A couple of years ago, I was walking along Broadway in the fall and saw that a theatre had a marquee up for a musical announcing that previews would begin the following spring. I forget the exact span of time, but I remember thinking what a waste. There could be a show running for a few months in this house, providing jobs for actors and backstage workers, delighting audiences, and perhaps making profits for producers that could be put toward developing future shows. What kind of show could do all of these things? Specifically, a Christmas musical or play would fit the bill.
I used to be a snob about many things that don’t bother me so much anymore, and one of those things was the musical-based-on-a-popular-Christmas-movie. This happened to be at a time at which there was one of those every year, or so it seemed, and few that I knew of up to that point. It seemed to have evolved from the jukebox musical trend and the influx of Disney musicals. It seemed cynical. Funny how moving to New York and joining the theatre community changes one’s views. Now, far from cynical money grabs, these shows provided work opportunities for people I knew. It wasn’t just about my selfish desire for real creativity and artistic integrity on the most widely known stages in the world that I had just recently taken notice of; it was about guaranteed paychecks in an uncertain world. And as these musicals proved, it didn’t matter what snobs like me thought of their existence: those paychecks were guaranteed.
So, more of them seems like a good idea. There is certainly no shortage of source material, they only have to run for two or three months, and they are likely to be successful, which allows for certain freedoms that careful producers might not normally allow. Why not assign a fresh songwriting team, an up and coming young book writer or playwright to these sure things, giving them exposure and not risking as much as those artists’ passion projects would risk? Then, being able to put “from the creators of this smash hit Christmas musical” on the ads, maybe produce their passion projects. Make the shows big and splashy, like Radio City’s Christmas show, and hire a huge chorus to fill the stage with songs and dances to get audiences in the spirit of Christmas. Christmas being the star of any one of these shows, producers can also save money on not hiring huge stars to ensure audience attendance.
Community theatres do this often. Whether the Christmas musicals I scoffed at in my younger days or older plays or revamped versions of other kinds of entertainments, I know a lot of people who participate in holiday-themed theatre this time of year. It’s all over my facebook feed. And some years Broadway is busier than other years, and most theatres are have shows running. That’s great. But if you’re going to have an empty house for six months, why not get into the spirit? I’m not a money person, I don’t know the science behind it. Maybe it’s impractical. Since the musicals that bothered me so much either got revived the next year or played Madison Square Garden the next year or toured the country for a few years following their initial runs on Broadway, I think there is probably something to it. I’ve got one that I want to write. I won’t tell you what it is. You may steal my idea. The point is, a few baubles on the Broadway tree around this time of year didn’t hurt me then and might do some annual good, creating jobs and opportunities, and more than likely turning a profit. If someone wants to write a response to this explaining why it’s a bad idea financially, I’m always open to learning new things, but don’t be a Grinch about artistic merit and too much commercialism on Broadway as it is. I’ve been there and done that, and this is a much nicer way to look at theatre.
Aaron Netsky writes the 366 Days/366 Musicals blog on tumblr (http://366days366musicals.tumblr.com). He’s doing Jewish-themed musicals this week for Chanukah, and then on to Christmas and Christmas-adjacent musicals. Also, with almost six months still to go, there is still time to include your musical or your favorite obscure musical, but no promises if you don’t use the e-mail address on the site to make them known. Happy Holidays.