Saturday, August 28, 2010

Which Original Cast Do You Wish You Could See?

Which Original Cast Do You Wish You Could See?

On Thursday, I wrote about some of the extraordinary replacements I've had the pleasure of seeing on Broadway, including those who have superseded the original cast members.

But I concluded my post by discussing August: Osage County and the superlative performances offered by both Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed. I noted how no other actresses I've personally had the pleasure of seeing in the roles the Dunagan and Reed created could surpass the originals.

It's at that point that I'd like to pick up.

Back in the summer of 2009, immediately after I first wrote how Australia's Sydney Theatre Company (STC) would import August: Osage County for audiences Down Under, I heard from more than one Aussie friend about their deep-seeded resentment toward the STC. They were angry that the STC would dare to overlook the 2009 mounting offered by the Melbourne Theatre Company (the first production of Tracy Letts' excellent play to be mounted in Australia) or at least produce its own version using Australian actors and crew.

To those friends, I countered, "Regardless of where the production originated, wouldn't you prefer -- or at least be curious to see -- the actors for whom the playwright originally envisioned the roles performing the work?" I can certainly appreciate the legitimate desire to keep Australian actors working, but it is a rare opportunity to see most of the original cast perform, isn't it? Isn't there something innately magical about experiencing a production as originally intended, replete with nuances that subsequent productions inherently fail to replicate?
If I had the opportunity to go back in time to see any Broadway show with its original cast, I'd relish the chance.

I can only dream about how incredible it would be to have seen Ethel Merman perform as Rose in Gypsy or as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, to have swooned over Chita Rivera as Anita in West Side Story or alongside Gwen Verdon in Chicago, to have marveled at Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman in the original Death Of A Salesman, or to have witnessed Uta Hagen opposite Arthur Hill in the first production of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

So, dear readers, if you had your chance to go back in time to see the first production of any theatrical work with its original cast, what would it be?

Also, please vote in the poll below.
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This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 28 August, 2010, Blogger marcus said...

There are plenty but, the one that immediately popped into my head upon reading this was Rent. Imagine seeing them in the early performances after Johnathon Larson's passing. That had to be powerful to have seen!

At 28 August, 2010, Anonymous Dennis Martin said...

This one is easy...Follies.

At 28 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Marcus, I wish I could have seen the original cast of Rent, too.

Dennis, I'm embarrassed to admit this, but Follies is one of the few Stephen Sondheim shows I've never seen. Hopefully I'll get to rectify that next summer.

At 28 August, 2010, Anonymous KatieH said...

Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady! There's no video footage of them together, only a clip of Julie on the Ed Sullivan show... I would love to see them.

At 28 August, 2010, Anonymous steve cates said...

FOLLIES because of, well, the entire original cast was un-beatable, especially Dorothy Collins and Alexis Smith.
RAGTIME for the same reason- there is not one cast member who didn't turn in a stellar performance - listening to the cast album always nourishes my soul.

At 28 August, 2010, Blogger athomethinkingwoman said...

Of everything, I'd like to see the original cast of any Rodgers & Hammerstein show. And less for the actors, but more to hear the original orchestrations, tempos, and song interpretations, because Richard Rodgers, especially, was so specific. If I had to choose: "South Pacific" just to see Mary Martin command the stage.

At 28 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

My Fair Lady is a perfect choice, as are the musicals from the canon of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Of course, any original mounting of a Stephen Sondheim tuner would be terrific, too.

At 28 August, 2010, Anonymous said...

That is so easy for me too -- Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando and Karl Marlden in Streetcar Named Desire.

At 28 August, 2010, Blogger JK said...

Hands down, A Chorus Line. When it was fresh and a new sensation.

Marcus and Steve: One of the greatest pleasures I've ever had was seeing the original cast of RENT. The energy and emotion were life-changing.

At 28 August, 2010, Anonymous Chris Caggiano said...

Hands down, no contest: I'd want to see Gertrude Lawrence, Danny Kaye, and Victor Mature in the original cast of Lady in the Dark. A magnificent score, and a one of a kind production. Plus, Gertie at the height of her fame and luminosity.

