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Jewish World Review /Jan. 6, 1999 /17 Teves, 5759

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Don't give my regards to 'Narroway

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) THE LAST THING A PERSON wants to experience when spending up to $75 for a Broadway show ticket is a subtle lecture that tells him what he has come to see is, like expired medicine, no longer good for him.

Yes, political correctness has come to Broadway. While it has made appearances in different forms before (such as once-obligatory lectures about AIDS at the end of every show in New York), it's now seeping into the shows themselves.

I first noticed the PC infection a few years ago during a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic "Carousel'' in London. The show is set in the 1920s in a virtually all-white New England town. In that production, the character "Mr. Snow'' was black and the children he and the white "Mrs. Snow'' produced looked like the United Nations. I recall turning to my wife and asking: "Would you explain the genetic code on this one?'' The audience laughed as the children who were black, white, Asian and other racial categories traipsed across the stage.

In the current revival of Irving Berlin's magnificent "Annie Get Your Gun,'' now in Washington and headed to Broadway, the program informs "this is not your grandfather's ‘Annie Get Your Gun.' '' Neither is it composer and lyricist Irving Berlin's, or Herbert and Dorothy Fields' (they wrote the book). It has been revised by Peter Stone.

Modernists, who haven't done too well creating hit Broadway musicals in recent years, are now tinkering with the classics, trying to exorcise them of racial and ethnic stereotypes. Fortunately, producer Hal Prince resisted the pressure and presented the original book, music and lyrics in his fabulous revival of Jerome Kern's "Showboat.'' Prince rejected criticism from some civil rights groups about racial stereotyping (these are some of the same people who want to censure Mark Twain and object to a recent book about "nappy hair,'' even though it is a positive work and authored by a black woman). Not overly gifted with creative skills, some try to diminish others who are. The program says producers Barry and Fran Weissler were "uncomfortable'' with "a number of moments'' in the 1946 version of "Annie Get Your Gun.'' They hired librettist Peter Stone to "renovate'' the book. Stone says the show "looks a bit quaint to audiences reared on the likes of ‘Chicago' and ‘Rent.' '' I'm not paying money to see Stone's version of modernism. If I want to see those shows I'll buy a ticket. I came to see the original "Annie Get Your Gun,'' as I did "Showboat.'' I want to see the real thing, warts and all. Besides, why should "Chicago'' and "Rent'' be the yardstick by which the classics are measured? Will the movie "Shakespeare in Love'' be the standard by which the unstudied know the Bard? Stone believes Native Americans are the ones in need of the most fixing. Stereotyped in the original, they now are equals in the renovation. One is even "half-Irish'' and marries a white girl. Annie's song "I'm an Indian Too'' has been cut. Even Frank Butler, Annie's love interest, has been transformed into "more a '90s kind of guy.'' Stone disingenuously says "there's not a line of preaching in it.'' There doesn't have to be. The "preaching'' has been done in the rewriting. In its present format with the grand finale, "There's No Business Like Show Business,'' now the opening number, the show lacks spark, charm and passion. With the exception of a few Bernadette Peters moments and Valerie Wright, whose character, "Dolly Tate,'' Frank rejects for Annie, it appears the cast is doing a walk-through, not a performance. The New York reviewers can decide. The original "Annie Get Your Gun,'' starring the incomparable Ethel Merman (Berlin wrote the show expressly for her), ran for 1,147 performances and delighted audiences. If the re-creators of this "Annie'' think people will pay high prices to be told what they ought to like, they may be making a costly mistake. Bernadette Peters is the draw, but this show is a counterfeit. Grandfather wouldn't like it if he had seen the original. There may be no business like show business, but this show in its present form gives the audience the business.


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