"World, Take Me Back": 12 Musicals Due for a Broadway Revival

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02 Aug 2014

Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower shares his wish list of Broadway musicals that deserve a revival.

People are always complaining about the scarcity of new musicals, particularly good new musicals, and how Broadway is overrun with revivals, or that producers stick to the tried and true, rather than taking risks with new work—and that is all valid. Another perspective, though, is to look at musical theatre like any performance field—opera, ballet or classical theatre for example—where the great  works are revisited again and again. Surely, Porgy and Bess or Gypsy is worthy of such exposure. And what about other musicals? Well, it's a matter of opinion. What's strange is, despite all the revivals, how many great musicals have yet to be revived.

Click through to read my selections for the Top 12 Musicals Due For Revival.

12. Mack & Mabel

Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart's 1974 flop has been revived and concertized numerous times around the world, but has yet to be brought back to Broadway. Conventional wisdom would have it that if the show couldn't make it with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, the show's never gonna make it. While it's true probably no one will ever be as distinctive and compelling in the title roles as Preston and Peters, I think 1974 was the wrong time for an ultimately heartbreaking story of failure and drug addiction to succeed on Broadway, let alone in the form of an old-fashioned Jerry Herman musical (perhaps such a tale would have been better received musicalized by Sondheim). Times have changed. The period style is no longer unhip, it's a genre. And the dark plot is in keeping with contemporary tastes. And that score—"I Won't Send Roses," "Look What Happened To Mabel," "Wherever He Ain't," "Time Heals Everything" and several others are among the most memorable theatre songs ever written.

Judy Kuhn in Rags.
photo by Carol Rosegg

11. Rags

Rags was a particularly disastrous flop in its original 1986 incarnation, but I would suggest that perhaps this was a function of the (notoriously troubled) production and not flaws intrinsic to the piece itself. For starters, Rags is another flop with a score to be cherished—Charles Strouse's sweeping melodies deftly integrate operatic, klezmer, ragtime and pop sounds into genuinely theatrical, exciting and beautiful musical numbers. The story of immigrants to the United States is of perennial interest. The show needs a strong director, to be sure, but with the right talent involved, I think Rags would have a shot.

10. Mame

At first glance, Mame is a total no-brainer. The original staging was a smash hit, running for four years and spawning productions all over the world for years to come. The story is a classic American tale, previously inseminated into the culture via Patrick Dennis' novel and the hit non-musical, Auntie Mame. There was one revival of the musical (also with original star Angela Lansbury) that bombed in 1983, but we can excuse that failure as a sign of the times—Broadway in 1983 wasn't looking for a 20-year-old facsimile of a chestnut. And Mame is a good show, it ought to work today. The problem is casting. Various camps toss around names like Bernadette Peters, Donna Murphy and Christine Ebersole, none of whom, to me, feels like a perfect fit for the role. Bette Midler might be okay, but she has said she's not interested in doing a musical on Broadway again. Perhaps this one will sit on the shelf until the right star is born.

9. The Rink

A show with dozens of appropriate star casting possibilities is The Rink. It's easy to imagine all kinds of actresses stepping into the roles created in 1984 by Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli. Terrence McNally's book may have problems, but perhaps these can be solved. It has got some really great Kander and Ebb songs and is another dark story that might play better for today's audiences. The Rink's success may ride on finding the right director, but once he or she is found (or steps forward), let the casting begin. This one will be fun.

8. Ruthless!

Lately, when original musicals that premiered years ago Off-Broadway make their Broadway debuts, they're considered revivals (at least for Tony Award purposes), as in the cases of Violet and Hedwig And The Angry Inch. I will join the action and submit 1993 New York Outer Critics Circle Best Off-Broadway Musical Award Winner Ruthless! for Broadway "revival." Ruthless! is a sort of combined parody of the movies "The Bad Seed" and "All About Eve," which also spoofs Gypsy and Mame. The witty, tuneful score by Marvin Laird and Joel Paley would be a breath of fresh air on Broadway today, and Paley's book is a laugh-a-minute. There's a unique opportunity to see Ruthless! in concert (starring its creators) Sept. 5-22 at Stage 72 at the Triad

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.
Photo by Henry Grossman

7. Funny Girl

Funny Girl is a decent show, not as strong a piece as Mame, but not problematic like The Rink. Of course, the score to Funny Girl is among Broadway's best. Funny Girl is hard to cast, but not impossible. There are many women who could give a credible performance as Fanny Brice. When Seth Rudetsky and the Actors Fund presented the show (thrillingly) in concert in 2002, with different women taking on the role for each scene and song, one couldn't help but walk away thinking how different each performer was, how none of them could have done what the others did and how Barbra Streisand did it all better than all of them the first time around. Scorched earth, that is what Barbra left behind when she ran off to Hollywood. Still, unlike Mame, which calls for a certain kind of class and style not really cultivated in today's society, there are many scrappy girls with killer instincts and voices. Even if Funny Girl fails in its inevitable revival, it will be fun to watch the attempt.

