Saturday, November 29, 2008

You Gotta Get a Gimmick: Good Storytelling as a Gimmick (Ruminations on Making It, Part 3)

I once had someone look at a work I wrote and said, “I don’t think there is a market for this sort of thing anymore. Even if you found someone to produce it, who would see it?”

The sad part is, I knew that from the moment I started writing the play. My reasoning was that if the show was funny enough, the characters endearing enough, the plot executed well enough, then its quality would rise above marketability. That is, the quality of the show would give advertising folks enough to work with to promote the show to find an audience.

Hollywood has become an industry obsessed with marketability, and its movies show it. You have an idea, and you boil it down to a tag line, “This” meets “That,” complete with a target audience and popular appeal.

Sometimes in the malls near my home, there will be people at booths asking me to preview movie previews to give my perspective. The last one was for the Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher comedy Wedding Daze. I was asked plenty of questions focused on the appeal of the actors, images I remembered, my perceptions, the likelihood I would see the movie. Who knows how many thousands of people around the country saw that same preview and gave similar feedback. And yet, the movie still hasn’t made it to theaters. I later read about it in Entertainment Weekly, and it has apparently been sitting on studio shelves for a few years.

All that work on marketability, and no one even cares.

Broadway has taken on the same perspective. A year ago, there was all this talk about the 90-minute musical, looking for a show with a unique hook, something to set the show apart. Maybe I’m still new to this whole Broadway thing, but getting good reviews might be the best place to start. We recently lost two shows I was really wanting to see—A Tale of Two Cities and 13—one was traditional, one was unique, both got weak reviews, and neither lasted to Tony season.

The best works, the ones that last, in the end, have something far better than marketability, uniqueness, or “it” factor. They have great stories, and in the case of musicals, great stories that are told through great music.

the Broadway Mouth
November 29, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eight Top Ten Theatre Things for Which I’m Thankful This Thanksgiving

The Producers of 13I am thankful to the producers of 13 for bringing another Jason Robert Brown score to the stage. I haven’t heard it yet, but since I’m a big fan of the songwriter, I’m comfortable assuming I’ll like it when I hear it.

Little House on the PrairieI am thankful for the stage adaptation of Little House on the Prairie. I’d be more thankful if the score would be recorded, but for now, I’ll just be thankful I got to experience it on stage. For now.

Words and Music by Jerry Herman
I am thankful that the DVD for the PBS documentary Words and Music by Jerry Herman included the title number from Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing. Precious little footage from her performance has ever been readily available.

WickedI am thankful for Wicked. I look forward to having kids to take to it myself someday.

Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal—I am thankful Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal are touring in Rent. What a rare opportunity for fans of these performers who don’t live in New York City.

Felicia P. Fields—I am thankful that Felicia P. Fields is still on tour with The Color Purple. Hers is a performance too remarkable not to make it across the country.

Word of Mouth—I am thankful Craig Bierko may be returning to Broadway. I thought he was amazing in The Music Man, and I bet he’d be great in Guys and Dolls.

In the HeightsI’m thankful In the Heights is still on the boards. I hope I get to New York City one of these days to catch it; it is probably the show I’m most excited about.

the Broadway Mouth
November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

It Only Takes a Moment: Is Persistence the Only Answer? (Ruminations on Making It, Part 2)

I love Ken Davenport’s line, “He’s just not that into you.” I think of it daily when I’m at work.

In my job, I filter through applications, resumes, and phone calls to determine who to bring in for interviews. Fewer than ten percent of the people who contact me—typically at least two hundred in a month—are ever people I would consider bringing in (and fewer of those are ever offered work).

I get these annoying people who call me back every two months, most of whom don’t realize they are doing that. They just don’t keep jobs for long and start from scratch when they walk off their job or are fired. Some of them, though, are purposefully calling back again and again, perhaps thinking that by putting their name or voice in front of me, I’ll warm up to their job jumping, I’m-so-desperate-for-a-job-though-I’ve-had-three-in-the-past-year resume and finally bring them in. Because I’m always busy, I can’t help but think when I get these calls, “He’s just not that into you!”

