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SOUND OFF SPECIAL: Revivals Galore! A Retrospective With FUNNY GIRL, SUPERSTAR, GODSPELL, EVITA, ON A CLEAR DAY & PORGY & BESS

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Today, in an extension of the FLASH FRIDAY column, we are sharpening our focus on the six upcoming revivals of musicals that are soon to hit the boards in the next few months (post-FOLLIES) and battle it out for the Best Revival as the Broadway season heats up just when the weather begins to cool: the classic Jule Styne/Bob Merrill musical that originally starred that star-of-stars, Barbra Streisand - FUNNY GIRL; the groundbreaking rock opera that rewrote the theatrical rulebook thanks to young creators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice - JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR; the hippie, flower child take on the Christ story covering some similar Biblical ground to that of SUPERSTAR, with this one being the composing debut of WICKED songwriter Stephen Schwartz - GODSPELL; another Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice collaboration that won seven Tony Awards and acted as the vehicle for Patti LuPone's blazing Broadway debut in a starring role - EVITA; the significantly reworked, revised and rewritten new version of the beautifully scored time-travel musical by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, this time starring a male movie star crooner - ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER; and, the landmark American opera composed by the Gershwins with DuBose Haywerd - PORGY & BESS. While each and every one of these entities has a huge hit song or two that nearly everyone on the planet knows by heart - "Don't Rain On My Parade", "I Don't Know How To Love Him", "Day By Day", "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", "On A Clear Day…" and "Summertime" included - each of these revivals also comes after a film version (or two) that, in more than a few of these cases, will be relatively difficult to top as far as expectations of many audience members undoubtedly will go. So, by taking a listen to the smash hit crossover songs from these musicals as well as looking at their respective film version's trailers - as well as a couple of surprises, too - perhaps we can glean some insight into what makes these generally pretty terrific properties so well worth reviving on Broadway, here, now, today, in 2011. Furthermore, all of this crystal ball commentary is not even taking into account the starry assortment of performers that have already been announced for these productions so far - especially with FUNNY GIRL's Lauren Ambrose and Bobby Cannavale, GODSPELL's Hunter Parrish, SUPERSTAR's lauded Judas, Josh Young, EVITA's Ricky Martin and Michael Cerveris, PORGY's Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald, as well as the leading man singing many of what once were a leading lady's songs (those of Barbara Harris and Barbra Streisand, no less) in ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, Harry Connick, Jr.! What a tight race it is turning out to be for these new productions, particularly come Tony time in June! With rock to rhumba and borscht belt comedy to messianic hosannas and even full-out opera, seemingly every conceivable customer base is more than covered by this packed, potentially, well, awesome, season of shows - and many Broadway babies around BroadwayWorld are undoubtedly looking most forward to these six forthcoming revivals - with particularly good reason given the relative dearth of new musicals announced so far. So, let these revivals revive your flagging spirits as we leap into the 2011-2012 season with this comprehensive prospective and retrospective all about what makes them work so well in the first place and so worthy of another look!

