Susan and I saw *The Life* at City Center Encores on March 18, 2022. It's a musical from 1997 with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Ira Gasman, and a book by the two of them plus David Newman. It's a show about a group of prostitutes, pimps, and other characters on 42nd Street. The title refers to the life of a hooker.
Encores approached the actor and director Billy Porter about directing a production for them and he said he'd only do it if he could also rewrite the book - - he felt that the original book had too much upbeat razzle dazzle and wasn't honest about the serious issues in the show. He got approval from the Coleman estate and went to work. This was his New York directorial debut.
The first big number felt like the song you'd listen to over and over again on the original cast album, and not really listen to much else. Maybe it was the sound design, maybe it was the way the lyrics were written, but often I couldn't understand the words in the songs. That frustrated me.
The women's parts were the most interesting and their music had the most variety. The men's parts were often high and shrill. "Shrill" would be a good word to describe the show in general. It was too intense, too bright, too loud, too much.
I can't compare Porter's rewritten book to the original but it felt like it honored the women in the story, if not the men. But the story was flat and trite, like a TV movie or cartoon about hookers.
Ledisi gave the strongest performance in the show in the central role of Sonja. Her second act, show-stopping number, "The Oldest Profession," made the whole show worthwhile. This song won Lillias White a Tony in the original cast. Ledisi sang the song with power, guts, and beauty. She received a much-deserved ovation. Here's White doing it in concert, with Cy Coleman at the piano:
The finale was interesting - - it wasn't a song, it was a monologue by the narrator, bringing us to the present, even making a veiled reference to the war in Ukraine.