The Playgoer: Gotta Knock a "Gimmick"

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Gotta Knock a "Gimmick"

" John Doyle, the Tony Award-winning director of last season's gripping "Sweeney Todd," is taking another stab at Stephen Sondheim with a revival of "Company."
As in "Sweeney," the actors will play all the musical instruments.
Doyle may not be a darling of orchestrators or the musicians' union, but critics love him: "Company" received some terrific notices in Cincinnati, where it ran last spring.
But how much longer will audiences go for the gimmick?
His revival of Jerry Herman's "Mack and Mabel," with another all-actor band, flopped in London this year. And while "Sweeney Todd" finished in the black, it closed a lot sooner than it should have."

- Michael Riedel, today's Post

Sorry, Michael. To anyone whose diet goes regularly beyond Broadway, ensemble theatre is no "gimmick."

I agree, though, that this Sweeney may have proved to "arty" and dark to play more than a year on B'way. (In other words, it fulfilled Sondheim's vision for the show.)


June said...

And for me, a year on Broadway is quite enough. I don't like all the "there are no Broadway theaters available because of the longrunning shows" whining--it's business--but especially in a show like this where cast changes are far from casual (since there's a score to learn and an instrument to play, along with everything else), it's sufficient.

parabasis said...

Isn't the *real* problem with this column that Riedel (as in all of his columns) has only one paradigm for success, and it's a financial one?

And before you go "well, he covers commercial theater" there used to be plenty of reportage about artistic successes that were commercial failures. It's how cults grew around musicals like, well, CHICAGO (big ole flop), or FOLLIES. Considering how good Riedel's sources are, he could do something beyond just gossip and numbers-crunching. He could actually, you know, behave like a decent reporter.

Aaron Riccio said...

Is that really ensemble theater, though? An ensemble cast is a cast with an equally apportioned script. A musical ensemble is a group of musicians who get together to play. Making those two into one for the sake of doing something artistically different -- that's a gimmick. It was clever in that the instruments were sometimes used to help tell the story, as much extentions of the actors as Sweeny's "friends," but it took something away from the story for me. Hard to get lost in the intense shifts of comedy and drama when everything is so puncutated with instruments. And Riedel's point is more that to make it on Broadway, you either have to be craftily innovative, grossly spectacular, or star-studded (period). For me, I think "Company" lends itself to Doyle's interpretation far better than any other show -- it's a merry little piece (for a show about depression) that is playful enough (and fantastical enough) to allow for instruments. I'm looking forward to seeing musical jokes worked into "Barcelona" and curious as hell as to how they're going to dance "Side by Side" and play it at the same time. See, there the "ensemble" makes sense -- these are memories that aren't grounded in reality, and Doyle can now exaggerate the tension between the present and past with fanciful distractions. Looking forward to it, I'll say that much.

Anonymous said...

Doyle can't direct, so he resorts to gimmicks.