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Which Recent Musicals Do We Need to See Again?

Date: Jun 14, 2014

Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.

This week, Stages editor Mark Blankenship geeks out (via Google Doc) with his friend Adam Grosswirth, Membership Director of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT).

Today's Topic: Which recent musicals deserve another production in New York?


Mark: Hi, Adam! As you know, there's currently a mini-boom in revivals of musicals from the late 90s and early 00s. Both Violet and Hedwig and the Angry Inch are finally on Broadway, and in late June, the Encores! Off-Center program will kick off its latest season with a semi-staged concert performance of tick, tick… BOOM!, also known as "the Jonathan Larson musical that isn't Rent."

But why stop there, right? Let's have more! Do you agree with me?

Adam: I graduated from college in 1997, so this was really my formative theatre-going period and the beginning of my career as a stage manager (which is what I was doing before I came to NAMT). So yes, yes I do agree!

Mark: So if you were a producer with a big tub of money, which musical from the late Clinton/early W. years would you revive first?

Adam: This is a bit of a cheat, but if Cabaret can come back to Studio 54, why not bring Chris Ashley's 2001 production of The Rocky Horror Show back to Circle in the Square? It was architect David Rockwell's first set on Broadway (this made big news at the time), and I've never seen the quirky Circle used so well before or since. The first transition made my jaw drop, and I still bore friends talking about it (like I'm doing with you right now!) I was never a huge devotee of the movie (mostly because even in my 20s, midnight screenings made me sleepy), but something about the live, in-the-round performance made me more inclined to want to participate, if only to see what the actors would do. In fact, I was at Luke Perry's first performance as Brad, which means I was among the first to yell out "Ask Dylan and Brenda!" in place of the traditional "Ask Ken and Barbie!" I'm both proud and ashamed of this fact.

Mark:There's no shame here, Adam. Only references to former teen stars.

Adam: Anyway, for our hypothetical revival, every single role is a juicy one that can make a new star or sell tickets with an existing one. Raúl Esparza could reprise his Riff Raff, or better yet he could move up to Dr. Frank N. Furter. And I nominate Betsy Wolfe for Janet and Zachary Levi for Brad.


Mark: I love this idea! If people will go see that movie every week for decades on end, why not bring the show back?

And speaking of college: Way back when this revival was being staged, a friend from my college improv troupe made it all the way to the finals of an online competition that gave the winner a part in the ensemble. (I think it was on I remember he made this really funny video of himself, and he got tons of online votes. They sent him to New York, and he… did not come back a star. But still. It was cool.

Now if it were ME, I'd stage a full-blown revival of Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins, about the guy who gets trapped in the cave. The music is sensational---don't even get me started on "How Glory Goes"---and the story perfectly rides the line between heartbreak and hope. Plus, the show's original New York run was tragically short, so people around here need a chance to really experience it.

Adam: And given the trend of site-specific productions right now, maybe we can do it in an actual cave?

Mark: Yes! Maybe audience members have to spelunk down to the show. Only two people can see it at a time, but that'll make it buzzy.

Adam: The early 2000s marked the end of an era for commercial Off Broadway, and in fact many of the theatres I worked in back then no longer exist (RIP The Houseman, Fairbanks, Zipper, Variety Arts, Promenade, Century Center…) owing to the tough economics of doing a show that feels big enough to fill a 300 to 500 seat house but only being able to sell 300 to 500 tickets. There were some great little shows at this time that never quite got their due. One of my favorites was Zanna, Don't! which (full disclosure) I happened to be the Assistant Stage Manager on at the Houseman Theatre on 42nd Street. (It was torn down to make way for the building that now houses the Signature, which is a beautiful space that smells much better than the Houseman did). It was a gay fairy tale that now seems both dated (one song is called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell") and prescient, given the current wave of marriage equality.

Mark: I remember very clearly that Jai Rodriguez was in the original cast, because later, that was how theatre people explained Queer Eye For The Straight Guy to each other. "Oh, you know. It's got the guy from Zanna, Don't! in it." And for what it's worth, Anika Larsen, who just got a Tony nom for Beautiful, was in it, too.

As the dated references, I'd say there's still a lot of power in a musical about a high school where being gay is the norm and being straight makes you a minority.

If I'm not mistaken, you're hosting a concert revival soon, aren't you?

Adam: Why yes, Mark, I'm so glad you asked! On June 30th at 54 Below we'll be reuniting almost all of the original cast for a concert version that will benefit the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

But enough shameless plugging, what's your next show?


Mark: Okay… how about The Life? To be honest, I've never seen it on stage, but I love the songs I've heard, and the premise---a look at the seedy underbelly of the old Times Square---would probably seem even more shocking in the tourist-friendly mecca that Times Square has become. Chuck Cooper and Lillias White won Tonys for their performances back in 1997, and I'd love to see performers like Joshua Henry or Keala Settle tear into those roles.

Adam: I saw The Life! I may have been too young to truly appreciate it, but you're right, those songs are great, and it even had a trans character, which feels very current. Fun fact: Bellamy Young (Scandal's Mellie) was in the original cast! And your dream casting is perfect.

Mark: I think we've got time for one more selection. Is there anything else that's warming your heart?

Adam: How about this: 2000 was the year of the Wild Partys, with two musicals based on the same source material opening within weeks of each other (something about the original poem entering the public domain I think). The Broadway version, written by Michael John LaChiusa and produced by the Public Theater, got the bulk of the attention, due to its starry cast (Mandy Patinkin, Toni Collette, and Eartha Kitt), but I was much more partial to Manhattan Theatre Club's Off-Broadway production,written by Andrew Lippa and starring future stars Bryan d'Arcy James, Julia Murney, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs (the latter were known from Rent but would get much more famous over the years). It's a cast album I still listen to all the time, and I'll never forget the intimacy of that production, in the basement of City Center. Neither show did as well as fans would have hoped, and I think we're due for a fresh look at Lippa's gorgeous score, with hot young rising stars.

Mark: In fact, I'd love to see both of those shows in rep somewhere. How great would THAT be? You see the Lippa on Tuesday, then come back on Wednesday for the LaChiusa, with the same cast in both productions. I'll bet we could discover new things about both shows all these years later.

Adam: Those actors might actually die. But it'd still be worth it.


Zanna Don't! photo by Joan Marcus. Floyd Collins photo by T. Charles Erickson. The Life photo by Carol Rosegg.