Friday, June 13, 2008

There's a little bit of Broadway in everyone...


Well, the countdown to the second-best awards show on television is coming down to the wire. The Antoinette Perry Awards will air this Sunday night at 8 on CBS. Even though I have only seen one Best Musical nominee this season, I am nevertheless excited to see what shows win which awards. Along with the excitement of who wins (and, more importantly, who loses) there is the excitement of viewing the several live performances during the program. Among them is a performance from the rock opera RENT, which ends its 12 year run this September. 

Upon being a devoted fan of RENT for many years now and seeing the phenomenal revival of "Gypsy" this year, that coupled with the tagline for the Tony's this year, "There's a little bit of Broadway in everyone" made me think a lot about what has happened to Broadway in recent years. In my view, it seems to have gone from this prestigious, adult venue, filled with brilliant works from Sondheim and Bernstein and brilliant actors (not to mention Divas) like Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury to something...else. Something  different, and not in a good way. Seeing Gypsy reminded of this "Golden Age" of Broadway, showing that a musical can have, and should have, an effortless combination of a good book, good score, good lyrics, good singing and good acting. Like Hollywood, Broadway was once a platform for these attributes. Recently, though, Broadway has been watered down to a sort of pop culture standing. The theatres are filled with musical remakes of bad movies, American Idol cast-offs, and, worst of all, Disney. This isn't to say the entire  blame of this degradation  should be placed upon the shows themselves. I still think RENT, for example, is a brilliant piece of musical theatre, however recent productions have sullied anything good about it. Not to mention the huge amount of tweens and fangirls who have deemed themselves "theatre geeks" and "RENTheads" when the only exposure they've had to, say, an incredible musical such as "Sweeney Todd" was through Johnny Depp, and they list their favorite musical as "Legally Blonde". 

Not to sound elitist, because I am hardly in the position to do so, but Broadway once had a certain air to it, a certain distinctive quality that made it special. Considering it's confined to one rather affluent and cultural city: New York, and that the cost of tickets needs to be rather high to keep a production going, it was reserved, basically, to people in a high standing in society, a standing that usually came with education and class. Obviously that sounds incredibly slanted, but it's obvious to see that, nowadays, most people have a lot of money regardless of class and education and, more importantly, lots of children have lots of money--from their parents. Not to say that I'm not supported by my parents, but I do earn said money; I'm not a spoiled MTV-generation girl who watches "The Hills" and goes to prom or whatever such nonsense these ridiculous rich children do nowadays. It's "these" people who seem to have had a rather large influence on Broadway, considering they are becoming a legitimate target audience. Therefore, more and more current shows don't have the Je ne sais quoi Broadway once had. In fact, not many musicals are particularly good, to be rather blunt about it. Sure "Spring Awakening" was the runaway hit of last year, and deservedly so, because it was very good, but that show seems so very "current" that it would be hard to see it being revived successfully twenty or thirty years from now. Not to mention that it appear to be curtailed to the younger generation. It's really saying something when a show like this wins the Best Musical Tony award. That, a show which is obviously largely influenced by this "new" Broadway, regardless of its strong points, is seen as the best of the current season, really says a lot for what Broadway is becoming. The same goes for this year's hit "In the Heights".  Broadway just doesn't really have classics seems to be churning out more and more "good" musicals that are likely to be forgotten after their initial run, which is admittedly a shame, but not really an unlikely occurrence instead of making true groundbreakingly good shows. 

So, this Sunday, we will sadly watch not only RENT's departure, but we will see a bunch of musicals win awards, and shortly thereafter and be forgotten.  Broadway has become increasingly depressing over the years, and it does not look like it will get any better. Sadly, those bright lights will probably get dimmer and dimmer until it's nothing but an attraction for vapid teens and tourists. I mean, it's almost there already.

Yes, there may be "a little bit of Broadway in everyone", but they're not all necessarily the same Broadway...     

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