Making Classic Musicals Contemporary | Stratford Festival Forum 2018

Making Classic Musicals Contemporary | Stratford Festival Forum 2018


(upbeat music) (audience talking) (audience applauding) – Good morning everybody. And welcome to Making Classical
Musicals Contemporary. My name is Richard Ouzounian, and I’m going to be the moderator for the panel this morning. I’d like to welcome all of you and I’d like to welcome
our live stream audience, who are watching as well. And to begin with, we
would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, the
Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabe. This territory was subject to
the Dish With One Spoon treaty which was an agreement
between these nations and into which subsequent
indigenous nations, Europeans and all new comers have been
invited in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect. Through this treaty we are bound
to share the responsibility of ensuring that the Dish is never empty, which includes taking care of this land, the creatures and all of
the people we share it with. I’d like to begin by introducing my two amazing guests today
that we’re dealing with. Over on the side is a
gentleman I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with for close to – 40 years.
– 40 years. Robert Harris is one of
the most respected names in music in this country. He spent many many years as an executive and producer
and host for CBC Radio. Until recently he’s also been the critic, classical music critic
for The Globe and Mail. He is an author, if you
listen to Sunday Morning, you’ve heard a lot of
the astonishing features that he’s done with Michael Enright, where he takes popular music,
and sometimes classical music, and acquaints you with the
social relevance of it, and how important it was,
which is one of the reasons he is a terrific man to have here today. He is also in my neighborhood in the Riverdale section of Toronto, but that has nothing to do
with why I like him so much. Ladies and gentlemen, Robert Harris. – Thank you. (audience applauding) You forgot to mention that we were two when we met each other 40 years ago. (everyone laughing)
– Thank you, thank you. And of course, if you’ve been coming to
musicals at Stratford, the next guest needs
absolutely no introduction. I think it is safe to say,
this is single-handedly, the person who has
revitalized the musical form at the Stratford Festival, made it incredibly important
at the Stratford Festival, made it relevant, and done so, and this is an important
topic that’ll come up today, without mucking around
with the shows unduly. We’re gonna talk about how you
can take a classical musical, and make it contemporary and relevant, without putting big greasy
fingerprints all over it. The woman is also a joy to work
with, a lovely human being, and she can do production numbers and direct musical comedy
scenes like nobody’s business. Donna Feore. (audience applauding) I’d also like to mention
that instead of the, if you’ve been to these before, there used to be a microphone stand, and people could come
up and ask questions. We’re trying something a
little different this year. We’re gonna be collecting
audience questions throughout the morning
and we will try to address as many of them as we can. Ushers are standing by with
note cards and pencils. If you wish to submit a question, I guess try to catch their
eye, and they’ll come and pass it on, and you can write it. And for our live stream audience, you can submit questions
through our Facebook page. So, on to the business at hand. The topic, Making Classical
Musicals Contemporary. Donna, I’d like to start with you. What does that term mean and
how do you do it in a nutshell? This is your mission statement. – Oh, okay. Well, you know, the
term classic, you know, I said this in my director’s notes and it’s really important. You know, a classic
musical, these are musicals that are done in schools,
in amateur theater, in universities, in professional theater. And people keep coming back
to them over and over again. So, there’s gotta be something
about them that speaks to to people. So, I guess that the most important thing is to go back to the
content and the material. And so, when I think about
making them contemporary, we must look at these musicals through a modern sensibility. We have no choice. We are in a world, and whatever’s
happening in our world, will absolutely affect
how we see that musical. So I always go back,
especially to the libretto, and you know, look at what are the nuggets, what
are the clues, what’s in there that says, “Yeah, I see that.” I see the relevancy, I see that everything has
changed since, you know, period of say, where it’s set. Like The Music Man in
1912, written in 1957. But I see the relevancy to 2018. So either everything has
changed, or nothing has changed. – Very good. – Robert, what about
from your point of view? – Well, I’d first like
to say that, you know speaking after Donna is
like following Beyoncé. (everyone laughing) – Oh my god, we’re done. I’m the B. (laughs) – So it’s a bit daunting. (everyone laughing) And in effect, I sort
of half agree with you, and I have some questions about it. So, all art is, my theory is
all art is contemporary art, whether it wants to be or not, because the audience that is
watching it is contemporary. So we can, I know classical
music as well as Broadway, probably maybe a little bit better. We can go to the most extreme
lengths to copy the bows of previous, you know, generations, phrase it the same way, use the same performance practices. You know, be as authentic
as we think we can be. But the one thing we can’t
do is recreate the audience. ‘Cause the audience of 1720,
or 1814, or 1912, or 1957, is not the audience of 2018,
and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that. So the question to me
is, do you embrace that? Do you somehow try to hide from that? In other words, you know, it seems to me that you’ve taken the right tactic, which is to acknowledge that
and to make something of it. So these musicals are
contemporary by the very fact that we’re being, we’re
watching them in 2018. The question that I have, and
I would like to discuss it, exactly how far do you take that? So there is a positive
and a negative thing about the fact that these
musicals are classic, okay? The positive thing is
exactly what you said. You know, these I’ve
stood the test of time, they have, we love them. Basically, we are here
because we love these things, we really love them
because we present them, or we love them because we watch them. But exactly how far does that love go? And if I may sing a question for you? And you’ll pardon me. ♪ Niggers all work on de Mississipi ♪ So that’s the way Old Man River go. And you know, whatever year it was, when – 27. – Yeah, when it was presented,
enormous controversy And the domestic violence of Carousel here a couple of years ago, which
was a big deal, you know? So that to me, that’s sort
of a negative challenge. So you have these things,
that are stuck in there, that you’re not quite
sure what to do about. But you can take it positively as well, you can make something of those. – Robert, I wanted,
whenever people talk about how inappropriate musicals
had been in places, the Pulitzer Prize winning musical of 1959 was called Fiorello!, and it was about Fiorello H. LaGuardia, and it was this big
cheerful, feel-good show about the liberal mayor
who fixed New York. But the 11 o’clock number
was for his secretary, who had been in love with him
for years and never done it. And she talks about how she has to go out and find another man,
and it had the lyric, “And if he likes me, “who cares how frequently he strikes me. “I’ll fetch his slippers
with my arm in a sling, “just for the privilege
of wearing his ring.” (everyone laughing) And that was written by Bock
and Harnick, who wrote Fiddler, and all these other great shows. And you know, decades went by before anybody complained about that. So it’s a different world, isn’t it? To launch us into this discussion, we don’t talk about, we don’t
say, “Oh, Antony Trimolino “just did the revival of the Tempest.” Or we don’t say, “Oh,
they’re going to revive “Elektra at the COC next year.” Why do we say Donna Feore
is reviving The Music Man? – Yeah, well that’s a
great question actually. Because I think that,
I run into this a lot, where people say, “Well.” Last year was particularly
interesting with Guys and Dolls. “I just saw that. “I just saw that, I just
saw that eight years ago.” And yeah, if you’re doing a Hamlet, or Mu’ To Do, you wouldn’t say,
“I just saw that production “eight years ago.” I think there’s some
kind of a misconception that musical is always the same. You know, I don’t do musicals like that, I do musicals where I can look
at and change the content. And as far as the originality
of the choreography and the staging. And also just by having different actors, that’s a feature of, it’s
going to be different. So I’m not sure why that happens. I think maybe because of
the Phantom of the Opera’s, Les Mis, the kinda musicals
that are always the same, and that you don’t have
the ability to change them. There are musicals that you cannot change. That is the show. So if you saw it in Poughkeepsie,
if you saw in Toronto, if you saw it on Broadway,
it would be the same show. We don’t do that. So when we do revivals, we do revivals but with with original staging and choreography. – I think there are couple of things. Number one is the
difference between Elektra and the difference between
Love’s Labor’s Lost, and the difference between Carousel, is Carousel is relatively recent. We’re still in that era, where we haven’t seen
the original production, but our parents may have
seen the original production. So we’re close to the moment of creation. But every year we get
further and further away from that moment of creation,
so the question becomes, how much liberty are we permitted? And the second thing is,
it’s a commercial world, that’s the other big thing,
is that the Broadway Theater is a commercial world. And, when we say we’re reviving something, it implies that they were dead, right? So they have to be revived, and the fact that, and I think to some extent,
you’re wrong, you know. People want to see
Carousel exactly the way, not the way they saw it on
Broadway, ’cause that was 1945. The way they saw it in the movies, right? That’s why most people
have in fact come to those – Yeah.
