In 1938, when Richard Rodgers, Larry Hart, George Abbott and George Balanchine brought The Boys From Syracuse to Broadway, no one had ever before made a successful musical from a Shakespeare play. And Boys, a free and breezy adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, was successful. Its jazzy score landed several songs — Falling in Love With Love, He and She, This Can’t Be Love, Sing for Your Supper — in the Great American Songbook, to be picked up and played around with by interpreters as diverse as Mel Torme, Oscar Peterson and Sonny Rollins.
But while Boys paved the way for such later hits as West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate, and helped inspire many more musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, including Arne Zaslove’s popular Twelfth Night with Gershwin tunes for the old Bathhouse Theatre in Seattle in the 1980s, it hasn’t had a lot of revivals. New York’s Encore series of staged musicals produced and recorded a top-flight version in 1997, but a 2002 Broadway revival by the Roundabout Theatre Company was by most accounts (I didn’t see it) badly botched.
Too bad. I’ve listened to the music a fair amount, but I’ve seen a production of The Boys From Syracuse only once, years ago at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, and it’s left me longing to see it again ever since (like another Rodgers & Hart show, 1940’s Pal Joey, which also has a terrific score and is rarely revived).
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s new outdoor production of The Comedy of Errors isn’t The Boys From Syracuse. But it is a free musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy (which was itself an adaptation of a Plautus comedy from ancient Rome), and it has its considerable charms.