Okay, so I'm crotchety. There are some things I like just fine as they were, thank you very much. I mean, what's the point of remaking a film if you're not going to add anything to it? Or covering an old standard if you do a note-for-note and phrase-for-phrase copy of the original? Or if you rip up the original and redo it your way without adding anything much to it?
The three formative albums I listened to as a young child were An Evening with Tom Lehrer
, The Fantasticks
, and Candide
. This explains a lot about me, I'm sure. There were other standards in our household--West Side Story
and My Fair Lady
, as well as some Rogers and Hammerstein, and any number of my parents' favorites, Sinatra and Streisand and Jobim and Louis Armstrong. Then I started buying records (my first single was "Downtown" by Petula Clark, followed quickly by everything Beatles I could find..). But Tom Lehrer, The Fantasticks
, and Candide
lodged in my brain; I know those songs and those performances so well that when a breath is out of place it startles me.
Of course, I turned Sarcasm Girl on to all three as early as was reasonable. Candide
suits her adolescent snarkiness right now in particular. So when we heard that PBS was showing a staged concert performance we made an appointment to watch. We have now watched. It was a particularly antic production (during the auto da fe number the head of the inquisition shows up to sentence Pangloss to the pyre in the guise of Donald Trump: "Yuh fired!") which worked some of the time. The gags were funny, but they did not permit any emotional engagement at all--and the reason the glorious finale works so well that I can't hear the music without getting teary is that, with all the humor of the show, its events are harrowing enough so that the finale, "Make Our Gardens Grow," is genuinely affecting. The music still got to me--understand, I cry at long distance commercials--but it was the music itself, not anything the production wrought.
But that's not what's bothering me.
The original Candide
had music by Leonard Bernstein and a libretto by Lillian Hellman and divers hands (Dorothy Parker added a one liner or two, as did, as near as I can tell, every wit with a pulse at the time). The show did not, as they say, find its audience in Eisenhower America. Twenty years later, give or take, it was staged again; I saw that production, which was wild and vulgar and funny, and still retained an emotional core. The libretto had been largely overhauled by Hugh Wheeler, with some new songs added, others ripped up and reassembled. The production we saw tonight uses the Wheeler libretto, which is now apparently the preferred one (the Hellman libretto has been, um, "retired") and I, for one, don't think it's as good. Not as funny, not as witty, not as true to the book (Sarcasm Girl read the book this fall, and was taking notes on where the plot veered from the original). What makes me sad is that, with the Wheeler libretto now the preferred one, no one is likely to hear the older libretto, certainly not in performance. Which is a shame, dammit.
Perhaps someday someone will hear the original cast album and want to mount a production of the Hellman libretto. Will they be permitted to, I wonder? When you license the rights to a show, are you required to license the preferred version? If you license the preferred version and then, under the radar, revert to the original, would the libretto police hunt you down and beat you with sticks? Pfui.