Baz Luhrmann's heralded production of La Bohème, with its truckload of rhapsodic notices, seems to have been the show that's tipped the balance. Suddenly, what seemed to be a dismal, perplexing Broadway season looks like an almost fantastic one. Sure, a lot of the fare on the Great White Way isn't actually, well, theatre per se, but be that as it may the lanes surrounding Shubert Alley are pervaded with the sweet smell of success.
The season has now produced three potential hit shows which rely heavily on music: Hairspray, Movin' Out and La Bohème. Typically, one 12-month period in Times Square produces one big hit musical and one lesser hit musical. All of the three above mentioned shows look to have healthy runs ahead of them. Add the well-reviewed plays Frankie and Johnny and Medea to the tally, and Broadway is boasting a fairly decent batting average—a heartening conclusion that not even this week's reception of the star-crossed show Dance of the Vampires could dampen.
But something even more remarkable has come over the theatre district. Opening by opening, grade by grade, Broadway—so often derided, and not without justification, as a repository of mainstream pabulum—has transformed itself into a temple of high art. In La Bohème, you have the best opera in New York City. Movin' Out contained the town's most exciting work in modern dance. Hairspray and The Producers are first-rate exemplars of the art of musical comedy. Urinetown is superlative satire. Metamorphoses is as experimental and avant garde—and good—as anything the shady Off-Off Broadway dens have produced of late. There is a great drama in The Goat (for a few more days, anyway). Hell, the Greeks (Medea) are even back on Broadway. All the Street needs is a choice bit of Shakespeare to fulfill what ought to be its mission as a forum for the best in stagework.
Of course, all it takes is for a couple more Dance of the Vampires to open to sully this air of lofty achievement. But for the moment, Broadway's line-up makes for a nice Christmas present.
All the positivity put forth in the previous paragraphs notwithstanding, I have to admit that the biggest story of the week was the drubbing Vampires got from the critics. It you wish to know more about the depressing circumstances surrounding this event, please turn to the Dec. 13 Friday theatre columns in the city's dailies and you'll get your fill. To those papers' accounts I would only add that the theatre community's love of a Flop For The Ages is one of its more fascinating character traits. In the days leading up to its opening night, some people were at the Minskoff Theatre to take in the new musical by the name of Dance of the Vampires and witness Michael Crawford's return to the stage. But most were there in hopes of seeing with their own beady little eyes the next Carrie. (The Times' Ben Brantley even invoked that famous disaster in his review). This attendance upon failure is apparently all done for the privilege of being able to smilingly say to future generations of theatre aficionados, "I was there the day the Hindenberg blew up." I am not aware of bibliophiles who read novels they passionately desire to be terrible. And music fans, to my knowledge, rarely enjoy themselves when listening to a misfired release by a favorite artist.
The show folk, they are a funny people.
—By Robert Simonson