Thursday, April 17, 2008

Broadway times two

When I reviewed the current Broadway revival of South Pacific, I mentioned that if you combine it with August: Osage County, you have a perfect pair of bookends for the Greatest Generation that grew up during the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, and sired the baby boomers.

South Pacific is the idealized, romanticized beginning of the Greatest Generation - full of youthful optimism and self-confidence. August: Osage County is when it all comes crashing to an end, in old age and illness, in a torrent of anger and bitterness. Together, they'd make a very interesting and thought-provoking day at the theatre.

Well, I've been thinking about some other shows that would make great Broadway double features. Here's my list so far:

Thurgood and Hairspray: Ok, this one's practically a no-brainer. They're both about the civil-rights movement. Hairspray takes place in Baltimore, and Thurgood Marshall was from Baltimore. I understand that one is a musical about a fictional character and the other, starring Laurence Fishburne, is a one-man play about a legendary civil-rights lawyer who became the nation's first African-American Supreme Court justice. I'm not trying to make light of Marshall's achievements by comparing the show to Hairspray, and I haven't seen Thurgood yet. But they both recall an important time in American history, one that changed this country in profound ways. They're both about the power of the individual to affect change. And I think, or at least I hope, that they both have the ability to educate and inspire as well as entertain.

Passing Strange and Sunday in the Park with George: I've only seen SITPWG on DVD, with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. But like Passing Strange, it's about the process of creating art and all of the struggle that involves for the artist. In one case, it's a painter working on a canvas, in the other, an aspiring musician trying to compose a song. They both examine all of the people and events that pass through an artist's life and help to inspire his or her work. I also think that Passing Strange bears more than a passing resemblance to The Wizard of Oz, so pairing it with Wicked would work, too.

Wicked and The 39 Steps: Both of these take classic films and reimagine them in very creative, inspired ways. Ok, The 39 Steps is pretty much a word-for-word retelling of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, as opposed to Wicked's expansion of the story and characters we know from The Wizard of Oz. It doesn't take the story any further or expand our understanding of it the way Wicked does. Still, despite the differences, I think these are two interesting examples of taking material from another source and putting it on stage.

The Lion King and Macbeth: Yes, one's from Disney and one's a bloody Shakespearean tragedy about a power-hungry Scottish general that's clearly for an adult audience. But let's examine the plot of The Lion King: a young prince, believing his uncle is responsible for his father's death, tries to avenge the crime. I'm not the first to notice that it bears a strong resemblance to Hamlet. I'll be taking in both The Lion King and the current revival of Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart, next month, although not, unfortunately, on the same day. But close enough for comparison.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Wow, Esther. This is really a novel way of looking at shows!

But I have to tell you that the connection between Passing Strange and Sunday In The Park With George actually struck me as I was watching the latter, just a couple days after seeing the former.

Maybe you're on to something...

Esther said...

Thanks Steve! I've been thinking about this for awhile, way back to my first blog post last fall, when I wrote about "The 39 Steps." At the time, it reminded me a bit of "Wicked." Then, as I started to write my review of "South Pacific," I thought about "August: Osage County." I was really struck by what they both have to say about the Greatest Generation, and I started to think about other shows to compare. I've decided that every Broadway show has a twin, or maybe even a triplet! ;-)

Sarah B. Roberts said...

Please tell me that you're seeing Sunday in the Park with George when you visit NYC again in a few weeks. (Just don't sit on the right side of the mezzanine.)

Esther said...

Sarah, so many shows, so little time. The story of my life! Alas, my dance card is full and I won't be able to see "Sunday in the Park with George." If I could, I'd see everything, believe me!