Friday, October 24, 2008

OUT OF THE PAST: Broadway Hello, Broadway Good Bye

Originally posted on October 24, 2008

It’s a tough town, New York. Best theatre town in the world. Toughest theatre town in the world. Try your luck on the big boards — if you can audition (or buy or sleep) your way in, but don’t expect a pass from the critics. Toughest critics in the world. All except for maybe none of them on the right night. Even Clive Barnes, I’ve heard, only sleeps through selected opening nights.

Don’t expect a pass, either, from the crowds. Might decide to like you. Might decide you’re too retro or old hat, too brainy or silly or obtuse or, well, just too not quite right for the moment.

The recent departure without fanfare of Legally Blonde proves my New York instincts about correct, if you’ll allow me a shameless moment of self-kudoizing. When I saw Blonde try out on the launch pad for New York-bound turkeys known as San Francisco (okay, Wicked being one aberrational exception), and reviewed it right here in full bluster, I could only see this giggly blonde playing to all the teenage girls said to love such girlishly pandering gush and slush. Now, after barely 18 months apandering, I guess all the young dames came and went. Blonde just left town with hardly a giggle a few nights ago. Soon to appear at a bus and truck venue near you.

Nobody, not even hysterically seduced critics, can keep a show open when the public keeps on walking. Spring Awakening, an odd bird with half a great rock score, came to town a couple of years ago, landed rave notices and eight Tonys, and when I caught up with it last May, it failed to land me. Sorry, Broadway, the spectacle of a man simulating in trousers the act of self-pleasuring himself on a Gotham stage, wildly so, struck me as another form of crass commercial pandering, blowing away the show's higher allusions to true musical theatre art. A horny market for that? Sure, while it lasted. Spring (not turning out to be another Rent), is closing down and packing out come January; so too, same day, the much longer running Spamalot.

Seasons inflate into bright promising confetti neon over Times Square, and then gradually deflate into fallen banners and lonely closed theatres waiting for the next eager candidates to give them purpose. Of the seven or eight new tuners that sprang forth with high hopes along 42nd street last season — almost every one of them hailed by this or that critic as “ground breaking,” most of them broke ground, alright, clear down into the orchestra pit and out the back door onto those waiting vans that spell “FLOP.” Of the shows that survived, only the marvelous, and I do mean marvelous In the Heights drew raves and won Tonys, but it's not drawing the packed houses that continue to honor the seemingly box-office proof Jersey Boys. Gosh, why haven't I given that one a chance? When my sister Kathy was out here in July, I suggested it, but she hadn’t much more a clue than I about the group it’s based on. Call us both Jersey deficient non-rockers.

Tough town, tough stakes, and they keep on coming. And going. There’s so many scripts out there (mine included) dying for a chance to be just a one night flop, because then, a flop on Broadway can be hit in any other town. Already, two recently opened musical contenders, A Tale of 2 Cities and 13, both bearing ill reviews and slight crowds, appear headed for maybe the redemptive bus and truck tour to all the other cities that will embrace them, merely because, they were there ...

New York! New York! Tough town. Tough love. Tough talent. Tough on top. Touch out of luck ... Next?

[photos: Spring Awakening; Legally Blonde; In the Heights; The Jersey Boys at the opening night cast party]


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