Don't Rain On My Revival

While it took two Broadway revivals for FOLLIES to come back to Broadway the way it was intended to be - or at least close to it - many of the other revivals coming to Broadway in the 2011-2012 season are of properties that have actually never been revived before - believe it or not. Ever. Even a tried and true classic along the lines of PORGY & BESS has not been seen on Broadway in sixty years  - unless we're counting the Radio City Music Hall production in 1983 (we're not). Another instance: I know it may be almost impossible to conceive of this fact to many of the uninitiated in theatre lore that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's seven-time Tony-winning EVITA has not been on Broadway in almost thirty years - yet, that is exactly the case and, now, a real cause celebre on these shores that Michael Grandage's West End production from four years ago will finally be coming in now, after all this time. While Lloyd Webber and Rice's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR had a coolly-received revival ten years ago (and a subsequent video version based on that production was filmed), Des McAnuff's new hi-tech take complete with LED screens and a unit set may very well finally do right by the ever-powerful rock opera score. And, while the two pieces will always be compared given that they both tell the story of the last days of Jesus Christ's life, Stephen Schwartz's GODSPELL could not be more unlike SUPERSTAR in its musical style, dramatic purpose or overall atmosphere if it tried - although both GODSPELL's hit breakout single, "Day By Day", and SUPERSTAR's Mary Magdelene hit "I Don't Know How To Love Him" share a certain lite-rock, late-70s instrumentation, admittedly. GODSPELL is another of the revivals we are discussing today that has never been back since its debut in the early 1970s and it is truly an act of wanton fate that both it and SUPERSTAR would find themselves back on the boards in the same season, yet there it is. While many insiders assume SUPERSTAR will keep many members of its critically praised Stratford Festival cast (like Josh Young), GODSPELL boasts an up-and-coming star who has already proven his musical theatre mettle with his stint in SPRING AWAKENING - Showtime's WEEDS star Hunter Parrish. Since GODSPELL is much more of an ensemble piece when compared directly to SUPERSTAR or - even more to the point - EVITA, it provides an excellent opportunity for young performers to display their ample abilities, so let us hope that this new Ken Davenport-produced revival does just that. Speaking of EVITA, that is another show that has never been revived on Broadway, and, now, with a certifiable international pop megastar in one of the lead roles, Che - Ricky Martin - as well as a stalwart Tony-winning Broadway regular as Peron - Michael Cerveris - EVITA purports to have two essential elements of its required triptych to success - so let's just hope Elena Roger delivers like she supposedly did in the West End, then, as well. Rounding out the revival list are two classic musicals that, up until now, have been predominantly associated with Barbra Streisand - and, for very good reason: FUNNY GIRL and ON A CLEAR DAY FOREVER. Streisand starred in the film versions of both and won an Oscar for FUNNY GIRL onscreen, after all. Lauren Ambrose and Harry Connick, Jr. have their work cut out for them with these two titanic respective central roles - although word on the street is that CLEAR DAY is virtually a whole new musical since it has been so radically recast and rewritten for Connick, which can only be a good thing. Who would ever want to be compared to Streisand, anyway - whether you are male or female? Lauren Ambrose has a mighty big sequined hill to climb, but with an intelligent director like she has in Bartlett Sher and her Nick Arnstein being Bobby Cannavale, they should all be AOK. As for the rest of the creaky show - with an admittedly great score containing gems like "People" and "The Music That Makes Me Dance" - we will have to wait until Spring to see if time has smiled favorably on FUNNY GIRL (and on GODSPELL and ON A CLEAR DAY..., for that matter) such as it has with SUPERSTAR and EVITA! Also, all eyes are on PORGY & BESS - or, as it is now billed, THE GERSHWINS' PORGY & BESS - to see if director Diane Paulus will follow through on her risky vision of radically altering the lauded work (with protests coming hard and fast from Stephen Sondheim, among others). Whatever your personal preference, with seven stupendous shows to choose from, there will unquestionably be something for everyone as far as revivals on Broadway are concerned in the 2011-2012 season!

FUNNY GIRL

First up, let's take a look at FUNNY GIRL and some of the most memorable moments from the film version as featured in this trailer for the William Wyler-directed movie for which Barbra Streisand won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

With the show's most famous song, taken from a 1975 televsion special - maybe her very finest one of the 1970s - here is Barbra Streisand singing "Don't Rain On My Parade". Like buttah!

Now, for curiosity's sake, check out this German-language vintage documentary tracing the worldwide success of FUNNY GIRL and the international sensation caused by Barbra Streisand in it - on stage, on record and on film.

And, as another bonus, here is Idina Menzel contributing her GLEE take on the title song for FUNNY GIRL written expressly for the film version. Will this lovely melody make its way into the 2012 stage version? Given this persuasive airing, perhaps it should!

