Last night I went to a wonderful show — classical music from Broadway, by which I mean Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Lerner & Loewe, Irving Berlin … There are many more, but what’s the use of naming them? Only audiences “of a certain age” not only recognize but love the music created by those names. (I and a few of my friends know all the lyrics and can sing them all.) I often wonder when I look around me at the audience at the opera or chamber music or even pop standards like those I heard last night, and see only grey and balding heads: What will happen to this music when the greyheads are gone?
Peter Gelb is doing a masterful job of revamping the opera, things like ripping “Rigoletto” from its 16th-century palace setting and plopping it down in a casino in 1950s Las Vegas. I think that is a brilliant move, since the power plays of the debauched nobility differ little from the depravity of 20th-century gangsters. Jealousy, pride and a father’s love aren’t bound to time or place. With novel staging in new productions and free outdoor showings, Gelb may well succeed in enticing new audiences. Great theater deals with the human condition, and since that doesn’t change from one age to another, the costumes worn by the players in no way alter the themes of love lost and won, jealousy, treachery, death, cleverness, stupidity and so on.
I suspect the musical theater is different. The “younger set” no longer swings to the music of Glenn Miller or Harry James — they don’t need to cling to each other on the dance floor when they can hook up in bed with no effort. Cole Porter’s marvelously witty lyrics no longer resonate.
Every age, of course, has its own passions, styles and crazes. And each age thinks theirs are the best. As they should.