by: Barbara and Scott Siegel
It’s well-known that musicals are the big tourist draw on Broadway.
The statistic often used to describe the breakdown of ticket sales between musicals and straight plays is that nine dollars out of every ten spent on tickets for Broadway shows go to musicals. Well, if those numbers hold up again this season, it will be thanks to the draw of Broadway mainstays like Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Matilda, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love & Murder, etc. The current crop of new musicals – both brand new and new productions of revivals – are tanking left and right. What’s up?
Here’s a theory for you. Producers are banking too heavily on good reviews from the New York Times. Simply put, the Grey Lady has never been so grimly grey; while a bad review from The Times can still cripple or kill a show (especially if it doesn’t have box office stars to draw a crowd), the fact is that not even a money review – an all out rave – can be counted upon to turn a show into a hit. Look at the recent revivals of On the Town and Side Show, both getting love letters from The Times. One is struggling and the other is closing.
In lieu of the waning power of the NY Times, smart producers are either investing in stars (Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man), or relying on the confluence of great reviews from London (The Curious Incident…). Note that these are straight plays. Well, you always had to be a sharp business person to make a profit if you weren’t backing a musical.
By next season, if not by April this year, the producers of new musicals will hopefully start to catch up and regain their edge in the marketplace. If they don’t, Broadway itself will be in trouble. When straight plays outperform musicals on Broadway, it’s as if the world, as we know it, is ending.
Speaking of music, let’s turn to cabaret, specifically in light of Stephen Holden’s recent piece in the New York Times. In that article he accurately noted that the performers keeping the nightclub world excited these days are largely moonlighting from Broadway shows. He also accurately describes the glass ceiling of cabaret when it comes to getting greater recognition in the media, particularly on television. He is too modest to say that the only major, national attention many cabaret performers ever get is through his reviews of them in The NY Times. Bless him for being the only major media champion of nightclub performers.
While Mr. Holden talked about the current crop of Broadway and nightclub entertainers who show promise for the future of the genre, what he didn’t acknowledge – and we’d like to do it right here — are the remarkable and dedicated performers who have kept cabaret going long before there was a 54 Below for the Broadway folks to strut their stuff. There were (and there still are) dedicated artists flying (often soaring) in shows they have created themselves that, with their bold creativity outshine a great many Broadway shows.
So, here’s to a cavalcade of talented nightclub performers, many of whom we’ve been seeing over the last twenty years and who have kept –and continue to keep — this genre alive in the trenches (and were not mentioned in Stephen Holden’s recent article): Lennie Watts, Lorinda Lisitza (who recently teamed with Ted Stafford for the exuberantly inventive Ted & Lo shows), Anthony Santelmo, Jr., Scott Coulter, Julie Reyburn, Carolyn Montgomery-Forant, Mark Nadler, Baby Jane Dexter, Natalie Douglas,Tony DeSare, and holding a hugely important place in keeping nightclub life alive and vibrant for more than a decade with his weekly Cast Party show, Jim Caruso. This is just the tip of an entertainment iceberg that does, indeed, float mostly unseen and submerged. But to them all, a tip of the hat from a couple of folks who have seen what they can do – and they do A LOT!