– Rodgers and Hammerstein – musicals. And people wanted exactly the same. I think there’s an audience expectation that really has to be fought, a conservatism in the audience. It’s interesting I was,
to prepare for this, I looked at some of the
reviews of the current revival of Carousel on Broadway. And they’re really split, you know. I mean everyone agrees on what they see, not everyone agrees on how to value it. So reviewer A says, “Oh, it’s wonderful, “it’s been updated a
bit, but it’s basically “The Carousel we know and love, right? “It hasn’t been fiddled around with.” And reviewer B says, “Why
would you waste your time? “Why wouldn’t you do something with that?” Not so much the misogyny,
and the negative part, as I said before, there’s negative things about all of these musicals. But there’s positive as well. Like why wouldn’t you take, as you do, why wouldn’t you take the
underlying power of the story, and the way the music interacts with it and push it a little further?
– Yeah. And to me, we’re right on the cusp of that in these revivals. Not everything gets
revived, it makes me laugh. You know, we talk about
reviving classic musicals. Well we revived Girl Crazy, except we didn’t say we
were reviving Girl Crazy. We made it Crazy for You,
we added all new songs, and nobody blinked an eye. Nobody wanted to see Girl Crazy again. Not a one human being, not
even Ira Gershwin estate (Richard laughs loudly) wanted to see Girl Crazy again. Crazy for You was a magnificent success, ’cause they took all
those late Gershwin’s. So you know, it’s a
much, the more I started to think about this, the harder
it became to put your finger on exactly what’s right. What’s exactly, what is
the right thing to do? Because there’s so many exceptions. – The other thing that’s happened, it’s fascinating, it’s back when, like if you want to call this, start of the golden age of the musicals. If you wanna go back to Oklahoma, Oklahoma was the biggest hit to date, and it ran three and a half years. Then you get into the 50s,
and My Fair Lady beat that. And My Fair Lady ran six years. Then you get into the 70s, and
Chorus Line broke the record, and Chorus Line went 10 years. The Phantom of the Opera is
still running after 33 years. Les Mis is running somewhere in the world. – 150. – Yeah, yeah like that. Miss Saigon, and the
other thing is these shows largely stay the same. – The same, yeah. – And Robert hit on that point. – Can I say one thing? That maybe make me unpopular,
but The Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis are not Broadway
musicals in my opinion. – No, they’re musicals. – No, they are commercially
concocted contraptions– (Richard laughs)
– Here we go. – That must be,
(audience laughing) So why are they the same all the time? Because they must be the same. Because they’re movies,
that you get to see live. And the same way that when
you go to see a movie, you don’t want the ending to change, you expect it to be exactly the same way. So they don’t count to me. So of course they’re
running forever, you know? A perpetual engine
machine will run forever. I mean other musicals come and go because they have integrity to them, and they run out of steam,
and they need to be revived, or remounted, because
there’s something new. That’s my two cents. (chuckles) – I think what’s interesting
too, the musicals I’ve done over the last how many years, here anyway, I always, I’m attracted
to the material where, you know, I’m up with
the really strong book. I often direct at the Festival
Theater which is a space that is a communal space,
it’s built for the actor, it’s built for soliloquy, it’s built to speak to the audience. So, I think you need a
musical on that stage, that has a really really good book. When I go back to these books,
I’m always always shocked and surprised at how
relevant the material is. For example, when I went
back to Sound of Music, and Robert’s right, most people
relate to these musicals, or their first experience with them was probably with the movie. And Sound of Music, the movie
and the stage production are very different. And when you look at the
book of Sound of Music, I realized very quickly that
the role of Elsa and Max, I mean they were diminished in the movie, for a very simple reason,
movies are two hours long. They really can’t be much more than that. And it was a vehicle
for Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews quite right. So there’s gonna be
collateral damage in that. You need to take some of those
subplots and characters away. But the stage production
has that in there. And you had a woman in 1930 you know, a CEO, and strong, and at a
political real crossroads, and with real problems, and I
found it really interesting, that particular relationship. And then I realized how strong a role, and a strong a character Maria is written. I can’t direct a show any way other through
a lens being a woman. So these classic musicals
can be problematic from that point of view. I think it’s one of the
biggest issues right now with revivals and musicals
frankly is how do we deal with that content that
both of these gentlemen have talked about already, which is this kind of
dismissive nature towards women, written in a certain period. It shows us how far we’ve come, and sadly, shows us how far we haven’t come. However, things like Guys and Dolls, in actual fact, it’s so easy
to dismiss these musicals as well, that’s, that’s sexist. Guys and Dolls, can’t call girls dolls. Well, actually you can. You’re calling guys, guys. It is a reignanese, it
is a kind of language. However, the only three
people in Guys and Dolls, that have a job, and a good job, are General Cartwright, Sergeant Sarah Brown, and Adelaide, who at that point
would be a burlesque dancer, making about, equivalent
now, about $10,000 a week. The other people in this show,
throw dice on the ground, and hope for the best, you know. (audience laughing) Not sure that’s a job. So, when, an actual fact, if you start to peel back the onion and look at it, I don’t
have to change the content, what I have to do is respect it. And say, “What is the righter thinking?” You have to go back to that. And if you do that, it’s
all, it’s so much more, I do a lot of choreography, but I spend a great deal more
time, actually, on the book, and in the scenes. Because if those actors really dig in, and treat that as a play with music, they will uncover many gems in that script. And that’s where we find the relevancy. – [Robert] It’s really interesting. There’s so many things I wanna talk about, it’s funny ’cause you and I
talked about Guys and Dolls, I wrote the program note for it. And you told me this theory of yours, which is absolutely true. And goes even further than that, it’s not just that they have
jobs, that these are the people who actually push the action. You know it’s Adelaide who
is trying to figure out what’s psychosomatic symptoms mean. – That’s right.