With Thanksgiving coming up, last week was particularly busy for me because of people needing time off from work. This one woman called in again. I finally got annoyed enough to call her and say in a very respectful, professional tone, “I talked with you in July, and you’ve called me four times since. If I have anything, I will give you a call.” Of course, in another month, she’ll be paging through the phone book and call again anyway.

If it’s that bad for me, think about what it must be like for producers on Broadway and in Hollywood. No wonder they put up so many barriers to reading work! Everyone is working on a screenplay or a musical, and we can only guess how many of them aren’t very good.

So, the answer to “He’s just not that into you” is perhaps not to keep annoying people until they beat you over the head with a stick. Like me with my job, they don’t need to spend ten days with you to know if you’re going to suit their needs or not. With my job, within two or three questions, I can almost always tell if I’m going to bring someone in for an interview and whether we will hire them.

The answer, then, has to be to improve, to change somehow. Because when you call on them again a third or a fourth time, their cough medicine or the quality of lettuce with their lunch isn’t going to change their perspective. You have to face the fact that you are lacking something they are searching for. The only way that producer or director is going to change their perspective is if something about you changes.

If you’ve never read David Wienir and Jodie Langel’s Making It On Broadway, read it. There’s a great story in there from Cory English, who was part of the cast that changed my life with Hello, Dolly! in 1994 (and he was recently cast in Young Frankenstein). In Making It On Broadway, he talks about auditioning for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway nineteen times, wearing the same shirt to each audition. Talk about fortitude! But the reality is, there’s a long string of shows listed under his name in the book, and not one of them is Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. They just weren’t into him. But the hope for us all lies in his bio, which is that his persistence got him nowhere then, but somewhere along the line, he improved or found someone who saw the qualities they needed in him. After all, he does, indeed, have a long line of shows under his name, and he’s still adding to that list to this day.

the Broadway Mouth
November 24, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sometimes You Just Need a Good "F%&@ You" (Ruminations on Making It, Part 1)

She handed me a poem to critique. When I was teaching writing, I always tried to read my students’ work before they handed it in for a grade to give them feedback in order to improve. As my college professors said, handing students a graded paper with a ton of comments is time-consuming and helps no one. Better to get the comments to them before they write the final draft.

This girl had written a poem about being a teenager with a roller coaster as a metaphor for the teen experience, with all the ups and downs. Yeah, not that original. When I gave her feedback on how to improve, her response to me was, “But this is really what it’s like to be a teenager.” To which I probably said something like, “Yes you’re right, but this is poetry, and one of your goals is to express something in a way no one has said before (or at least not that 500 million other people have said before).” When she handed me her final poem, she hadn’t changed a word.

The best writers I ever had—be it of essays, short stories, poems, or plays—were those who appreciated feedback and applied it to their writing through the filter of their own vision. I had my fair share of kids who handed me their final draft, and it was the exact same as the working draft I had written comments on. A rare few really felt like their lack of changes were justifiable (and I always let kids sit down and explain their reasoning), though most were either just lazy or conceited.

How we as artists (or humans, really) handle critique determines where and how far we go in life. Sometimes, I am so overwhelmed by my own lack of knowledge and skill about so many things that I wish I could get a graduate degree in nine or ten areas. There are people, though, who simply cannot handle being told how to do anything better or face any kind of critique, from the minute (you really didn’t handle that situation right) to the grand (that guy you’re about to marry is a loser).

It can be hard because we all want to think the best of ourselves. Who doesn’t want to be perfect? The problem is that as writers, actors, directors, and so on, we have to face criticism in order to grow.

Of course, the critique always has to be filtered through your own vision. You don’t want to be a chicken grabbing at everything that looks like feed, gobbling it all up without consideration. In my younger and less educated days (okay, just about six years ago), I received some critique on my play. One comment a wise, older man told me was that I needed to incorporate more historical details, making reference to changes in daily living that were affecting the people. I did just that, and a few years later, I removed almost all of them because they were more of a distracter. I needed the maturity of time to realize that references of that nature weren’t required for the story.

