Who Am I...?

As we do every year after the Tonys, all the musical theatre geeks are debating the state and the future of the art form. Of course, most of the debates make one common, glaring mistake -- assuming that Broadway and the American musical theatre are essentially the same. They were once, back before the regional theatre explosion, back before Broadway's biggest audience was tourists. Not so much anymore. The only really cool shows opening on Broadway all begin their lives elsewhere...

American IdiotBut unlikle Broadway, the musical theatre as an art form has never been more exciting, more adventurous, more surprising, or more full of life than it is today. The same cannot be said for Broadway (despite the occasional fluke like the awesome American Idiot, which actually began life on the West Coast). Even when New Line produces shows that have played Broadway (many of the shows we've done have not), the way we approach the material would probably never find an audience in New York. There are different expectations there. Here our audiences want to take a wild ride, to be surprised, to be challenged; in New York, audiences want to "get their money's worth." If they have to take out a second mortgage in order to buy tickets for the whole family to see a Broadway musical, then by God there better be a shitload of eye candy on that stage!

I read two New York Times articles today, one that I found silly and another that made me smile. The first article was about how the Tonys this year proved that the American musical "has lost its voice." Same mistake as always. Maybe the "Broadway musical" has lost its voice, but not the musical theatre itself. Some of the coolest musicals I've ever encountered are being written and produced today out in the hundreds of regional theatres across our country. As artistic director of New Line, I can't just watch New York for new work -- I have to keep an eye on the entire national theatre scene to find the real gems.

bareThe other article in the Times was about this wildly enthusiastic new generation of musical theatre lovers, who are exactly the people who are going to keep New Line in business -- the ones we're producing bare for next season -- by writing shows, by auditioning for us, and by buying tickets. We notice that the younger folks are often coming to see our shows more than once, mostly because they just can't see musical theatre as ballsy as ours anywhere else, and it thrills them. How great is that?

I think this is one of the reasons the programming at The Muny and at Stages St. Louis often bothers me. Why on earth is The Muny still producing Show Boat? Sure, it was once very exciting and innovative, but that was EIGHTY-THREE years ago!! I don't even know any people that old! And though I know Stages does good work, why on earth are they producing State Fair? Can Rodgers and Hammerstein really still be relevant to audiences in 2010? I don't think so.

I know what you're thinking: Who am I who dares to keep his head held high while millions weep? Just a guy who works with a company that will be producing the incredibly exciting bare next summer while Stages and The Muny will no doubt be producing more Rodgers and Hammerstein...

Long Live the (NEW) Musical!