Reviving Broadway: A Lot of Things Borrowed and Nothing New

Cabaret 2016

When I was little, my three older sisters and I would line up on the stairs leading to our bedrooms and perform “So Long Farewell” from the Sound of Music. I know what you’re thinking. That must’ve been the cutest thing ever and my parents must’ve loved it. Truthfully…that couldn’t be more wrong. My mom says we were untalented and despite never being asked for an encore we did it anyways…every single night. To this day we don’t address the car trip to Florida where we were singing the Sound of Music soundtrack on repeat. We were assuming our casted roles and during a dramatic, heartfelt section of “My Favorite Things” (ya know the part that goes “when the dog bites, when the bee stings…”) my dad lost it, broke the CD in half, and chucked it out the window. The rest of the car ride was silent and I bid farewell to my short-lived musical career.

Regardless of the traumatizing memories, I’ve always been a musical enthusiast. I follow Broadway World and love to see what the latest trends in musicals are. Every so often, my mom and I will find cheap lodging in New York so we can see as many shows as possible. I know she gets sick of it but as long as it keeps me out of a museum or art gallery then she’s happy. (Last spring break, I convinced her to go to the MET and upon entering she said, “Leila, I don’t want to go so you’re paying for this crap” making a sizable donation from my wallet…ahh family bonding.) Anyways, when we went to the reduced price same day sale tickets I noted what struck her eye. They were all adaptation performances. They were musicals like the Lion King, Wicked, Aladdin, and Matilda.

Of course, adaptations are wonderful for bringing in revenue (especially considering the money Disney has brought to the Broadway scene.) There becomes a brand loyalty that people are unwaveringly faithful to…(I would know I grew up with a bitter hatred of any Spice Girl that wasn’t Baby Spice.) The unfortunate truth of current musicals though is that Broadway’s latest phase lacks the vocal agency it once had. Audiences rarely get to meet new characters. Every once in a while an original gem will come out like the Book of Mormon but overall Broadway has largely fallen to reconstructive works. Whether it’s an adaptation of a book (Wicked), former movie (Lion King), uses an unoriginal soundtrack (Rock of Ages), or even follows autobiographical stories (Chaplin), Broadway has lost its once totally unique voices and stories that accompany it. Don’t get me wrong. Even adaptations have a huge innovative draw to them. However, they are not in the purest sense original as they’ve become adulterated by comfortable stories and ideas the public already knows and loves.

Naturally, we’re brought to wonder why this trend exists. Perhaps it’s due to money. Creating something totally original is risky. It takes time, resources, and huge financial backing. It may be that producers would explore uncontaminated tales if they knew the risks weren’t so precarious. Maybe it’s because people are more inclined to be loyal to stories they already know rather than faithful to innovation within the arts. This being said, I will continue to advocate indigenous creations of song and dance in the Broadway realm. Adaptations are wonderful but creating new stories are what artistry and advancements within the arts are all about.