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Next in our countdown is one of the most beloved and respected of all of Andrew Lloyd Webber's many musicals, boasting perhaps his most youthful and edgy score to date - JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. While neither the 1970s Norman Jewison film version nor the 2000 Gale Edwards video play on the material works perfectly, there are moments to relish in each one, as we will soon see.

First, let's take a look at the film version's trailer here.

Now, here is the trailer for the millennial video version. Quite a world of difference, no - to say the very least?

Next, here is perhaps the most famous SUPERSTAR moment of all, the title song as performed by Carl Anderson in the very dated film version (not that that's a totally bad thing). Dig the wigs and the silver lame, man!

Be sure to check out Josh Young leading a boisterous rendering of the title song in the Des McAnuff Stratford Shakespeare Festival's revival from earlier this Summer here - the same updated production coming to Broadway in the Spring. Does this look like the right SUPERSTAR for 2012 to you?

If that was not quite enough of a look, here are more highlights from the show to give us an indication of what we can expect from the forthcoming tech-heavy Broadway revival production in the Spring.

GODSPELL

While JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is certainly the more in-your-face and wildly risky of the two shows, GODSPELL holds many virtues, as well - and has its own share of apostolic fans. While the lite-rock, folk sound of the score predominates much of the proceedings, there is also some soul and good old Broadway craftsmanship in Stephen Schwartz's score, too - especially "We Beseech Thee" and "Turn Back O' Man". Since each individual production of GODSPELL depends so much on the vision the director and group has of it, we have little to go on as far as how the Broadway revival will look, feel and sound, but we can certainly bet on the earworm Schwartz melodies making a mark on a modern audience.

Here you can sample the most famous GODSPELL song of all, "Day By Day".

Next, take a look at the unique and oh-so-70s trailer for the film iteration of GODSPELL, starring Victor Garber. Which trailer for which film version holds up better for you - GODSPELL or SUPERSTAR? Which show do you think has more to say to a modern audience? Why even compare!

As a bonus, here is a special curiosity in the form of the original cast of GODSPELL performing on THE TODAY SHOW in the early 1970s - Barbara Walters introduction included!

With one last bonus, here is GODSPELL lead Hunter Parrish singing a rocking SPRING AWAKENING song, "I Believe", with much success at a live concert recorded while he was starring in the multi-Tony-winning Broadway show.



EVITA

More than perhaps any other musical on our countdown today, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's EVITA is definitely quite known to most prospective audiences out there, both old and new. The reason for more awareness of EVITA in the modern age than the rest of these shows also lays largely with the popular Alan Parker film version starring Madonna - who won a Golden Globe for her work - and Antonio Banderes, which received much press attention at the time of its mid-90s release. With good reason it is remembered quite fondly by many Broadway babies and film fans - especially understandable when taken into consideration that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice won an Oscar for their new composition for the film, "You Must Love Me" - though the film was not quite the smash many were expecting or predicting it would be. Here is the trailer, so you can have a look and begin to decide for yourself.

Now, here is a glimpse at the actual Michael Grandage production that will be coming to Broadway next year, with a focus on the Act One Finale,  "A New Argentina", led by Philip Quast, Elena Roger and Matt Rawle. While this looks more naturalism-based than Hal Prince's expressionistic original, it also has a certain theatrical flair about it, as well, no doubt - as is plain to see in this thrilling clip.

Next, here is Elena Roger getting the chance to strut and show all that she's got with a her energized performance of a feisty "Buenos Aires" as seen on a UK television special.

Now, here is Elena Roger performing EVITA's most beloved anthem, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", at a live concert late last year. Is this you idea of the ideal Eva Peron or what?!

ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER

The prospect of rewriting a classic show from virtually the ground up and then interpolating other songs by the legendary songwriter of said show - in the case of ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, Burton Lane, and the additions to the score being his well-lovEd RoyAL WEDDING songs - is a relatively dicey proposition to say the least, but, with a charismatic leading man who can command the stage with such ease and grace - not to mention exhibit his astonishing musical abilities at the drop of a top hat - like Harry Connick, Jr. can and most certainly will in the lead role, perhaps we should not be too worried about how it will all turn out after all. Harry has definitely proven before that he can make lesser material really shine - even some of his own secondary quality songs, as in the case of the great SONGS FROM THOU SHALT NOT album - and the Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner score for this troubled musical should pose no significant perilous hurdles for the dashing star given his golden tone and caramel cords. Yet, will the show itself work onstage in this new iteration? All of that remains to be seen - but, we can most assuredly bet Harry will win the night as long as he is wrapping his gorgeous voice around those classic Lane tunes, if nothing else.

The film version of this strange, semi-surreal musical was directed by legendary Oscar-winning movie musical director Vincente Minnelli and starred Barbra Streisand, with her versions of the songs to this very day the ones that are unquestionably most beloved by the general public - and, with very good reason. Hear why here as you peruse this truly psychedelic take on the time-travel tale of ON A CLEAR DAY... in this one-of-a-kind late-60s trailer. Far out!

Next, be sure to sample the entire title song as performed in the Minnelli film version here. Heaven!

Finally, given Harry Connick, Jr.'s crooner-ishness, check out Frank Sinatra's take on the title song from the show, as well. Is this more along the lines of what we can expect from Harry come Spring? Only time - or time-travel itself - will tell! I, for one, can't wait to find out! What about you?

PORGY & BESS

There are few American operas with the cache in the opera world that PORGY & BESS possesses and that is due in no small part to the fact that it is truly an amalgam and, in many ways, a representation of the melting pot culture of America that it reflects and depicts onstage. The plight of the main characters into a mire of addiction and separation has apparently been toned down in this new take on the material by avant garde HAIR director Diane Paulus - complete with happy-ish ending - so, much remains to be seen insofar as this unique, tentative revival take on the material. When considering its prospects, at least we can easily rest assured that it will undoubtedly be gloriously sung and thoughtfully acted thanks to the titanic talent of the two taking on the titular characters - Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald - if nothing else. It will be fascinating to see how a 2012 audience takes to it as well was what the timeless work has to say to us in modern times.

PORGY & BESS is just as well-known as many of the other musicals here, yet, outside of "Summertime" - and, maybe, "I Got Plenty O' Nothin'" - and the odd Streisand recording of a song from THE BROADWAY ALBUM, many of the other songs are not as well-known to the modern audience as some of the others on today's round-up. Be sure to check out this 1973 TV special in which Sammy Davis, Jr. takes on a number of the most famous songs in this lively PORGY & BESS medley.

On the note of Sammy Davis, Jr., check him out - alongside Sidney Poitier and others - in the 1959 film version of PORGY & BESS (in which most of the other main roles were dubbed, by the way), produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by Otto Preminger, in this collection of four of the score's most famous songs as performed in the film.

Here is a look behind the scenes at the out-of-town tryout of the new PORGY & BESS in rehearsal at the A.R.T. in a video piece by the Boston Globe, as well as the creatives and cast sharing some insight into the piece - Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald and David Alan Grier included. 

Lastly, check out this short collection of clips from the actual A.R.T. tryout production of PORGY & BESS. Just how much will change before it makes it to Broadway? Are 2012 audiences even ready? We will have to wait and see!

So, after sampling these songs and taking in the sights of the generally strong film versions of each property, which revival of a musical are you most looking forward to this season - FUNNY GIRL, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, GODSPELL, EVITA, ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER or PORGY & BESS? Perhaps FOLLIES is already your favorite - and it will be terrifically tough to top that, for sure! Any of the seven? All? Plus, which star do you yearn to see shine brightest as the Tony race starts to heat up? One thing is for sure: what a stupendous Spring it will be with these exciting revivals all on Broadway stages at one time!


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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)