sex musical, I have two for them. If they want to do a same sex musical about opening up the Oklahoma land then let them write their own. If they want to "think outside the box", then they should get creative and start writing. 
All this crap about "re-figuring" and "re-imagining" is truly crap when it destroys the creators' intent.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am about respecting artists. I desire to respect the choices you make.
It takes years sometimes to create the art that one envisions.
Mary Martin was the International Dolly. It was not rewritten for non American audiences
To go in and rewrite or recreate that is an insult.

Today, I reached out to a few artists who have works on the boards or upcoming to get THEIR take on these issues. I am presenting THEIR thoughts without any editorializing on my part. I am very passionate about art and honoring an artist's original intent. about art. 
Bottom line: Let's respect each other and the creative process. Here are some shows I highly recommend and the artist's take on this important discussion.
Read Stephen Sondheim's take on the last Broadway revisal of Porgy and Bess

Leslie Orofino

Let's welcome Spring and celebrate Cole Porter with Leslie Orofino and her fabulous trio in COCKTAILS WITH COLE. Beloved Sidney Myer will be her guest singer. Don't Tell Mama on Sat. April 1 at 5:00 and Thurs. April 20 at 7:00. Details www.leslieorofino.com

Reservations Highly Recommended Call 212-757-0788 after 4:00
or go to www.donttellmamanyc.com

 Daryl Kojak on piano , Boots Maleson on bass and Rex Benincasa on drums.
Reservations Highly Recommended Call 212-757-0788 after 4:00.

Leslie will also be part of my Richard Skipper Celebrates...E.Y. (Yip) Harburg on April 8th at 1PM at The Laurie Beechman Theater.

 Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.E. Y. “Yip” Harburg

From Leslie Orofino:  Dear Richard,
Today I was thinking of you and your blog on taking a work of art and changing the original
intention of the artist to put the producer or director's own stamp on it.
Cole Porter
In other words to make
it au courant.

In some cases, I could see adding a character as I recently heard that Sesame Street was doing.
They've added Julia who happens to be autistic

This will be a great addition to help young children
understand autism's characteristics and the great potential of making friends with an autistic

As far as taking a character/words/etc. in a musical or play and changing the original intent of the artist I do not
agree. I know how important it is to an artist to keep their original work of art intact.They created it and worked tirelessly to make it a work of art.
Below is a first hand example I experienced.

Yip Harburg
In 1980, I met the adorable Yip Harburg who came backstage where I was starring as Sharon in Finian's Rainbow. His bowtie was twirling and his eyes twinkled. What a flirt he was too. He held my hand and congratulated me and the entire cast  and asked me would I put the line back when they asked Sharon where was Finian's Rainbow.  He was blacklisted and they changed his beautiful response to , " It's only in me father's mind." Yip originally had written , " It's that place in everyone's heart , a little beyond your reach but never beyond your hope." Absolutely no comparison in my opinion. He came back the next night to hear me say it.

Currently, I am doing a show of Cole Porter's life and music called COCKTAILS WITH COLE.
I would never intentionally change one word of this genius's music or lyrics as I know how diligently
he worked to create masterpieces that are timeless. 

Another artist performing a tribute show is King Solomon Hicks. He will be at The Laurie Beechman Theater on March 26th at 7PM. 
You can order tickets HERE.
He took the time to answer three questions I posed to him today

With this show, do you feel an obligation to present the songs as they were created, or are you putting your own stamp on them?
I like to play my own arrangements of songs because I am a improviser. I find ways to play the songs as they were created but you can still hear the King Solomon Hicks sound!

How do you feel about revisions when someone comes along to recreate or restructure a show?
I don't mind change.  Everyone hears things differently . I see people's revisions as their own take/opinion on things. Now will people agree to that opinion is left to the audience.

What advise do you offer when putting a tribute show together?

I've learned that people enjoy hearing songs they recognize  and can sing along to. But there's nothing like the shock of hearing your favorite song played in a way you haven't heard it before. 

Speaking of tribute shows, here is one I highly recommend. As a matter of fact, I'm returning Friday night for the second time!

Lee Squared: An Evening with Liberace and Miss Peggy Lee

WRITTEN BY David Maiocco and Chuck Sweeney
  • When: Friday, Mar 24, 2017 9:30 PM (Doors open at 9:00 PM)
  • Ticket Price: $24.00 - $115.00
  • Door Time: 9:00 PM
  • Show Type: Musical Comedy
  • Restrictions: $25 Food / Bev Min
  • Liberace lived a life of flamboyance, sparkle, and lavish costumes. In this funny and touching tribute, the virtuoso musician gets one last chance to glitter and shine as he tickles the ivories through his favorite songs. New York City favorite, and Connecticut native, David Maiocco will reprise his iconic performance as the man who defined four decades of music and pop culture.

  • Life is so much better when you stop caring about what everyone thinks, and start to actually live for yourself!!

    Sit back! A new news cycle is about to begin!

    This blog is based MOSTLY on my opinions

    Thank you, to ALL who are mentioned in this blog for showing me that it is up to ME to lead by example!

    With grateful XOXOXs ,

    with Rita McKenzie celebrating the 53rd Anniversary of Hello, Dolly!

    Click on banner to go to website


    Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!  

    Let's Celebrate: Richard Skipper Celebrates EY (YIP) HARBURG)
    ON HIS BIRTHDAY! April 8th at 1PM at The Laurie Beechman Theater. Russ Woolley proudly presents Richard Skipper Celebrates...EY (YIP) HARBURG ON HIS BIRTHDAY!

    Richard will be joined by Karen Oberlin, Leslie Orofino, Maureen Kelley Stewart AND...Other Special Surprises!

    Karen Oberlin

    All under the musical Direction of Daryl Kojak with Rex Benincasa on percussion and Jeff Carney on bass. This is a 1PM SHOW! (90 minutes) At The Laurie Beechman Theater Reservations a Must! Please Reserve Today

    Nobody celebrates legends like Richard Skipper. If one of your faves is being feted, there's nowhere on earth more fun to be. And honestly even if you don't care about the honoree,
    Leslie Orofino
    master showman Richard and his talented crew serve up a fabulously good time.
    -Ben Rimalower

    $30 Cover and $20 Minimum per person

    You Never Know Who You Might See There and what might happen!

    Keeping America great through Art!     

    Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!
    Please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook
    Keeping Entertainment LIVE!


    Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

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