Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ah, the "What's Wrong with Broadway?" meme

It rears its ugly head about as often as we hear "Where are the women in...[fill in the blank]?" meme here in Silicon Valley. It's the "What's wrong with Broadway?" meme, and having lived in NYC in the late 80s, you can imagine I've heard that question a time or two.

Kimberly Kaye tackles the issue for, of all things, The Economist. I didn't even know they had more of a lifestyle outlet entitled "Intelligent Life".

A factor Kaye brings up that I really hadn't thought about was the economy's impact not on Broadway, but on significant Off-Broadway houses...many have closed, apparently. And that leaves certain shows with more quirk, less sure-fire spectacle, with nowhere else to go but to attempt Broadway. Sometimes it works; often it doesn't.

It's a good read, and as she points out: Nothing new is wrong, specifically, with Broadway. Broadway has long been the most commercial of enterprises, vs. purely an artistic enterprise, and therefore it lives and dies by tourists and their dollars.

Could producers examine the model of lowering prices to bring in a higher volume of audience member? I think they should. It's part of a vicious cycle that's been going for decades...spectacle begets cost. Cost begets higher ticket prices. Higher ticket prices begets expectations of something "spectacular" is going to happen. Expectations beget spectacle. And so on. And this all also begets more dependence on tourists vs. theatre-loving locals.

Vicious circle, as I mentioned.

Here in the Bay Area, over the last few years my theatre-going habits have changed dramatically as I've had less time...but also due to that expectations cycle.

Of course, 42nd Street Moon is always on my list, since I'm on their board. And one of the things I like most about their productions is the intimate space and unamplified voices.

But my other theatre-going has shifted from a brief subscription with TheatreWorks and a very long-term subscription to American Musical Theatre of San Jose (AMT) to the more recent 3 years my S.O. and I have been subscribers to San Jose Rep.

With TheatreWorks, I felt like the prices (and local media hype) begat expectations they couldn't live up to for me. I wanted a level of quality I didn't feel I was getting for the price.

With AMT, I felt like they were resorting to more and more old and tired fill a 3,000 seat theatre they couldn't really be too out there...not too dissimilar from Broadway I suppose. When it became clear that our subscription was always going to include way more Camelot and Music Man than Spring Awakening or Assassins, we moved on from that subscription too.

Now, with San Jose Rep, we're seeing way fewer musicals, more straight plays.We're seeing more new works. We're seeing things we haven't see (a hundred times) before. And we really like it. And think we're getting our money's worth.

But it is not a big, commercial, for-profit theatre. And it likely never could be.

What's wrong with Broadway: The same thing that was always wrong with it.

But what's right with Broadway also remains: Amazing talent. Beauty, not just spectacle. The shared, live experience of something you can't get anywhere else.

I'm heading to NYC in late January, and I'll be saving an evening for Broadway, no doubt about it.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thoughts on Spiderman, safety and a union's obligation

If you're in theatre at all, you might be aware of the impending opening of the most expensive and complicated Broadway musical ever: Spiderman.

It certainly sounds uber-cool. U2's Bono and Edge provide the music and lyrics, and it's directed by Julie Taymor. She of the visionary Broadway version of The Lion King.

Broadway roles are hard to come by. Paying acting gigs are hard to come by. The percentage of Equity actors who actually make a living with their acting is horribly small. The actors who got that call that they had been cast in this show must have been over the moon happy about it.

But is it worth dying for?

And what s the duty of our union, as actors, to step in and shut something down when it is clear things are going horribly awry?

I'd say it's a pretty unmistakable moral duty.

The most recent of several serious accidents happened Monday night. An actor's cable snapped, and he fell 20-30 feet. They're not being incredibly transparent about his injuries, but latest reports cite broken ribs, internal bleeding and have him in serious but stable condition. Apparently undergoing back surgery. Nothing mentioned about head injury.

I'm prone to wonder about that, especially since one of the musicals lead actresses only recently returned form two weeks off due to concussion.She was hit in the head by a heavy rope and knocked out. Another actor broke two wrists during an aerial stunt.

A quite comprehensive look at the injuries and issues is here.

This show has been in development for years, rehearsal for months, and suffering technical setbacks, difficulties and these injuries since the very first preview (which is when the above-mentioned concussion happened). I don't mean to sound frivolous about the $65 million investment that's been made, but oh my God!

There are obvious safety issues. What else needs to happen to prove that? Sure, they can blame human error, and they are, but perhaps then they are asking the humans to do too much.

I think Equity (and OSHA) have an obligation to keep this show dark until every stunt and every set piece and every piece of machinery and equipment and every procedure and every failsafe and every fallback option has been thoroughly experts. Not the same people who are already working on it. No, a new and fresh set of eyes and ears and hands.

Because a Broadway role...not worth head injury, not worth a broken back, not worth paralysis, and not worth dying for.

(PS-I think the same thing about sports, including cheerleading, in case you were wondering.)

What do you think?

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Next up at 42nd Street Moon: Babes in Arms, a true classic

If you haven't seen Babes in Arms by Rodgers & Hart, you may wonder how that possibly could be once I list all the hit songs. Try this list on for size:

My Funny Valentine
The Lady is a Tramp
Johnny One-Note
Where or When?
I Wish I Were in Love Again
All at Once

Yes. All in one very hit-packed 1937 show. And one that is rarely produced anymore. You may have seen the's a classic Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney "Let's put on a show" affair, but I'm betting you haven't seen it on stage.

That's where 42nd Street Moon comes in. This is what they were created to do: Let you hear songs like those in their original context. And it's always fascinating.

The show opened this weekend at the Moon and plays for three weekends.

I wouldn't miss it, how about you?

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