But if you shun everything and realize your own genius before everyone else does, you’ll be hard fit to figure out why you’re not “making it” on Broadway (or anywhere).

One time I was reading a sitcom someone was writing. People sat around in a bar, telling jokes. I told the person, “It’s funny, but there’s no plot.” The response I got was, “What do you mean? There’s a plot!” I don’t think this person could even outline a plot. If you can’t handle critique, then don’t expect your talent to get anywhere. No one is born knowing everything.

My aunt used a term the one time I read a short story she wrote. She said, “Be brutal.” That’s my mantra as well when getting critique. Yes, it is nice (and important) to know what you are doing well, but facing the tough thoughts are the ones that will help you.

In my younger days, I was very open to critique, and I ate it up (and still do). But I wasn’t smart. Someone read something I wrote—and let me tell you what a rare blessing that is—and when he offered his great points of critique, I felt the need to say, essentially, “That’s really good, but please understand that, even though it was the wrong choice, it was an intentional choice.” Unfortunately, I think it came off as, “I disagree.” I later wrote a thank you letter better explaining my intentions.

New Yorkers, I am finding, give the best critique. An acquaintance (another person who spoke truth into my life when it was hard to hear) once told me there was a New Yorker cartoon where there was a person from Los Angeles greeting a person from New York on a street. Now I’ll paraphrase here, but the New York person was saying, “F%&@ you,” while the man from Los Angeles was saying, “Hello.” However, the person from Los Angeles was thinking, “F%&@ you,” while the man from New York was thinking, “Hello.” If you’ve ever been to both places, you know nothing could be truer.

A few months ago, I got a good “F%&@ you” from a New Yorker who read my work, and it was the best thing ever.

Peter Filichia once wrote a column on where he commented on how much he liked David Yazbek's work in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but strongly criticized Yazbek’s cheating with rhymes, matching “obscene. Her” with “Orangina” and “what it’s fer” with “Bar Mitzver.” I don’t remember Yazbek’s response word for word, but he basically said, “Yeah, you’re right. They don’t rhyme.”

So . . . find someone in your life whom you trust to say “F%&@ you” from time to time, particularly when it comes to your art. If it comes from a place of concern, love, or respect, it’ll be the best thing in the world. If it comes from a place of jealousy, spite, or mean-spiritedness, it’s probably the second best thing in the world.

the Broadway Mouth
November 22, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

It Sucks to Be Me: Tips for After Being Left Out of the Film Version of Your Musical

In an interview from CBS Sunday Morning several years ago, Carol Channing was asked what she thought about the feature film version of Hello, Dolly!, the one that starred Barbara Streisand in the role Channing ate up on stage to the thrill of audiences around the world. It's been over forty years, and she's still bitter. Forty years!

Okay, so yeah, I'm bitter too, but I only got bitter in 1994 when I rented it after seeing Channing in the role. In another two, I'll be over it, I promise.

I don't know what is more sad, that big Broadway stars lose their big Broadway roles to less-talented folks on screen or that they hold onto that bitterness for so long.

I guess it's easy for me to say from such a safe distance, but I can't help but wish Broadway stars were more Gwen Verdon about it than Carol Channing. Verdon, you'll remember, was passed over for the film version of Sweet Charity and ended up assisting husband Bob Fosse in the role.

The tally of modern Broadway stars who have publicly poo-pooed getting cut out of film versions include Patti LuPone, Harvey Fierstein, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Jennifer Holliday. Yes, seeing Madonna take your role of a lifetime must be more difficult than most can imagine; however, it's the nature of the business.

So . . . A few tips in handling the unfortunate experience of seeing your role being performed by someone who has less talent than you (or is just plain not you).

1. When starting a role on Broadway, be mentally prepared to accept the fact that you will undoubtedly get passed over for the role on film. When it happens, cry, be devastated, curse out the producers in private, then put on your gracious face for the public.

