Lincoln Center Festival, the annual summertime smorgasbord of performances imported from across the globe, kicked into high gear last week with a Japanese-language production of the Broadway musical “Chicago,” the Globe Theatre’s “The Merchant of Venice” with Jonathan Pryce and a French-language staging of Moliere’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” (known in English as “The Bourgeois Gentleman”).
“Chicago” was performed by Japan’s Takarazuka Revue, which was founded more than a century ago. Except for the fact that it was performed in Japanese with an all-female cast (plus a lengthy and glitzy song-and-dance encore added on), the Takarazuka “Chicago” was a point-by-point replica of the long-running Broadway production.
This is not unusual. When popular Broadway musicals like “Les Miz,” “The Lion King” and “The Phantom of the Opera” are brought to foreign countries, their original stagings are often reproduced and micromanaged down to the slightest detail. Although this preserves the integrity of the original production, it prevents other companies from interpreting the material on their own terms.
But even if the Takarazuka “Chicago” was a reproduction of a show already running in New York, it was a very good reproduction, in which the cast ably handled Ann Reinking’s Fosse-style choreography and the Kander & Ebb score. Also, given how “Chicago” is a female-centered musical in which the men are viewed through critical eye as either egotists or idiots, having women play all the roles was unexpectedly effective.
London’s Globe took Broadway by storm three years ago when Mark Rylance lead an all-male company in traditional-style productions of “Richard III” and “Twelfth Night” that were intended to mirror how they would look in Shakespeare’s day. By comparison, the cast of “The Merchant of Venice” contains both men and women, although director Jonathan Munby does evoke Renaissance Italy with rich costumes and period music.
It is hard to erase the memory of the brilliant Shakespeare in the Park revival of “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino. That said, this proved to be a striking production that emphasized the brutal violence, mockery and intolerance facing themoneylender Shylock, which in turn fuels his rabid need for revenge and leads to his tragedy. Pryce (recently seen as the High Sparrow on “Game of Thrones”) gave a deeply felt performance as Shylock, and it is a shame that he does not tread the New York stages more often.
Moliere’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” is a satire about a lowborn, newly wealthy man who makes an idiot of himself as he eagerly tries to gain a foothold in society and acquire knowledge of the arts and science. A good deal of it consists of courtly songs and dance sequences, making it resemble an early musical comedy.
While it does not rank among Moliere’s best work (i.e. “The Misanthrope,” “Tartuffe”), Theatre des Bouffes du Nord’s production offered the rare opportunity to hear both the original French text and the original score intended to compliment it.
Lincoln Center Festival continues this week with “Golem” (based on the Jewish folk tale of a giant clay creature that comes to life) and Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet version of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”