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Director’s Brief: Musings on Classics

by Karen Azenberg

We’re now five months into the Karen’s blog experiment. I say “experiment,” because I have yet to be convinced that all the random stuff going on here from week to week is actually interesting to someone other than me. Sure, I think we’re fascinating here at PTC! (I better; it’s my job—and I love it.) But I wonder if you’re tired of hearing about tech rehearsals and auditions. Yes, those things are still happening, but maybe this week I’ll share with you my latest musings…

The topic is: is there still an audience for well-produced classic theatre? I’m not talking about Shakespeare and Molière. I’m talking about 20th-century classics: Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets, Rogers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman, Bock and Harnick. Plays like Awake and Sing!, You Can’t Take it With You, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Musicals like Hello Dolly!, Oklahoma!, Gypsy?

I’m a fan of these works; I think it’s the responsibility of theatres like this one to keep these works alive, to refresh them, to occasionally update them, but also to introduce them to the next generation of theatre-goers. I don’t understand why people think they are “old hat.” These shows are where the great artists of today found their inspiration, or their beginnings. Ask any of the new-musical writing stars and they’ll refer to those that came before them as mentors or inspiration. Or they’ll use my favorite phrase: “I was obsessed with…” For Pasek and Paul (who wrote Dear Evan Hansen), it was Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. For Stephen Sondheim, it was Oscar Hammerstein.

Sure, Bette Midler in Hello Dolly! draws a crowd, but does the desire to see That Which Has Never Been Seen Before always overtake the need to see what inspired the new? Is new always better? More entertaining? Hmmmmm.

As you might guess, I’m deep into selecting next season. The debate in my head goes on…

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