– Yeah. – And even Detroit says, “Sue me, sue me, “shoot bullets through me.” That’s the most he can do, right? And Sarah, so they push
the action, it’s their and that Marry the Man Today,
which is seen as sort of sexist in some ways, is
completely the opposite. The other thing that’s
interesting, if I may say so, is you talk about looking at the books, and we call these musicals. And they are musicals. And the music for them, is in fact is what separates them weak from the chaff. I mean, they have been, what
tens of thousands, if not more Broadway musicals over
the years, you know? – Well, book meaning book and lyrics. – No, I understand, but what
I’m saying not the music. So you know, I love Li’l
Abner actually, a show I saw, and no one’s gonna revive Li’l Abner. Because the music isn’t strong enough. These shows get revived
because the music is timeless. – Oh yes. – But, what you say about
the book, is actually true. So you might expect someone
looking at classic musicals to say, “Well I look for the best score, “and I work from there.” – Right. – But you don’t. And I don’t, and I think
you’re right not to. – Well I think because otherwise we can’t do musicals like Carousel. If we do not attack the book. And I don’t mean change
the book, but I mean go back to what the writer was thinking. You know, as directors and
actors, that is our job, by the way, is to serve the writer. That’s what we do. (chuckles) So, you need to go back and
whether it’s the composer, or the book writer. We have to look at what was the intent. And, you know, something like Carousel, I can tell you right now,
I’ve been in that show, as an actor, I haven’t directed the show. But I know for a fact, if I
was to go after that show, I would look at, I wouldn’t
focus so much on why Billy is the way he is, I would look
at why Julie doesn’t feel, that she isn’t confident enough
to not, not put up with it. And to be able to have a voice. And so, I’m not sure what that message is. I’m not sure I’m prepared
right now to look at that. But there is something to that. There’s musicals like How
to Succeed in Business, a fantastic show, you know. And if we weren’t living in the culture we’re living in right now, you know, Mad Men, I’m not sure how well that would succeed right now. ‘Cause I don’t think we have as big a sense of humor about this. So, you know, ♪ A secretary is not a toy ♪ Not sure. (everyone laughing) I can spend three months on that. But, like the thing is that so
difficult is these are, these are songs that were
written perhaps tongue in cheek, but it’s all about the culture we live in, and how much we can tolerate. And so I think some musicals, frankly, I think are difficult to
do right now, I really do. Having said that, some of the
greatest music ever written, I don’t know if, I mean
there’s great musicals out there right now, I
absolutely believe that, but if you go back to
the structure musically, of something even as incredibly
complicated as the library in the Music Man, which is probably the most difficult number to choreograph I’ve ever done in my career. It is the most difficult
music, and it’s often cut, because people run away screaming. I didn’t, should have, but I didn’t. (audience laughing) But it’s so, and Robert can speak to this, of why it’s so complicated,
but it’s interesting, and someone really put a
lot of thought to this. I’m not sure we do that
now with some of these big, you know these big scores in Oklahoma, and we used to be able
to write for 40 people. And if you do, if you work,
and I work in New York, and I’m gonna tell you right
now, here’s the mandate, “Oh, don’t have over 15
people in that cast.” You know? So everything has changed, and that’s why these classic
musicals, if they go away, we’re in big trouble, because
we can’t recreate those. We just can’t, we don’t
have those kind of, it’s just not, it’s a numbers game now. We just don’t do that kinda show. – So, Donna, you opened
the door on this year, which is The Music Man. So let’s fling the ball in that direction. I guess, Robert, I’ll start with you. When you knew Stratford
was doing The Music Man, you know the show well, and
you’ve probably seen it. What were you, what did
you think were the virtues and the possible problems
of doing The Music Man? – My theory feeling is that
The Music Man is the most misunderstood musical in Broadway history. Because it seems so simple,
and it seems so sweet, and it seems so nostalgic,
and it was written in 1957, and when juvenile
delinquency was at its peak, as a fear situation in North America. And what’s the absolute
basis of The Music Man? There’s a pool table coming
into town, you know what? And what does pool stand for, you know? It’s not trouble, it’s
juvenile delinquency. So The Music Man is a
contemporary musical. It was written the same
year as West Side Story, beat it out for the Tony. So Meredith Willson is such
an interesting character. He worked in radio, he worked
with Tallulah Bankhead, he was her band leader, he
played for John Philip Sousa, he played for Arturo Toscanini, the only person, I think, in history. (everyone laughing) So The Music Man is not what it seems. The Music Man to me, and I
think, to you as well, is about stripping away that image of perfect America. Because that’s what Harold Hill does. You know, he strips away some
of the bad things about it, like the ranker of the town council. He strips away Winthrop’s shyness. He strips away Marian’s frigidity. And eventually he strips away
his own, he cons himself. That’s something that I love so much about So The Think Method, The
Think Method, there’s the con. He has no idea how to teach
people how to play music, so you’d think it, and then it comes out. Well in actual fact, that’s true. That’s how musicians actually work. They think, they hear
it in their head first, that’s how jazz musicians work. And Meredith must have
full knew this, right? So at the key moment in The Music Man, when the tar and feathers is
ready, and The Think Method, of course Beethoven comes out. ‘Cause Meredith Willson
is nothing but sly. He cons himself, Harold Hill cons himself. And the music is the same thing, you know? So the fact that 76 Trombones,
and Goodnight, My Someone is the same song, one faster, one slower. Jerome Kern never did anything like that. Cole Porter never did anything like that. The Gershwin brothers never
did anything like that. So to me, The Music Man has possibilities. So the question is, do
you follow into the trap of playing it for nostalgia,
’cause everybody wants that bucolic America? Or do you start needling and wheedling in to see where those fault lines are? – Donna? – Well, you needle. (everyone laughing) You know, I think one thing I realized very quickly was how much Willson was
in love with percussion. I started to think about
how Harold brings heart, and he brings rhythm into the community. Because, you know, if you look at it, they’re kinda of classic song,
the yieldy barn raising song, is Shipoopi, and that’s a
whole other conversation, but it’s a fun kind of, give
and take kinda song. But it’s the community song. And if you look at it,
everything that Harold brings in, Sadder-But-Wiser, 76 Trombones, Trouble, it has a soul, and a rhythm
to it, and a sexiness to it. And that’s what I went after in the show is to get that kinda greediness in. And the kids, they’re distracted from
juvenile delinquency, and they find a focus. And everybody in the community
finds a different focus. The women stop gossiping and
being cruel to each other, especially to Marian, the guys find a harmony, he’s so clever. What does he do, he get
a barbershop quartet. The guys that are
fighting, what do they do? They sing a four-part harmony. What do you need for harmony? A codependency. (Richard chuckles) This is kind of a
wonderful, he just comes in, and he just kind of morphs this community. I look at it as the Terminator. You know The Terminator movie,
when the guy got blown up, and the Mercury goes everywhere,
and it goes (mumbles), comes back together? So that’s what he does,
he kinda blows them up, and then they all find
their way back together, to find that one cohesive
unit in the community. But I think that he does it,
we talked about the redemptive powers of love, which I really feel like is the overriding
theme with this show, but it’s the redemptive power of dance, the redemptive power of music. And he uses all of those things. So I think it’s probably
one of the greatest, if not the greatest musical
ever written, I really do. I actually, for so many
reasons, and I also, part of it, is that you have one voice. I keep going on about
this, but it’s critical. To realize that you have one voice that wrote the book, the
lyrics and the music. I don’t know, how many
collaborators were on West Side? Maybe four on paper, but 11 probably.
– Yeah. – And he won the Tony. Why? Because he spoke to humanity,
he wrote about himself. He kinda just opened himself up and put his heart on his sleeve, I think. And when you look at a show like, say, Come from Away right
now, which is also a show about whether you like
it or not, or the music, it doesn’t matter. But it’s a show that speaks to humanity, because it takes the heart
and puts it out here. And I think that’s the same kinda show. – Something interesting we
were talking about backstage. When you talk about how
to do these changes, and how to get that vision
across without changing the show. The area, where this Music
Man is quite wonderful and very different. I mean, I’ve seen maybe 15,
20 productions in my life. I have never ever seen choreography to equal this.
– Thank you. – Not just in the quality,
but the amount of it. It’s really wonderful. (audience applauding) – But, even more importantly, you have really young people doing it. – Yeah. – If you ever go back, look in a book, google the original Broadway production. No one in the Chorus or The Music Man who are pretending to be those kids is ever gonna see 25 again, (laughs) some of them
never gonna see 30 again. And that was when those looked a lot older,
– Yeah. you know? And they had like a little
rouge on their cheeks to look young, but– – Yeah, that’s not gonna
help on the Festival stage. I just want you to know that. (audience laughing) – I love it. I’m watching the parents in the show, are people who I think of
as young, and in some cases they are just in their 30s,
but they would have had in that generation kids that young.
