The Playgoer: Brazilians and Japanese

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Brazilians and Japanese

Dear Nations of Brazil & Japan:

No doubt you all pored over this Sunday's Arts & Leisure article on mega-musical producer Cameron Mackintosh and wondered: "Who is this no-credential 'blogger' guy dissing our respective countries?" But I assure you, when I said to journalist Philip Weiss that Mackintosh's boffo shows of the 80s and 90s succeeded expressly because "Brazilians and Japanese were taken in by the spectacle,” obviously what I meant to say was...

Well, I should have just added the word "tourists." Because that's who I meant. Rest assured, I know full well that the culture that has given us the great dramas of Noh and Kabuki, and the land of Augusto Boal, are far more sophisticated than to be dazzled like mere children at a Sir Cameron smoke-and-mirrors show. The issue I was addressing was solely that of the English language. Now I imagine that when "Phantom" and "Les Miz" tour your countries, they are translated into your indiginous languages. But again, the issue was that small number travelling from your countries to ours who may not be fluent in English--or at least the kind of English subset heard in the lyrics that accompany Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. (And, frankly, who does understand that?)

Why single out your two nations above all others? Surely there are countries more childish and artistically challenged to appropriate, you say? Well it just so happens that Broadway producers--and the marketers paid to study the demographics of their audiences--are obsessed with you. This is a moment I wish I kept better records of all the interesting articles I read, so I don't have the hard data in front of me. But since yesterday, I've done a little ex-post-facto fact-checking of my own to see what put such crazy ideas into my head. How's this, from a NY Times article from 1997, just at the crest of Sir Cameron's success:

Then there's the source material. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" has enough literary quality to hold the attention of adults and enough whimsy and fantasy to charm children. "You must remember, we are dealing with fabulous pieces of verse," Lord Lloyd Webber said.

Mr. Nunn said: "It's very visual with some intellectual ingredient for those that want it. It's a very literate set of lyrics with all sorts of classical references, but it's immediately understandable."

Understandability is perhaps the most important reason of all. Mr. Wachtel said that his audience surveys had shown that about 80 percent of the "Cats" audience came from out of town, and 40 percent from outside the United States, with visitors from Brazil, Germany and Japan predominating. Even those who speak no English can enjoy the show.

Oh, and earlier the same year, Edgar Dobie, then the president of Sir Andrew's Really Useful Company told the Times this: "English is almost a second language at 'Cats.'"

So you see, it's not my fault, associating your great nations with the musicals this man hath wrought. But as to why your citizens who come to my land demand such entertainment...well you'll have to ask them, I suppose.

Humbly yours,

The Playgoer

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