No One Wants A Pit Musician’s Autograph

No One Wants A Pit Musician’s Autograph

I am intensely passionate about attending live theatre, mainly because of its immense power. It makes reality melt away, drawing me within a into a world different than my own for a few hours, playing my emotional keys through sentimental ballads and show stopping soliloquies, and provoking thought and subsequent change. Due to the fact that I myself aspire to become a professional performer (especially a musical theatre performer), I swell with the admiration I feel towards the extraordinary people I see gracing the stage. I adore the fact that when I attend a Broadway musical, I am able to exit the theatre directly after the curtain call and approach the stage door in the hopes of meeting one of these exceptional performers.

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The Out-of-Town Tryout : A Thing of the Past?

Chris Peterson

This past spring, producers of a new musical adaptation of The Honeymooners, scrapped its premier run at the Goodspeed Opera House in CT because they felt the production is ready for Broadway. 

While I heavily doubt that, this move is just the latest in the growing trend of shows skipping an out-of-town tryout before opening on Broadway. 

Producers of Something Rotten! felt the same way about their piece and opened while the dirt was still settling over the Side Show revival. The risk paid off as that show has gone one to see great financial success as did Motown: The Musical and The Book of Mormon both of which also opened "cold" on Broadway. 

This coming year, School of Rock will be the latest to try their hand at opening directly in the belly of the beat rather than out of town. 

So the big question is why? 

Well beyond the confidence of the producers, money is always part of the discussion. The rate of trying out a show at a regional theatre isn't what it used to be. Producer Ken Davenport had this to say about that on his own blog, 

"The regional theaters have become wise to the “enhancement game,” and what used to be a price tag of $1mm to the show’s bottom line, can now easily cost $1.5mm to $2mm!  Add that to a workshop and readings and you’ve got a Broadway budget with close to $3mm in development costs, before you’ve stepped into the city."

Something Rotten!

Something Rotten!

Another reason why shows have traditionally opened out of town is to build positive buzz around the show. In many cases this works, but sometimes it works too well and have a negative effect on the Broadway run. Just ask producers of The Pirate Queen and The Little Mermaid, two productions that had exceptionally strong out of town runs before bombing on Broadway. Amazing Grace had two successful runs in CT and Chicago before its disastrous run in New York thus far. 

One trend that has been growing is opening shows closer in New York, this way producers can attract the same crowd and pay less for the transfer of the show. Places such as Boston, Connecticut and New Jersey, especially the Paper Mill Playhouse, have become desirable locations to open a show. Newsies premiered there to a rousing response that led to its transfer for New York as did A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder in CT. Sometimes it's best to open your tryout in New York itself, like Fun Home and Hamilton did at The Public to enormous success. 

But while producers may have a confidence in their productions' readiness for the Great White Way, let's not forget what the try out is really for, it's to test a show in front of a live audience to work out the kinks. Shows that skip this vital step are putting themselves as gigantic risk once the show opens, just ask Spider-Man

While I don't see the out of town tryout practice ending anytime soon, don't be surprised if you see more productions open directly in New York in the near future.

What is the Definitive Musical of the 21st Century So Far?

Chris Peterson

Interesting question right? This was asked of me the other day by a reader of this blog. It's one of the few times I actually replied with, I Don't Know. 

We're only a decade an a half into the new century, yes we've already seen some of the best pieces of work of all time come out since 2000. 

So if you had to pick one, what would it be? Here are some candidates and the cases for and against them being the definitive musical of the 21st Century so far. 

Wicked

Case For It:  Wicked has been a titan on Broadway since it opened 12 years ago. Financially, it's become one of the most successful musicals in history. The success of the Broadway production has spawned several other productions worldwide, including various North American productions, a long-running Laurence Olivier Award–nominated West End production and a series of international productions. Since its 2003 debut, Wicked has broken box office records around the world, currently holding weekly-gross-takings records in Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and London. In the week ending January 2, 2011, the London, Broadway, and both North American touring productions simultaneously broke their respective records for the highest weekly gross.  In the final week of 2013, the Broadway production broke this record again, earning $3.2 million. The West End production and the North American tour have each been seen by over two million patrons.

Beyond the financials, you could argue that no musical since 2000 has had a larger impact on pop culture. Songs like "Defying Gravity" and "For Good" have become anthems and no musical has appealed more young women more than this one.  

