Why I Hate Theater! Appalling!

Read my column now or see the musical later

Because crap automatically gets a standing ovation, but the good stuff doesn't get one until the Times rave comes out. ... Too many jukebox musicals end with a mixtape medley that has you thinking the whole show was amazing. ... If it's British, it must be better. Except when it's unbearable. ... The producers of Chicago are perfectly willing to water down the Fosse choreography to high school level if they can book a big enough name who happens to be spastic.

The Fringe Festival does not believe in air-conditioning. ... You can sit and slurp food and drinks you bought there, but don't dare unwrap your own candies! ...The original production of everything was better. ... I got front row at The Fartiste. ... I always give enthusiastic entrance applause to anyone I recognize, usually resulting in everyone around me either glaring or looking confused. ... Every movie ever made will eventually be turned into a bad musical. ... Every musical ever made will be turned into a bad movie. ... They rarely drum up the courage to use the Broadway stars for the screen versions, ignoring all the past travesties that this reckless practice has led to. (And don't bring up Rent. That was the exception to every rule.)

The Tonys got rid of the Special Events category just as special events started getting intriguing. ... Some great performances get squeezed out of nominations, but last year, the Best Actress in a Musical category consisted of five out of the six eligible actresses. If you got up and sang weather updates, you had an 83 percent chance of a nomination. ... They keep trying to do Funny Girl without the right Fanny, then scrapping the whole thing. It's like boarding everyone onto a plane, then saying, "Anyone know a good pilot?" ... The kids on the boards are prone to reducing show titles to acronyms, and if you reply, "What the fuck do you mean by HTSIBWRT?" they get really evil. ... We're destined to see Gypsy about every five years until the day we die. It should be every four years.

I've saved some special Playbills for literally three decades, only to find they're not even worth a dollar! ... People loudly talk through performances as if you paid big bucks to hear a hit show narrated by a nasal stranger cursed with a crushing obviousness. ("He's supposed to be Martin Luther King." "Look, honey, she's flying with her umbrella." "He's a singing and dancing homosexual, but apparently he was a woman in a past life!") ... The night I saw Private Lives, a rowdy guy in the back kept yelling comments at odd moments ("Yeah, right!"), which tended to lower the evening's standard of dry wit. Noël Coward does not need hollabacks. ... Every year, there are two Bible musicals.

Perfectly nice little shows that scream "Keep me Off-Broadway or out of town!" brazenly get moved to Broadway by delusional people who spend their lives overshooting the runway. ... Some shows that moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway stubbornly refuse to give up the chance to make money when their run is up, so they just move back to Off-Broadway. ... There has never been a Motown jukebox musical on Broadway!

You wait for 90 minutes at the half-price booth, then just as you get to the window, they take down the show you wanted! You end up seeing Memphis again. ... Full-priced tickets are not an option, either. They cost so much that instead of taking a date to a hot musical, you can produce your own Busby Berkeley–style revue plus the tour and the movie version (which, naturally, won't star the Broadway cast). ... The bag check at the door is so cursory, they wouldn't even notice a machine gun you might be packing in your floral clutch. ... Ushers always refer you down to other ushers. ... Getting coveted aisle seats means you have to stand up every time the other folks in the row claim, "Going to the bathroom for the last time, I promise." ... Halfway through Act Two, you horrifyingly realize that your cell phone is still on. But searching for it will make noise, and turning it off will play music. Do you just stay put and pray, grateful for the night's first dose of drama? ... The no-intermission trend has you home and penniless by 9:30. Wild night out, huh?

Movie stars whose careers have stalled invariably crow: "I'm thrilled to be on Broadway. Theater was always my first love!" ... At Hugh Jackman's revue, hot-flashing matinee ladies swarmed me at intermission and pleaded, "Write nice things!" Truth be told, I got a little scared. ... If Shakespeare saw most of the productions of his work today, he'd probably say: "Roland Emmerich was right. Edward de Vere actually wrote this." ... We're in the middle of a musical-diva golden age thanks to Patti, Bernadette, Donna, Audra, Sutton, Jan, Kelli, Kristin, and Alice, but you still hear theater queens murmuring, "There are no stars like the old days!" ... Interactive theater pieces where you have to keep deciding which actors to follow always have me drenched, scratched, and wondering where everybody went.

It would be great to just once hear a producer say: "We trust this musical we're reviving so much that we're not gonna tweak a word. We absolutely treasure it, and it deserves to be done exactly as is!" ... If you see a friend act in a play, you have to go backstage afterward and think of something to say that doesn't sound too negative. ("Interesting! You really did it! Your energy never flagged! You were the best one up there!") ... When the show wraps, and I leap to my feet, the actors clearly assume I read the Times, and I'm joining the standing ovation. Please! I'm just bolting! Interesting!

musto@villagevoice.com

 
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36 comments
fdaes
fdaes

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Guest
Guest

The musical revival where they trusted and treasured the show and did it exactly as is: FINIAN'S RAINBOW!

