Theatre yesterday and today



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We're in the dog days of summer. It's very hot and many New Yorkers flee on weekends to escape the heat for the mountains or beach communities. That leaves tourists in town, taking up space on the streets and in restaurants, but God bless them—they are the ones mainly responsible for keeping some shows alive through these summer months on Broadway.

There are always a cluster of shows that hang on until the Tony Award nominations are announced in late May in hopes that they might provide a lift at the box office. Higher hopes are pegged still on the chance that performing

a number on the broadcast might encourage word of mouth. But as is always the case, some shows fail to get either the nominations or the boost, and bite the dust either prior to the Tonys or just after. This season we saw American Psycho and Tuck Everlasting shutter before the awards were handed out, and one show—the musical Disaster!—announced its closing just nine hours after word of the nominations hit the street. And once Bright Star, the original Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical, failed to win any of its five nominations, it threw in the towel two weeks after the ceremony for a run of only 109 performances.

The marquee will soon dim on a holdover from last season, the Broadway version of the Academy Award winning film musical An American in Paris. This was a well-received production that won a much-deserved Tony Award for its dances last season, the striking debut of the ballet world's Christopher Wheeldon who directed and choreographed the show. The Palace Theatre is being closed down for a retrofitting (sorry, but it's beyond my ability to explain how its stage will be lifted in order to provide a street level mall under it). Of course, if the show had been a sell-out on the order of say a Hamilton, then it would have found another theatre to move to. But since that wasn't the case, its producers announced in June that it would close the first week in January, allowing a full six months so, as its press release stated, "as many people as possible can plan to experience the uniqueness and beauty of the show before it leaves Broadway." Unfortunately, the window on that plan will close three months sooner, as the failure of business to pick up is causing its exit in October instead.

Summers are tough. The institutional theatres like the Roundabout and Manhattan Theatre Club, in both their Broadway theatres, the American Airlines and the Samuel Friedman, don't risk summer runs of new plays and wait until fall. So if you're looking at the ABC's in the theatre listings, don't be surprised that with the recent closings of a number of limited runs and revivals of straight plays, that after next weekend when Act of God, starring Sean Hayes closes, that there will only be one straight play on Broadway in August: Steven Karam's Tony Award winner for Best Play, The Humans. It's a sad state of affairs as all you need do is look at the ABC listings for the summer of 1989 (twenty-seven years ago) and you will see 7 plays on Broadway in August of that year. I haven't done the math, but that may be the last time that many plays managed to stick around amidst the intense competition of musicals, as well as competition from theatre owners looking for flashier musicals to book, playing the odds musicals can sustain themselves better than plays.

When you consider that the producers of the Tony Awards have still not figured out how to showcase numbers from plays the way they do musicals, it's part and parcel of the overall problem. Plays will always be second cousins to musicals, unless there is some kind of renaissance that takes place. All we need are Annie Baker, Christopher Durang, Tony Kushner, Tracy Letts, John Logan, Terrence McNally, Bruce Norris, Sarah Ruhl, John Patrick Shanley, Paula Vogel and Doug Wright, to name but a few, who all bring new plays to Broadway in a single season and tourists will flock in the way they do to The Lion King and Wicked.

There's no harm in dreaming, is there?

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