2. Sharing a minor, snippy word in Entertainment Weekly or the New York Times may seem not so bad, but it looks bad.

3. Understand that in movies, age is an important thing. If you are no longer the right age to play the role in a movie, then don't waste time being upset about it. Smile and get on Dancing with the Stars instead. Sag happens. Why think about it?

4. Only criticize the movie if you've seen it. If you haven't, shut up. You hate it when critics publicly criticize your work; how would you feel if they did so without seeing it all?

5. Being bitter only affects yourself. Expressing bitterness only makes you look bad. Remember that.

6. When other people do express public bitterness about being left out of the film adaptation, be understanding. It may not look the best, but it's a pain most people can't relate to.

November 17, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Wicked Effects

When the great Michael Kantor PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical first aired, many of the Broadway base took issue with his focus on Disney and Wicked. The rest of the series had mostly highlighted significant shows that somehow shaped the Broadway landscape—the structure and storytelling of Oklahoma!, the deconstruction of the story in Company, the bold work of Stephen Sondheim in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Michael John LaChiusa, for example, took issue with the exclusion of George C. Wolfe, and I was personally disappointed to see no reference to LaChiusa and Jason Robert Brown.

But in hindsight, I think we have to compare Wicked to the success of shows like Kiss Me, Kate or Guys and Dolls. No, it didn’t change the landscape of the Broadway musical like a West Side Story or Rent, but its status as a phenomenon speaks for itself. Perhaps the greatest impact it and Beauty and the Beast will have (though Wicked is infinitely smarter and should not be put on the same level as that show, as charming as the former is) is that it creates an audience for Broadway. Plus Wicked will continue to inspire writers, producers, and investors. I think it’s safe to say that people invested in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 13, and Shrek with vision of green witches dancing in their heads.

There is a second effect Wicked has had on the Broadway landscape, and that, I believe, is to block the machine of Disney in the Broadway market. I take no issue with Disney being on Broadway, but Disney has in essence forced a certain cannibalism of its own product by creating competition with itself. Because of Julie Taymor, The Lion King was able to rise above the family audience, but Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid are essentially competing for the same audience that still hasn’t been quenched in their thirst for Wicked. Furthermore, Wicked is a show whose story, marketing, and presentation appeals equally to adults and families. In fact, I think its safe to say that Wicked is marketed to adults, knowing that kids are already attracted. I can’t help but feel that most marketing for Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid is geared toward attracting families. If I was an adult tourist on Broadway, I would not be instantly attracted to either of the Disney titles. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as Shrek opens and runs.

the Broadway Mouth
November 14, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Is This Feeling?: A Return to Wicked

I enjoyed Wicked the first time I saw it, though I wasn’t as ga-ga for the show as many others. And I still stand-by my initial feelings about the show, but yet, after seeing it a second time, when my familiarity with the flow of events of the second act positively affect how I feel them, I can’t help but think that Wicked is more than deserving of all the hype and box office success.

To me, there’s something powerful about the character of Elphaba, someone whom I long to be like (except for the outsider part), and her story in Wicked is so beautifully told and superbly executed. In watching the show I was close to being moved to tears twice (a rare phenomenon for me), once when Elphaba is rejected by her father at birth and second, “Defying Gravity,” because I so much long to have the intelligence and power to take a stand to change the world for good.

Elsewhere, the show is intensely smart. In our world today, we are constantly teetering on the edge of Oz, and you can’t help but feel that we are closer than ever to crossing over. By no means am I indicating that we are there, but in watching the economic fear that has dominated our country in the past two months—a fear played upon greatly in the election—it’s easy to see how an entire group of people could be swayed to put their trust in a Wizard (or Hitler). It’s scary. Obviously, I’m not saying that our elected officials are Wizards, but you can see the potential there for those types to weasel their way in . . . not to mention a few similarities in the campaigns of the recent election.

