Even old favorites seem new every time

Published July 21, 2007

I was driving the car and keeping my eyes on the road, so I couldn't see (but, darn it, I could feel) my passenger roll her eyes when I told her I was going to see yet another production of the musical Hello, Dolly!

This one is by Clearwater City Players at Ruth Eckerd Hall and plays again at 8 tonight and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

It's the sixth or seventh time I've seen the show. In fact, my passenger and I had gone to see it together when it starred the original Dolly Levi and Carol Channing in Tampa, way back in 1994, and we saw it again at Stage West Community Playhouse a couple of years later.

Even so, "I don't see how you do it," she said. "You see the same shows time after time. It would drive me crazy."

Come to think of it, she's right. I have seen some Broadway shows five or 10 times: Fiddler on the Roof, Annie Get Your Gun, The Music Man, The King and I, Guys and Dolls, Cats, South Pacific, Man of La Mancha, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Phantom of the Opera, to name just a few. In truth, most of my vacations are planned around a theatrical production in some distant city.

Furthermore, it's likely that if any of those shows are at a venue within driving distance, I'll probably go see them again.

I'm driving to Jacksonville in a couple of weeks, for example, to once more see Smokey Joe's Cafe, which I saw at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre a few years ago, and I just can't wait to see it again when the Show Palace does it in 2008.

Still, I understand my pal's puzzlement. Why would somebody sit through something they've already seen umpteen times?

Well, to me, those shows are no more repetitious than, say, football or NASCAR.

In football, it's a bunch of big guys running up the field this way, then down the field that way. In NASCAR, it's people driving 'round and 'round and 'round a track.

What makes it all so exciting is that although the general plan for each event is the same (four quarters with 11 specific positions on each side for football or an identically equipped car going a set number of laps in NASCAR), each game or race is different; new moves, old moves done differently, new players or drivers, old players or drivers trying to make old moves work for them again.

Or, as the old song goes, T'aint What You Do, It's the Way That You Do It.

It's the same with theater. Each Hello, Dolly! is altogether different because it has different players, directors, musicians, dancers and crew. They may be saying the familiar words and singing the same songs, but the words aren't said the same way, and the music, sets, lights and costumes are all different.

One Dolly may be soft and cajoling; another may be assertive and bold; still another may do the character with a lot of physical humor. Multiply those differences by the number of people in the cast, and you have an all-new experience with each new production.

Naturally, as with sports events, some of the shows are great, some are simply awful and some are just so-so. (Ask any Buccaneers fan about this.)

Right now, I'm looking forward to seeing Camelot for the eighth time at Stage West next season.

And if I run across a show I especially like, I'll go see the same production again, and maybe again, as I did four or five times when Richey Suncoast Theatre did A Chorus Line and Into the Woods.

After all, just because I had fried chicken on Monday doesn't mean I won't enjoy it again on Thursday.