– Yeah. I mean I think I did cast it true to age. It really is, young dancers and actors and singers, that’s young ligaments and tendons. (audience laughing) So, but I do, you know the thing is, is that
what I’m always looking for is I do storyboard everything
as a choreographer. I do come after choreography from a directorial point of view. I keep the narrative going
throughout the story. I don’t want my principles to suddenly disappear of the stage and let
the dancing chorus take over. You know, I try to
integrate them all the time, so that we don’t lose what the story is. But also trying to keep
that excitement going. And there are so many
opportunities in 76 Trombones, yes that I put in some key
changes, and modulations which kinda get us in the gut and move it. But, but one thing what I did with my musical director Franklin, hi Franklin, here you are, and our percussion Dave Campion, and Graham. We developed a rover them line. and what I went back
to was marching bands. And I did a lot of research,
I do a lot of research, and we know that Meredith
Willson loved that whole world. And also that the marching bands, then I started to think
of the contemporary drum lines now. And drum lines in United States are huge. We don’t see them as much in Canada, but this is a massive thing. There’s competitions for
them, there’s universities, it’s huge. And so I started to look at
all of that world and thought, “Yeah, it fits.” I don’t wanna impose
something that doesn’t fit, but it just seemed to work. That he kinda gives them that rhythm, and then just like in any
musical, they learn very quickly, ’cause that’s what we do,
we learn how to do that in about 3.5 seconds. And we flew, and then that just kind of moved into more and more, and of course we just kept topping it. The actual choreography in
this show, you know Richard, is on the page. It’s actually, I didn’t change anything. I mean not, just like
maybe a couple of keys. But honestly, it’s just I don’t think a lot of people cut the dance. I actually didn’t add a lot. So I think what happens in Music Man, people cut some of the dance. You gotta have the talent to do it, and the people that can sustain
the singing and the dancing. There’s the other problem. You know they’re back in the
day of Agness de Mille days. She had a dancing chorus
in Oklahoma and Carousel. And then she had a singing chorus. – Yeah. So the two didn’t have to do it, but guess what happens when
you do both? (chuckles) You can’t breathe. (audience laughing) So, you know that’s
why they’re so skilled, and that’s why I’m able to do it, is that we train them to do that. – Robert? – Well, I think the whole
question of choreography is so interesting in this discussion about making musicals contemporary. And we ignore choreography. Because when we think of a classic music, we think of the things
that are on the page. We think of the book,
we think of the lyrics, and we think of the music. And the choreography is
either disposable, or it’s not part of the show. And to me the reason you are so successful at doing these updated things, your shows are contemporary
without breaking a sweat. And partly it’s because you’re a woman, and I think that’s
really really important. These shows, all of these
shows, all the strong characters are women, that’s the case of all of the most sexist
literature in the world, has women as the central character. Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina. You know, they’re sexist and
they all die, and Carmen, and horrible things happen to them, and they all profoundly
interestingly women. And Broadway is the same. Maria, you know Laurey in Oklahoma, etc. So you tap into that, but the fact that you’re a
choreographer is essential to me, because that’s the one
part of the Broadway show, I mean, yes, you can copy the
choreography, and you can buy, and in some cases, maybe West Side, which was a choreographed show, people Alexander Neve, I’m not
telling tales out of school, has long said that he’d like
to present West Side Story to Canadian Opera Company, as an opera, ’cause to him, as he said to me, West Side Story is an opera. Well, he’s actually wrong, it’s a ballet. And the reason that we don’t realize that, is that 999% of this, of what has listened to the original cast album,
– Right. – for which there’s no dancing. So dancing has to be in the moment. Dancing is the one thing you can’t, I mean you can put it in
aspect, but it doesn’t work. You can instantly tell,
that that’s canned. In a way that you can’t
tell about the music. But, so to make the dancing
and the choreography, but entry point into
modernization is so clever. I mean it comes to you naturally,
’cause that’s who you are, but to me that’s a really
wonderful way of adding subtext. You mentioned this backstage. So in fact, it’s the text stays the same, it’s the subtext that changes. – [Donna] Right, exactly. – But that’s the way you modernize things. – [Donna] That’s exactly it. – That’s the way you modernize Hamlet. That’s the way you modernize
all of these things. You don’t change the words,
it’s not additional dialogue by William Shakespeare, as it is famous Romeo and Juliet movie they did back in the 30s. You wear different clothes, you put different people on stage, you have different things going on, – Right. – So choreography is central in that way. – What about, we haven’t talked about one of the most interesting
things about Music Man, is some of the very different music. Meredith Willson had his own style.
– Oh, incredible! – I guess we’ve often called it rap. It was rap years ahead of its time– – Questions for you. – What? Oh, thank you, great. Talk songs, you know? With the rhythm, “You
can talk, you can bicker, “you can talk, you can bicker.” “You got trouble, my friends,
right here in River City.” Blah-blah-blah. He used them less in the second show. – Yeah. – Kinda after that. But he made a strong statement with this, and originally,
– Oh yeah. – there was even more that he cut. Where do you, how did that
trigger you, and Robert, where do you think that
sits in the musical world? – Well, you know, as an outlier until 35 years later, when rap became the
dominant musical language of North America. But those numbers, they’re so clever as well as being spoken word. And he tapped into the rhythms of authentic vernacular speech. That’s basically what’s he doing. Again, part of the
sophistication of The Music Man, that is on the surface, but
you don’t really realize it. So in terms of, what’s
interesting about Willson is, he doesn’t have, like what shows would you say were influenced by The Music Man? I am hard-pressed to pick one. He was really a one of.
– Yeah. – And this happens in all the
arts where you have a man, who has just as you said,
decided to tell his story. And use this vehicle and
brought everything he knew, and the whole world to bear. But you can only do that once. He wasn’t a professional that way. And the way that Rodgers and
Hammerstein, or Sondheim can he’s a professional,
approaches it that way. So the music of The Music
Man is really unique, I think it’s one of the reasons why it’s such a superb musical.
– Yeah. – Is that it comes from nowhere really, and it doesn’t really go anywhere. I mentioned before that,
to me the key question about Broadway is how do we express our love for this material. So some people may say, “Well,
the way you express your love “for this material is by
reproducing it exactly the way “it was first done, that’s love.” Well, that’s not love to me, that’s sort of smothering, right? That’s forcing something
defeat your expectations. But there was so much
love in The Music Man. From his point of view, that we can’t fail to
respond to it though. – You know and I think
that musical theater is, I believe it’s the most
collaborative art form, because there are, doing plays is one thing, but doing a musical, there
are so many moving parts. And when you look at actors
coming in and bringing something to the table, to something like a revival, they become museum pieces, if we don’t allow them to move and change. And again, it’s not
about changing material, because that’s actually,
that’s not the way to do it. But when an actor comes in,
and someone like Darren who has incredible rhythm, and an actual fact, the train, he doesn’t speak on the train. But there’s an influence at
the beginning of that show, that Willson, I think, wants
a relentless kind of rhythm, that doesn’t let people of the hook. And in actual fact, I
went back and studied breathing patterns of
Eminem, who is a major rap artist, obviously. They are very similar in how you have to breathe on the train. Except in a rap you’re
doing it with yourself, you’re answering your own
questions, but on the train, they’re going back and forth, they have to finish
each other’s sentences. And then that, that
continues into Trouble, and it’s another
relentless kind of rhythm. So I think he was ahead of his time. Rap is a very, I say that it’s got a similar feel and rhythm. Culturally it’s not the same. Rap is a very different, hip-hop is a very different culture. And those statements
are incredibly different and very important. But what Willson was doing, way ahead of his time, of his time is really tapping into what rhythm does to people
this early, I think. – Thank you. – It’s interesting, some of
the questions from the audience have come back, and one
of the central things is I guess, obviously,
who you pick in a cast, and you pick Darren, who
is an actor of color, to play Harold Hill. And there’s the great
debates some people say, “Oh, that wouldn’t have
worked in 1912 Iowa.” But, is that the case? – For picking Darren? – No, having like a black salesman
coming to River City, Iowa. – Oh, I didn’t care, I didn’t care. – I auditioned, I got the best actor. – Right.
