Friday, July 18, 2008

I received a new one a week ago...

... and sent the bookseller a note of thanks: this is an especially interesting find that I'll talk about in a few weeks. But the bookseller sent a note in return, which has engendered an interesting conversation about these little gems, prompted by his question:

"I wonder if kids today could pull these off?"

My first thought was, Why would they bother? Somehow, I just cant see high schools today interested in something like ROSE OF THE DANUBE, and I think it's almost dead certain that JEANIE would be off the table, period. But there's other factors that have more to do with actually creating the piece. After all, consider: no cast albums, no reviews -- in essence, no roadmap save for the script and the score. Everything here was a leap into the unknown. Even though something like OH DOCTOR might have been performed by a hundred high schools, there was no central repository of production information that could clue the director or his cast or his musicians or his design team. Sure, every script had a "stage manager's manual" that would walk you through the scenic requirements and the dance steps, but you wouldnt know what it all looked and sounded like until it came together. Today, you can go to YouTube and see a half dozen examples of RENT onstage, and they're all pretty much the same -- pick one, copy it, call it a day. The sole challenge comes in making it look like the original, whereas the challenge in 1930 of producing OH DOCTOR was far more complex. You didnt know what the original looked like, because there was no "original".

And when you really look at some of these, they're pretty daunting pieces for amateurs. If the school had opted to use its own orchestra, those musicians would have to struggle to find the right sound: it wouldnt be pre-recorded anywhere for them to just copy. The actors cast to play the three doctors would have to find their own interpretations, since there wouldnt be any way to see how someone else did it. Bottom line: these would mean a lot of conceptual work, more so than "Oh hey, lets put on WICKED!"

That's not to suggest that theatre students today are inherently lazier than those of a half-century or so ago. I've seen some pretty kick-ass high school productions. But in the main, a high school production of OKLAHOMA mounted in Des Moines is probably gonna look much like another produced in Missoula. I doubt that would have been true of BETTY LOU. If anything, it would be fascinating to see how this material was brought to life in different parts of the country.

Okay, on with the shows...

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