For the most part, Janelle, Kelley, and I have been sticking with the versions of musicals that are adapted for elementary and middle school performers. In fact, the only uncut musical we did was Seussical. These editions really are a good deal. So long as we swear that our performers will not be above 9th grade, we get shows that are
1) Cut to be between 60-80 minutes (I have no delusions there - no matter how good a director could be, no one should have to sit through a 3 hour production starring middle-schoolers),
2) Pre-orchestrated with recorded accompaniment (the only way to make that 3- hour production worse? Live music performed by the school's orchestra)
3) Cleaned up of inappropriate material (and Mattress is amazingly clean. For example, the queen's exclamation of "Oh God, you're bright!" in "Sensitivity" is changed to "Egad, you're bright!", which inevitably makes me think of the mayor's daughter in Music Man),
4) Licensed for an unlimited number of performances within one year's time,
5) For only $500 in royalties (which is pretty cheap for a popular musical - Seussical cost us $2000 in royalties).
It's not perfect, though. To get these shows lower run times and lower ratings, they cut out a lot. Sometimes, I really have an issue with what they chose to cut. For example, while I would love to direct Fiddler so I can teach these kids all about Judaism and Russian history (no, seriously), I hate that they cut out Motel's "Miracle of Miracles". When we did Guys and Dolls, Jr., I was really upset to find that they cut out "Sue Me". That song is the one time we see just why Adelaide would put up with a louse like Nathan Detroit for 14 years. To cut it undermines their entire relationship and just makes her look both needy and stupid. When I called Musical Theater International, though, to ask for permission to put the song back in, they told me, "absolutely not" because "the version of the show that you received was approved by our company for performances, and any alterations to the show would violate your contract with us." Even if the "alteration" was to put back in a song that was written for the show and originally performed in the show.
(I'll try not to get up on my soapbox here about the ridiculous restrictions by such contracts on the choices directors can make. I'll just say that while I understand that some people would of course make terrible decisions, it's frustrating to not be allowed to make changes to accommodate the needs of your production, and thus improve the audience's perspective of the play itself. Have a little faith in amateur productions and let go a little of your play. Theater, by it's very nature, is not meant to be exact reproductions of an original. If you want copies, make a movie.) (So much for staying off my soap box).
Anyway. As we've run Mattress for the first time all the way through, we started to find the gaping holes in the plot that their edits left in this production. The problem is that there are lines that actually refer to things that don't happen anymore, because they cut it. For example, in one scene we see Larken and Harry get into a fight with each other. In the very next scene, the king tells the Minstrel and Jester that he's worried because Harry and Larken had a fight and Larken's running away. Um... except, the fight happened in Winnifred's bedroom. So, we wonder, how is it that the king knows about this fight? And what's this about Larken running away?
And so forth. Another scene that's missing is the one where the Minstrel and Jester overhear the Queen plotting to test Winnifred using a pea under 20 mattresses. Given that it's the Minstrel and Jester who stuff the bed with the jousting equipment we see them reveal in the finale (oops - spoiler alert!), this is kind of crucial.
As we found more and more of these sloppy cuts, Kelley and I tried to figure out what to do to fill in the gaps (without adding lines, of course!). Finally, we thought of something that just might work. What if the King was constantly falling asleep?
Now, now, work with me on this. The King, since he's mute, can communicate things without adding any lines to the show. Plus, he's been shoved out of power and made virtually obsolete by his obstinate wife. Why wouldn't he give up and keep dozing off? (Actually, in the original, the character responds to this usurpation by chasing after all of the young maidens in the castle - hence the name "King Sextimus". But, like I said, this is the squeaky-clean version where he does nothing of the sort and he's only referred to as "The King").
So, we have him constantly falling asleep in his throne, and thus he remains on stage for entire scenes that otherwise would be "private". So, he sleeps through Winnifred's arrival and song ("Shy"), which explains why the King would say that he hasn't seen the new princess yet when everyone else in the kingdom is on hand for Winnifred's first scene. He's sleeping in the room when Harry and Larken fight, and their shouting wakes him up, so the King knows all about their tiff. And he's sleeping in his throne while the Queen tells the Wizard about her plan, and thus he overhears that plot and he passes it on to the Minstrel and Jester during the Spanish Panic that follows.
We just started weaving this idea in during rehearsals today, so we'll have to see how it works as the show comes together. Basically, our kings will wind up being on stage for virtually the entire show. Fortunately, the two boys playing the part are up to the task (naturally).
I guess the contract's restrictions do stimulate some creativity still - it's certainly taking a lot more thought to clean up their editing messes than I expected. Kind of like writing a sonnet - the power's in following all of the rules and restrictions (can you guess what today's English lesson was about?). Anyway, if you do come see our show, I'd like to hear if you think the sleeping/eavesdropping king idea works.
(In case you haven't seen it, here's the delightful Nathan Lane and Faith Prince singing "Sue Me":)