By Stephanie Petit
The recent lack of original Broadway musicals, as discussed in last week’s Limelight column, is definitely concerning, but not for lack of effort. There is really one big reason – the current state of the economy. No producer wants to take a chance on a musical without an already built-in audience, hence the recent abundance of musicals spun off popular movies, books, other plays or artists.
To bring in an audience, plays and musicals nowadays must feature a big star or well-known story to bring in an audience. Tickets for a show are extremely expensive – around $130 for an orchestra seat. Theaters try to provide cheaper tickets such as student rush or lottery seats, which are inexpensive but very limited, but they have to charge a certain amount to keep the show running. People do not want to pay that kind of money unless they are absolutely sure they are going to have an enjoyable evening. Therefore, they turn to shows like “Jersey Boys,” a jukebox musical about and featuring the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. “Jersey Boys” has not only has had high attendance for years, but also won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005. Just because it uses popular songs does not take away from it being a very well-done and fun show. In fact, this can bring people together by introducing a whole new generation to songs they may not have been familiar with before while bringing memories to older age groups.
People are still trying to get their original shows into the theatre scene. A great example of a funny, completely original musical that still failed is “[title of show].” The show featured four talented, but unknown actors playing themselves and their struggle to write and have a show on Broadway. It started a run off-Broadway in 2006 and became so popular it moved to the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway in 2008. Despite positive reviews, countless promotional YouTube videos by the cast, and a following in the theatre community, it closed after just 102 performances. People simply were not familiar enough with the concept to give it a chance, and would rather put ticket money towards shows like “Mamma Mia” and “The Lion King.”
If people are looking for original musicals, there are options. “Next to Normal,” “In the Heights,” and “Memphis” are all completely original books and scores and have proved to have stay power on the Great White Way.
As for the “jukebox” musicals, they are worth a shot too. I, for one, am extremely excited about American Idiot, not just because I enjoy some of Green Day’s songs, but am also a fan of many of the lesser known actors in the show, such as Johnny Gallagher, Jr. and Theo Stockman. Lea Michele, currently starring on Glee, got her start on Broadway in “Spring Awakening,” and I love to tell people I saw her live (twice) before she was a big star. Broadway is the start for many actors and actresses. Who knows which ones will be considered “classic” in the future? A musical about The Addams Family is scheduled to open in April and a musical version of the Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks’ movie “Catch Me If You Can” had a successful run in Seattle and is looking to move to New York City.
Broadway grosses are nowhere near the numbers they use to be and taking chances on unknown shows can be too big a risk for producers. Hopefully, talented playwrights will continue to push their work and producers and audiences will take a chance on them, providing us with new classics. Musicals are definitely not dying out, just taking a different direction.
Managing Editor’s Note: I was primarily talking about Hollywood musicals, though Stephanie’s points are valid and intriguing.