Ten Theatre Issues We Talked About in 2012
A legendary flop gets a second chance, a fabled night spot closes as a new one opens and a mysterious investor supposedly dies of malaria. These were just a few of the stories and issues theatre lovers talked about in 2012.
Smaller Is Bigger? Though there was no shortage of elaborately designed Broadway productions this year, the 2012 Tony Awards for Scenic Design went to Bob Crowley for his intimate pub in Once and to Donyale Werle for her simple imagination-inspiring settings for Peter And The Starcatcher, perhaps signaling a trend toward creativity over technology.
Not Since Mandelbaum Ever since Ken Mandelbaum titled his 1991 book on flop musicals Not Since Carrie, this 1988 British import based on Stephen King's novel has been claimed as Broadway's symbol of a bad idea gone wrong. But many of those who saw it believed there was a good, intimate musical trapped in that overblown production. A revised Carrie played Off-Broadway in 2012 and while the musical wasn't exactly magically transformed into a smash hit, the new version did restore some dignity to the show's rocky history.
Artistic Differences In the past decade, Mike Daisey has established himself as a premiere storytelling monologist dealing with social and political issues. And though his theatre pieces are based on his own experiences, he never identifies the person he portrays on stage as Mike Daisey. The program for his The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which described his observations of inhuman working conditions at the Foxconn Technology plant, the city-sized factory in Shenzhen, China, where iPads and iPhones are manufactured, included a note saying that some identities have been changed. But the lines between art and journalism blurred in January when a 39-minute excerpt of the show was presented on the public radio program This American Life. The next week, the program's host and executive producer, Ira Glass, retracted the episode, stating that Daisey had lied to him during the fact-checking process. Daisey answered that the tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism, but to many, the monologist lost some of his credibility, though as the year progressed news reports confirmed many of Daisey's details.
Short Attention Span Theatre In February Godspell became the first, and so far only, Broadway production to experiment with Tweet Seats; designating a performance where audience members in the back rows could use their cell phones to post messages on Twitter during the performance. The idea has also been tried in regional theatres with supporters saying it helps theatre keep up with the times while detractors complain that it encourages a lack of attention to the artists on stage.
When I Get My Name In Lights For months the marquee of the Broadhurst Theatre displayed the logo for Rebecca, the new dramatic musical romance based on Daphne Du Maurier's classic gothic novel. But after a bizarre sequence of delays and scandals involving a mystery investor who, if he ever existed at all, suddenly died of malaria and an anonymous poison pen email sent to potential new investors, producer Ben Sprecher announced on what was finally to be the first day of rehearsal that the 12 million dollar enterprise was to be cancelled for lack of funding. The scuttlebutt at Sardi's says this story ain't over yet.
The Smash Effect? As far as talent, skills and stage chops are concerned Megan Hilty was certainly an excellent choice to tackle the iconic role of Lorelei Lee in the Encores! mounting of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but would she have been offered the role without the television exposure she's been receiving as one of the stars of Smash? The Broadway transfer of Peter And The Starcatcher was announced before Smash premiered, but did the presence of series star Christian Borle help lure in tourist dollars? As more and more experienced, but nationally unknown, Broadway performers get television exposure on shows like Smash, we may be seeing more of our musical theatre favorites in meatier stage roles.
One Night Only New York's Theatre critics knew they would have to vote early this Election Day because Richard Nelson had written another of his date-specific plays involving Rhinebeck, New York's Apple family, which, by the author's insistence, would only have one press performance. The Public Theater's Public LAB first introduced audiences to the family of Apple siblings with That Hopey Changey Thing, which took place on election night 2010 and, by design, opened on that same night. Nelson pulled the same trick last year with Sweet and Sad, which opened and was set on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This year's entry, Sorry, was set on November 6th, 2012 and in 2013 we can look forward to a fourth entry set on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Though Nelson refers to these as "disposable plays" due to their topicality, they consistently offer intriguing looks at contemporary issues, performed by an outstanding ensemble at bargain prices.
Broadway's Nightclub At this time last year New Yorkers were shocked at the announcement that the Algonquin Hotel's legendary Oak Room would no longer host cabaret's top performers and instead be converted into a breakfast nook for elite guests. But shortly afterwards, word came out of the opening of 54 Below, a new cabaret space located under Studio 54. Unlike the Oak Room, and unlike any other cabaret room in New York, 54 Below quickly established itself as a Broadway-centric venue, more likely to book musical theatre stars than nightclub performers, and a place to hear new songs by emerging theatre composers and lyricists.
We'll Be Playing His Songs His newest musical comedy, The Nutty Professor, was playing its premiere engagement in Nashville when beloved Broadway composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away at age 68. While the Broadway possibilities for his collaboration with Rupert Holmes and Jerry Lewis remain uncertain, the immediate outpour of affection for the man who contributed so many memorable melodies to the American Songbook is a certain sign that he will forever remain a singular sensation.
"Just like Jesus and Judy Garland, we're resurrected again." Forbidden Broadway, Gerard Alessandrini's ever-updated madcap revue satirizing the current Broadway musical scene, has had other hiatuses since the show was first conceived in 1982, but its 2012 return after a three-year absence showed what an indispensible part of New York theatre this beloved spoof has become.
But That's Just Ten: What would you say were some of the other significant theatre topics of 2011?
Middle photo: Rebecca marquee.