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Mark Shenton: Cast changes can reinvigorate a long-running theatre show

Bernadette Peters in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. Photo: Julieta Cervantes Bernadette Peters in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
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Films – with the exception of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World – don’t tend to be recast after they’re made. Instead, you sometimes have wholesale remakes of successful titles, such as Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming West Side Story, where a whole new set of actors have the unenviable task of competing with celluloid memories that can easily be revisited.

Stage memories are more fluid and transitory. Some performances sear themselves upon the memory, such as Denise Gough in People, Places and Things or Billie Piper in Yerma. But, for the most part, when they’re gone, they’re gone, lingering only in production photographs and the power of critics to evoke their memories in reviews written at the time. That’s part of the unique pleasure of the theatre: you really had to be there.

However, some shows don’t disappear into the ether. They play on – even after a lead performer has left. Last week, I revisited the effervescent, warm-hearted glory that is Broadway’s current revival of Jerry Herman’s 1964 Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! for the the third time – and each time was to see a different Dolly.

After reviewing its original star Bette Midler last year, I returned to see her standby cover, the Tony winner Donna Murphy; and now I’ve seen it again with Bernadette Peters, who officially took over from Midler last month.

Peters is a Broadway legend. Whereas Midler had, early in her career, appeared in the original Fiddler on the Roof (before my time) and only once since in a play that I also missed, I have followed Peters’ career avidly over the years. Apart from her live concert shows, I’ve seen Peters in every single Broadway show she’s done since she originated the role of Dot in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George in 1984.

So I and other Broadway regulars have an ongoing relationship with her that means the roar of love that greeted her on her first entrance and didn’t let up till the end of the show was amplified many times over.

That was a treat and a treasure, as was catching our very own Charlie Stemp, taking over in the same production as a lithe and hilarious Barnaby Tucker from Taylor Trensch. Trensch has left the show to take over in Dear Evan Hansen, thus necessitating a future revisit to that show, too.

I also revisited Kinky Boots on Broadway last week, this time to catch Jake Shears (an original member of the pop group Scissor Sisters) take over as Charlie Price. It’s a production that I’ve definitely warmed to over successive visits – and Shears proves to be a natural delight, carrying off the acting and dancing as well as the singing.

Right now, my dance card for shows I plan to return to in New York include the Tooting-pie-shop-originated production of Sweeney Todd, which later this month sees British actor Sally Ann Triplett (now resident on New York) take over as Mrs Lovett; as well as the Broadway incarnation of The Play That Goes Wrong, now featuring another British ex-pat actor, Mark Evans, in the cast.

Meanwhile in London, I’m dying to revisit The Ferryman (to see Rosalie Craig, ahead of her starring in Company later this year), Dreamgirls (to see Marisha Wallace as Effie White) and Motown (to see David Albury as Smokey Robinson – the actor first came to my attention in the Union Theatre’s production of Howard Goodall’s Love Story).

It’s hard enough keeping up with the constant onslaught of new openings, let alone go back to things you’ve seen before. But for me, that’s when I often enjoy shows most: set free of having to review them, I can go just for the pleasure I know is in store.

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