I found the “Animals should be seen and not heard” slogan to be particularly powerful, for there are times I see the desire to silence people in our country. Just go to the Broadway World off-topic message boards and search Elizabeth Hasselback. As a person who was raised that hate in any form was wrong, I can’t help but feel that the increasing air of “only voice your opinion if it matches mine” sentiment which is strongly taking hold in a number of political factions in our country to be unhealthy in every way possible. After all, extremism of any form is going to be dangerous, and differing opinions, no matter how widely they differ, are needed to provide checks and balances to political thought. Yes, for democracy to survive, animals need to be seen and heard.

I also have to say, I’ve heard the Wicked score a million times on CD, but seeing it live made me appreciate Stephen Schwartz’s genius all over again. That is one great score. And you can’t fool fifteen hundred people a night for five years all over the country with sub-par work. His work (not to mention Winnie Holzman’s book) moves, thrills, and delights night after night. You could feel it in the audience.

Overall the tour is in good shape. This is the second time in my life I was supposed to see Katie Rose Clake but got an understudy instead. Donna Vivino is a fine, strong-voiced Elphaba, and the rest of the cast is largely superb (I wrote about most of them in my last column). It was great to see The Drowsy Chaperone alum Lenny Wolpe as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a grandfatherly sort who makes for a freakily huggable nasty.

I don’t know if it was because I was far house right in lottery seats, but this was one of the few shows where I saw stage hands when I would rather not have. It doesn’t beat the fat guy behind the taverna in the Mamma Mia! tour several years ago, who always took his seat behind the set piece thirty seconds after the lights went up, but I would think a show as big and well-produced as Wicked wouldn’t be flashing such gears more than most others.

Mid-way through the first act, I couldn’t help but feel glad that there was a great chance that Wicked would still be touring when my niece gets old enough to see a Broadway show. I only hope I have kids in time for them to see it as well.

the Broadway Mouth
November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Coat of Many Colors: The Beauty of Broadway

The tour of Wicked is in good shape. After winning my second lottery to see the show (well, I didn’t actually win the first time, though I did get in), I was thrilled by the show even more than the first time. Most impressively, though, I remembered one of the reasons why Broadway is so awesome—the casting.

In Hollywood, you have a few actors of color who have broken through—Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry—but you can still attend movies where the most color comes from all those African-American cops and Asian-American women judges. People of color in Hollywood are largely relegated to perfunctory friend roles or distinctly cultural parts—the wicked karate master, the Chinese restaurant hostess, Tyler Perry flicks.

But on Broadway, on glorious Broadway, people are cast based upon talent, as evidenced by the glorious Wicked tour cast. Myra Lucretia Taylor was a sinister Madame Morrible, playing her early scenes as annoyed grandmother until she joins with the Wizard, her declaration of Elphaba as the Wicked Witch being truly, purely evil. DeeDee Magno Hall—a popular Kim in Miss Saigon—is a powerful Nessarose, playing all the shades of the character in her second act scene, making Nessarose both sympathetic and selfish, hateful but needy. Hall’s husband Cliffton Hall, an experienced Chris in Miss Saigon, probably has some Asian heritage somewhere, and he was a superbly sung Fiyero, a masculine, romantic leading man who shines in the role in every way.

When I write, I do whatever I can to specifically write for actors of any color (though, granted, this wouldn’t work for the historical piece), and I’ve even written a role specifically for an Asian-American actress, attempting to highlight the struggles of actors who—as Lea Salonga says in Making It on Broadway—find themselves typed out because of ethnicity.

We’re still not fully “there” yet, but I think we are getting closer—to the point where someone could hopefully star in Bombay Dreams and Guys and Dolls or Aida and Wicked. Let’s continue casting based on talent alone.

the Broadway Mouth
November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Magical First: Hello, Dolly!