Profailure
Profailure

This column is not about theater. It is about dead institutions. There are people doing interesting, fresh, alive theater all over this town, and many other towns in this country, in ways that bear no resemblance at all to the stuff you complain about, most of which has nothing to do with theater as a medium, and everything to do with the calcification of an economic model trying to produce hits past its time of relevance—but this is not where Theater is truly happening, even if it gets reviewed under the Theater section of paper.The most irresponsible thing about this column is that it confirms the prejudices and stereotypes of people who don't go see theater because they think it's all the things you're complaining about, and don't realize that it's not a set of stale rituals and cloying communities but an artistic medium like any other, which is still producing cutting edge, contemporary, moving stuff. You are helping to discourage the already skeptical new audiences that theater artists really need right now. Shame on you for only thinking of this column as a way to air generalizing inside jokes in a way that reflects harmfully on a medium that needs now more than ever to be written about intelligently.If you hate this stuff, this rotting corpse, stop going to see it, and start supporting the theater that is alive and has blood pumping through its veins. Okay, you mentioned Fringe once, just to complain about the heat; to me, heat is a sign I might possibly see something good (though I might not), since it isn't bloated with money. NY Fringe has, of course, its own problems, but heat is the least of them. Oh, yeah, and you mentioned 'interactive' theater, which it sounds like you are just not very good at seeing, or have pre-decided to find difficult—next time bring along some real curiosity and genuine interest in it and you may enjoy it (if it's good).

jacque.darcy
jacque.darcy

@Profailure >>The most irresponsible thing about this column is that it confirms the prejudices and stereotypes of people who don't go see theater because they think it's all the things you're complaining about, and don't realize that it's not a set of stale rituals and cloying communities but an artistic medium like any other, which is still producing cutting edge, contemporary, moving stuff.<<

 Ah, the old "theater is hip and 'with it'" card. How old are you, twelve?

Desi
Desi

Broadway is hardly a dead institution. It brings in millions of people and makes tons of money. Off-off-Broaway and avant garde theater, on the other hand, are as dead and passe as you can get.

Profailure
Profailure

Your measuring instruments are different than mine. TV has tons of viewers and lots of funding too...that doesn't make it good or 'alive', it just makes it dominant. Going to a Broadway show is usually the same as buying an expensive name brand purse; in itself it will not improve or affect your life at all, but you will feel that, having spent so much money and gone to so much trouble, you must have gotten something worthwhile, you must be someone, your miserable life must count or something, and also, it's shiny; it's a commodity. It's dead because it's not saying anything new or daring, not engaging the present historical moment in any fashion, just staying holed up in its box of rituals. Unlike TV it must cultivate a specialized and dwindling audience. It cannot possibly represent the future of theater as a medium, because its audience will shrink and shrink until no one cares anymore; at the very least, it will not grow, which is basically the same thing. If theater is tethered to Broadway, theater is doomed.Also, "avant-garde" is a term that doesn't mean anything, besides maybe "this is a thing that is new".Help theater into a future in which it can be a relevant, maybe even revolutionary, medium; don't condemn it to a slow death.

jacque.darcy
jacque.darcy

@Profailure Stop drinking the "relevant" Kool-Aid.

Jackslim53
Jackslim53

I'd rather watch a movie, than go anywhere to see one performed with less production value, less talented actors, less special effects, and less of an intriguing personal experience.

GenderBlind&amp;Deaf
GenderBlind&amp;Deaf

Who are Jan and Alice? (Yes, I'm from out of town, you wanna make something of it?!) And what the hell about Carolee and Victoria?

Loins
Loins

Probably Jan Maxwell (Follies) and Alice Ripley (Next to Normal).

Adam Feldman
Adam Feldman

Awfully enjoyable, as always, MM, but one minor flub: "Last year, the Best Actress in a Musical category consisted of five out of the six eligible actresses. If you got up and sang weather updates, you had an 83 percent chance of a nomination." In fact, the paucity of candidates triggered a rule that limited the category to four nominees, whose odds of nomination were thus a mere 66%. (Wonderland's Janet Decal and Women on the Verge's Sherie Rene Scott were the unlucky ladies.)

Sue
Sue

Great column, I was laughing all the way through.

... Every movie ever made will eventually be turned into a bad musical. ... Every musical ever made will be turned into a bad movie. ...

More true than not, but I hope that doesn't jinks Les Miserables! Everyone I know is expecting it to be awesome.

HTSIBWRT...glad someone else translated this for me. There's never a secret decoder ring around when you need one! And lately that's almost every day!

Love the Shakespeare line!!

CMG
CMG like.author.displayName 1 Like

I automatically hate anything that the NYU students stand in line for their student rush every day of the week to see because the music 'speaks' to them. It will soon spread like a virus. It will then be done to death by their theater kid friends/siblings in high school to the point auditions will request those songs to not be used. Then there comes the pressure to do the musical even before the rights are available. They conspire with the older students on internet forums bowing to them for getting within an inch of the stars at stage door and invent annoying pet names for the fandom that are soon sold in the shows overpriced apparel section that will soon be bought by suburban moms on its national tour and by that point the show becomes stale and the kids find a new obsession by finding out the history of Broadway theater from that PBS special or better yet, sink their teeth into a new show that will see with their student rush tickets through NYU. The NYU kids who started the trend at this point are jaded or still have some semblance of earnestness to be taken away.