At 28 August, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hands down Spring Awakening. I never got to see the original cast. one of the best musicals I've ever seen

At 29 August, 2010, Anonymous L said...

Another person I follow asked this question awhile ago and I replied Julie & Rex in My Fair Lady, hands down. Noone else did, but I see a lot of people are this go-round. She is perfection. I mentioned this to my mom and she said "Oh, I saw that!" Wha?!!! I asked "Oh my God, was it amazing Mom? Tell me more!" Her reply "Yeah, it was good." !!!

At 29 August, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did see Ethel Merman in Gypsy and Uta Hagen in Virginia Woolf - there are some advantages to being old :-)

And Julie Andrews and Richard Burton in Camelot....

It's hard to choose, but I guess I'd pick King and I - I did see Yul Brynner in Odyssey in Boston, and it was a thrill to see him, but it has to be one of the worst shows I ever saw.


At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

David, I would have loved to have been in the audience to see Jessica Tandy sparring with Marlon Brando. Would have been unforgettable. Certainly those were performances for the ages.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

J.K. I agree that seeing A Chorus Line all shiny and new must have been a trip, especially because it was such a radical departure from anything Broadway had seen.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, I have to confess not knowing much about that show, but the cast alone makes it an intriguing choice.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, I was fortunate enough to see Spring Awakening with its original Broadway cast. Here's my SOB Review.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, You have me completely intrigued. If you're reading this, please tell me more about your experiences with the original Gypsy and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. I'm all ears.

While I'm personally not much of a fan of Camelot, I have little doubt that I likely would have enjoyed it more had I seen the original cast. But I'd be right by your side on The King & I.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

L, A lot of folks responded that they'd have loved to have seen My Fair Lady when I asked the question on Twitter. I would have, too.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger derekmichaelwest said...

I just voted and was shocked that 72% of your voters would rather seen an original cast as opposed to a new cast who will interpret the material in a new way.

In my opinion, there is a major different between seeing a legend like Julie Andrews perform with the likes of Rex Harrison in a show like MY FAIR LADY in 1956 and seeing the opening night cast of RENT in 1996. Julie Andrews was an unknown. MY FAIR LADY was a show that should have flopped but was brilliant in every way possible. RENT, on the other hand, was seen in various forms at the NY Theatre Workshop in 1993, 1994 and 1995. By "opening night" do you mean the first workshop or the second workshop or the sixth workshop or the actual Broadway opening night. Because shows are written differently now than they were in the 40s and 50s (playing New Haven, then opening in NYC) I don't see how you can even compare shows like RENT and MY FAIR LADY in terms of their punch on "opening night".

I also put events like Jonathan Larson's untimely death and the announcement of Gower Champion's death after the opening night of 42nd Street in a whole different category. That's more about seeing the reaction of the performers as opposed to seeing them perform.

I wish I could have seen opening night of SOUTH PACIFIC in 1949. Can't go wrong with a cast that swept the performance TONYs that year.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger derekmichaelwest said...

Oh, I forget one that I don't think has been mentioned yet.

What about Laurette Taylor in the original GLASS MENAGERIE...remember this was Tennessee's professional one was expecting brilliant.

In the 2006 documentary film "Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There," Broadway veterans nearly unanimously rank Taylor's performance as the most memorable of their entire lives.

Just a thought!

Thanks for this posting, Steve! It's always fun to look forward to future opening nights, but we should never forget where we have been or what we have learned from the MANY shows that is BROADWAY.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Bob said...

Oh, gosh. While I try not to dwell too much on the past, I would love to have seen the OBCs for "Gypsy" (who wouldn't?), "Sweeney" (to hear that score with a group of people who have NEVER heard it before -- and for them all to truly be shocked for the first time would be killer) and, above all, "Company," just because it was so groundbreaking.

Oh, and "Follies."

Oh, and...

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Derek, You're right on every count. Although my question really is open-ended to include any show, especially since my post began talking about August: Osage County, I can't help but think of all that history of theatre I wish I could have seen as it happened.