I learned what a real standing ovation was. It came after Carol Channing and cast sang the title number to Hello, Dolly! in 1994, during the show’s pre-Broadway tour. If you’ve seen the show, you know the scene. Dolly Levi returns to her old haunting ground, the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, her return to living life after years of mourning the loss of her late husband. She arrives and is greeted with joy by the waiters and chefs. Great Gower Champion choreography ensues (largely recreated for the tour), and when the casts stops, the audience begins.

That Tuesday night (October 12, 1994), I was one of the first to stand to my feet, a shy eighteen-year old seeing his first Broadway musical, not because I wanted to but because I had to. The only decision made was not to check my shyness at the door because I knew even standing for such a performance by such a woman still wouldn’t be enough to express what was going on in that theatre and inside of me.

This repeated for the curtain call, another thrilling moment when my legs spoke for me. I couldn’t clap hard enough when Carol Channing came down in her wedding dress. I knew I had seen something phenomenal, something I would never get a chance to relive.

It was a miracle I even went. As a high school student, plays weren’t even on my radar. Like so many other kids, my experience with drama was from well-intentioned teachers who took us on field trips to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream or some other unreachable play that made drama seem boring. Furthermore, for my family, the cost of attending a Broadway musical (even in 1994) was high enough that it was literally the equivalent of going to Italy for many other families. Broadway musical was nowhere in my vocabulary.

It was when the producers offered a 50% discount on tickets that my mom saw the ad and suggested we go. I had labored my summer away in utter misery at Target, and I had some of the money left over (my parents would no way have had the money to fund two tickets). My mom wanted to see Carol Channing, and on a whim, I agreed to go. We didn’t go for the highest priced ticket because it seemed superfluous all things considered and went for the second-tier pricing (those seats, by the way, are now considered first-tier pricing). I paid $21.75 for row BB. I paid $21.75 for one of the best nights of my life.

It’s hard to explain the magic of that night. People who haven’t seen Carol Channing on stage can’t possible understand the impact she has on an audience, the domination she has over comedic timing and musical delivery, not to mention the magnitude of stage presence she carries in her hip pocket. Remember, I was an eighteen-year old, and women of her age weren’t exactly on my radar; it’s not like she was a cast member from Saved By the Bell. But the moment she appeared on stage, I knew. I knew this was going to be something special.

My favorite moment from the evening was “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” with those Victorian-era costumes in bright reds, greens, and oranges. Like its star, the number was larger-than-life. But in truth, so much of that evening still stands out in my mind—moments of Channing’s performance, looks she gave, bits of stage business.

Amazingly, ten years to the week that I had originally seen Hello, Dolly!, Carol Channing came to town in her one-woman show. In that show, she performed the title number in its entirety, including the choreography, even going so far as to indicate when she pulled up on her dress. Yes, I had tingles, lots and lots of tingles.

It’s sad to me that so little of her performance has been captured on film. I know there was a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade performance from a number of years ago that has yet to make it on YouTube as well as a CBS Sunday Morning profile from 1995 that featured a healthy dose of clips, but off all the cities she toured, of all the performances she played as Dolly Levi, there sure isn’t much of her performance recorded. I don’t know if it was recorded for the Lincoln Center, but if you live in New York City or visit there, make a point of checking to see if it was.

The God-send in all this—and I do mean God-send—is the wonderful PBS documentary Words and Music by Jerry Herman DVD, which provides the entire “Hello, Dolly!” number in black-and-white as a bonus feature. What’s interesting is that as someone who was so moved by that number, seeing it in its entirety almost as I saw it (there were some changes made for the revival), I was so incredibly moved. For others, though, seeing it on the screen doesn’t really do justice (as is the case with most filmed live performances); I don’t know if the average Joe would grasp exactly how powerful that number is with that woman and that choreography when performed live.

The legacy of the Lee Roy Reams-directed revival lives on. At the theatre, I bought the OBCR and literally listened to it for three straight months, never popping in another CD the whole time (and when the revival cast recording was released, I got that too). In the week after seeing it, I generated the idea for my first musical (which I would produce and direct a reading of in 2003). Yeah, after that, I knew I needed to write musicals, that I had to have more of this in my life. And when I started directing plays at a high school, the first show I did was Hello, Dolly!.

