Friday, May 15, 2009

On Broadway, A Season of Redemption?

When the critics rave, beware. When they rage, beware. I’ve always been intrigued if not amused by the not infrequent disconnect between shows getting adored by reviewers, ignored by ticket buyers. Has anybody heard of The Golden Apple? One of dozens of ambitious shows that litter the junkyard of failure. Critical darlings, box office floporamas.

This season, Broadway is hosting two new raved-about musicals: Elton John’s direct-from-London Billy Elliott, which looks like it could run for years, and the more complexly questionable Next To Normal, which might not turn out to be so audience friendly. Very deep interior stuff bordering on group therapy. Got lots of high-five notices. The rare dissenters suggest these dysfunctional hoofers are so lost in their problems, we feel left out. I am reminded of the admiration granted the “ground breaking” Spring Awakening, a serious rocker that half-way rocked me with its now and then socko songs. It landed tons of Tonys, did not enjoy a super long run.

Last season, no, make that this season, Guys and Dolls got clobbered by the Big Pens, but West Side Story moved all of them. If I go back to Theatre Central, I’d be tempted to check out the new and improved Jets and Sharks.

When Wicked opened, what a nasty pro reception it received. So what? Hordes of instant fans lined up to be wickedly entertained. I suffered through Wicked’s bloated second act, as did the scribes, but the first act is so good, next time, if there is to be a next time for me, I will make my anonymous exit during intermission and perhaps have time to catch a Kelly-Miller roll in the mud around the corner or a Cirque du Soliel acro-seance at Carnegie Hall.

Let’s get real: the whole country needs Broadway hits (even flops) to keep the regionals and communities stocked with new stuff. To put fresh titles onto season subscription flyers. To keep the buzz alive. Was telling my brother, Dick, what fizzles on Broadway sizzles in Peoria. As long as it comes with a “made in the Big apple” label, the world is ready to embrace it, full force. Pity all of us would-be writers with our wannabe scripts and scores who can only dream of the coveted one-performance run in a Manhattan House. Because that one-perf run can last forever outside the city limits of New York. Oh, to have been there for but a single night!

Then American musical theatre will worship you, no questions asked. And out there are plenty of already fans arguing that you were misunderstood, the critics were unfair. And you will hear from hinterland directors telling you, "I know how to fix your show so it will work.” Sure, but why not try fixing mine up, Mr. Would-Be Director, while you are at it?

They say, if you can make it there (and we all know where “there” is), you can make it anywhere. No, no, this is how it should read: If you can open there, you can open anywhere. Who cares about the closing part. Just make it through the first night and you’re on. In. Certified. The Real Thing. Believe it or not, there are some contributors to 42nd Street turkeys still turning out more turkeys that get picked up from Bangor to Bakersfield. Cluck cluck.

One show I liked, even respected, in tune with the audience was I, was Mama Mia. Never could understand why it got such a bum wrap from the experts. Solid coherent book. Good engaging story easy and immediate to grasp upon lift off, so why all the dissing and hissing? They called it a "juke box musical," and they’ve got, this season, another new song sampler from the 80s (recycling the tunes of such groups as Bon Jovi, Journey, Poison) called Rock of Ages. It landed a glowing pass from the judges, who threw up their arms and said, in effect, heck, at least it does not pretend to be anything other than the juke box contrivance it is, so sit back and enjoy the music!

BTW: Anybody know who Poison is? Jack? ... Amy? ...

{photos: from Next to Normal and Rock of Ages]


Jack Ryan said...


I, of course, know about "The Golden Apple" (its best song, "Lazy Afternoon") but have only vaguely heard of Poison. A generational thing I guess.

According to the folks at Wikipedia:

"Poison is an American glam metal band that achieved great success and popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

They have become icons of the 80s MTV era and have had widespread commercial success. After 25 years, the band is still recording music and performing."

Doubt somehow they're on the juke box in the tea tent.


Showbiz David said...

Jack, Lazy Afternoon, as good as a song can get. Spoiled on the sixties, I was given something by the group Boston, played it once and was bored and advanced (thru uininteresting post-60s rock), to the heat and melody of disco, and onto the disco floors of S.F. Those were the nights. Chic, Champaign King's Shame, et all. I was young once!