– You know, 100%. There’s nothing to discuss. (audience applauding) I mean, Darren Darren is from Bermuda, African-Caribbean, and he, but he’s accomplished actor,
musical theater performer, and he’s been in this
business a very long time. And it’s a part that, I
thought he’d be fantastic in. – Right. – I saw different people for the part, but there’s no question, hands down, Darren was above and beyond. The thing is, is that
it’s irrelevant to me. This is not, by the way,
colorblind casting, at all. There are many people, actors
of color on that stage, and in fact there were in 1912 Iowa, 100%. – [Richard] That’s the important point. – Absolutely, 100%, it
was the highest form, highest level of immigration in 1912 was in the state of Iowa. Iowa was a state that was,
one of the states that did not have to contend with a mandate of slavery. Iowa was also the state that
had the most African-Americans winning Senate seats in 1912,
in the Republican Party. There’s many things that
people don’t realize. And we weren’t there, so don’t care. – Right. – So I guess the thing is too is, you know, we are 2018. Are you kidding? You know this is, our audience is, we are not all white, and if we don’t start to represent our world–
– Right. – Then classic musicals
be gone, we can’t do it. It’s just not interesting to me, for sure. But in the actual fact,
if I was stating a fact, we’re actually very correct
on Music Man (chuckles) (Richard laughing) – Very good, Robert? – If I can be a cat among the pigeons, I mean I agree with what you’re saying, and the thought crossed my mind as we were preparing for this. What if we took the next
step and actually played Harold Hill as a black man? In other words made the fact that, like made the Music Man
into Blazing Saddles. In other words, the share
of his, that he’s black therefore there’s that
tremendous sexual tension between a black man and a white woman, we play it up. The fact that a black
man, it’s black America that uncovers for white America,
all the things that we said that Harold hill does,
what does Harold Hill do? He uncovers for white America who it is. Both pro and con. Well, that’s sort of what black America did do for white America,
both pro and con. It exposed its racism. Black America taught white
America music, rhythm. So I don’t know if that’s too far. You know, whether, and
exactly how you would do that, I have no idea. But at some point, 20 years
from now, 30 years from now, someone’s going to say,
“Let’s take the next step. “Let’s do as, of all
people Arthur Laurents, “the guy who wrote West
Side Story in 2009. “Let the sharks speak
Spanish, rework the show “so that the sharks weren’t
the secondary group, “but the primary group,
with Lin-Manuel Miranda.” The two of them, in 2009, Laurents – [Richard] Right. – So he took advantage, you know Sondheim has always complained bitterly that his lyric for I Feel Pretty is the worst he ever wrote, because someone just off
the boat form Puerto Rico, isn’t gonna sound like, as
he said, like Noël Coward. – It’s alarming how charming I feel! (audience laughing) – But you know only a
white, both Carol Lawrence, and obviously Natalie
Wood, were white people. So what happens if we
move it a step further? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know that someday
there’s going to be a question. – Well, exactly. I actually feel that I didn’t change
a single word of Music Man. Not a word. And I do believe that I think
Meredith Willson wrote it for and African American. And he just couldn’t cast one. (audience laughing) I’m telling you, because
if you look at the rhythms, if you look at Sadder but Wiser, his ability of, he’s a traveling salesman. So he’s been all over, he’s
coming in from probably Chicago, New Orleans, from all
of those other areas, and he’s bringing all of that music and sensibility with him. And there’s just so many clues in that, I wouldn’t be surprised. Going back to West Side
Story very quickly. That’s tricky. That’s a tricky show to cast. We no longer can cast you know, Asians that kinda look like they
could be Puerto Rican. We can’t do that. That is just something that for me, because this show specifically
is about Puerto Ricans. And the content, and the
lyrics are about Puerto Ricans. They speak to it. This is what Sondheim was talking about. It’s a very specific musical, about a specific culture. And to me, there is no
gray area in that musical. – Interesting, there’s been, I guess to take this
discussion a little further. There’ve been a couple of questions about musicals that do
have racially inappropriate stereotypes in them,
sometimes the whole show like The Mikado, or the
character of the slave mistress in Thoroughly Modern Millie, or we can do a whole list of them. What do you think, as someone
said, “So what do we do with “The Mikado, just throw it out?” – Well, actually that’s a good question. I actually, I didn’t tell the truth. I did change something in Music Man, so I’m a lair. (audience laughing) There’s a section of Music
Man, called Wah Tah Nyee. – Yeah. – And Wah Tah Nyee is in 76 Trombones, you know when she crosses the Delaware, has anyone seen the show? – Yeah.
– Anyway, Well, thanks guys. (audience laughing) I think there’s a sale this week. She crosses the Delaware’s
George Washington, I did a tribute to the painting. But the actual section of that show is, “We’re going to celebrate, and I’ll count to 10 in Indian. One, two, feather.”
(Richard chuckles) And that’s just not something
that I’m willing to do. – Right. – And it just seems so
dismissive and inappropriate. So I did go to the estate,
we don’t make moves without going to the estate, by the way, you don’t just change stuff. And they were absolutely
on board with that. And, in fact, nobody can
do it like that anymore. – Yeah. – 10 years ago, they did
it here, and they did that. But the world has changed. – It’s really interesting question, I mean whether we throw out the Mikado. I would say is a puzzlement. (audience laughing) So what do we do with The King and I? And what do we do with Madame Butterfly? So personally, the Butterfly
question is an easy one for me. Yes, throw it out.
– Yeah. – If you want me, if you
want to hear Un bel dì, I will sing it for you, alright? (everyone laughing) but Butterfly is repulsive
from beginning to end, there’s nothing redeeming
about Butterfly, in my opinion. The music is racist, the story is racist, you can’t redeem it, it reeks of racism. And there’ve been attempts, I guess. It’s interesting to me that in this world of directors who take enormous liberties, unbelievable liberties. It’d be like setting Carousel on the moon, what they do with Don Giovanni. Hardly anybody has really
tried to tackle Butterfly, because it’s just, what do you do?
