On Revivals, Reimagining, and Returning to the Woods

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Photo by Joan Marcus. ©2016 Joan Marcus

For my fiance Kevin’s Birthday Weekend, we were joined by two of our favorite musical theatre friends last night and went to see the tour of Fiasco Theater’s deconstructed Into the Woods at the Ahmanson Theatre here in Los Angeles. Opinions have varied widely on the production, but opinions often vary widely. This is my blog, so here’s mine.

Before we left for the show last night, Kevin and I had been reading reviews of the new Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler and I kept recalling one reader’s comment on Ben Brantley’s NYT review:

“Sadly, 2 irreplaceable things are missing from this production: Carol Channing and Gower Champion’s choreograph/direction. Anyone lucky enough to experience Champion’s Broadway creations will recognize the difference between the real thing and imitation. It’s sad current revivals choose to dispense with original choreography of Jerome Robbins, Champion, DeMille, Fosse, Bennett, Cole, etc. Generations will never understand what made them so great and be baffled why some shows played so many performances. I hope if Crazy For You ever gets back to Bway it will retain the Susan Stroman/Mike Ockrent staging. I had forgotten what a great song and dance show really was until seeing the one night only 30th anniversary performance. Why didn’t Brantley rave about that?”

which I find patently ridiculous. First, to insist it was the choreography of the show that “made them so great” in the first place is some narrow-minded, BS. Anyone who has ever worked on any artistic endeavor will tell you the sum of the parts is what usually makes something “great” in the first place (usually with a little lightning-in-a-bottle added for good measure) and that classics (and I consider both Into the Woods and Hello, Dolly! to be classics) need to periodically be reimagined and reinterpreted. We’ve had over 400 years of Hamlets and rarely do people freak out if the show is not produced with Elizabethan verisimilitude. Second, we test our cultural classics *precisely* by reimagining and reinterpreting them (seeing if they stand the “test of time”).

All this to say that I really, really enjoyed a striped down, inventive, Into the Woods (a show I love and one I’ve seen multiple times in numerous stagings, including the original B’way production. We even saw the movie three times in the cinemas.) I have rarely seen the “Last Midnight” setup, “Your Fault,” staged with so much electricity and contemporary relevance and dramatically it made “Last Midnight” work that much better as the pragmatist(s) throw their hands up in disgust at the rest of society and checks out. The deaths of both Rapunzel and the Giantess have an impact because, unlike the original and some subsequent productions, we see their deaths onstage and feel the consequences of the actions of the characters (who, like the ones from the fairy tales they’ve come from, are always meant to be reflections of us).

This matters to me because I work in so-called “new media” – whether that is termed, “interactive media,” “games,” “virtual reality,” or “themed entertainment.” Every day I am looking at how to retell stories, reimagine concepts, and revive past worlds for new audiences. My inspiration for my work comes from all over, but I particularly love when it comes from the work of other artists.

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