The Playgoer: "The Degrassi Set"

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"The Degrassi Set"

The Broadway revolution will be cell-ivised. Representative tweenies at Legally Blonde.
photo: Joe Fornabaio

Last December, NYT's Campbell Robertson told us Broadway was playing to toddlers. Now, in a very similar front-page feature, it's tweens. Which is it, man?

Well at least they're getting older, right?

Nut graph:

The idea of Broadway as a destination primarily for big-city sophisticates, of course, has gone the way of the top hat. The proportion of Broadway audiences composed of out-of-towners, who are likely to be looking for family entertainment, has grown by half in the last 25 years. At the same time, bringing young people to Broadway has become an almost existential mission for producers.

One company that pointed the way was Disney, whose successful shows, like “Beauty and the Beast,” brought in children as never before, many of whom grew up to become the teenagers longing for the sassier “Legally Blonde.”

But Robertson actually spends much of the article dispelling the idea that tween power is the answer to all woes:

Movies are relatively cheap and accessible, so Hollywood can court a narrow segment of the population and still make a killing. Thus a so-called chick flick like “Legally Blonde” can gross $96 million domestically appealing almost exclusively to, well, so-called chicks.

A successful show on Broadway has to attract people who are, first, in or visiting New York and, second, willing to spend a good deal of money. That’s already a pretty small crowd. Slicing it any further is risky.

Hence, you gotta fill the rest of the seats with the same old old people as before.

The optimistic message is....more young people growing up on theatre, and thus more future audiences.

The pessimistic side? More Legally Blondes.


Aaron Riccio said...

But what makes Legally Blonde any worse than Young Frankenstein? (I've seen neither.) They're both musical adaptations of films that don't need it; Young Frankenstein is just pandering to a larger audience (and people who are more likely to be moneyed to enough to see it). I'm less concerned with ditzy, glamorous shows than worried that people aren't willing to see NEW theater anymore, only franchised hits:

Xanadu, based on a film. Wicked, based on a book. Spamalot, based on a film. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, based on a remake of a film. Not to mention all the revivals (Les Miserables) and Disney properties.

I give credit to adaptations like Grey Gardens and Spring Awakening that CHANGE enough to be fresh, or dapper parodies like The Drowsy Chaperone, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Avenue Q. But NYMF seems filled with remakes of Jane Austen novels, and all we've got coming is In The Heights.

Anonymous said...

I can see another downside to "more young people growing up on theatre, and thus more future audiences." A visiting Martian who looked at American movies might be able to think that Hollywood, by courting adolescents and young adults, is building a future audience for movies, but those of us who've been here longer can see that Hollywood keeps courting the young audiences and giving short shrift to older adults. The young audience is bigger, so they get played to.

The same thing could happen with efforts to draw well-to-do young people into Broadway-scale theaters. In other words, the audiences might grow up before the shows do.

On the other hand, I'm with Aaron Riccio with his suggestion that there's something different in Grey Gardens, Spring Awakening, The Drowsy Chaperone, and a few others.

Lisa said...

You know what I don't get about all this decrying (not just you, everywhere)?

The entire history of Broadway is crammed full of stupid pandering musicals. We just don't remember them as well because, well, they were stupid.