Is Broadway Dying?
Broadway vs. Movie Musicals
Back in 2002, when I first heard the rumors that the Kander and Ebb's musical "Chicago" was being made into a movie, my theatre friends asked me what I thought of this. Did I like that a successful Broadway show was now going to become a Hollywood movie? What kind of effect did I think that this would have on theatre? As I've always been a fan of this show, I was absolutely thrilled that I wasn't going to have to shell out fifty plus bucks to go see it. Though I wouldn't have chosen certain cast members, I eagerly anticipated its release in January of 2003. Seeing it on "the big screen" was a certainly an experience for me. I ended up watching the audience more than I did the movie. It was fun to see people react and be vocal. In the theatre, you are nudged and told to be quiet as not to disrupt the show. During this showing, everyone spoke, crunched, slurped, did whatever they wanted to. Some people left before it was over, muttering that, if they had known it was going to be all music, they would've saved their money. Some people seemed to enjoy it a lot and actually left the theater humming. What did I think? It wasn't real theatre, but it worked.
I remember in January of 1997 when the movie version of "Evita" entered movie theaters, I was positive that this would be the beginning of a return to the Golden age of musical films. (When I was younger, my Mom and Gram would show me old musicals and I always wished that movie musicals would be made again.) Though Madonna and Antonio Banderas were poor choices, I still was content. When we were leaving the theater, this older woman and her husband walked out with us, all the while making small talk. When we were going to part ways, the lady finally confessed her dismay at it being an all out musical. She had realized through the previews that it was going to be a musical. However, she had hoped that it would've been mostly dialogue. I was crushed by her reaction. The reviews it got made it clear that I wasn't going to see another movie musical for a long time.
For years, there had been rumors of a movie version of "The Phantom of the Opera" being produced. Some rumors had Michael Crawford reprising the title role. Other rumors said that a video had been made of the original Broadway show and that no new movie, just a release of this tape, was in the works. When the Gerard Butler version made it to the movies in January of 2005, I was pleased. This happens to be one of my favorite musicals and I'd gladly watch any version of it any chance I get.
Later in 2005, "Rent" came to movie theaters. I'm not the biggest fan of the show, but I was so happy that nearly the entire cast from the original production reprised their roles. The audience members reacted extremely well to the movie. I think it's because "Rent" has such a huge following. People relate to the story lines. The characters are young with issues that many twenty somethings face today.
In December of 2006, another movie musical was made, "Dream Girls." This was another show that was rumored to be getting produced for years. Going to see this movie, I was very apprehensive. Could Beyonce Knowles really pull it off? Amazingly enough, she did.
The next musical to be made into a movie was "Hairspray." Though it was 2007, I still worried if a man playing a woman would go over well. Thankfully, it did. Sometimes people have a way of surprising you.
After much anticipation, a movie version of "Sweeney Todd" premiered in late 2007. Surprisingly enough, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter didn't sound half bad. The movie itself did well too.
"Mama Mia" was released just this past Summer. People seemed to really enjoy it. The showing I went to, everyone was singing along to the music. You would never see something like that in a theatre.
When going to each of these movies, I heard my theatre friends asking the same questions. Did I like that a successful Broadway show was now going to become a Hollywood movie? What kind of effect did I think that this would have on theatre? To be honest with you, my feelings are mixed. While I'm glad that these movie producers are making theatre more accessible for the average American, I can't help, but wonder if its doing harm to the theatre too. While "Hairspray" the movie was a success, the Broadway production recently closed. In general, Broadway ticket sales are down. Thanks to the economy, no one can afford to go see a show. I wonder though if, like when I was much younger, people would be more willing to save up to go see a show if they didn't think that the show would be made into a movie, playing at their local cinema for an admission costing a quarter of the price of a theatre ticket? I wish that original casts could reprise their roles in the films. Perhaps theatregoers would be more willing to invest more in the actual show if they realized the talent that's out there?
On the other hand, many movies are being turned into Broadway musicals and are doing relatively well. ("Billy Elliot," "The Little Mermaid," "Mary Poppins," "Nine to Five," "Shrek") While I'll always believe that any support of theatre is good, it still sort of sickens me that original concepts for musicals are being turned down because movies have made their way to Broadway. I can't get over the fact that people would rather see their favorite movie put to music than try to wrap their minds around a new, original show.
Growing up, I was raised to believe that attending a show should be a very special event. You should wear your best clothes and use your best manners. You should react to the show and not detract from the show. Ushers would have your head if you tried to sneak in a snack. Nowadays, things seem to be different. Audience members are dressed down, inside and out. I suppose you could say that theatre shouldn't be about following rules or codes or manners, but about experiencing the show and the experience itself. However, had I been raised to know the theatre of today, I don't think I would have the passion and appreciation for the arts that I have.
The current state of Broadway scares me. Though, like with everything, theatre has had its times of death and rebirth, I worry that it one day may become entirely obsolete. In a society of instant gratification and short attention spans, will any future generation want to take the time to view a Broadway show in its entirety? Or will theatre become short and episodic like a television sitcom? Will theatre ever return to its Golden age of long, flashy dance numbers and tear jerking scores that moved your soul? I'll keep crossing my fingers for another rebirth.
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