Michael Rupert in City of Angels.
Photo by Martha Swope

6. City of Angels

City of Angels seems like an obvious choice for revival. The original ran two years over 20 years ago. It has a top quality book and score and would be an ideal candidate for a new production concept using today's technology. You could argue that the original production was cold, but I think there's warmth to be found in the material, particularly under the helm of a director with a knack for intimate, emotional scene work. Maybe the technology could alleviate the production's need to prove itself moody and film noirish. I would love to see what Sam Buntrock would do with it. You listening, Roundabout?

5. The Wiz

Like Mame, The Wiz has been revived before, but these were half-baked retreads where the sets and costumes from the national tour were pulled from storage and thrown on Broadway with members of the original cast recreating the original staging. A far cry from the first class revivals we've come to expect on Broadway today. I'm not saying shows need to be completely reconceived (although some do!) and I certainly think revivals ought to be more conscientious about learning what they can from the failure—and success—of the original productions. In many cases, the original should be the starting point. Like they say in improv, "Yes, and." There's far too much throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Anyway, my soap box aside, The Wiz is a stunning score and a classic story and overdue for a great new Broadway production.  New Yorkers gets a rare opportunity to see and hear for themselves in "54 Below Sings The Wiz" on Aug. 10.

4. Merrily We Roll Along

Everyone's always debating the merits of Merrily We Roll Along. The original flopped. It marked the end of Stephen Sondheim's stellar chain of collaborations with Hal Prince. Blah, blah, blah. This is a great Sondheim score, up there with Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park With George. And, unlike any of them, Merrily has a real Tin Pan Alley Broadway sound. And the book is interesting. If it had no songs and was a series on Showtime, I'd watch it. The piece has been tinkered with and tinkered with nonstop in productions all over for the three decades since it opened and closed in New York. Enough. Bring it back. James Lapine's production at Encores! was terrific. I hear his 1985 La Jolla Playhouse production was too. I'm sad I missed Susan H. Schulman's York Theatre Company version. Ditto Christopher Ashley's at the Kennedy Center. They keep doing it in London. At some point, one of them has to be the one. Maybe it won't be a blockbuster smash like The Lion King. Duh. It's Sondheim. Just do it. You never know.

3. Miss Saigon

Dear Cameron Mackintosh,

Mazel Tov on your smash hit revival of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre in London. You must be so thrilled with the great reviews and strong sales.

Please bring Miss Saigon back to New York.

We know we were a little grumpy first time around. Now, we even miss the helicopter! BTW, thanks for giving us a new Broadway star in Lea Salonga—she's swell.

 

We promise to celebrate it now, and can't wait to have that soaring pop opera back on our boards.

Yours sincerely,
Broadway

2. Falsettos

This is a really simple conclusion, a revival of Falsettos would be a hit. Falsettos, with its utterly original style of musical storytelling (conversational and idiosyncratic and also lyrical and moving), is easily one of the best new musicals of the last 50 years. What was groundbreaking 20 years ago is widely accepted (even expected on Broadway) today. And, as the recent stage and screen success of The Normal Heart has proven, we are as a culture interested in looking at that time around the rise of AIDS now. I think this one is a win/win.

1. Hello, Dolly!

It's kind of unbelievable that Hello, Dolly! hasn't been back on Broadway in 20 years. The original 1964 production was a record-breaking hit here, there and everywhere, with productions popping up all over the globe. Original star Carol Channing rarely ceased to tour in the role and revived the show on Broadway herself both in the 1970s and the 1990s. In all honesty, I wonder if some of the hesitance to bring Hello, Dolly! back has been out of deference to the great Channing—as if just maybe the lady herself might deign to don the red dress one more glorious time. God bless her, she is still with us (and still glowin', still crowin', still goin' strong), but it's safe to say the part is now up for grabs. Per the rumor mill, Jerry Herman chose Patti LuPone, but then rejected Jack O'Brien's directorial concept. Really, Jer? It's not like it was John Doyle suggesting Dolly blow her own whistles and crash her own cymbals before the parade passes by. Jack O'Brien is the wise rock behind Hairspray and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the man who's good enough for Tom Stoppard. Who do you want? Roger De Bris? One way or another, Hello, Dolly! has to come back, and the good news is there are lots of people who could do it well. Of course, no one could do it as well as Patti LuPone (and she would nail the songs that were added for both Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand).

(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues, currently on a worldwide tour. His new solo play, Bad with Money, begins performances Sept. 4 at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)