Chasing Windmills and Broadway
- OnStage Connecticut Columnist
I saw my first Broadway show when I was nine and it was, “Man of La Mancha.” Not sure why I identified with Aldonza so much but hey, maybe it had to do with Ronnie Weinberg, my fourth grade boyfriend and the diabolical nature of the war between the sexes in general, that I was becoming aware of at a tender age. No matter, when Don Quixote died, I thought I’d have to be hospitalized, such was my transcendent grief. A critic was there that night, and asked me my opinion of the show. Through my sobs I answered, “It…was…the…best show…ever!!”
Turns out I was on the money, because “Man of La Mancha” was a mammoth hit, which ran forever and won a zillion Tonys. I’m reminded of it now, because the hit song from the show about the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, and the slayer of windmills, “The Impossible Dream” is all around us, all the time, and I think we should keep reaching for it.
The nature of theatre has become an almost impossible dream. It’s almost impossible for an average middle class family to go see theatre in New York City together, because it costs them as much as a month’s mortgage payment. It’s nearly impossible for new shows to go to Broadway, unless they are musical versions of already known entities like movies, or jukebox musicals about someone super famous from the music industry. It’s practically impossible for a playwright to create something solely from their imagination for the purpose of entertainment, and get it on Broadway, unless they happen to hit on the topic of the day, or it stars someone from a superhero movie. Sometimes a puppet or horse will make it to the Broadway stage through impossible odds, and that’s great, but usually it’s pretty impossible.
Though it’s true that when Man of La Mancha ran on Broadway, so did probably 20 other shows and even more plays, because they could. The producers were there, taking chances, and the audience was willing to sit down for a full evening of watching something they hadn’t heard of before. (They even had enough money left over to have supper afterward) It could be argued that we want what we are familiar with, we feel secure with whom we know, and have seen the most of on television or online. (We could argue that a psychology like that proves out to be true in all sorts of different arenas of society) Reaching for impossible dreams so often go nowhere, make us broke, keep us down, and make us cry the tears of frustration, not transcendence. It’s easier to hope that the producers will deliver something that will work, that an outside force will bring us something that will make us feel safe.
But everyday new audiences are coming to Broadway, getting caught up in shows like “Hamilton,” “Fun Home” and “The Curious Incident.”” Kinky Boots” is from a movie, but a little independent one, that was under the radar. Yes, it took stars to bring it to Broadway, but once it got there, audiences were thrilled to see something they hadn’t seen before, something that might have been predicted to be impossible. Producers like Kari Lynn Hearn brought political satire to the theatre, against all odds and people loved it. Kids are going to their theatre classes in high school and being awakened to Durang, Ives, Churchill, Vogel, Nottage and others. The impossible is still happening every second of the day in theatres all over.
Thirty years after I saw my first show, I’m still inspired enough to write another play, coach another actor, attend a new writer’s work. The theatre’s immediacy and it’s fleeting quality are what make it an impossible dream, but one that is as sustaining as the best dream that you wake up from feeling alive and filled with possibilities.