Friday, January 08, 2010
Broadway Blows Birdie, Shrek, Ragtime & Rainbow Out the Doors: South Pacific set to Break Rodgers and Hammerstein Revival Record ...
On Broadway these days, new work is trumping yesterday's glories. In fact, a few ambitious new tuners that came to town last year may turn out to fare better than a hapless parade of revival contenders from the so-called "golden age." New York gave a chilly shoulder to Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie, and score-rich Finian's Rainbow(adored by the critics), all blockbusters when they first wowed the crowds half a century ago. Blame it on stupid direction, bad casting, or outdated materials failing to click with modern ticket buyers. A more recent show trying to capture a bigger market the second time around is the cardboard history lesson in plodding verse and ersatz Andrew Lloyd Weber anthems called Ragtime, which hardly ranks as a bygone age "great." This time out, critics kindly found more to like about it. Even The New York Times. Audiences did not agree. After two limping months on the comeback trail, Ragtime, apparently still a drag time, is slated to hit the moving vans in weeks.
Other revived used goods include the well received Hair and West Side Story. Both were daring musical plays in their respective times, offering gritty accounts of life away from innocents who sing in showers and fall in love with the opposite sex. And both are doing well, especially Story, which has direction favoring controversial changes by the man who wrote its book, Arthur Laurents. It looks good for a long run.
Of new work, two critical standouts are jukebox blockbuster loaded with hit '80s songs Rock of Ages (above) and the more seriously freighted Next to Normal, each so far showing long legs. Memphis and Fela don't look nearly as promising. Split verdicts for the adventurous Fela, plus its "decadent" elements, make it a long shot. Memphis drew a horrid reception from first night critics. I'd guess both are destined for short visits before vanishing audiences. Two other entries, Nine to Five and The Story of My life (a 3 day life at that) are gone. Shrek will be a statistic following a prolonged 441 performances during which time it suffered poor houses. This was a first from Dreamworks, and they are said to be losing millions, and still determined to tour their turkey.
Of 22 Broadway shows currently raising curtains nightly, at least eight are on the chopping block. These includes plays I've not mentioned, like Wishful Drinking, which is wishfully sinking away and will go dry in a couple of woozy weeks. Tough tricky town to take. Putting it into some perspective, according to the off-Broadway League, over the last four years only 19% of its new shows survived beyond a mere four months.
Now, to great and glorious news. South Pacific (below) in revival is nearing the end of its second boffo year, and it looks to be probably good for at least another season. In a pair of quick months, it will achieve a Rodgers and Hammerstein record: longest running revival of any of their works. Previous, that honor went to The King & I when Lou Diamond Phillips starred, at 780 performances. South Pacific has performed 733 times. Personally, I'm elated. I've seen it twice, and I'll go again if I'm back there next summer.
I thought the show would mainly pull in local NY theatregoers and be gone after two fine years; likely tourists are turning out in droves, too.
This may serve as a lesson for Rodgers and Hammerstein: stick to the original materials when you revive (as opposed to granting directors the right to rewrite and destroy), and consider it high time to bring back Flower Drum Song as it was originally produced in 1958, sans David Henry Hwang and Robert Longbottom. I'd suggest somebody who actually believes in Dick and Oscar.
Turns out the masters of musical theatre may have known what they were doing all along.