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How You'd Improve Some Musicals

Filichia passes along readers' suggestions on how to improve some famous and not-so-famous musicals.

By New York City
Devin Richards, Donna Murphy, and J.D. Websterin Wonderful Town(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Devin Richards, Donna Murphy, and J.D. Webster
in Wonderful Town
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Tony Parise wants to tackle Wicked and Oklahoma! ACVanness would "dearly like to tinker with the entire book of Tenderloin." And Ed Weissman -- who cites the famous line that "musicals are never finished; you just run out of time" -- complains about Show Boat's coincidences in Act II. "Gaylord should leave because he knows that Cap'n Andy is coming to town and he can't face his father-in-law," Ed feels.

They and plenty of others have many suggestions on how to make some famous and some not-so-famous musicals work better. Kevin Daly wants to add a line or two to Into the Woods: "They open up the can of worms in the exposition of the show when the Witch tells the Baker he has a sister, and that the witch took the girl as her own daughter," he writes. "The Narrator points out that her name, Rapunzel, isn't mentioned to [the Baker]. However, why doesn't the Baker -- or, better yet, his highly intuitive, logical and intelligent Wife -- pick up on this later on during the show? It's set up in the beginning but it goes absolutely nowhere. It leaves things rather cold, especially when Rapunzel is killed in Act Two."

TJ Reynolds opines, "In Wonderful Town, which I love, the show would have more urgency to it if Ruth and Eileen said early on that their dad or mom said they'd be back in Ohio before they knew it. That's why they just HAVE to make in New York: to prove to their family as much as to themselves that they can succeed."

Jason Flum proclaims, "In West Side Story, Anita sings, 'A boy who kills cannot love, a boy who kills has no heart.' I've ALWAYS wanted Maria to burst in with the fact that Bernardo killed Riff first. I realize, of course, that Bernardo is Maria's brother, but I've always been bothered that Anita could lay such blame when the man she loved was just as bad, if not worse, than Tony."

John Connors has a suggestion for one famous show, but he doesn't want to do the work; he wants you to do it. "ANY contemporary production of Godspell bugs me," he writes. "Using the 'script' from the original makes no sense to me, for it wasn't written but basically improvised by the original cast. New productions should use the songs and the basic story outlines of the parables, but then the cast should improvise the parable scenes anew. Most productions end up tossing in a ton of contemporary references anyway, so why shouldn't they go whole hog and redo the show from scratch? It was never written as a traditional book was, so it shouldn't be enshrined as such."

Gryffindor 249 remarks, "There was a Big Band-Aid that I wanted to stick onto Steel Pier. The entire show is built around the idea that our heroine, Karen Ziemba, needs to win the dance marathon. I feel that the creators dropped the ball by having the show end with her walking out of the dance marathon and her bad marriage, fading away alone into the sunset. In a romantic musical, an audience really needs to see the protagonist have a profound victory, and having the show end with Ms. Ziemba triumphing over the obnoxious Precious (whatever happened to that girl that played her...Kristin something or other?!?!?) by dancing her shoes off to more of Susan Stroman's amazing, underrated choreography might have been just what the doctor ordered to give this show a longer run and maybe even the Tony."

As for Michael John LaChiusa's The Wild Party, Chuck Yates says that he'd start "by casting someone other than Mandy Patinkin in the role of Burrs." But Marc Castle has more in store for that show and its Off-Broadway counterpart: "Having sat through TWO different versions of The Wild Party, I was amazed that both made the same mistake. Simply because the first line is about Queenie, each creator made the show about her; yet it is Black, the innocent bystander who wanders in and ends up involved in a murder, who is the protagonist. He should also have been the narrator, and that famous first line -- 'Queenie was a blonde and her age stood still and she danced twice a day in vaudeville' -- should have been his, as he recalled the start of his downfall. It made me want to sit down and write my own version, but I think I should probably wait a couple of decades."

Fred Awitzpw says, "I was watching Oklahoma! on PBS Saturday night and the feeling that change was needed gnawed at me just as it did during the Broadway revival -- that this felt like the longest evening I had ever spent watching a Broadway musical. Too much happens after Curly and Laurey are finally united. The musical should end with the wedding and the title song. Jud Fry should be dealt a final blow earlier in the evening."

Kevin Dawson, who also notes "I don't think Anything Goes has ever been done the same way twice," says: "The show I would like a shot at fixing is Camelot. I'd get rid of King Pellinore -- a one-note, one-joke character -- and bring in Mordred sooner. Let Guenevere and Lancelot discover this young man during their 'Lusty Month of May' revels. Mordred gains their sympathy by presenting himself as abandoned and starving, using the line about how as a child he was given a youth potion to make him 'minus 2.' Arthur could bounce his New Society ideas off him, and Mordred's hatefulness would slowly reveal itself as the first act progresses."

Bobster says, "Though Nine is a show I love, I never liked how it opens. What is it about this moment that causes Guido to think about all his women and for Luisa to say she's had enough? I see the show opening with the nine bells and with Guido, gun in his hand. As he hears Luisa's voice, we see that he is having a flashback."

Chris.Connelly has a complaint with Titanic: "For a show written in threes -- three Kates, three classes, three sailors, three leaders -- I've always been frustrated with only one lifeboat scene. What I find most fascinating and terrifying about the tragedy is the number of lifeboats that went down underfilled. Approximately 80% to 90% of the passengers -- male, female and children; first, second, and third class -- could have been saved had all the lifeboat space been utilized. How much more musically dramatic it would have been to show the reluctance of passengers to get into the lifeboats in an early scene and the frantic scramble to get into the last boat."

By the way, all this started because I mentioned a suggestion to "improve" On the Town after I'd seen a production the previous week. I was again bothered that the Little Old Lady makes such a fuss at Gabey's tearing down the poster of Miss Turnstiles from the subway car: Would she really call a policeman, and would the two chase him all show long? I suggested that the Little Old Lady should say, "My son designed that poster!" -- which would give her some motivation for taking it all so seriously. However, that didn't solve the problem for Frank Soldo, who writes: "That might incite passion in the woman but probably not enough for the cop. Why not have someone else on the subway steal the old woman's purse at the same time that Gabey tears down the poster? Her scream scares Gabey and his buddies, who then run -- poster in hand -- followed by the policeman and the woman, who mistakenly think it's Gabey who stole her purse. The purse snatcher could be eventually caught in the Coney Island resolution by having Ozzie knock into the thief who is going in the opposite direction with a day's load of stolen purses."

But leave it to Allen Neuner to trump my ace: "The Little Old Lady should grab a cop and say 'Stop those sailors -- they stole the poster with my granddaughter's picture on it!'" He's smart enough to add, "But she has to say this line when the sailors can't hear her, for otherwise they'd probably apologize and give the poster to her." Good for you, Allen! You're really on the ball with On the Town!

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]


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