Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Broadway Shows for the Well-Heeled

Broadway shows are the stuff of magic and being able to see one is truly an experience to be savored. People come from all over the world to see a Broadway show and they carry the experience with them for the rest of their lives. If you've been there, you are part of Broadway history.

Entertainment careers in Broadway theatrical productions have thrived and the names are legendary: Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch, Paul Newman, Chita Rivera, Moss Hart, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Meryl Streep, Barbra Streisand, Jerome Robbins, Hal Prince, Angela Lansbury, Agnes deMille, George & Ira Gershwin, Bob Fosse, Cole Porter, Ethel Merman and Noel Coward to name just a few luminaries. The American theatre has enriched the entertainment of the entire world with its creativity, its energy and its push to bring both entertainment and thoughtfulness to its audiences sitting in the dark. Norma Desmond knew, but she was talking only about film.

Read the biographies of those who have thrived in the theatre and you'll hear how as children they were taken weekly to inexpensive performances on Broadway by dotting parents or relatives. It sparked the spirit and sitting near a live orchestra and live actors was and remains an irreplaceable experience. Film is wonderful, but Broadway is better. You are transported to a world that is created with just a few bits of scenery, a quick change of costumes and it all sweeps you up out of the ordinary into something truly special.

More and more, it has become almost obligatory for people in entertainment, whether on TV or film, to try their hand at a Broadway show. Usually, it is a limited run because the demands of Broadway must be incredible as you try night after night and matinee after matinee to recreate something but in a new way in order that it not become stale. Few understand how bright a light the stage can shine on those of limited talent and inadequate tools. There are no retakes, no "best side" lighting and it is demanding and draining.  They may draw a different audience to the theatre, but the experience isn't the same as when it is shared with an accomplished Broadway actor.

I've seen many Broadway shows and I was fortunate enough, at one time, to see one just about every month because tickets were less than $20. I saw James Earl Jones, Diahann Carol, Paul Newman, Tony Perkins, Angela Lansbury, Geraldine Page, Tina Browne, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Richard Kiley up close and personal. It was thrilling theatre and, for some of them, I went back to see another performance.

Recently, I read that yet another limited-run production of an Edward Albee play was coming to Broadway with an impressive cast and, of course, I looked at seats available and ticket prices. I don't believe that I should have to pay over $300 a ticket to see any Broadway show and, if this is caused by actors' salaries, it's a sad day for Broadway. If it's caused by the physical theatre's requirements for rental of the space, that is unforgivable. Broadway should be for everyone, not just the few with expense accounts or jobs on Wall Street.

Neither should Broadway, to my mind, be just lavish productions mounted by the Disney people who provide entertainment for kids and tourists. For me and many others, I suspect, Broadway is much more than "The Lion King" or other productions of this type. Yes, Broadway should be for kids and tourists, but when it becomes a glut on the stage, Broadway has lost more than money. Broadway is losing its soul and what once was Broadway is losing its meaning.

I won't be seeing this new production starring actors I admire because the price is just too steep and that's a shame. I did go to see one of the last performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman before he died, but that was a disappointment. It wasn't up to the standard set by Dustin Hoffman. This Hoffman wasn't at his best and now we know why. In fact, he didn't even come out after the matinee performance because, as the guard at the stage door said, "He takes a nap between performances." True and I know it because I have it on video. "Death of a Salesman" is a demanding play and I can imagine that is was difficult for Hoffman and I would have been more understanding if I had known about his problem.

The other actors came smiling out the stage door and proceeded to pose for photos, sign Playbills and chat with the adoring audience members waiting patiently there. That, too, is part of the Broadway experience and I love it. One hint given by an actor: Always bring a Sharpie with you for the autographs.

Good luck in the new show John, Meryl and Martha. I won't be there, however, and I will miss it.