"I Can See It": Reimagined Revivals With New Casting Concepts
By Ben Rimalower
Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower offers his suggestions of new casting concepts for revivals of classic musicals.
With all the chatter about the Roundabout's recent reading of Company, featuring an all-male cast, I started thinking: What are some other recasting concepts I'd like to see? David Merrick famously rejuvenated the original production of Hello, Dolly!, late in its run, by replacing the entire company with an all-black cast led by Pearl Bailey. Along those lines, here are a few ideas I've been fantasizing about for years (I'll let you guess which ones). Some of these may be more fun to think about than to actually produce, but as directors continue to look far and wide for fresh takes on classic shows, I wouldn't be surprised to see any of these on stage!
Click through to read my ideas for new casts of musical revivals.
All-Male Hello, Dolly!
For starters, and keeping with the all-male approach of Company, how about an all-male Hello, Dolly!? Dolly Levi, Irene Molloy, Minnie Fay, Ernestina Money and even Ermengarde would all offer male actors — in or out of drag — a plum opportunity to chew the scenery. And between Cornelius and Barnaby's putting on their Sunday clothes and Horace Vandergelder's resistance to woman, the male characters are pretty gay to begin with. I would love to see John Goodman put his hand in there.
All-Female South Pacific
To give the sisters a chance to do it for themselves, how about an all-female South Pacific? Does it work historically? No. Could it work dramatically? Very possibly! Anne Bogart received much acclaim for her production of the show set in a veterans' mental institution — and think of the long and great tradition of setting Shakespeare and the classics in all kinds of contexts, not to mention cross-gender casting. Female soldiers would set this already socially conscious piece in a whole new light. How about Audra McDonald for Emile, Natalie Joy Johnson for Nellie and Laura Benanti for Lt. Cable?
This one's a no-brainer. Gypsy is all about the fierceness of the actress playing Rose. Many of the fiercest performers of all time have been black women, both as actors and as singers. Would anyone not be excited to hear one of our great African-American actress-singers lend their luscious vocals to such musical theatre treasures as "Some People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and, of course, "Rose's Turn"? Especially considering that last juggernaut (the inspiration for dozens of other shows' eleven-o'clock numbers, including Caroline, or Change's "Lot's Wife"), the obvious choice for Rose is Tony-winner Tonya Pinkins, perhaps reunited with (her former onstage daughter) Anika Noni Rose as Louise.
All-Japanese Fiddler on the Roof
It's been widely noted that Fiddler on the Roof was a colossal hit in Japan, touching on a chord so deep in their culture that Japanese people often expressed incredulity Fiddler wasn't originally written for them. How about letting us experience some of that special connection over here in the states? It would be fascinating to cast an English-language production of Fiddler on the Roof with an all-Japanese cast, right here in New York. Maybe the National Asian American Theatre Company can produce, with Ann Harada starring, like they did in their popular production of Falsettoland.
All-Human Avenue Q
Speaking of Harada, one of the best new musicals of the last 20 years was Avenue Q. While I count myself among the throngs of fans who loved the way the half-puppet cast brought this contemporary piece to life, I've always wanted to see how it would play with all actors, where the distinction between humans and puppets is only implied and we see only people on the stage. I think the comedy and social commentary would work just as well, and the themes might be even more compelling. I would enjoy seeing Pippin's Matthew James Thomas as Princeton, Lindsay Mendez as Kate Monster and Dan Fogler as Trekkie Monster.
And just to make sure I don't start getting hate mail from puppets for pushing them out of Avenue Q, how about an all-puppet Spamalot? Mike Nichols' original Broadway production was maybe the funniest thing I've ever seen onstage, and with an absurdly stellar cast led by Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Sieber and Sara Ramirez, it could hardly be bested. That said, the material is so over-the-top ridiculous that it might be fun given the straight-on performance puppets provide, where the focus is more on the words and situations, without the distraction of specific human expression. Maybe Basil Twist could provide an animatronic chorus line like he did in his sensational collaboration with drag legend Joey Arias, Arias With a Twist.
All-Children Guys and Dolls
Staying on the idea of the ridiculous for just a moment longer, I think we've all seen elementary school productions of Guys and Dolls. What if the kids were the cream of the crop of professional children, and the production were absolutely top notch — maybe Jerry Zaks recreating his sublime work from the 1992 revival? Do not tell me that's not high comedy. Those little four-foot bookies singing they've got the horse right here? That fifth grade Miss Adelaide developing a cold? That's comedy!
All-Senior Citizen The Fantasticks
Another age-based recasting concept would be to cast all senior citizens in a particular play. I think this would be especially poignant with something that explores the hopes and explorations of youth. A cast of senior citizens would illuminate the wistful wisdom and nostalgic melancholy already at the heart of The Fantasticks. It could be feature people who starred at some point in the original production. Rita Gardner for Louisa, please!
Patti LuPone has laid claim to the definitive version of "Being Alive", proven she's the rightful heir to Elaine Stritch's dominance of "The Ladies Who Lunch" and even delivered an impressive "Not Getting Married Today" in concert with Mandy Patinkin. Why not give her a shot at "Another Hundred People," "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" and "Someone Is Waiting"? Why not give her the whole score? We've seen her accomplish the impossible in her Coulda Woulda Shoulda concert where she duets with herself on "A Boy Like That", as well as performing songs from a number of male leading roles. A solo version of Company is actually right up her alley! I'm especially excited to think of her doing the opening number — she could even sing those city sound effects with her own trumpeting, clarion belt voice. All-Beef Patti!
While we're at, there are other people who might be fascinating doing a musical all by themselves — my heart flutters at the idea of an all-Kristin Chenoweth She Loves Me, an all-Mary Testa Chicago, or even the delicious absurdity of an all-Liza Minnelli Jesus Christ Superstar. The possibilities are endless!
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues now playing off Off-Broadway. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)
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