With Luhrmann’s adaptation about to hit the silver screen, there’s no better time to revisit how others have retold Fitzgerald’s classic American tale. At once a novella about the power of hope and a prophetic story of the end of an era, the The Great Gatsby is still considered one of the best books in the canon of Western literature.
The book exploded off the page in Elevator Repair Service’s marathon retelling. A man in an office sits down, begins reading the book, and 8 hours later (a few intermissions and dinner break included) you emerge from the theatre having utterly steeped yourself in the text. All 180 pages of it.
Take a glimpse of the piece through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway, as Gatsby’s lavish parties transform a dull office setting. The actor who plays Nick, Scott Shepherd, has memorized all 49,000 words of the text.
A young Ian McKellen works through a line from Merchant of Venice in the RSC’s Playing Shakespeare from a few decades past.
The director seen here, John Barton, was asked to write a book about his robust knowledge of the Bard but promptly refused, stating that it was impossible to talk about Shakespeare without having living, breathing actors available to demonstrate the subtleties and poetry of the text. The result is a party full of some the acting greats taking apart classic texts piece by piece and uncovering centuries worth of subtext in the process.
Great words conjure up great images. And The Crucible is nothing if not a master class in playwriting. Miller’s text ignites with its mix of magic, hysteria, and faith.
“There is prodigious fear in seeking loose spirits”
“I cannot sleep for dreaming; I cannot dream but I wake and walk about the house as though I’d find you comin’ through the door.”
“Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.”
“A child’s spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love, it will soon itself come back.”
“it’s the proper morning to fly into Hell.”
“Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.”
“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
But who is to say that a derivative work cannot be equally as satisfying as the original? As long as the pieces are different enough, is it fair to say a certain one is better?
Take for instance the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Mikado. The composers set the opera in Japan, far away from Britain, allowing them to satirize British politics more freely by disguising them as foreign notions.
Opera Australia’s 2011 production of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan.
In 1939, the classic was adapted into a new piece entitled The Hot Mikado and performed with an all African-American cast. Primed with a lot more sass and a lot more swing, The Hot Mikado became a hit that is still performed to this day.
Now it’s been over 70 years since the original piece was given a facelift. Thus, theatres are still looking for ways to update the show and help it feel as novel and sexy as it was when The Hot Mikado first took the stage.
This recent production does just this by updating the 1940s American setting to a modern one that tips its hat to the original Mikado, complete with the “three little maids” in anime-style schoolgirl outfits. Up to you to decide which version you prefer – but I’d say there’s definitely room for both in the world of live performance.
Watermill Theatre’s production of The Hot Mikado in 2009
In lieu of offering a full fledged review of the recent movie, I would like to offer this trip around the world with 17 Valjeans from international productions. Because if nothing else, well-done movie musicals offer exposure to the medium. And there’s nothing like getting another person addicted to a show that took over the musical world for the better part of two decades.
There’s a reason why the show has clout – just listen to the ending (4:44).
New York-based graphic designer Evan Robertson plucked out notable lines written by famous authors and transformed them into visual stories. Robertson would see a “little jewel of a sentence” and he’d underline it. Then, he would take those “snippets of text and ideas” and “let the words be a springboard for an illustration.”
One certain French novella is so prolific and so well-loved that the world continues to celebrate it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Saint Ex’s Le Petit Prince is both the most read and most translated book in the French language, available in over 250 languages and dialects. Its story of love and truth is universal. And now a handful of artists have taken this classic tale to the streets. Take a look at how they have memorialized the little prince and his visit to Earth.
“I feel out of place like the Little Prince on Earth”, Montmartre, Paris, France
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia
Buenos Aires, Argentina
San José, Costa Rica
“We only see clearly with our hearts. The essential is invisible to the eye…”, Canada
“To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking”
-Agnes De Mille
There’s something absolutely wonderful about these shots of some of the greats in rehearsal. Little moments before the polish went on, right in the midst of finessing a piece. Yet even in these “rough” shots, it’s easy to pick out the stars. They’re electric. Eartha Kitt and James Dean hanging in dance class? No biggie. Bob Fosse demonstrating wild 90 degree angle wrists for his troupe? Makes it look easy. Judy Garland and Gene Kelly catching some serious air? Obsessed.
What is your signature move? Dare you find time in your day to try out any of those above.
In the original production of “The Glorious Ones,” John Kassir (Dottore) got to show off his unique talent: mastery of mime. His performance has led me back to one of the great originals – the unparalleled Marcel Marceau.
“Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?“
– Marcel Marceau
This a man who devoted more than 60 years of his life to performing. And it paid off. He was acknowledged as the world’s greatest practitioner of mime.
In the video below, he describes how to create reality in a scene. In this case, going up and down a set of stairs. Watch his eyes as they create a destination above him.
Translation from French:
“Going up and downstairs. It’s an exercice that Jean-Louis Barrault, a disciple of Etienne Decroux, created dramatically. I have changed it a little, it’s another way to do it. What is important is to not only to locate the ramp’s substance, its artisanale side. You also must create the place’s heaviness, distance. I’m going downstairs”