The Playgoer: Two Reax to BB

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Two Reax to BB

"Brighton Beach," that is. (Not Bert Brecht...)

Well it's nice it made the front page of the Times. But too bad Patrick Healy turns in only a facile "culture section" rundown, just attributing the failure to "Neil Simon Ain't Funny Anymore" syndrome. Personally I think it's a lot more complex than that. More on that tomorrow.

I liked Howard Kissel's take better--on the changing Broadway audience. Out with the old Jews, in with the headbanging tourists?

The Broadway audience, which highbrows condescended to, especially when it was at its height, in the decades after World War II, was certainly centered in New York. It was middle class (with significant exceptions both higher and lower on the social ladder.) It had a higher percentage of Jews than the population at large.

It also went way beyond the Hudson. In the decades after the war Broadway was a significant factor in middle class life all across the country. It was not only New Yorkers who knew Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams (not to mention all the major figures of our musical theater.) Those names counted for something in every major city across the country, in part because their plays toured immediately after they finished their Broadway run. That was how a little boy in Milwaukee (moi) became entranced with the theater.

The tourists who come to New York have, I'm afraid, are not really an audience. Their idea of entertainment is more likely a rock concert than an evening of theater. Seeing a Broadway show is one of the things they're supposed to do while they're here, like visiting the Statue of Liberty or riding the subway.

[...]

When I think of the friends with whom I used to go often to the theater, they now tend to go more frequently to the opera and the ballet, where they find the emotional rewards the theater, Broadway or otherwise, seldom gives them.

The New Theater Audience consists of Trendies, people who have to be up on The Latest Thing, people who derive status from being able to say they saw a play The Paper of Record praised highly. It's not really an audience. But I'm afraid that's what we have.

5 comments:

M. Cantrell Roberson said...

Yeah, I also found the idea that people would rather see Judd Apatow over Neil Simon a weak argument at best. Is that even the same audience? Not really. In reality, the night I saw BB, the jokes were as good as anything Apatow has written, and the audience agreed with their constant roars. The puzzle that is Broadway continues...

Tony Adams said...

Well, could be that Judd Apatow is $10 funny and Neil Simon isn't $100 funny?

Dr. Cashmere said...

I wonder how the production would have fared if it had been done under the auspices of MTC or Roundabout.

While the "Broadway audience" may no longer be a solid demographic for Simon's plays, those people haven't all vanished or died off. A lot of them are still around--it's just that instead of going to Broadway, they're now subscribers with the big, stodgy non-profits.

So with weeks worth of houses full of 60-something suburbanites guaranteed, is it crazy to think that the MTC version might have generated enough word of mouth to become a real hit? It's a shame that the production didn't start as Cromer's idea, because that would have been a natural way to approach it.

Anonymous said...

I think Dr. Cashmere's on to something. All the talk about 'does this mean people never want to see plays on Broadway without celebs' argument' - I mean, that's a little crazy... because - remember August Osage County? Remember Doubt? No one saw that for Cherry Jones (sorry Cherry, you're amazing, but not what eventually drew tourists) But what August had was that Steppenwolf run which created buzz so that a lot of theaterlovers in NYC wanted to check it out...and then in turn spread the word. If this production opened at the American Airlines theater, I think it'd be a gem in Roundabout's season, gained buzz and maybe even transferred to a commercial run. Subscriber audiences are exactly who would LOVE this fine production and then spread the word to their aunts uncles, co-workers - but sadly, those people won't get to see it!

George Hunka said...

Another "reax," for what it's worth, is here.