Old musicals get new tricks

Score additions to tuner revivals are increasingly common

Remember that scene in the 1968 tuner “Promises, Promises” when leading lady Fran breaks out in the familiar Burt Bacharach-Hal David song “I Say a Little Prayer”?

Actually, you don’t. That moment wasn’t in the original.

But it’s in the current revival (now in previews at the Broadway Theater for an April 25 opening), along with another Bacharach-David song, “A House Is Not a Home,” folded in to the songwriters’ original score.

Such inclusions have become increasingly common as producers bring back familiar titles in new productions. A new incarnation of “Dreamgirls” hit the road earlier this season with a score that features “Listen,” a song not included in the 1981 preem but written for the 2006 movie version (and sung by pop star Beyonce).

That sort of musical interpolation can be spurred by anything from a business strategy to a desire to bolster a show’s creative elements. And sometimes, according to producers and artists, the new tune can benefit both sides of the equation.

“The addition of ‘Listen’ is a great asset to the show,” says “Dreamgirls” producer John Breglio. “First, because it was the most successful single coming out of the film, and therefore very identifiable to so many in the audience. Second, and more important, with the new lyrics written specifically for the new production, the characters of Effie and Deena are now reconciled so that, for the first time, the dramatic arc of the show is fully completed.”

As in the case of “Promises,” the songs that are newly incorporated into revivals are often penned by the same songwriters, in large part to preserve the musical coherence of the score.

The history of these kinds of additions stretches back to at least the 1950s. The 1952 revival of Gershwin tuner “Of Thee I Sing,” for instance, included the song “Mine,” originally written by George and Ira Gershwin for a flop called “Let ‘Em Eat Cake.”

More recently, the 1999 revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” added one more Cole Porter song, “From This Moment On,” to Porter’s original score. Porter wrote the tune for a show called “Out of This World,” from which it was cut, and the song was later included in the 1953 movie version of “Kate.” Both the 2006 revival of “The Pajama Game” and the 2008 incarnation of “South Pacific” included songs that had been cut from the original productions.

Perhaps most famously, revivals of “Grease” have long incorporated changes to the book and score that came about in the wake of the iconic 1978 movie version. The 2007 revival was the first on Broadway to include pic tunes “You’re the One That I Want” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” among others.

“It’s not a new thing to do, if it’s a touchstone moment,” says Neil Meron, a producer of “Promises, Promises” with partner Craig Zadan.

In the case of “Dreamgirls,” the song “Listen” was included at the request of the show’s Korean co-producer, anxious to work in a signature moment from the movie version that helped give the title a new global profile, particularly among auds in South Korea, where the revival bowed before the Gotham run that kicked off its current national tour. (Original co-creator Henry Krieger also wrote an act-two opener in order to refine a sequence with which he’d never been satisfied.)

For “Promises, Promises,” the impulse to add songs came from the creative side.

After an exploratory reading a couple of years ago — and before the Broadway cast, toplined by Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, had been assembled — the show’s producers and creative team decided the only weakness they saw in the 1968 version was an underwritten arc for the character of Fran, the female lead now played by Chenoweth.

“We felt like there was a deficit for Fran,” says “Promises” director Rob Ashford. “Fran had a middle and an end, but not a beginning, musically.”

Book writer Neil Simon and songwriters Bacharach and David were open to making additions, and eventually both “Say a Little Prayer” and “House Is Not a Home” were worked into the score with their guidance. “The songs make Fran’s role complete, and therefore more appealing,” Ashford says.

In a legit landscape where such inclusions have become de rigeur, it’s notable that one upcoming revival is taking the opposite tack.

Chicago’s American Theater Company is reviving “Grease” by jettisoning its familiar movie songs — plus several other numbers auds know and love — to restore the show to its R-rated, Chi-centric roots. Next year, the org plans to end its season with a production that reveals what “Grease” was before it got scrubbed clean to go wide.

That tactic can kick off a flurry of interest in a property whose familiarity might breed contempt, or at least some apathy.

The recent announcement of the new/old version of “Grease” sparked a huge outpouring of interest, according to ATC a.d. PJ Paparelli, who’s already thinking about plans for a future commercial life for the show.

“There were hundreds of messages in the first few days alone,” he says.

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