Classics re-imagined

We’ve been enjoying the Bob Dylan tribute album, Chimes of Freedom, celebrating 50 years of Amnesty International (and raising funds). The album includes 76 tracks recorded by a highly diverse group of artists. Some of the recordings sound close to the original (“Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Michael Franti is a favorite), while others are not to my liking at all (Kesha’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”…what was she doing?). Others still have been re-imagined with satisfying results—true to the essence of the original, but made new (“It Ain’t Me Babe” by Band of Skulls).

Glee, my favorite television show, has been making songs new for three years now. Some results are disastrous but most are nicely done—and well appreciated by legions of fans that repeatedly send tracks soaring on the iTunes charts. Purists may express dismay at their versions of iconic music, but a musician friend observes that, at the very least, Glee is keeping songs alive for a younger generation of music lovers.

Next week Cherisse and I will see Richard III with Kevin Spacey. This play is performed in modern dress (as a rule, not my favorite interpretation). Some productions do pull this off, for the very reason Shakespeare’s plays are still performed regularly 400 years after he wrote them. They are timeless stories with themes that still resonate. So really, why not modern dress, if the director captures the heart of the play? One of my favorite movies is Henry V. Kenneth Branagh, very early in his career, created a powerful film packed with action, intrigue, love…and in the process made Shakespeare accessible to many new audiences. Some liberties were taken: scenes from Henry IV (the previous play in Shakepeare’s chronology) were interwoven to provide background for some of the characters. It worked.

PD James has received great critical reviews for her latest mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley, which picks up the lives of Jane Austen’s characters a few years after  Pride and Prejudice ended. PD James’ book stands on its own, so you can read it without knowing Jane Austen. For lovers of Darcy, Elizabeth, their families and friends, however, the book is a treat; it captures Austen’s style, embodies the spirit of her characters…and fills in more of their lives, without artifice.

Aside from the pleasure of encountering old friends in new settings, I think it’s a comfort to know that great works can live on in fresh ways. Both evolution and immortalization.

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