The Rebecca musical has died again, for good this time. The increasingly bizarre story of malaria, poisoned pen letters and all-around bad business is being better reported elsewhere, and is proving to be the juiciest bit of Broadway gossip since Julie Taymor's $70 million attempt to kill every actor in New York City. Just an hour ago, the Times reported that the mysterious malarial investor was linked to a Long Island Ponzi-schemer, which has had the effect of bringing the whole scandal back down from the realm of theatrical fantasy to the sordid metropolitan area that we inhabit. But in their giddy reporting of each baffling development, the Times has failed to point out something crucial:
Why on earth did anyone ever think they could make a musical out of Rebecca?
I've been wondering this since the production first faltered back in spring. Du Maurier's novel is a longtime favorite of every woman in my father's family, and they talked me into reading it during a tedious trip to Long Island in the summer before sixth grade. The book is southern Gothic on the Riviera, like Fitzgerald swapping spit with Faulkner, an image which I already regret creating. From that crackerjack first sentence—"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again"—I was hooked, and I've always held a soft spot for the novel, without ever rereading it. Perhaps now is the time.
The movie never charmed me. The Hays Code forced Hitchcock to change the crucial murder from a justifiable homicide to a clumsy boating accident, and I was never able to see the fun in that. The Academy disagreed with me, and the movie remains a classic. This is, perhaps, why Austrian producers were able to drum the story into a successful musical in 2006, and why the current beleaguered band thought it would be a good idea to translate the show and bring it west.
A seventy year-old Best Picture winner does not occupy the kind of mental real estate needed for a Broadway hit, and the atmosphere of overblown European Gothic stinks of the West End in the 80s. What is lush and charming in the book would have been bloated and dismal on-stage. Don't believe me?
It's not Lotte Lenya.
It's unfair, of course, to judge a musical we haven't seen performed in a musical we don't understand. The people behind Rebecca put in good work, and it's possible the show would have been tasteful, the script elegant, and the score inspiring. But it's struck me as a bad idea since spring, and for once my gut—taking a break from its endless demands for cheeseburgers—seems to have been proven right.