– Yeah. – Just throw it out, you know? But, this goes back to the question that you were talking
about that we’re 2018. That is less of a statement to me, than a set of possibilities and traps. In other words, we’re always looking for answers to questions like that, and the truth of the matter
is that, it’s the questions that are more interesting. Like we grapple with these things. We can’t necessarily come
up with a definitive answer, and the answer we come up with today will be different tomorrow,
and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
– Yeah. – That’s the way society moves, and that’s why these shows when they work, and why we love them is
because, just as you said, they speak to something universal. – [Donna] Yeah. – If they didn’t do that, we
wouldn’t be reviving them, ’cause it’s too much
money, and it’s too risky. I mean, just from a
commercial point of view. – [Donna] Absolutely. – But also from an artistic point of view. So there’s gotta be something
there that is of value. – [Donna] Right. – And then, that’s where we start. That’s not where you end,
that’s where you start. And, I think we’ve forgotten, especially, in this day and age, maybe for the past, maybe
a 100 years in west, where operas become grander,
and musicals have been grander, and everything’s become grander, that art isn’t there just to satisfy us. Art was there to challenge
us, that’s what it was for. And I think we’ve forgotten that. – Yeah. – And theaters have forgotten that, because the exigencies of
economics in every part form are so horrible these days, that you gotta you gotta make your cash flow, or else you’re out of business. So the notion of having
art that challenges, sort of disappears a little bit. So I don’t know, I don’t think, I don’t have the answer to
the question about The Mikado. But the question should
continue to be asked, I think. – But some of these classic musicals deal with really important issues. And we may not like sometimes
the way they deal with them, but if you really look at
it, and look at the content, I really like musicals that, you know domestic violence still exists, last time I checked that
hasn’t gone away, it’s 2018. But the question is, how does
the musical deal with it? And how do we how do we reconcile it? And how do we get to the end of this and go, “Okay, what do we learn from this? “What do we walk away with?” So I think it’s looking at
case by case of the musical, of, yes, there might be
difficult material in it, there maybe racial issues in it, but do we come to some
kind of an understanding? There may not be a solution necessarily, but there isn’t really a solution, we’re still all working on it. But do we get something from
it that moves us a bit forward, or makes us think, or
in a case of something like The Rocky Horror, does
it provoke conversation? Does it stimulate a conversation to say, “Okay, let’s talk about this.” In the 70s, how free were people
to be who they want to be, compared to now? – Interesting, we’ve been
talking about racial updating, and racial inappropriateness, to get to the gender issue too. I guess, probably the
most controversial moment on the New York musical stage
at the moment, right now, is the ending of the
revival of the My Fair Lady. – [Donna] Saw it, I just saw it. – [Richard] So would you like to describe what happens in the last scene? – (sighs) Okay. (everyone laughing) This is live stream, right? – [Richard] Yeah. – Okay, well, I love that
musical, I’ve done that musical. And I think it’s a fantastic musical. I think there’s a misconception
about that musical. That musical is not, the
musical’s not written by Shaw. (chuckles) It’s written
by Lerner and Loewe. I think there’s some kind of a problem that people want it to be Pygmallion. And it’s actually a separate thing. It’s a separate show, it’s its own show. The ending of the show, can I do spoilers? I don’t know. Yeah? It’s in New York, buy ticket
to Music Man or Rocky Horror, don’t worry about it. (audience laughing) – In five years the tour
will come to Canada. – It will be here, don’t
you worry about it. It’s a good show, they’ve done the book. But it’s the ending that’s
become the controversy, because they were really concerned about how Eliza, I think,
was portrayed at the end, which you know, was to not have
her look, I think maybe weak, submissive, I’m not sure. I actually feel that
the ending of that show is all on the page. And it’s in the delivery of those actors. And it’s left very gray, and
I’ve loved the ending to be, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. Are they gonna make their peace? Are they not? I don’t know. There’s no indication
necessarily that they’re lovers. They’re friends. But they have come to an understanding, that’s what I’m getting at. I think that in that
musical, it’s on the page that they come to an understanding. They both win, and they both lose. – The last line as he says,
she comes back and he says, “Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?” and the script says, “They
stand looking at each other.” Right?
– That’s right. Yeah, and the actor that
played Higgins was wonderful, he delivered it beautifully,
and then, she turns around, and she walks out through the audience. And he, on the set-piece, backs up away. and I thought, “Oh, so we
know what happens now.” – Yeah. – And I just thought, I mean it’s well done, don’t
get me wrong, it’s terrific, Bernard Shaw’s a terrific director, but I just thought that, that
to me, from my point of view, they’re equals, you know? It’s like Sarah and Sky. It’s like Adelaide and Nathan. They’re equals, there’s
a meeting of the minds. And I think that, that’s what’s excellent
about these musicals. So I don’t know, I feel like
there was a missed opportunity just to allow the actors to be great. I don’t know. – So to you that would
come under the heading of imposing something on it? – Well, yeah, we just rewrote the ending. – Yeah. – To me. (audience laughing) – You know, it’s interesting, because Rodgers and Hammerstein rewrote the ending of Liliom as well, big time. I mean, where you know, they’re in Heaven and he gives his daughter the star, well she doesn’t take
it in the original play. And I read that well into, like
now into dress rehearsals of Carousel, Molnar hadn’t seen it. And they brought him into
the theater terrified that he was gonna go crazy, that the fact they had not
just changed his ending, but reversed his ending, and he loved it. For the exactly the same
reason that you said. He didn’t write Carousel. – Right. – And he understood that different sensibilities could look at the situation
that he had set in motion. But other people could have move it in a different direction. – Yeah. But I still admire anyone having a thought or an idea, any director, to go, okay,
I’m gonna make a statement, and I’m gonna do it, I’m
gonna follow through. I do admire that. And so I’m not criticizing the show ’cause many people loved
that ending by the way. It’s just for me I think in these musicals I do love, I don’t want
it to be a museum piece, I just feel like that you have actors that can approach that
material in a different way. – Has there been a musical
recently that you said, “No, I can’t do that, I
don’t know how to fix that, I don’t know how to make that work.”? – Oh, Richard. (everyone laughing) Yeah. He’ll come to me. Name me some that you think
I’d say no to, Richard. (everyone laughing) – South Pacific. – Oh, South Pacific has its challenges. I would never say never on that one, but it has its challenges
right now, for sure. No, again, beautiful music. Go ahead. – That was
– That’s it? – That was the first big
one that came to mind. – I’m even thinking of shows like, again, that we now revere, in
retrospect, like Camelot. You know, which is basically,
“Oh I committed adultery, “so I should have died, or I
didn’t really commit adultery” – No, there’s more to that one. There’s just something
to be had on that show. – No, that’s not too, that’s not crazy. I think, okay, I think How to Succeed is really a great show. I talked about it earlier, so I’ll just keep going about that. It is a great show, and
the music is fantastic. I just don’t think we can
sing and dance about this. And the dismissive nature towards women, I don’t think I have an appetite for it. And I’ve said this before, I
have a 21 year old daughter. I just, I’m not gonna do work that I know she wouldn’t be proud of. She’s very forward thinking, she’s smart, and she’s a feminist, I just,
I don’t want to do that. So that’s a difficult show, because I don’t know how to spin that cat. ♪ Secretary’s not a toy ♪ I don’t know, I don’t know how to do it. (everyone laughing) I can’t, I don’t even know
how to, don’t even know. You can’t use that choreography, that’s now patented right there. (everyone laughing) – Robert, you said you’d
throw out Butterfly. – [Robert] I would. – Is there anything else in
that canon you would throw out? – In the Robert canon?
– Yeah. – You know, I think Butterfly stands pretty much on its own to me. Everything else, we’re so
selective about the things that we’re talking about.
– Yeah. – We forget how, and that’s
what classic is about. Both in the Opera world,
and in the Broadway world. I’ve been doing a lot of
work on Leonard Bernstein, because it’s his 100th anniversary. And the Bernstein’s
musicals are so interesting. The 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue is this disaster that he wrote with Alan Jay
Lerner near the end of his life, was intended to be a major
political statement, you know? Well before Hamilton, it
was about racism in America. So, I think the question’s
that most of them we wouldn’t dream of reviving. Only because we fear that
their appeal is too limited, not because we feel fear for their legitimacy. King and I, I wouldn’t throw
it out, but, oh my God, talk about Orientalism as they say, this whole notion of The King and I, is about how Asians are savages
and it’s us white people, whose job it is to educate
them in the ways of the world. And it’s a deeply offensive message. No, I admit, it’s set in the 19th century, and there’s no question that it was consistent with the attitudes of its time. But as you say, and as
I started off by saying, that’s not an excuse, you
can’t get away with that. Because you’re not presenting it in 1951 or 1851. You’re presenting it in 2018, and you have to be held accountable, and you can’t hide behind, “Well, that’s “the way it was written,
that’s the way Mozart wrote it, “that’s the way wrote it,
that’s the way Oscar wrote it. That to me is not, that’s
really unfair to the audience, as well as unfair to a creator, you know? Because, as I said, if the art is there for us to ask these questions, and exactly the questions you’re asking, put them front and center if you can. – Exactly. And I think that that’s why
it’s hard to think of a show I wouldn’t, because I think
I love that challenge. And it’s interesting to me. I find it actually interesting
to go and dig in, and say, “Okay, yes, that’s gonna
be difficult right now, “but are we really
understanding the material? “And is there a better
way to understand it? “To see it differently?” So, as I said, things like How to Succeed, that’s a great musical,
and I know it was written tongue in cheek, I know that. And, yet, but right now, where we are in our world right now, it’s a very difficult show to do. So that’s a hard question
would I not do it? I don’t think there’s
one, I can’t think of one that I would run screaming
from necessarily. – Well, I mean to me in the Opera world, see the Opera world, because I would say, partly
because the material is older, and partly because the resignation of the audiences and seen the same damn
operas time and time and time and time and time again for decades. – And they’re long operas. – Yeah.
