The musical Les Miserables opened on Broadway Thursday night — just three years after it closed. Les Miz, A Chorus Line and The Fantasticks — three record-breaking musicals — are back on the New York stage this fall in carefully crafted replicas of their original productions.
High-profile revivals dominate the theater landscape this season, both on- and off-Broadway. While several truly new musicals are set to open this fall, much of the buzz and box office is gravitating toward the big revivals.
New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley calls the shows "resuscitations."
"I think when you try to replicate with such archival exactitude what the original Chorus Line was, or what the original Fantasticks was, perversely, you end up diluting the original impact," Brantley says.
But Baayork Lee, who was in the original cast of director/choreographer Michael Bennett's groundbreaking 1975 musical A Chorus Line, says "It's different, but it's the same... It's different because the people are different."
Lee was Bennett's assistant, and restaged the dances for this revival. She feels it is important for contemporary audiences to experience A Chorus Line as Bennett conceived it. Bennett died of AIDS in 1987.
Lee expected audiences to embrace the show, but admits she's surprised by the vociferous response.
"They're screaming! They love the characters, they love the stories and they love the music," she says.
John Caird, one of the original directors of Les Miserables, senses an almost religious fervor among fans of the epic musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel.
But how to make it feel fresh? "I hope what audiences will see is something that feels like its just had its first night ," Caird says. "If it still has strong similarities to what we did before, well, so be it. But, the last thing I want to do is recreate something that was successful 20 years ago... that's a recipe for museum theater."
Last year, the shows Pajama Game and Sweeney Todd returned to Broadway, but Brantley says "both of them were reconceived without violating the shows' essential natures."
Still, Tom Jones — who wrote the lyrics for the original show — thinks audiences take great comfort in seeing a faithfully resurrected show such as The Fantasticks, which closed in January 2002 after running for an unprecedented 42 years. Jones says people who saw the show as a child are now bringing their own children.
Jones, approaching 80, also appears in the revival, revisiting his 1960 role as one of two stooges.
Brantley gave The Fantasticks a mixed review, but does say he was taken by the authenticity of Jones' performance.
"For me, [the] freshest thing about The Fantasticks is actually the one actor from the original cast," Brantley says.