Saturday, September 20, 2008

Broadway Musical Showdown: Upstart Juke Box Contenders take on Aging Blockbusters

Tea time on Times Square with Showbiz David

Reading my Sunday morning tea leaves at L’Amyx, the new season ahead (everything “tentative” and subject to change) promises a raft of ambitious new musicals and an encore parade of golden age gems from Pal Joey to West Side Story. If today’s efforts fizzle out, yesterday's returnees are sure to supply some temporary relief.

Here’s the lineup and my rash predictions:

Billy Elliot, direct from a hit run on the West End. Music by Elton John, reportedly composing more for theatre than for pop markets and impressing audiences. I'll give it a 50-50 chance.

A Tale of Two Cities, a work begun during the Reagan administration and tried out at the Asolo in Sarasota. Shaky. (update, 9/22: wretched opening night reviews; biz down to about 50%. Sarasota John Ringling Museum snobs: What did you see in this turkey?)

9-to-5, based on the movie with more songs from Dolly Parton. I see Mama Mia box office gold.

13. Teenagers perform on stage and in the band. Music by Jason Roberts Brown, whose one previous effort (Parade) was a fast flop. So I say doubtful.

Clay. About a hip-bop kid. Not commercial, says David Budah.

Shriek, the Musical, from the movie. The work of some savvy contributors. Mark that a promising maybe.

Vanities, A New Musical. About Texas Cheerleaders, JFK’s assassination, women's lib and the Vietnam war. Is that ALL? An out-of-control turkey in the making. Cluck Cluck.

Road Show, yet another attempt by aging Stephen Sondheim to get his bounce back on Broadway. That would be Bounce, aka: Wise Guys, ill-received in DC in 2003. Since that out-of-town death, it’s been “reworked and rewritten.” And remurdered? Mr. S, I’d rather you turn your talents to the horrific Wall Street crash into Uncle Sammy’s sucker hands. I’ve got your perfect title: Greed.

These assorted wannabes go up against five shows in revival, all of them composed by the masters of a golden age when Broadway hosted songwriters with glittering track records:

White Christmas, with songs by Irving Berlin. A Christmas package. Looks good.

Pal Joey, by Rodgers and Hart, with a new book. When will the pathetically insecure R&H organization (fearfully led by Traitor-in-Chief Ted Chapin) ever learn to leave their classics alone and stop rewriting them into the dumpster? Still, a great score and a possibly improved libretto might turn the corner. But I don’t see a hit.

On the Town, the Leonard Bernstein, Comden and Green marvel. Doesn't work well in revival. Maybe this time.

West Side Story, to be directed by 90-year-old Arthur Laurents, who wrote the show’s book and scored last season with the revival of another of his legendary credits, Gypsy, which he also directed in revival. I can see another South Pacific triumph because WSS is in the hands of one of its creators, likely to bring it back as it was meant to be.

Guys and Dolls. Every time they bring it back, it seems less gritty, less amusing. Still, it’s a show that in the right hands can rock the boards. I’ll bet yes.

And there you have it, America, your tickets to melody and mayhem, comedy and chaos and even amateurism parading as the real ting. That’s Broadway.


Amy Shmamy said...

I saw the touring troupe of Guys and Dolls a few years back and for my favorite musical they left me unfulfilled and wanting more. I don't know if it had to do with the seats, my cousin's missing dog, or just lack of talent. There was no magic, no show stoppers, and nothing memorable. On the flip side Young Frankenstein got many bad reviews, but I loved it. I loved the fact that they didn't exactly copy the movie, yet they didn't stray far from it either. I thought the sets were brilliant, the songs memorable and both Roger Bart and Andrea Martin were amazing.

Showbiz David said...

Amy, it's always reassuring when the younger generations discover cultural high points (like Guys & Dolls) of my youth.
BTW: if you ever read my sidebar notes on Broadway biz, I never mention Young Frankenstein because, strangely, only that show's business is not reported on the informative website I check.
Enjoy your week up there...

Amy Shmamy said...

I was afraid to go see Young Frankenstein. I was afraid it would be ruined. Gene Wilder is my favorite actor and I believe everything he touches is magical. I have seen it many times where plays are better than the movies (Guys and Dolls being an exception for me) I have seen both a touring troupe for Hair and a high school production of Hair and both were amazing. I lucked out, one of our High Schools around here has an amazing drama teacher and her productions are always nice.
Back to YF, I would fall asleep everynight to my VCR playing the movie. I could recite the whole movie by heart. I saw it up here on it's pre-release to broadway. The night I went it got a standing ovation. I don't know why critics disliked it, but I absolutely loved it.

Anonymous said...


I have to tell you that I would so vote for White Christmas. I grew up in the "50's", a wonderful magical time of musicals that made you feel soooooooo good. We badly need more of those "feel good" times again. I recall meeting my mom, and sometimes my brother at the movie theater after school, to go see one of these wonderful musicals. And then sometimes I would dance home down the middle of the street in our small hometown to the songs of the musical that we had seen that evening. It was a wonderful, mystical time.....and I would love to "feel that magic again". I just think we all need to feel a "wonderful, magical feeling like that in our lives".

Of the shows you mentioned, White Christmas is my favorite.

Thanks David for writing out to all of us like this. It's wonderful. I would love to see many more people respond. Please keep writing out to all of us.

Kathy :)