“‘Revive’ to me means don’t copy,” Mr. Doyle said. “Have a point of view. Somebody might tell you it’s wrong — fine, but it’s a point a view, and that is more interesting than a reproduction.”
Mr. Doyle’s signature point of view is what he calls “essentialism,” which involves whittling down a work to reveal some higher truth or beauty that might otherwise be lost in the bells and whistles of Broadway spectacle. It is a style he developed in small, often cash-strapped theaters where financial necessity sometimes led to actors playing instruments onstage.
He made a splash in 2005 when his production of “Sweeney Todd,” originally created for the humble Watermill Theater in Britain, transferred to Broadway with virtually no set, though adding Patti LuPone as a tuba-toting Mrs. Lovett. “I thought I was going to be crucified for it,” Mr. Doyle recalled.
Instead he won his first Tony.
He was quick with the caveat that his approach doesn’t work for every musical. “Nobody’s going to ask me to do ‘Kinky Boots,’ nor should they,” he said adding that some shows, like “West Side Story,” are works of genius that shouldn’t be touched. “But you can’t say that for most musicals,” he said. “Most of them can bear a re-examination.”
Among those is “The Color Purple,” which Mr. Doyle nearly turned down for four reasons: “white, male, British and too old.” He was persuaded by reading Alice Walker’s novel and being bowled over by its depiction of poverty, inhumanity and redemption. “This is eternal,” he said. “It’s all of us.”
His staging, which cut 45 minutes from the original Broadway production and used only wood planks and chairs for a set, won the Tony for best revival of a musical. And it made a star of Cynthia Erivo, who took home a Tony for her turn as Celie.
“He managed to unlock ‘The Color Purple,’” Ms. Erivo said. “In removing the things that aren’t necessary, he makes space for the things you often don’t get to show. I looked to him to make sure I was going in the right direction, but he would also let me discover things and help me distill whatever I needed to make it crystal clear.”