Though the fact that Elysa Gardner of USA Today is writing a series of articles on the making of the Roundabout Theatre Company revisal of The Boys From Syracuse might be seen as a publicity coup, it turns out that Gardner's reports are generating a significant amount of negativity toward the production through their detailing of changes to the score and script of the 1938 musical.
With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and a book by George Abbott based on Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, the original production of The Boys From Syracuse opened at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon) on November 23, 1938. Though Gardner describes the show as "one of the lesser-known collaborations" of Rodgers and Hart, it was actually one of the team's biggest hits, lasting 235 performances in an era when a run of that length represented a solid success. The Roundabout production is billed as having a new book by playwright Nicky Silver, "based on the original book by George Abbott." And, as Gardner is making clear in her articles, some of the show's numbers are being dropped and replaced by other songs from the Rodgers and Hart canon. All of which has led to strenuous objections by purists who frequent the "All That Chat" section of the website www.talkinbroadway.com.
"I was really looking forward to this [production], since I love the score so much, but now I might let it slide" reads a post by someone identified as Padraig. Responding to Gardner's report that Rodgers and Hart's "You Took Advantage of Me" is being added to the Syracuse score for this revisal, Padraig opines that the song "seems, somehow, completely out of place among the other numbers, and a lazy choice on top of it."
Word that the show is getting a major overhaul strikes some musical theater mavens as especially odd, given the fact that a semi-staged concert presentation of the restored, original version of Syracuse by the City Center Encores! series a few years ago was a hit with critics and audiences. "I was seriously considering going to see [the Roundabout] production," writes Mark_M, "but if songs are being excised and interpolated with such a lack of respect, I'm going to rethink my plans. The Encores! performances...proved that the score is still captivating; this revival, by these accounts, may well be turning into another great missed opportunity."
Several other posters go on in the same vein. Writes Ann: "I think the original score is wonderful. I hope the changes are minimal." Writes Buzz Hauser: "I, too, was looking forward to this revival as I have never seen The Boys From Syracuse on stage. But this cutting of songs/adding of songs puts me off right away. I think I'll skip it." Writes Michael_212: "This is looking like another case where those involved don't think today's audiences can appreciate the authors' original material. Such a shame." In a separate post, the same Michael_212 wonders: "Can I get a refund [by] saying that I bought a ticket to see The Boys From Syracuse and that's not what's on stage?"
Some of the "All That Chat" posters express guarded hopes for the revisal. "The original book [of the show] is certainly not sacrosanct," writes AlanScott. "I've been told that the Nicky Silver book is quite funny." But even this fellow expresses dismay about the reported changes to the musical's score. Finally, fsol3 writes: "Abbott totally understood the stage and structure...[and I] am impressed at how well his shows can still work today. That said, I don't understand the entire hullabaloo over rewriting dated books. What worked in the past might not work with a new millennium audience. However, cutting songs that still work today is another matter. Changes are fine as long as they make the show better and [don't] just provide an ego-trip for the revisionists or change-for-change-sake."
Among the most popular and beloved songs from The Boys From Syracuse are "This Can't Be Love," "Falling in Love With Love," and "Sing For Your Supper," all of which will be heard in the revisal along with the interpolated Rodgers & Hart numbers "A Lady Must Live," "You Took Advantage of Me," and "Everything I've Got (Belongs to You)." A press release for the production does not list the songs "He and She" or "Ladies of the Evening," so they would seem to have been cut.
Preview performances of the Roundabout's Syracuse begin on July 24 at the American Airlines Theatre, with the show's official opening set for August 18. Directed by Scott Ellis and with choreography by Rob Ashford, the production has a cast that includes Jonathan Dokuchitz, Tom Hewitt, Lauren Mitchell, Lisa Datz, Chip Zien, Lee Wilkof, Toni DiBuono, and Jackee Harry in major roles.