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On Being Politically Correct

There are many who feel that to revise a book of a play or a musical which contains stereotypes of certain ethnic groups or stale jokes is blasphemous and disrespectful to the original writers and artists. And, of course, in this Politically Correct world, there are some who really don't care about the entertainment value, just so long as you don't offend anyone. And others even suggest leaving such musicals like Annie Get Your Gun in the trunk and never to be revived again.

Well, I don't agree with any of that.

Let's take the case of the recent revival of Peter Pan and "Ugg A Wug" in which Native Americans, dare I say Indians, were portrayed pow-wowing, and chanting "ugg-a-wugs." Now, the artistic team behind the revival drastically changed this number into a razzle-dazzle production number. Why? Not because it was not PC, but because the original number is simply dated and boring. What worked in 1954, and barely worked in 1979 simply doesn't work today. The artistic team saw this and made improvements to the original work without altering the original concept.

In the case of Annie Get Your Gun, much more than a musical number is changed. Potentially offensive songs like "I'm An Indian Too" have been deleted, but more at issue is the book. Peter Stone has totally revised it, much to the chagrin of many who would say ‘leave it alone and present it like it was.' If that were the case, the musical revival would have folded opening night out of town.

With a score by Irving Berlin and book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields you have to bear in mind that this was written 50 years ago in a time when the world was very different. What was funny then is simply not funny today, the case for at least some of the material. The portrayal of American Indians as stereotypically done in those days simply will not work today. And, not because it is not PC, but because we have changed and would find that type of presentation boring and out of date.

What to do? Do we simply forget that great body of work from the past simply because the book of a musical is dated? Or do we allow an artist of today the right to update the material to make it suitable for today's audience? A double-edge sword for sure. The answer lies in being true to the original material. It's a great responsibility and in the hands of a hack the original material could be destroyed beyond recognition.

I believe Peter Stone recognized this challenge and with great responsibility has revised the book of Annie Get Your Gun without altering the thoughts and concepts of the original book. And for that, I take my hat off to him. And because of that, new generations will get to see this great musical from the past and become familiar with the brilliant score by Irving Berlin.

Just in the last 3 years, the Broadway theater has been digging into its recent past and presenting revivals of such great musicals as Cabaret and Chicago. Soon, we will see revivals of older shows such as Kiss Me Kate and Oklahoma! (where Susan Strohman's new choreography is said to be the key to the London hit, even surpassing Agnes DeMille's original choreography.)

In this day and age where we, as theater-goers, are tired of the spectacle type "theme-park musicals", how lucky we are that we have a trunk full of the great American book musicals ... luckier still that we have someone like Peter Stone.

Tidbits:

  • Word from Toronto is that Chicago opened to raves and audiences are thrilled. Could it be that legendary Chita Rivera is knockin' em dead as Roxie? Yep.

  • Death of a Salesman opens this Wednesday night, exactly 50 years to the day of the original opening. Brian Dennehy stars at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. We'll have a review for you this week in our Broadway Reviews section.

  • Roundabout's Little Me starring Martin Short closed. Cast recording definitely on the horizon.

  • Parade is closing at the end of the month. 5.5 million down the drain. Cast recording? Probably. Most agree the score is great.

  • Word on the street along Broadway is that Charlie Brown is a must. Reviews in the mainstream press were mixed to good, but we called it right. For a chuckle see today's ad in the Times ... shows a cartoon of Charlie and Snoopy. Charlie says, "Good Grief! We're a Hit!" and Snoopy replies, "The Beagle has landed."

  • Encore's series of great American musicals in concert production of Babes In Arms opens this Thursday at City Center. Five performances only. Tickets are rarer than hens teeth I hear.

  • Box office is open for The Lion in Winter which previews February 19th. It's at Roundabout and directed by Michael Charlie Brown Mayer.

  • Tony Swanick, former aide to Congressman John Fox, joins our staff and reports in our Regional section on Washington, D.C. theater. Next up is St. Louis as we continue to expand our coverage of theater across America and beyond. Anyone from Australia?

If you disagree with me on my opinions on revivals, good. All I can say is ... "Ugg-a-wug!" And that's politically correct, says Cherokee me! : )

See you Thursday!

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