Glass Menagerie, South Pacific and My Fair Lady certainly would be on my list of shows to see if I could invent a time machine.

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Bob, I'm with you on every count. And it is hard to stop at just one. Or two. Or three...

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger ToHeSeLü said...

I would love to see the Original Cast of "Rocky Horror", back in 1973 in the Upstairs with Tim Curry, Richard O`brien and Pat Quinn.
I don`t like the new settings... I really prefer the cinema setting and the minimalistic design..

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Esther said...

I'd like to add A Raisin in the Sun with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. It was such a historic production - the first drama on Broadway penned by an African-American woman. It was a depiction of a black family that most white theatergoers had never seen. Yes there's the movie but to see Sidney Poitier on stage, that would have been something.

And a couple more recent favorites - Wicked and Hairspray. I saw them for the first time on tour and fell in love with both musicals. I've listened to the original Broadway cast recordings of both shows many, many times and every time I think how great it would have been to have seen them on Broadway with their original casts - third or fourth row center orchestra! (I was lucky enough to see Harvey Fierstein's return to Hairspray at the end and it was an incredible experience.)

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

ToHeSeLü, After having seen both the Broadway revival 10 years ago, plus another regional version just a few, I would be willing to sit alongside you at the original. Must have been fun watching Tim Curry do the time warp!

At 30 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Raisins In The Sun is a great pick. Would have been unforgettable to see.

I feel very fortunate for having seen both original casts for Wicked and Hairspray - I even saw the latter during its Seattle tryout. Very memorable.

At 30 August, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Well, I was in college at the time, but Ethel Merman was something else. I don't remember who else was in it, and it was on tour after it ran on Broadway, so the rest of the cast were probably not originals. I was sitting in the back row, of the Schubert, I think, in Boston, and I bet you could have heard her on Boston Common. She was really a presence on stage. Not a great actress, and I actually liked Patti Lupone better, and I didn't expect to. But seeing Ethel was really a treasured moment.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was like something I've never seen before. It was fairly radical for it's time. I had seen Waiting for Godot in a college production, and some Pinter. And the Albee reminded me somewhat of Long Day's Journey into Night, for obvious reasons, but the energy on that stage, by the whole cast, was unrelenting. I remember Uta Hagen because she was such a fine actress, and then I saw her at the Lortel a few years ago in that little play about the writer. I can't remember the name, but if I heard it I'd know. I was waiting in front of the theater to go in, and a taxi pulled up, and she got out and went into the theater like a duchess or something - about 30 minutes before show time. I'm so grateful I got to see her again before she died.

I was riding around today, listening to Kwamina, and thinking how much I enjoyed that show, and how good Sally Ann Howes was. And Terry Carter too - he came to school to talk to our theater group, because he was an alumnus, and he was charming, but Howes was the star of that show.

And then I began thinking of all the other shows I saw in the early 60s in Boston, mostly pre-Broadway.

And then I thought of Kean. I went to see Alfred Drake, and he missed a lot of those performances, including mine. When they came out and announced he was indisposed, and Lawrence Brooks would be filling in, the audience booed. But by the end of the show they were cheering, he was so good. I wonder if it would have had a longer life if Drake had made it on stage more often? But although I like seeing the original cast, this was one case where the understudy did a fine job.

Sorry to ramble, but I love talking about these old shows: Fiorello, Tenderloin, I'll think of a dozen more as soon as I hit the send button.


At 30 August, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

I just wrote you a fairly long, too long I guess, comment about Merman and Hagen, and some other things, but I got a response that the URL was too large to process. I guess it was too long, and I don't have the energy to write it all again. Sorry - they were both wonderful.


At 07 September, 2010, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

I have to go with Mame, opening night on Broadway with a trip to the party after would be thrilling, but even more I'd love to stop in during those 3 1/2 weeks at the Shubert in Philadelphia before it moved on to the Shubert in Boston. It was before a song or Angie's hair was cut and the audience was so excited that they stood on the chairs applauding until the show was stopped.


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