Jewish World Review July 13, 2001 / 22 Tamuz, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- HERE’S a multi-million dollar idea for somebody -- do a Broadway musical based on that classic Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers film, “Top Hat.”
I just saw it again the other night. What a lot of fun! It’s got all the right elements for a hit New York show -- audience title recognition, romance, screwball mistaken-identity plot, meaty supporting characters, loads of dancing, and those great Irving Berlin songs like, “Cheek to Cheek,” “Isn’t This a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain,” and “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails.”
Of course, making a hit show out of a classic movie is easier said than done. For every “Forty-Second Street” success story there’s a dozen misfires like “Singin’ in the Rain,” which should have been a big hit on the stage and wasn’t.
To begin with, you’d better hire a couple of dynamite singer/dancers in the principle roles because they will definitely be compared to Fred and Ginger. Yes, Astair and Rogers were wonderful and unique, but I really believe that somewhere out there, there’s got to be a couple of talented performers who could pull this off today. Team them with a writer, a director and a choreographer with the right sensibilities and you’ve got the next Broadway smash.
But even a classic show with a great score and the right talent can fall on its face if the producers aren’t careful. The pitfalls are many. So many, in fact, that I’ve decided to list them -- just in case anyone might want to bring “Top Hat” to the stage in the foreseeable future. The following are a few things TO BE AVOIDED.
1. Nathan Lane. There’s no part for him in this show. Forget him.
2. Camping it up! The biggest mistake anyone can make is to spoof a spoof, and the movie was written as a screwball farce to begin with. The characters in the show are really supposed to believe in what they’re doing (no matter how wacky), so keep tongues out of cheeks and avoid the winks to the audience.
3. “Bringing it up-to-date.” The period (mid-thirties) is just about as important as any other element of the show. Keep it in its proper time frame. The one area that CAN go over the top is in the set design. Go ahead and exaggerate the art deco treatment in the sets. The film certainly did.
4. Nathan Lane. There’s no part for him in this show. Forget him.
5. Rewriting to appeal to a “younger audience.” This show, if done right, will appeal to all ages. Keep the show true to itself and its time by not pandering to today’s lowest common denominator. Using contemporary vernacular and /or attitudes is a great way to guarantee a flop, not to mention a tremendous waste of time. Anyone who thinks Eminum is an “artist” will likely never understand or appreciate Irving Berlin anyway.
6. Nathan Lane. There’s no part for him in this show. Forget him.
While I’m on the subject of Broadway musicals, is there anything that can be done, I wonder, to get the orchestra off the stage and back into the pit where they belong? The trend seems to be, especially in revivals, to bring the musicians on stage and in so doing, crowd the available stage area so there is very little room left for full sets.
I know it’s obscenely expensive to produce a traditional musical show these days, but turning out skimpy productions and charging full price for them is not the way to keep people happy and going to the theater. Sooner or later the public will wise up and start to feel that they’ve been “took.”
Speaking of being “took,” one other thing I don’t appreciate when I spend a fortune to see live theater is getting hustled for money between acts or after the show. If the actors want to put on a benefit for a particular charity, more power to them, but please tell me up-front that I’m attending a benefit performance, or that I am expected to make a donation above and beyond what I’ve already paid to see the show (which is usually considerable).
I really dislike being hustled and when the star of the show walks out on stage and, out of a clear blue sky, asks me to give money in the lobby to one of her pet causes, I feel like I’m at one of those week-end scam deals where they pressure you to buy a time-share condo in Idaho or something. It kinda kills the whole theater experience for me.
Come to think of it, I take back everything I said about wanting to see “Top Hat”
done on stage. I’ll just rent the
JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.