We Broadway fans, we all have similar stories, stories of how the bug bit us, the story of that magical first time. I urge everyone out there, take a young person to a Broadway musical or tour. Pick a show that you think they’ll like, then make it a magical first time. Get them the CD, the program, and if you can, take them out to dinner. Like me, that child might become a lifelong Broadway fan, whose ticket dollars and cast recording purchases continues to fuel Broadway for generations.

the Broadway Mouth
November 8, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Preparing a National Tour: Don't They Always?

It's the cliche of cliches. A big show closes on Broadway without turning a profit, and the press release announces that the producers are planning a tour.

Isn't that kind of like saying tomorrow you'll start that diet, next week, you really will get to the gym three times, or you will really stop watching so much television?

It's the biggest letdown of any closing for the millions of Broadway fans not living near Broadway, this big, empty promise of a tour, the tour that never happens.

Perhaps a better idea would be to tour first, then get to Broadway. I'm not a Broadway economist, so I'm sure there are a thousand reasons why its not economically feasible, but a big, lush show like A Tale of Two Cities with instant name recognition must stand a strong chance of finding an audience on the road, particularly with an advertising slogan like "Pre-Broadway Engagement." It would give creators a chance to really work on the show with a variety of audiences, get feedback from a variety of critics (including those from the Variety) before heading into New York. Plus, they would make some money, money, money while doing so.

Historically, there isn't much hope that A Tale of Two Cities will actually tour, which is a tragedy. It seems like the type of show middle America would eat up (remember, they always went for shows like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera).

Now, I can only hope someone somewhere steps up to record the show. If The Pirate Queen can get recorded, there must be someone somewhere willing to put this down on CD for posterity. There are record companies out there whose goal seems to be to preserve shows that otherwise would not get recorded. It didn't help get Cry-Baby out (a score I would love to hear), and statistically it's not looking to good for this one either.

the Broadway Mouth
November 5, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

It’s a Hard Knock Production

Miss Hannigan was staged like an old tyme baddie, only missing the moustache to twirl. She delivered her lines half to the audience, then twisted her body unnaturally to deliver half the lines to the orphans. I half expected the kids in the audience to boo her loudly as she rubbed her palms together while sharing a dastardly plan.

In fact, this entire production of Annie was pretty bad. The cast was directed with adjectives. Annie was chipper. Miss Hannigan was evil. Daddy Warbucks was grumpy. Lily St. Regis was masculine. It was like watching cardboard puppets on stage. And chipper Annie popped out for the final scene with her beautiful brown hair shoved under a stunning red wig with short, tight curls that made me think she’d be later on scrubbing out Daddy Warbucks’s bathtubs with her head. It was stunning for all the wrong reasons.

We’ve all seen shows like that, those high school or community theatre productions that take a musical that thrived on Broadway for years and turn it into something, well, something stunning, shall we say.

A high school in my area that has presented many magnificent productions of great shows was the first place where I saw Camelot. It was boring, static, unexciting. It wasn’t until I saw the show at a professional theatre that I saw Camelot in all its magnificence. It really is a magnificent show. Or make that, it really can be a magnificent show.

I’ve heard many young people mention on Broadway Space or on message boards, that they saw a production of Hello, Dolly! or The Music Man and don’t like the show. It wasn’t funny, engaging, moved at a snail’s pace, whatever. But the problem is perhaps not the topic but the canvas. Surely there are certain plays that simply will never speak to a particular person—South Pacific and West Side Story are shows like that for me (please hold all stones until the end)—but until you see a production on Broadway, professionally, or at a theatre whose work you generally enjoy, it’s really hard to determine if the show is at fault or if it’s the production.

During intermission of the above described production of Annie, I actually heard one person (no doubt related or otherwise connected to the actor) described this Daddy Warbucks as powerful. Actually, the word I was looking for was . . . stunning.

the Broadway Mouth
November 3, 2008