Of course you’d expect a writer to say “respect the text,” but I’ve got to say, it really makes a difference. I saw the musical Pippin last night, and I came away thoroughly confused by the the penultimate number. The Lead Player is trying to convince Pippin to go out in a blaze of glory. The lyrics go “Think about the sun … the guardian of spendor inviting you to dance.” However, in this production, the action on stage centered around a high dive pole; the assumption being that Pippin would climb up and jump to his doom. I couldn’t see the connection between the action and the music.
Doing some research later, I discovered that in the original production, Pippin is considering self-immolation. Light bulb! Now the lyrics make sense. So why did this director choose to ignore the text? I suppose it could have been the fire codes. Or perhaps they thought the high dive fit better with the circus motif that defined the world the Players were operating in. I really don’t know. I just know it didn’t make sense.
I have great admiration for musical directors — choreographing sets, musical numbers, and dances is an order of magnitude more complex than directing a typical stage play. On the other hand, the concept shouldn’t take precidence over the book. A puzzled audience member isn’t typcially a happy audience member.