I would've loved to have seen what they started with
Posted by: rvs 10:23 am EST 02/09/24
In reply to: re: The Musical vs. The Original Play - AlanScott 09:05 pm EST 02/08/24

I had no idea about the original draft. Gussie trying to push Mary off the balcony would've been terribly dark and difficult for a young cast. So much of the original concept seemed to be tossed out because of the ages of the cast. The costumes were nixed in favor of those t-shirts/sweatshirts with their character stated on them (AGENT, FRIEND, MANAGER, PRODUCER, etc.) which felt like they didn’t have an awful lot of faith in the versatility of their cast.

I assumed using very young people (I remember Walton was the oldest in the cast at – was it 26?) had a point to it. The only time in the show when the age of the kids made a point was when Beth’s parents came to her marriage to Frank in the nightclub. They gave the roles to the two youngest kids in the cast. They were all greyed up and “shook” like young people do when they’re playing old. For me, that had a point and a visual effect.

But other than that, the cast had to play middle-aged in ’81 and kids in the mid-50s. They had no knowledge of what it’s like to be middle-aged and no idea what it was like to be young in the 50s, so there was no moment in the show where they connected with the age of their characters.

I once saw a production of “Uncommon Women and Others” at an all-girls’ college. You’d think that would be a good choice. It wasn’t. The original production at Playwrights Horizons had actresses in their early 30s who understood what the characters were going through at the reunion scenes and were old enough to be able to remember college objectively. The girls in this production were still in school so they lacked the objectivity to comment on college and had no idea what it felt like to be 10 years older at the reunion lunch.

I remember the original production had a whole other set that they tossed out for the high school bleachers, which didn’t work. At one point late in previews they brought in an adult actor to play Frank Today in the opening graduation scene. I’m guessing that didn’t work at all, the actor was given his walking papers almost immediately.

Sondheim may not have been the one to say let’s take this song away from this character and give it to someone else. (Yes, “Losing My Mind” was originally intended for Phyllis, but it was given to Sally in rehearsal because Alexis Smith wanted something that allowed her to dance and show off her legs.) It was late in the game when they made the "Not a Day Goes By" switch and it struck me as odd that they simply took it away from one character and handed it to another. Under any other circumstance, you’d think Sondheim would write a different song specifically for Frank. If they kept it because Sondheim loved how Walton sang it, it was a mistake among many. It really isn't Frank's song.

What hit me in the temple was how we sat through that entire first act and suddenly this girl came on at the end of the act, a character we had never heard of, and sang of her undying love to Frank. Sally Klein suddenly showed up (needle thin, god was she skinny, eat something girl you’re gonna fall over!). The fact that we were just learning about her had to mean something.

My main memory of the evening was how stunning Ann Morrison was. Her performance of “Like It Was” never left me.

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