Friday, January 05, 2007

Musicals Versus Plays: You Decide

Musicals Versus Plays: You Decide

Much has been written recently about the seeming rise of musicals at the expense of plays, not only on Broadway, but also on London's West End. Seems the straight play just isn't getting much of a break these days, at least in the media. The latest play to announce it's shuttering is The Little Dog Laughed.

However, it wasn't very long again when the death knell was being sounded for the American musical. Remember when the American Theatre Wing was scrambling just to come up with some semblance of a musical list to nominate in the Tonys?

In the eyes of many, 2000 was the low watershed year when Contact won Best Musical, despite the fact that all of its music was recorded (1999 wasn't much better when the tribute "musical" Fosse won Best Musical). Best Book in 2000 went to the nominally musical James Joyce's The Dead.

All that began to change when The Producers hit the boards in 2001.

Now it seems as though success on Broadway and the West End is spelled "M-U-S-I-C-A-L" as the art form has come roaring back from certain extinction. As I've previously noted, this is shaping up to be one of the best seasons in well over thirty years for tuners on the Great White Way. There is such an abundance of good-to-excellent musicals for this theatrical year that Tony nominators will likely ponder whether to expand the list of musical categories' nominees to five instead of the standard four.

Thankfully, Broadway is far from dead and keeps reinventing itself as last week's boffo box office proves. Yet, it’s now the state of the play over which the prognosticators are predicting doom. Personally, I believe everything is rather cyclical. And working in plays' favor is the simple cost factor, along with the wellspring of excellent playwrights out there today, as well as so many thriving, vital theatre companies where plays rule the roost. I’m confident they'll always have a place, even on Broadway.

All this leads me to inviting you to vote in my latest Steve On Broadway (SOB) online survey on the right hand column of the site. The poll enables you to voice your opinion on which theatrical experience you enjoy more: Musical or Play. If you're like me and like both equally, you have that option as well.

Also, thanks to those of all of you who voted in my most recent survey on whether you'll be seeing Spring Awakening -- the new Broadway musical from Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik that has audiences spellbound. A whopping 86.7% of you indicated that you'll be making tracks to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre to see this show (even though 16.7% of you said you already saw it), while another 6.7% said you might see it.

Finally, if you're looking for an excellent historic read on the decline and amazing rebound of Great White Way tuners, look no further than the excellent PBS documentary "Broadway: The American Musical" available on DVD. Hosted by Julie Andrews, it remains a breathtaking perspective on the last century of one our greatest, enduring art forms.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 05 January, 2007, Blogger BroadwayBaby said...

I tend to see mostly musicals when I go to Broadway. I much prefer seeing plays in regional theatres which are usually smaller than the Broadway houses and the experience is much more intimate.

I find that the quality of musicals on Broadway is almost always high-caliber. However, I find that Broaday plays nowadays are often cast with movie stars who are not necessarily the best choices for those parts.

The future of commercial non-musical theatre is not looking good. There is however, amazing theatre all over the US in small, medium and large regional theatres.

The naysayers who are forecasting the death of the play should go and visit the established regional theatres in the US- theatres such as Guthrie, SCR, Taper, ACT, Old Globe and La Jolla. They should also check the 100+ small theatres in LA, the 50+ small theares in Chicago and all the amazing little theatre companies that are doing great work. I have seen some very good theatre in such small towns as Monte Rio, CA (population 1,104), Urbana, IL and even Bakersfield, CA.

At 06 January, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Oh, but there are still so many good Broadway plays to be seen, and not necessarily with big screen marquee names. And they're not always British, either. Witness the excellence of "Doubt" from two years ago or "Rabbit Hole" from last year.

I do agree about the small regional theatres throughout the country. You left out Steppenwolf, which as noted earlier will always have a special place in my heart. Last year, despite being snubbed by the Jefferson Awards, every play performed was a world premiere and many have found their way to such stages as the Kennedy Center, Off-Broadway and to the West End.

I firmly believe that the play will enjoy a rebound. And with shows like "Doubt" touring the country and "Rabbit Hole" about to get the silver screen treatment, hopefully American audiences everywhere will be reminded just how vital this art form remains.



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