Once a musical establishes itself as either a hit or it develops a cult following, Broadway audiences wait on tenterhooks for first-class revivals of these pieces to make their ways back to the Great White Way. Many musicals receive frequent revivals: Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and Fiddler on the Roof come to mind, while other shows wait season after season to enjoy a new production. Broadway Direct polled its readers from a list of musicals overdue for a revival and these were the top 10 titles you chose for a return engagement.
It has been more than two decades since Titanic sailed on Broadway. The musical, with a score by Maury Yeston, features some of the most lushly arranged choral music ever to grace the stage. It’s based on the true story of the maiden (and only) voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic that set sail, making record speed for a luxury liner, only to meet a tragic fate after striking an iceberg on April 15, 1912. Peter Stone’s book juggles a passenger list that includes three classes, the ship’s captain, the crew, an investor, and the architect. The musical was the winner of the 1997 Tony Award for Best Musical.
9. The Light in the Piazza
Based on the Elizabeth Spencer novel of the same name, The Light in the Piazza made its Broadway premiere in 2005 at Lincoln Center. The musical won a Tony Award for Adam Guettel’s score and gave Victoria Clark her most challenging role to date in a Tony-winning turn for Best Actress in a Musical. The original production was also a visual feast, with the show’s Tony-winning design elements coming together in a hypnotically atmospheric way, perfectly capturing the nooks and crannies of Florence, Italy’s ethereal locales. The Light in the Piazza follows a mother and daughter — the former struggling in a lonely marriage, the latter with mental and emotional disabilities sustained from an accident — who travel to Italy together for an extended vacation. When the daughter accepts a marriage proposal from a Florentine man, the mother must weigh her own concerns for her daughter’s welfare against her child’s hopes for happiness.
To date, Aida is the only original Disney musical created for the Broadway stage. Aida came to Broadway in 2000, with a pop-inspired score by Elton John and Tim Rice, and a compelling book (drawing from the plot of the 1871 opera of the same name) by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang. Set in ancient Egypt, the captain of the palace guard, Radames, finds himself falling in love with the Nubian princess Aida, who has been captured and enslaved along with her people. Radames is betrothed to the Pharaoh’s daughter Amneris, who is both deeply in love with Radames and considers Aida her closest confidant. Love triangle in place, Aida soon evolves into a heart-wrenching tragedy. Heather Headley won a Tony Award for playing the title character, and the John/Rice score also took home a prize.
7. City of Angels
The last (and only) time City of Angels played on Broadway was in 1989. Featuring one of the funniest books ever written for a Broadway musical, courtesy of Larry Gelbart, and one of Broadway’s most unique jazz-blues-swing–inspired scores, by Cy Coleman, matched with the firecracker wit of David Zippel’s lyrics, City of Angels is a musical about Hollywood. In fact, it is arguably two musicals about Hollywood. An author of pulp fiction detective novels named Stine goes to Los Angeles to adapt one of his bestsellers for the silver screen. The musical shifts back and forth between his struggle to keep the studio machine from destroying his novel, and the plot of the film itself, concerning a gumshoe named Stone who is trying to solve a murder in Tinseltown. City of Angels won the Tony Award for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor (James Naughton), Best Featured Actress (Randy Graff), and Robin Wagner’s double set design, one created in black and white (to indicate the film) and one in glorious technicolor (for real life).
6. Grand Hotel
In the same season that City of Angels opened, another show, equally as clever in its own right, was the Tommy Tune–directed and –choreographed Grand Hotel. Based on Vicki Baum’s novel and the subsequent 1932 film, Grand Hotel was a slice of life that followed six characters as they checked in and out of the glorious Grand Hotel in Berlin. Set in the late 1920s, a fading ballerina, her female constant companion, a bankrupt nobleman, a dying bookkeeper, a typist with Hollywood aspirations, and a crooked businessman converge on the establishment and their tragic stories intertwine. Tune staged the musical as one seamless evening of nonstop dance. Even as Luther Davis’s book unfolded in the foreground, the dance kept moving behind it. This was not the first time a musical version of this story was attempted for the stage. In 1958 , At the Grand shuttered out of town. That musical had songs by Robert Wright and George Forrest and many of those made their way into Grand Hotel, with Maury Yeston writing additional numbers for its long-lasting Broadway berth. The production received Tony Awards for Best Direction and Best Choreography (both Tune), Best Featured Actor (Michael Jeter), Best Costume Design (Santo Loquasto), and Best Lighting Design (Jules Fisher).
