Sunday, May 27, 2007

Emerging Emergency

I had a depressing thought after seeing the phenomenal The Eaten Heart. How long does an artist have to be emerging for? These days, it seems like it takes a long time to be recognized for your work, if it even happens, at all. I waxed momentarily on this last week in response to God's Ear, but The Debate Society shouldn't be "stuck" in an incubator, even if it is the very freeing Ontological-Hysteric Incubator: they should be having money flung at them to let their teeming ideas run rampant.

Part of the problem must be the general lack of profiles being run in high-profile publications; I rarely see any coverage of an innovative playwright or a theater company in The New York Times: just a lot of puff pieces given over to popular 'slice-of-the-moment' characters whose horns need no further tooting. So what can we, the internet bloggers and online critics, do to help ensure that brilliant artists are always given a packed house and a rabid following?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Well, Why Not?

Just goes to show you (or shows to go you) how backed up I am that Surplus managed to scoop me (and so far as everyone else I can see) on the whole Addams Family musical coming to Broadway in '09-'10. I read it first here, where it apparently beat out Campbell Robertson of the Times, but I digress: there's a point.

A lot of shows have been taking flak lately, shows that aren't even in previews yet (and hence undeserving of criticism). Everybody laughed at Xanadu, but an early report from my fellow racer Patrick, shows that it might not be quite as bad an idea as we thought. People have been up in arms about the purported jukebox musical from The Flaming Lips and Aaron Sorkin, but I've seen odder cafeteria confections in children's lunch-boxes. What I say? Two things that I like, mixed together. There's only so much that can be wrong with that, especially when they go so far as to compare the forthcoming plot to Brazil. (Pretentious, I won't argue.)

Not that there haven't been bad ideas. I don't quite remember how much Lord of the Rings lost as a cash-crop musical, or what exactly they were thinking with The Apprentice: The Musical, but these were spur-of-the-moment attempts to make money off a hot, topical item. With The Apprentice now canceled, and spring 2006 far gone, we may be saved from another Trump fiasco (do we need his "great" White way on the Great White Way?).

But there are also those stuck in the mix between inspired and greedy: why are we so worried about Spider-Man: The Musical? The only question there is: why U2? Julie Taymor is pretty talented at finding unique ways to stage what we thought could only be animated (The Lion King), and a book penned by Neil Jordan isn't necessarily better than anyone else's, but why not give the guy a chance? Batman: The Musical is looking less and less likely, but was nobody excited (or jaded enough) back in '04 at the prospect of seeing Tim Burton's vision on stage? There's camp, there's kitsch, but then there's also sometimes a rare success in the ridiculous.

Which brings us back to The Addams Family. Granted, we're already getting a Gothic comedy out of Mel Brooks and his Young Frankenstein, but do we have any reason to shudder at this combination?
Composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party) is writing the songs; Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) provide the book. Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the Improbable Theater founders who created Shockheaded Peter, will direct and design.
I'd at least like to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when one considers that they're modeling the show NOT after the well-meaning movies or their charming TV counterpoints, but on the original and disturbing comics in The New Yorker. Give the guys credit for reaching deep.

End point? Anything can work on Broadway, and given the current and much beleaguered "state" of musical theater, should be tried on Broadway. If Spring Awakening wins big, we might be able to take a step back from the cloying laughs of Legally Blonde, Spamalot, and the rest of the sugar-fed spectacles. And even if it doesn't, I'm all for adding some darker comedy to the mainstream: especially when it's at least starting in such capable, eager hands.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Language, Language, Language

Still caught up in the exuberant English of God's Ear, but I thought I'd comment briefly on something David Cote said in his preview of the show, something that should be painfully obvious to those who have seen this production (though pleasantly surprising for New Georges): why it is that "cult favorites such as Melissa James Gibson, Young Jean Lee and, yes, Schwartz still can't get arrested above 14th Street." As Cote points out, at least Playwrights Horizon and Manhattan Theater Club are producing someone like Adam Bock this year (and apparently Eric Grode of The Sun, my new hero, pulled hard for The Thugs). At the same time, he justifies the statement by mentioning that these "classics-oriented outfits" are "dabbling in new titles," as if it's a passing thought, rather than an artistically motivated decision.

But hey! Why is it that Sheila Callaghan, even after last year's triumphant Dead City, has nothing major in the city at the moment? I love Neil LaBute (especially the under-appreciated Fat Pig), and I'm glad that MCC has lavished such attention on him, but it seems to me that such partnerships (like Primary Stages and Terrance McNally or Playwrights Horizon and Christopher Durang) wind up churning out mediocre (at best) works, while the innovative wordsmiths scuttle about on the fringe. Why is the only time I see a Daniel MacIvor play at a festival? (And ones with somewhat self-deprecating names like the "Fringe" or "Under the Radar," as if that's where these plays should remain -- no disrespect to the awesome festivals themselves.) Some artists are at least by choice taking on site-specific work, like Lisa D'Amour, who last year explored multimedia in the stunning Stanley (2006), but are these artists doomed to HERE, PS122, and Walkerspace until they conform? (Not that that's much of a punishment: these spaces are rich with a myriad of intimate possibilities.)

I understand the commercial aspect of theater. And I understand that Broadway has more or less inflated the entire market (as has New York itself) by making the cost of living or producing so high that it's hard to be dedicated (the stuff of dreams). But I'm terrified that the pull-quote in this article is from New Georges' artistic director, Susan Bernfield, saying that "We have a bigger responsibility for the stuff that's perceived as weird." Not because Bernfield is anything less than a saint, and god bless her for producing such new and vibrant works, but because of the honesty in that statement: the great responsibility of pushing theater ahead has fallen far from Broadway, and shows have become "cult" where they should have become "classic." Push that envelope, people. Paper cuts today, Broadway tomorrow.