Great Big Time

The meaning of a piece of art can change with the times. 

Case in point, these “Great Big Stuff” lyrics from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels:

“I’m tired of being a chump

I want to be like Trump

200 pounds of caviar in one gigantic lump”  

First off, composer David Yazbek was on to something by sticking these words in the mouth of a conman, in the middle of proudly and loudly un-PC song that rather succinctly captures why Trump’s garish existence represented an appealing version of the American Dream to his supporters. Back in the aughts, the reference was a gaudily-rhymed declaration of the character’s aspiration to live a life of stupid wealth.

But nowadays, a character professing he wants to be like Trump?? Sure means something a lot different! So much so that future revivals will probably change the lyrics.

What interests me about this example is that it reverses the conventional pattern: updating old art usually entails excising the outdated. For instance:

Avenue Q productions swap out “George Bush is only for now” with a timelier reference…though I always appreciated how this line immediately dates the show to when it was actually written, helping to place which era its comic commentary on sociopolitical issues hails from. Also, the fact that modern audiences may not know if it’s Bush Sr. or Jr. only deepens the song’s message of life’s existential cyclicality.

But with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it’s rare for a revival to be wise to strip a still “relevant” mention from the original. It tends to be the other way around, where you want to enhance the existing prescience.

But “Great Big Stuff” tapped into more than Yazbek probably realized. And now, the world is tapping back on his musical.

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