(audience laughing) – I did Oedipus rex, not there’s
an opera you wanna go see. There’s an opera, an hour
and 15 minutes, fantastic. The next one was Siegfried. Her aria, for her to die,
was an hour and a half. (audience laughing) – Fair enough. – 5.5 hours of my life, and
I had to watch it 15 times. – No, wait, I’m not gonna
argue about Wagner– – Yeah, I’m just saying. – But the point is because, so opera has gone much
further than Broadway. In other words it is now
considered acceptable, laudatory, and in some cases artistically very very moving and successful. To have a Peter Sellars put Così fan tutte in a diner in New Jersey. And it works, up to a point. I mean it can’t completely work, because the music was written, – Yeah.
– He hasn’t updated the music, it’s still music from 1791. And it has 1791 written into it, whether you want it to or not. So opera is way ahead or
behind, take your pick, because it’s enormously controversial, and needless to say, there are 10 duds for every one success, there
10 completely self-indulgent. So if I talk to Christina
Gherke, Christina Gherke is the world’s great Wagnerian,
she sings the Brünnhilde, and the hour and a half, but guess what? She sings the hour and a
half, and you’re with her for the hour and a half. – Yeah, you are, it’s true. But you do want her to die by the end. – Yes, you do. (audience laughing) – It’s true. If she’s very good. – The world of those performers is a director comes up with a concept, does not tell them. They don’t have any idea what it is until they show up for rehearsal
five weeks before the show, and she said to me, you know the director would come up to her and say,
“Oh, by the way, you know “you’re wearing a horse’s
head for Brünnhilde’s aria “in the third, and you’re on a swing.” And I said, “well what
your, Christina Gerhke, “why wouldn’t you just say
to him, no, I’m not wearing “a horse’s head and I’m
not gonna be on a swing?” And she said, “Because
there are five other people “who would sing that role tomorrow.” – Yeah. – So the world of the
opera is quite different. But the question is, whether
the world of Broadway is moving that way. – Here’s the interesting thing, and you pointed it out
earlier when you said that operas are older. We know, in a lot of cases,
the estates control these shows with an iron hand. Like there was a very experimental
and I heard interesting production of South Pacific
done about five years ago. Which was done as a group therapy session for people suffering from
PTSD from World War II. (Robert chuckles) And it was all set in a
room, and they did it, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein
estate heard about it, came to see a performance and closed it. – [Donna] Yeah. – Instantly. Bock and, sorry Bock didn’t,
Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist for Fiddler on the Roof almost
didn’t let the last revival open on Broadway, ’cause it began with a giant contemporary
banner saying Anatevka. And it was about a guy
going back home to Russia, and revisiting his family. And they, he actually was gonna close the show down for a while. Now, that’s not gonna
happen, Puccini is not gonna come back from the grave. – [Robert] That’s very true.
– But, these other guys are around
or their estates are around. – Oh yeah, yeah, there
all the estates are– – The estates have generally adored you, because you respect the work,
but you find new things in it. But do you think if they,
is it ever gonna get easier, that if you have wanted
to put The Music Man in a diner in New Jersey? – Here’s the thing. I think here’s where the mistakes come in. I mean you have to dot all
your i’s and cross your t’s, before you approach an estate. You can’t have a loose concept. You have to answer all
the questions on the page. To have them go, listen, understand what these estates do. Someone like John Breglio,
who is the gatekeeper of A Chorus Line for Michael Benett. He’s Michael Benett’s best friend and Michael left him the show, with Bob Avian in there
as well as a co-creator. But John just lovingly
protects the integrity of Michael’s vision. That what’s he does. And so, I respect that. When I contacted John
Breglio about Chorus Line, I went with the concept
because I was asking to do it in a different space, might
as well had been a diner. – [Richard] Right. – This is the most proscenium
show you could ever imagine. And I needed to do it, in a circle. So, you know, that conversation was quick. At first. It was, “So here’s the thing, “love the show, need to change all of it.” (audience laughing) No changes had been made
for 50 whatever years, whatever 40 something. I said, “Great, so I need to
change all of it.” (chuckles) And then that conversation
went for two hours. And he asked me every
single, how do you do that, how do you solve that,
how do you satisfy this, how do you do that. I did not go to him until I was ready. You can’t go loose to these estates, ’cause you have one chance. And they’re gonna get scared,
because they’re just trying to protect the show. So you have to go at this
with a respectful eye, and not a judgmental kind of, well it’s time to dust that thing off. Because that’s not, that’s not gonna work. And John Breglio came here, and saw the space, and saw the communal feel
of that Festival Theater. And I said to him, “Let’s face it, John, “if Michael was alive, he’d redo it.” And he said, “Yeah, he would, ’cause he “didn’t really have dancers.” That’s a fun fact about A Chorus Line. He didn’t really have that ability, ’cause he hired his friends. Anybody who showed up,
with some wine and some pot was in the show. And that’s a bit of a problem. (Richard laughs) That’s why I don’t have those parties. (Richard laughs loudly) Ever. Because, they were thou creators, right? But they didn’t necessarily dance as well. Donna McKechnie came and she told me, and we did, our forum
was on, and she said, “Look, Donna, Donna,” She said, “I was the best dancer.” And she is right, she was. Hands down the best dancer. Miles, but she said, when
she saw our show, she said all the dancers were good, right? Because it’s now, at that
point 2016, whatever it was. But that’s why they’ll let you do it. If you present an argument as to why. They wanna know why. Why do you need to change it? And that’s what we were
talking about today. What is, why does it need to have those kind of adjustments or changes? – You know, the estates,
I think they do their own, out of the best intentions,
they do their own material, grave disservice.
– Yeah. – Grave disservice. You know, it’s interesting,
that at one point, for reasons I can’t even remember now, I decided to teach myself
something about Copyright Law. Which is, it’s like teaching yourself how to extract your own teeth. (everyone laughing) Fascinating, ’cause we have
copyright law all backwards. So the idea of copyright law was that, if you wrote something,
you had a copyright over it for a short period of time. And then it went into the public domain. I mean in United States,
originally it was 14 years, and you had the ability to renew it once. So you got 28 years out of it. Now it’s life of the
author, plus 70 years. So if you’re Paul McCartney,
and you wrote Yesterday, when you were 25, and you live to be 85. That would be under copyright
protection for a 135 years. Instead of 20. And the reason for that was, is that we wanted stuff to get
out into the public domain. One of the things that was
covered by copyright was maps. Why maps? Because the idea was in 1791, we wanna people to go out for
years to map Lake Superior, spending two years on
their own, doing a job. Well, no one’s gonna do
that unless for 28 years, if you want a map of Lake Superior, you have to buy it from me. But the basic idea was, that
we wanted people to go out, and get maps of Lake Superior. So eventually, we wanted
it to be out there. And, we’ve forgotten that completely. Now it’s basically, we feel it’s the unchallenged right of the estate to tell you where every step on the stage must go. Unless you negotiate with them, right? – Well, actually, no, that’s not true. Most of the revivals, most,
I would say 95% of musicals, you’re free to do what you want as far as like staging, choreography. It’s where they start to
get prickly is rewriting and changing content.
