When Musicals Matured: Three Revivals Recall Another Age

South Pacific, Gypsy, and Juno show how 1950s Broadway got 'serious'

Even so, Laurents rides her psychopathy into overemphasis. In the last scene, he stands his own script on its head by having Louise laugh in her mother's face and walk off alone, leaving LuPone onstage to writhe in egomaniac desperation. Does he think 1959 audiences saw the original ending (mother and daughter walk off arm-in-arm) as a cure-all? Or that today's audiences need things shoved at them ever more emphatically? The latter might explain why the theory of musical-theater evolution doesn't hold up, though it wouldn't explain why so much of Laurents's excellent script still plays wonderfully without directorial pressuring.

Graver romantics: Matthew Morrison and Li Jun Li in South Pacific
Joan Marcus
Graver romantics: Matthew Morrison and Li Jun Li in South Pacific


South Pacific
By Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan, and Richard Rodgers
Vivian Beaumont Theater
Lincoln Center, 212-239-6200

By Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and Jule Styne
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street, 212-239-6200

By Marc Blitzstein and Joseph Stein
City Center Encores!(Closed)

Juno (also 1959), Marc Blitzstein and Joseph Stein's musical version of O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, both displays the incredible beauty that the form's quest for seriousness could produce and shows how that quest inevitably failed. Set on the battlefield of 1921 Dublin, the show constitutes an aesthetic battlefield itself, never sure whether it's dramatic opera or musical entertainment. Blitzstein achieved much in both modes, but his dualistic approach couldn't capture the overriding sense of life in one particular place and time that makes O'Casey's original great. Under Garry Hynes's direction, Encores! gave a strong account of the work, though several key cast members unused to musical theater muddled things further by playing their idea of a "musical-comedy" style. This didn't square well with Victoria Clark's powerful, strongly grounded Juno, or with the lovely work of Celia Keenan-Bolger and Michael Arden (both struggling a bit with Blitzstein's classical vocal demands) as Mary and Jerry.

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