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Two Classic Broadway Musicals, With Changes

Ellen Levitt

Posted on January 14, 2020 11:05

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We just saw one of the final performances of the Yiddish 'Fiddler on the Roof,' and a matinee of the new 'West Side Story.' How do the changes in these classics impact our love for them?

Last week, both my daughters and I saw performances of my two all-time favorite Broadway musicals: Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story. Both productions are not quite what long-time fans might expect: this Fiddler is in Yiddish, not English; and this West Side Story is one act only, with a key song jettisoned. 

How do the audiences react to major differences in beloved musical theater productions? Are some changes just too radical?

On Thursday evening we saw "Yiddish Fiddler" at Stage 42. My younger daughter and I had seen it over a year earlier, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. We enjoyed the show then, which was in Yiddish (a hybrid language of Hebrew, German, and others) with English and Russian subtitles. This time both my daughters got to see it, and we sat in Row B. Even though there have been some changes to the well-known lyrics ("If I Were A Rich Man" becomes "Rothshild"), this version of the musical is wonderful, and deeply emotional. A special note was struck when the legendary Joel Grey, who has directed this version of Fiddler, came onstage during the bows and spoke of protesting the awful growth of anti-Semitism in the United States today. 

This run of Fiddler has ended; hopefully, it will be revived in this language version!

On Sunday afternoon we saw West Side Story at the Broadway Theatre. We knew in advance that the performance would be one act only, with no "I Feel Pretty" and the film version of "America" (aka co-ed version). In addition, this version, directed by Ivo Van Hove, featured an unusual filmed screen background with doors, a Jets gang of both white and black youths, and a very dark rendition of "Gee, Officer Krupke". The costumes were updated with a modern look, and several youths of both the Jets and the Sharks sported outlandish tattoos.

My girls and I enjoyed the production, but I did find the film screen disorienting at times. "Krupke" was a punch in the gut, not the snide but spirited song I've long loved. The loss of "I Feel Pretty" was a disappointing move, and the one-act pacing was both a pro and a con. 

But we also had a special reason for seeing this version: my older daughter Jessica had been a high school classmate of Baby John, played by Matthew Johnson, and we thought he was very good in his role; a few times onstage he showed shock and pain by going into fetal position and rocking. 

Should dearly beloved musicals experience artistic tinkering? Is this fair to the audiences? Or would "faithful" renditions of shows, whatever they might consist of, be musty? Directors do need to make creative decisions and sometimes they are drastic, as in both the latest versions of Fiddler and WSS. Audiences can walk away and discuss the differences, make their judgements and still sing along heartily. 

Waiting for an updated Oliver! and Sound of Music!

Ellen Levitt

Posted on January 14, 2020 11:05

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Source: Deadline

The Broadway League said Wednesday that the the Committee of Theatre Owners will dim the lights of its New York theaters...

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