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July 3, 2009

Broadway

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 9:31 am

Oh, yeah, so I also saw two Broadway shows.

Wicked was the first production I’ve ever seen and I guess it was a good choice, since the special effects and scene changes and choreography and so on were all top-notch. My main comparison point is the local Gilbert & Sullivan company, so this was a pretty clear demonstration of what the difference is going to a Broadway show. That said, man, the story. Hoo-ee. It was almost exactly the sort of modified version of the book I would imagine being created by a cigar-chomping producer saying “Dammit, man, we’re gonna get three thousand people from Illinois in here every week, and I don’t want one of ’em saying they don’t understand the story” So, like, the heroine* is ugly, which you can tell because her hair is in a bun, and then someone teaches her to be pretty and she lets her hair down. And she is sad, so it rains. And this is a reworking of the Wizard of Oz, nudge nudge, so we have to fit in a tin man and a scarecrow and a lion, no matter how painful that is. On the other hand, we can take out most of the talking-animal stuff from the book, because that’s politics, which is bad to mention, and we’ll make the remaining bits of it an analog about the nazis, because The Sound of Music made it ok to mention them. Oh, and of course, we have to have a happy ending. What do you mean a happy ending would be totally incompatible with the story it’s based on? Don’t you see this crowbar?

*Actually, though, the most major rework is to make the heroine of the book actually the sidekick here — the aforementioned cigar-chomping producer realized that nobody actually wants to watch an ugly person be the hero, so he rewrote it so the rich and pretty and popular person is the star instead. Much better!

The other show I saw was The Thirty-Nine Steps. This was pretty much the exact opposite — four actors, pretty nominal special effects, clever writing (it was a lot like the production of Noises Off I saw, both shows being primarily made up of what is generally considered “antics”).

The thing I don’t get is, the tickets we got for the two of these shows were about the same price, and as far as I know, both are “Broadway” and not “Off-Broadway” shows. What’s up with that? Like, Wicked had a bigger theater, flashier special effects, more professional vibe, etc. It doesn’t seem like these are the same kind of show at all, so it’s weird to me they get stuck in the same financial bucket.

3 Comments

  1. You were in New York? I wish you would have told me…!

    Comment by Matthew Murray — August 2, 2009 @ 2:42 am

  2. Oh, also… Regarding the actual stuff you saw: The important thing to remember is that when Wicked opened, Kristin Chenoweth played Glinda, and she was (and, well, still is) a bigger star than Idina Menzel, who played Elphaba. So the show was written with that in mind. That said, I’m not sure that Glinda is actually a bigger role–and Menzel ended up winning a Tony, not Chenoweth–so I’m not sure it’s exactly proper to say that Elphaba is the sidekick. But it’s impossible to disguise that Glinda was written for a star comedienne who’s also a world-class singer, and Elphaba… wasn’t. So I think that explains that aspect of it. And the rewrites bother me, too, if for very different reasons. I have strong issues with the political aspects of the book, and in fact the very foundation of the book in the first place (especially since I have a tremendous amount of respect and affection for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). But beyond that, I just don’t think they or the score are very good. Granted, I’m hugely picky in this regard, but all the dissonance and minor key numbers juxtaposed so uncomfortably with the high belting and lilty soprano stuff just doesn’t work for me. The songs don’t have a unified feel–which they need even if (or perhaps especially if) the point of the show is that certain people don’t really belong in the greater community. I always think the show looks and sounds as if it was written to be ticket-bait for young teenage girls, which is–and has always been–a far cry from any of the demographics I represent.

    My problems with The 39 Steps aren’t that dissimilar, actually. I don’t understand the point or the value of taking a serious-minded Hitchcock film (and don’t let anyone tell you the play is based more on the book, because it isn’t), turning it into a comedy, and then having it be played by four people for no good reason other than “just because.” That’s neither comedy nor art in my book, and I was pretty much bored silly by it. (“Oh, another clever reference to some random Hitchcock movie. I’m charmed.”) I just think shows should always be written for a reason. That doesn’t mean shows can’t be shamelessly commercial, just that they should always give you the impression that the story they tell (or at least the way they’re telling the story) is worthwhile. Shows that don’t, like The 39 Steps or Wicked, usually interest me not at all.

    And the pricing is a big problem with Broadway shows in general. Now, granted, if you know someone who’s connected to the New York theatre community (say, like a critic or something), he can usually get you discounted tickets to stuff, and that helps. But still, Broadway tickets are, for the most part, all priced around a single scale rather than one necessarily related to how much individual shows cost. And you’re right–this doesn’t make any sense at all. That said, there’s usually a bit of variation between plays and musicals, just not as much as you may think there should be. This is one of the many, many things about Broadway that needs to be fixed, but because the producers are too busy kicking critics off the Tony voting rolls, they don’t have time.

    Comment by Matthew Murray — August 2, 2009 @ 2:53 am

  3. Thanks! This was really enlightening. I should have realized there’s always a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff that explains some of what you see in a production.

    (And yeah, I would have liked to have time to see some folks in NYC, but, alas, it was all taken up with Family Stuff. Hopefully there’ll be a next time soon.)

    Comment by inky — August 2, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

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