Case Against It: The truth is, Wicked isn't a great musical. The score is poppy, inconsistent, hardly compelling and generic. The choreography is borderline non-existent and the book is ironically colorless. Wicked also failed to win many of the big Tony Awards that year, getting dominated by the smaller Avenue Q. here is an argument also that Wicked represents everything wrong with 21st Century musical theatre where shows rely on big budgets and special effects, rather than the content of the material. 

Spring Awakening

ase For It: The original Broadway production won 8 Tony Awards, including Tonys for Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor. The production also garnered 4 Drama Desk Awards while its original cast album received a Grammy Award. The success of the Broadway production has spawned several other productions worldwide, including various US productions, a short West End production that won 4 Laurence Olivier Awards including Best Musical, and a series of international productions.

Its original cast is now a who's who in the entertainment industry with Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, Skylar Astin, John Gallagher, Jr., Jennifer Damiano  and Krysta Rodriguez. 

Since its closing, it has become a staple among colleges, high schools and community groups. A much heralded production from Deaf West Theatre is making the move to Broadway in the fall and talks of a movie adaptation are moving closer to confirmation as well. It's also one of the few pieces ever to tackle the subject of teenage sexuality. 

Case Against It: While the score is overall excellent, you could argue that there isn't a single iconic song in the entire show. It ran on Broadway for less than three years and most importantly, there have been better dramatic musicals than this in the same decade. 

The Producers

Case For It: The first big hit of the 21st Century. After the opening, The Producers broke the record for the largest single day box-office ticket sales in theatre history, taking in more than $3 million. At the 2001 Tony Awards, it won 12 out of its 15 nominations, becoming one of the few musicals to win in every category for which it was nominated. It was also the first comedy to win Best Musical in nearly a decade. 

Case Against It: The Producers' success largely rested on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's shoulders. The loss of the original stars had a detrimental effect on the success of the production, prompting the return of Lane and Broderick for a limited run from December 2003 to April 2004. You could also say that its impact has been largely forgotten, especially after a more and lackluster film adaptation. And while its humor certainly opened the door for many more outrageous comedies to come after, its music was more of an homage to golden age of musical theatre rather than showing us anything new. 

In The Heights

ase for It: What musical has done a more effective job of reaching new audiences and introducing hip hop to Broadway? In addition to its popularity among the younger generation, it proved to be a financial hit as well. The producers announced on January 8, 2009 that the show had recouped its $10 million investment after 10 months. 

It would go onto win 4 Tonys including Best Score and Best Musical thus launching composer Lin-Manual Miranda's rise to become a Broadway icon. Will we be talking about Hamilton in the same regard? We shall see. 

Regardless, In The Heights has become one of the most produced shows by colleges, high schools and community theaters. Especially in more urban areas where musical theatre is not often successfully produced.

Cast Against It: If we're being honest, the book of the show is downright terrible. It's a shame Miranda didn't take more a control with that. And while there is certainly a mix of musical styles, the piece relies on its hip hop infused roots, does that make it the defining musical of the past 15 years? 

Next to Normal

Case for It: The most iconic piece of musical theatre to properly address the effects of Bipolar Disorder, Next to Normal has been a culture smash. Reviews for the original Broadway production were more and favorable.  Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote that the Broadway production is "A brave, breathtaking musical. It is something much more than a feel-good musical: it is a feel-everything musical." Rolling Stone Magazine called it "The best new musical of the season – by a mile." Next to Normal was on the Ten Best of the Year list for 2009 of "Curtain Up". 

Next to Normal was also one of the first shows to utilize Twitter to boost its popularity. n May 2009, about six weeks into the Broadway run, Next to Normal began publishing an adapted version of the script over Twitter, the social media network. Over 35 days, the serialized version of the show was published, a single line from a character at a time. The Twitter promotion ended the morning of June 7, 2009, the morning of the 2009 Tony Awards. The initiative earned the musical the 2009 OMMA Award for Best in Show Situation Interactive.

Since then its become a community theatre staple as well as colleges. 

Case Against It: It didn't run on Broadway that long, clocking in just over 733 performances. It's also one of the only musicals on this list that didn't win Best Musical(inexplicably losing to Billy Elliot). It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama even though it had not been on the list of three candidates submitted to the twenty-member Pulitzer Prize board by the five-member Drama jury which caused a lot of controversy at the time. 

So which do you think is the defining musical of the past 15 years? Is it one not even on this list? What about Hairspray? Thoroughly Modern Millie? Spamalot? American Idiot? 

As you can see, it's a very hard, but fun, question to answer.