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