An Opinionated and Irreverent Revue of the Differences Between the Original 1970 and Revised 1996 Scripts of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Musical Comedy.
All right, I'll admit to having gone on a bit more than even I was planning. Hang in there, I'm almost finished. There just happen to be a couple of people who didn't get enough credit before, and deserve credit now.
George Furth is adding stage instructions again (or maybe this is Sondheim's work), making the script read the way it's supposed to. During the final round of Side by Side by Side, just after Robert calls out "Okay, now everybody...!" the troupe now sings as follows:
Isn't it warm, isn't it rosy,
Well, guess what: I've seen it done differently, and it is one of the most painful memories I have. I refer back to the Fresno State production, back in '76. Robert Westenberg, bless him, was really giving his all playing Robert. He was the best actor on that stage, and everybody knew it. He was the best singer on that stage, ditto. And he was the best hoofer on that stage, and the young woman staging the dances knew it. She decided to have Bob dance, wife dance, Bob dance, second wife dance, Bob dance yet again, third wife dance, Bob dance. Hey, Bob got to dance. The audience got to watch Bob dance. The metaphor never made it into the auditorium.
Metaphors are more than just something for an audience to ponder. Metaphors give actors/singers/dancers something to play, something with which to ply their craft. Whether it was Mr. Sondheim or Mr. Furth, by making the instructions explicit they have restored what Mr. Bennett had made implicit, and deserve thanks for doing so.
I hate having to admit this, but I missed this change the first time I went through and compared the scripts. Someone mentioned this on Finishing the Chat, however, and I'm glad he did.
Specifically, the dance number Tick Tock is missing in the revised script. At the end of Poor Baby, the wives finish singing, the husbands enter and sing another round of Have I Got a Girl for You, they exit, and we're suddenly into Barcelona.
What threw me was the revival recording by the Roundabout Theatre Company. That recording includes Tick Tock, so I merrily zipped right on by that section of the script, and missed the change. I suppose dropping the number means future directors won't have to find a fantastic dancer. However, it also means we don't get any of those fantastically funny lines spoken by Robert and April while Kathy dances. It means that the comparison between uncommitted sex and committed relationships doesn't get made. And it means we don't get to hear David Shire's exciting dance arrangement.
Shire, by the way, is a noted composer of film scores, including Norma Rae, The Hindenburg, Farewell My Lovely, and The Conversation. He and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., and best known for the resounding thud on Broadway of Big, and for two off-Broadway hit revues, Starting Here, Starting Now and Closer Than Ever. I keep hoping he'll have a hit on Broadway someday.
For each time we arrive at the birthday party, we get a new birthday cake, it seems. Way back in Act One, when it is time for Robert to blow out the candles, the candles stay lit. Amy simply exits with the cake and candles burning away. At the end of Act One, as Amy enters with the cake, Robert stares at her, and "they" blow out the candles. I'm assuming "they" refers to all the birthday guests, not just Robert and Amy, but I could be wrong.
As Act Two opens, Robert gets most of the candles blown out, and the others finish the job. Finally, at the end of the play, after the guests exit the apartment, Robert comes out from the shadows, sits on the sofa, smiles, and blows out the candles.
I do have to question the wisdom of all the guests, leaving a cake filled with burning candles just sitting on that table. Just a quibble.
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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