– Right. – And changing, you know,
they’re even very flexible within the music, like for scene changes, and things like that. You just can’t change the actual content. But you can change everything else. Now, West Side Story, Chicago, There’s the – [Richard] The original Fiddler? – No, they let me change a lot of that, they let me change a lot. ‘Cause Sheldon Harnick’s
actually my boyfriend. But don’t tell Colm. (audience laughing) He came, he’s now 93? 93? Yeah, well we’ve been
dating for quite a while. (audience laughing) – Anyway so, these
musicals, they are locked. Les Mis, Cats, you can’t change that. But with the older ones,
there’s not that many. Only Jerome Robbins and West Side Story, and anything with Jerome
Robbins is usually locked. And Bob Fosse, he actually
released Sweet Charity. I don’t know would he let that go, but everything else of Bob Fosse
is actually locked as well. – But my point is, without being argumentative,
with Beyoncé is that, (Richard laughs loudly) if the William Shakespeare
estate had the same rule about changing the text
of Shakespeare’s plays, this Festival would have to shut down. – Exactly, I don’t– – I mean we take Hamlet, and we just say, “That scene doesn’t make any
sense, we’ll rip it out.” – Yeah. – And we say, you know
there’s a continuity problem, – Yeah.
– that should actually come before that, and then
there was a prompter’s error – Yeah. – And you know, we can
think nothing of it. – Well, that’s the thing, you actually bring up a good point. And I agree with you,
I would love to be able to make some changes on things. And we actually do, let’s
be frank about that. We can make changes, it’s
just that we can’t just kinda go crazy with it. But that makes up a good
point about prompt books. When we get a script, we
don’t know how many hands that’s been through. That could be a prompt
script from a stage manager, from a production who knows when. So, in other words, we are not really sure what the original material
is, I’ll be honest with you. Because we get so many
different incarnations of these scripts, it’s very hard to tell. – I know, I think people
really misunderstand this about Broadway, it’s quite unique. If I wanna put on a Shakespeare,
I go to the library, I get out a book of you
know, and I put it on a play. There’s no book of Oklahoma. There are parts– – Just script.
– That you must, yeah, that you rent, you know? With as many changes, and then you send them back. It’s quite unique, the
concrete situation around Broadway musicals is very bizarre, – Yeah. – because there’s copyright
over the lyrics and the music, that is the same as anybody else, but then there’re performing rights. I guess my point is, is that
the forum will do better the more light is led into it. – Yeah. – By everyone. Because people like you, we
don’t want to discourage. We don’t want to put
barriers in front of you to make it harder for you to do the things that we actually want you to do, which is to help us
understand these things fresh. – You’re right. – You’re in a very
supportive environment here. – Yeah.
– Not everybody is. – No, that’s true, and you’re right, and there’s certain titles that, when you say the titles I won’t do, it’s ones that have stuff attached to it. – [Richard] Right. – That’s true, I’m not gonna do a show, where they gonna make me regurgitate choreography or staging. Who would do that? That’s like saying, we want
you to do the West Side Story it’s gotta be exactly
the same as it’s been. That’s like saying to Antony,
we want you to do The Tempest with Martha Henry, but we want
you to do the same staging that Des did with Chris Plummer. – Yeah. There’s no way. Who wants to do that as an artist, right? Nobody wants to do that,
and Antony knows full well as the artistic director
that we don’t wanna do those kinda shows. And it’s not that, we don’t, it’s just that there’s so many attachments to that, that it’s not what we do, you know. We do musicals, that are, as I said, communal for the Festival. I block and stage for
the Festival Theater, I block differently for the Avon. It’s not cookie cutter,
you don’t just go plunk. Because there’s a whole audience here that you would see none of it, because it’s proscenium
choreography, it’s linear. So it doesn’t work. But you’re right, that
would be discouraging, if that’s the kinda stuff
that we do, for sure. – As I said, it’s just maybe
it’s the age of Broadway, and it’s maybe the
commercialization of Broadway, I think it’s more the
love that people have. I can speak for myself, the love I have for the
Broadway shows I love, is stronger than the love I
have for the operas that I love. It’s just is, I don’t know why. You know, I did this thing
with my Michael Henry, we talked about pieces of
music that changed our world, and the first Broadway
musical I’ve ever listened to was Wonderful Town, Wonderful
Town, for God’s sakes. And, I still have the
record, that I listen to, and when I got it out to
bring to show Michael Henry, I had crayoned on the back, and I figured out by doing some math that I was seven years old when I first, when I heard original cast
of the Wonderful Town. Seven, that’s absurd, you know! – No wonder you’re so weird. – Yes, exactly, thank you.
(everyone laughing) Thank you very much. – At seven years old, Robert. – But, so the attachment that
we have to these musicals, I think is of a different order, which makes all of this
more difficult to deal with. You know, people have attachments
to Marriage of Figaro, but the attachment is to the
production they first saw, whenever it was, right?
– Yeah. – They don’t have an attachment
to the original production, ’cause they have no idea what it was. They probably would be
horrified by how poorly played and acted and sung it was, compared to what we can do now. But, we have a real attachment
to these Broadway musicals, through the original cast
recordings, I would argue as well as the– – Yeah, that’s true. – As through the movie. And boy, we want them to be that way. – Yeah. – And we really hate you, or
we’re prepared to hate you, if you think you’re gonna monkey with us. – Well yeah, I mean, what,
am I gonna change Time Warp? I gotta better idea for Time Warp, but I’m gonna do a little
different tune for that. You know, I mean who’s gonna do that? It’s like saying five, six,
the top of Chorus Line. Are you gonna change that? Five, six, seven, eight! (singing) You know, a dancer could be at
a funeral, at a Bar Mitzvah, at a wedding, at a shopping mall. If they hear, “Five, six, seven, eight!” they’re gonna hit that first choreography, (Richard and audience laughing) don’t matter where they are. ‘Cause it’s just that,
you know, you’re right. We expect that. – Let me wrap this up, quick ending for, give you two your chance to say it. Making musical theater contemporary, should we keep doing it, and how? Robert? – We have no choice. So we may as well figure out how to do it responsibly and creatively. The only option is to basically
be fascists in the theater, and demand that you watch
exactly the same production, that somebody did for whatever reasons, and we know that the reasons that things were in Broadway shows, and not in Broadway shows,
were completely accidental. It happened to be what a
Boston audience may or may not have reacted to in the fall of 1943. So if I’m stuck with that,
forget it, not interested. So yeah, we need to keep
making them contemporary. – [Richard] Donna? – Well, I mean, I cut my teeth as a director and a
choreographer, of musicals anyway, so much of that was
with Brian McDonald and had I not experienced, the Guys and Dolls I
did with him originally, The Carousels, the GNSs. You know, the classic musicals. I would not have learned and so, if we don’t keep doing these classics of the best written musicals ever, and find the way to make them relevant, and find a way to keep
moving them forward, and reinventing the wheel, then new writers, new
directors, new choreographers aren’t gonna learn from
this genre, and this forum. This forum is an art form. It’s an art form, and I think
people really don’t understand that with musicals. And it’s really specialized art form. And so, if we don’t see, hear, listen to these
wonderful pieces of art, then how are we going to
write new ones, you know? And there are some
great writers out there, but make no mistake, they’re all learning from who came before. So we have to, obviously
we have to keep doing them, and also, frankly, I’m gonna tell you, the material is just fantastic. And it’s a lot better,
than a lot of new musicals. I’m just gonna tell you that flat out. It is, I mean am I? The music, it is. And there are some great
musicals, new musicals, and I’m working on new musicals now. I love that, but there’s a world for both. We can’t go, we can’t, we have no choice. We can’t just throw that out
and say, “Well, that was then.” Absolutely not. – Donna, Robert, thank you for this. The forum is gonna
continue all season long with inspiring guests, opportunities to immerse
yourself in our work. I wanna thank you, guys,
again for being here. I wanna thank the audience,
both here at the Studio Theater and all over the globe
for your continued support of the Stratford Festival and the Forum. Keep coming to musicals, thank
you, and have a great day. (audience applauding) (“The Music Man 76 trombones”)

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