Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What the Circus Can Teach Broadway, Oh Really?

Updated: 6.20.24

Yes, an odd question -- in the form of a headline rolling down the  Covington chute a while back.  Questioned was posed in a Theater Mania interview with the show’s director, Jessica Stone.  So, have we here a big hit, I wondered.  So big that others may want to learn from it?  Even, dare I say, imitate it?   

The very assertion in the headline -- Jessica Stone on what the circus can teach Broadway ---  may have raised hackles among Broadway pros,  taken aback by the gall in its being raised.  Upon closer examination, seems the question was launched by the article’s writer, Zachary Stewart, in his asking Stone,  "What is something that you’ve learned a tremendous deal about in this process?"  Here’s the best I can extract from Stone’s underwhelming reply:
 “I’ve learned so much about rigging. .... You need to know that the person holding their arms out is going to catch you, and that can only be built through play, community , and trust.  That’s something I will always take with me.”
How to rig?  How to be sure you know your partner well enough to trust them?

But can Water teach Broadway how to compose better scores?  Better choreography?  Better scripting?

There is a fundamental difference between circus and theater. The one is mainly all about acrobatics and the daring-do of performers.  The other, about the human condition. And they don’t easily mix in equal measure.   The hit musical Barnum dwelled more in the human, with a socko score and a good enough story. Nobody talked up its token acts. If fact, I can’t remember any other than Jim Dale as Barnum walking a low wire.  Water’s acclaimed circus artistry -- cited by some as the reason to go -- may only add to the impression of a feeble story flailing about between – not songs, but  acts.

In fact, with the possible exception of Billy Rose's Jumbo, this may be the first musical to share the stage with top-line circus acts -- assuming  that they are that good.

Now with not a single Tony to its name, can Water for Elephants yet bring off a dark-horse victory and prove its haters wrong – half the notices were scathing.  Or will it’s luster fade away with the passing of another Tony Season?.  Something about the good notices it did draw (a critics pick from the Times) and glowing customer gush (possibly shilled) gives me a feeling it just might surprise them all.  But I wouldn’t bet on it.  In Theatre Mania's most recent weekly box office report, some shows played to 90% or more capacity.  Water was not one on them. 

Next on Midway Times Square?   Disney has been workshopping a musical based on the Hugh Jackman movie, The Greatest Showman. They might have better luck. The movie has a score that dazzles, especially younger ears, and circus performing is incidental.

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