When Chess opened on Broadway in 1988, it was with a new book by Richard Nelson that was a major deviation from the hit London production that opened in the West End in 1986. Most of the Bjorn Ulvaeus/Benny Andersson (half of the musical group ABBA) score remained intact, though it was shuffled around. The general consensus was that Broadway audiences didn’t get the production of Chess that they wanted or deserved, and the original Broadway run ended after 68 performances. The story of an American and a Soviet, both chess savants, squaring off for the world championship amid the tensions of the Cold War, as well as the conflicted woman who is friends with the former and falls in love with the latter, yielded a powerful score that has remained beloved by musical-theater fans for decades. Would a new Broadway production of Chess finally solve its challenges and delight audiences?
After the highly successful revival of Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler lit up Broadway a few seasons back, it was always in our hearts and minds that a revival of Herman’s other “larger-than-life leading lady” show could be an obvious follow-up. Mame is a musical adapted from Patrick Dennis’s novel and the 1956 play Auntie Mame by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Beginning in the 1920s, Mame Dennis, a social butterfly known for her wild antics and marathon parties — whose motto is “Life is a banquet and most sonsofbitches are starving to death” — suddenly inherits the son of her recently deceased conservative brother. Intent on raising the child as a free spirit, she suddenly finds herself in a conundrum when the boy grows into a young man and rebels against his upbringing. The original 1966 Broadway production starred Angela Lansbury in a Tony-winning turn.
3. Kiss of the Spider Woman
The 1993 Tony Award winner for Best Musical (as well as Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Featured Actor, Best Book, and Best Score — tied with The Who’s Tommy), Kiss of the Spider Woman is based on Manuel Puig’s novel of the same name. A gay window dresser named Molina, incarcerated in an Argentinean prison for corruption of a minor, suddenly finds himself sharing a cell with the Marxist revolutionary Valentin. To pass the time and to endure the regular torture in the prison, Molina tells the stories of the films featuring his favorite movie star, Aurora, his surroundings suddenly morphing into an amalgam of a Hollywood soundstage and the prison itself. Only one of Aurora’s films does he avoid: the one in which she plays an angel of death, the mysterious Spider Woman who he sees occasionally climbing throughout the prison, beckoning him to his own tragic end. Playwright Terrence McNally adapted the story for the stage, and the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb composed the score. Harold Prince directed a cast led by Chita Rivera, Brent Carver, and Anthony Crivello.
2 and 1. The Secret Garden and Dreamgirls (Tie)
Our final two tied for the first-place slot. It is not surprising that there is an eagerness for these two titles. Revivals of both have been promised to us, though they have yet to materialize. Producers might want to take notice: The Secret Garden and Dreamgirls have their fans, and the results of our poll suggest audiences are ready and willing to see them again. Here’s why:
The Secret Garden
The 1991 production of The Secret Garden tiptoed rather quietly to Broadway alongside showier, better-publicized fare such as Miss Saigon and The Will Rogers Follies. However, this musical, adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 classic children’s novel, spun a charm that, for many, remains a magical musical theater memory. Created and conceived by the all-female team of Lucy Simon (music), Marsha Norman (book and lyrics), and Susan H. Schulman (director), The Secret Garden told the story of a surly orphan girl named Mary Lennox who is sent to live with her depressed uncle at his gloomy Yorkshire mansion. There, the ghosts of the past haunt everyone, casting a pall over their lives, until Mary, through discovering and reviving a secret garden that once belonged to her deceased aunt, brings hope back into the home. The Secret Garden won Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Featured Actress (Daisy Eagan), and Best Scenic Design (Heidi Ettinger, in one of musical theater’s most breathtaking designs to date).
And finally, there is Dreamgirls, which received an acclaimed revival in London a few seasons back, but has yet to cross the pond to Broadway. The palpable lightning felt by listening to the Henry Krieger–Tom Eyen score alone demands that this musical be given new life on the Great White Way. Has there ever been a musical theater song of greater intensity and metaphoric thunder than “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”? The musical was originally staged on Broadway by the late, great Michael Bennett, who took a story about a singing group (loosely based on The Supremes) and delivered it with a cinematic, relentless explosiveness. Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Actress (Jennifer Holliday), Best Actor (Ben Harney), Best Featured Actor (Cleavant Derricks), Best Choreography (Bennett and Michael Peters), and Best Lighting Design (Tharon Musser) kept the original 1981 production fresh in our minds — but it is time for a new generation to experience Dreamgirls’ electric thrill.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. His forthcoming book, Sitcommentary: The Television Comedies That Changed America, will hit shelves in October. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog atmarkrobinsonwrites.com.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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