YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!
Why do shows get rewritten? Times and contexts change, customs and social mores evolve and the conscience and sensibilities of the audience are affected by these progressions and developments.
Let’s start with two of the simplest examples to lay out and track, women and the indigenous Americans. The first is the evolving situation or status of women in society and the American culture. Today, in the news, we can easily see the struggles towards gender equality that are challenging our society. Gender imparity has been a historical fact of life throughout civilizations around the world and the clashes that have occurred between the sexes are sometimes epic as the ebb and flow of time and history marches on.
One of the earliest plays dedicated to this subject was Aristophanes’ comedy,Lysistrata, where the 5th century b.c.e. women of Greece contrive to end the Peloponnesian Wars by denying the men sex to get their attention and address their stupidity. This play was actually written during those wars which shows what an effect on society theater and art can have and how plays and music can preserve history while delving into fiction.
Our play is situated in the late 1800s and the beginning of the 20th century. During her youth, Phoebe Ann Mosey aka Annie Oakley lived in a society that held very strict views of a woman’s place in the community. ‘Women of the theater’ were generically seen as having loose morals and few virtues. For the young 15 year old Ohio farm girl to have the courage to step on a stage and compete with men was extraordinary and probably seen by some as outside the bounds of propriety. To Annie’s credit, not only did she recognize this but dealt with it by adjusting her costumes – her dress was much more prim and proper than any on the stage, adjusting her behavior – she was calm, quietly in control and self-possessed, and by being better at her task and vocation than virtually any other marksman or woman in the country. That having been said, it was still an up-hill climb to gain acceptance for who she was.
In the 40s, when the script and score for our musical were written, the viewpoints towards women had begun to change. After all, the country and the world had just been through a second World War and the women of America had risen to the challenge of replacing the men in the factories, the shipyards, and most other preserves that had been generally male-populated till 1940. Nevertheless, the score and lyrics of Annie still captures the tensions between men and women competing on an unequal plane and ‘theater women’ in the forties were still primarily seen as vamps with loose morals and questionable intentions.
By the 1990s, there had been significant motion in this area with the rise of the feminist movement and ‘female liberation,’ the subject needed to be cast in a contextually more understandable light for the new theater-goers and so the rewrite for the Kennedy Center revival that went to Broadway with Bernadette Peters and Co. was launched with new scores and a revision of the story by Peter Stone. This adaptation addressed feminism and the other example of evolving viewpoints that provoked negative reactions from current day audiences.
American ‘history’ has been very unkind and untruthful (remember that histories are written by the winners and often need to be revisited to get a more accurate view of the facts and times) regarding the many tribes and nations of Amerindians on this continent. Without trying to set this history aright in these few paragraphs, suffice it to say that the revised story and score for the Bernadette Peters and Co. revival wrote out much of the more difficult treatments of American Indians as the story shifted focus.
It behooves all of us to learn more about the Sioux, Chippewa, Cherokee, Seminole, Navaho, Apache and countless other tribes and nations that existed on this continent before western Europeans escaping their own history and injustices used the concept and cry of Manifest Destiny to inflict gross injustices on the indigenous of the Americas and destroy their history. An in-depth investigation of these subjects is for another time, for now try to learn, understand and immerse yourselves in this musical so that we can, as Leonard Bernstein said – ‘sound like the composer.’
"I'm not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer."