The Playgoer: What Does "Broadway" Mean Anyway?

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Monday, August 04, 2008

What Does "Broadway" Mean Anyway?

by Abigail Katz

So I had the pleasure of seeing [title of show] last week, a delightful, clever little musical that began in the New York Musical Theatre Festival and made it all the way to Broadway. Now I'll admit that I paid considerably less than full price for my ticket, but while I was watching the show, I thought to myself, "would I pay $100 or more to see this show?" To be completely honest, I wouldn't. I would pay $50, but not $100. Then I had to ask myself why. Does the fact that the show is on Broadway somehow create a different set of expectations that tells me I better get my $100 worth? Is a thoroughly entertaining experience enough? Does it matter that it has a cast of only four (plus the keyboardist) with a simple set and the same costumes throughout the show? This led me to consider the question that many people are asking these days, what does "Broadway" mean?

Many audience members want spectacle, stars, lavish sets and intricate costumes for their $100-$121.50 (if you're sitting in the orchestra or front mezzanine.) For others they look for the highest level of artistry with a good dose of gravitas- AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY if you will. Still others want a safe bet with a classic, and we've certainly had our share this season with outstanding productions of SOUTH PACIFIC, GYPSY, and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (although I have yet to cough up the cash for SOUTH PACIFIC, so I'm going with the buzz on that one.)

Having said all that, after my [title of show] experience I realized that I really needed to reconsider what I expect from a Broadway show. The landscape is certainly changing and becoming more adventurous, but does that mean anything goes? (sorry no musical theatre pun intended). One of my favorite shows this past season (and one of the best I've seen in quite some time) was PASSING STRANGE, hardly your typical Broadway show. It's too bad that audiences didn't quite embrace that show as they did SPRING AWAKENING and IN THE HEIGHTS, but it does show a willingness on the part of producers to take some risks.

[title of show] doesn't have a large band, a rockin' (or rappin') score, or large dance numbers with phenomenal choreography. Perhaps it's that "large" feeling that made me feel it was better suited for a smaller Off-Broadway theatre. But the show does have heart, and that's a big selling point. Much like the dancers in A CHORUS LINE, these characters are after the dream. A dancer/actress friend of mine said she cried during a good part of the show for that very reason (but have no fear for those who haven't seen it- the show is funny!) So it remains to be seen if audiences will buy (literally) into the dream and make [title of show] a commercial success, regardless of the insider nature of the show and the small scale feel. One thing is for certain, you can't help but root for these guys!

On another note, I also saw THURGOOD this last week- it has only one character (OK it is Laurence Fishburne, and he's a star) one set, and no music. I would have paid $100 for it. Go see his amazing performance before the show closes August 17th!


Esther said...

I definitely agree with you about Thurgood. I thought Laurence Fishburne was mesmerizing.

You do raise an interesting question. I liked and admired Passing Strange a great deal, but it didn't win my heart the way In the Heights did. I said afterward that I like to see my money up on stage. I missed the big dance numbers.

Okay, I was joking a little bit. I mean, every show doesn't need big dance numbers - that would be pretty boring. I do like variety, I like a show that takes chances.

But when I come to New York, I see five shows over a long weekend. Most people see one, maybe two shows. And I think they probably do have different expectations.


"What does Broadway mean?"

Apparently, that's what everyone, from Cote, to (O HAY!) The Playgoer, has been asking themselves.

I for one am glad that the Broadway format is changing. Being a big fan of both Spring Awakening and Passing Strange (I have yet to see [tos] or Heights), I think it's something that Broadway has needed for quite some time -- at least, since Rent burst on the scene 11 years ago.

The question of your "money's worth" is something my friends and I have always discussed; my best friend's now ex-boyfriend never fully grasped the concept of paying so much money to see a bway show, or the opera, for that matter. My friend and I, however, always insisted that culture has its price -- quite literally!

Now, though, I'm not quite so sure I feel the same way. As a college student in the city, where scraping by a dollar is an everyday occurrence, so I've normally paid student rush for everything I've seen the past two years (one show I've seen free, as an usher for NYTW). From what I've seen so far, I personally would have paid much more than the $26.50 I usually cough up.

Many of the shows I've seen have varied in production value, both on and off-Broadway, and in that sense, I don't think it should be a big factor in what is appropriate for the Broadway Stage. It is for this same reason that I am excited that [TOS] has garnered some attention on the Great White Way; it'll change people's perspectives on what Broadway should look and sound like, just as its recent predecessors have.