Savannah Montgomery
Savannah Montgomery

(oh my gawd, now I am gonna sound "ugly/bitchy")

"I finally got a ticket to Book of Mormon. It was truly hilarious"

Yes...if you never watched/followed "South Park"....(I was there from the beginning,mind you)

For B'way, it is/was "shocking".

But, not bragging, [well, yes, I am] I saw "Jerry Springer:The Musical" in London...when you have a number called "Mama Put Smack On My Asshole'" AND it's funny [as only we here can appreciate...yes, I bought the T-shirt with the lyrics/score on it]..you KNOW you're not B'way bound (though they tried).

P.S. - The "Jerry Springer" was dead-on perfect....and image, if you will, a plus-sized lyric soprano pole dancer [yep, she does it in the show]...who's a plus-sized threat, theatrically.

par3182
par3182

Read your t-shirt again - it's "Mama Gimme Smack On My Asshole" (as in spank)

Savannah Montgomery
Savannah Montgomery

P.P.S - Don't get me wrong, I love TBOM (hadda do it)...after I saw the show, I happened to see a BLACK Mormon missionary, in tandem,as it were, with his white counter-part, they always travel in two's... [the Mormons have an "outpost" in my nabe here in Inwood]...all I could do was giggle...and giggle.

Peegeswim
Peegeswim

All I can say is "Spot on", as always, Mr. Musto!! *I'm giving you a Standing O right now!!

Barnaby_Rudge
Barnaby_Rudge

Six words: "Last Tango In Paris, The Musical"

brooklynmichel
brooklynmichel

I'm tired of seeing movies converted to musicals. Where are all of the original shows? I finally got a ticket to Book of Mormon. It was truly hilarious. Trey Parker was there and was standing in the back of the house at intermission. I approached him and thanked and congratulated him for the show and hoped he was creating more shows. He smiled and said "seven years of my life went into this." So hopefully in 2019 we'll see another Trey Parker production.

Gigi
Gigi

One only waits 90 minutes at TKTS if one insists on coming on Friday and Saturday night during Thanksgiving week or right after the Tonys. Last night the wait was 15 minutes max. Trust me, I work there.

Mrwhompers
Mrwhompers

Thank you, oh literal minded worker.

bsomers
bsomers

We're in the middle of a musical-diva golden age thanks to Patti, Bernadette, Donna, Audra, Sutton, Jan, Kelli, Kristin, and Alice, but you still hear theater queens murmuring, "There are no stars like the old days!"

Are you kidding? More like the "copper age" not "golden age"

lon chaifetz
lon chaifetz

Michael, I completely agree with you about theater queens still insisting we don't have stars like in the old days. Every current diva that you listed is as talented, and/or glamorous, as any of the older stars. The real problem lies in that fact that no one is producing musicals for these fabulous ladies. Put them in revivals of the great old shows and they shine, but where are new shows for them to originate? We know the answer(s) are varied: no one is actually writing the shows; shows are written but no one will put money into an unknown commodity; Broadway audiences are mainly tourists who only know reality TV and classic titles or titles of current movies that can be regurgitated blandly onstage. The reasons are legion, but that doesn't help those of us who still love what the theater can be and want to see these major talents in exciting new shows.

Trey Speegle
Trey Speegle

Funny. Michael, I have heard the late theatre critic and VOGUE Arts Editor, Leo Lerman, always had THE best "compliments" for actors when the performance was less than stellar... there was (throwing his arms up for an embrace) "OHHHH, YOU!" and the ambiguous, "I didn't know you had it in you!"

Rema22
Rema22

It would be great to just once hear a producer say: "We trust this musical we're reviving so much that we're not gonna tweak a word. We absolutely treasure it, and it deserves to be done exactly as is!"--The latest A Chorus Line revival played as basically a museum piece.

GenderBlind&amp;Deaf
GenderBlind&amp;Deaf

You are forgetting the ridiculous Mario Lopez changes, including covering up that other, actual Broadway dancer/actor's muscles. And I don't blame you for forgetting all that.

Rob in Philly
Rob in Philly

"Noël Coward does not need hollabacks." SOMC = spit out my coffee

billyjoe
billyjoe

Also remember that Broadway plays are one of the few things one can "mount" other than your horse or your sex partner.

Lois Carmen DeNominateur
Lois Carmen DeNominateur

"This is a completely fresh reinterpretation of the material. We are convinced that [Very Dead Authors] would completely support our version."

Whimsy
Whimsy

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I don't know what HTSIBWRT stands for.

J P Finch
J P Finch

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. I'm shocked that I know that.

Capital Cat
Capital Cat

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Tampopo
Tampopo

Loved it!! A breezy read--and ALL TRUE!!!

 
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