You can reissue a book and hold film or art retrospectives. But good theatre is unique in that it keeps on changing over different productions.
Take Fire, for instance, Paul Ledoux and David Young’s musical hellraiser about passion on the concert stage and in the pulpit. Starting Thursday, it’s burning up the Bluma Appel in a 20th-anniversary production.
“I think this is going to be seen as a definitive production,” says writer Young about the show, which chronicles the lives of two brothers loosely based on cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, the hard-livin’ rocker, and Jimmy Swaggart, the seemingly upright evangelical preacher.
“I think the two intersecting stories still work for an audience,” he says.
“You’ve got the contrasting light and shadow of the characters, plus some amazing music. I’ve gone back and done some work on the speeches – fluffed up the pillows a bit.”
Besides collecting every theatre award in its day, Fire was a star-making vehicle for Ted Dykstra, who reprises his role as Cale, the Lewis figure. But it’s different watching him in the role two decades later.
“He’s got the dark in him now,” says Young. “He’s lost more, suffered more. When he talks about the disillusion of the spirit, he’s seen it happen.”
The seduction scene in the first act, in which Cale comes on to the much younger Molly, plays way differently.
“As a young actor, Ted was all over Molly in the original, but now you can sense him realizing what a transgression it is because she’s so young.”
As for the piece’s relevance today, the religious right is as powerful now as it was back then. “Look at how uncomfortable the conservative evangelical right wing is with John McCain,” he says. “They feel he doesn’t speak for them.”
Besides Fire, Young has dealt with everything from a stranded expedition to the Antarctic (Inexpressible Island) to the life (and Goldberg Variations) of pianist Glenn Gould (Glenn). He’s currently developing a play about the controversial baroque painter Caravaggio.
“I’m interested in the pursuit of ecstatic experience, whatever that is,” says Young. “We all want that – the divine, the spiritual. I think figures like Gould or Caravaggio are interesting because they’re in search of that, too. You get to experience that through them.”