It’s easy to gripe about the state of Broadway these days. Trust me, I do it a lot. Original musicals are a rarity. Juke Box shows and movie adaptations dominate the Great White Way, cotton candy and bubble gum pop for the tourist crowd. Fluff trumps substance.
Who’s to blame for this? My personal favorite scapegoats are producers. “If only producers had some balls,” I whine after watching an MTV telecast of a musical about a girl who goes to law school to impress her boyfriend, “Then we’d actually see the high-quality, in-your-face, change-your-life kind of musicals that we should be seeing.”
So, who’s to blame when producers with balls take a risk on something daring, audacious, and effing beautiful and it still “fails” on Broadway?
The short answer: me.
The Scottsboro Boys is a triumph of modern musical theater. It’s brilliant, it’s bold, it’s provocative, it’s moving, it’s surprising, it’s a whole bunch of adjectives that collectively still do not do it justice. And most of all, it’s a story that needs to be told, told in an incredibly powerful manner. It’s the best musical I’ve seen in years. In no way, NO WAY, can this show be described as a failure.
The cast, Kander and Ebb’s score, David Thompson’s book, Susan Stroman’s direction/choreography, the design… it’s not perfect, but it’s about as close to perfect a production as you’ll find on Broadway today.
And yet, producers announced this week that the show will close December 12th, after 49 performances and 29 previews.
Does that make the production a “failure”? Does it mean that we need some alternate model for producing smaller, edgier musicals than the Broadway one? Those are conversations I’ll save for another time.
The simple fact of the matter is this: People are going to lose money producing a brilliant piece of theater. And, more devastatingly, A LOT of people are going to miss out on the chance to see The Scottsboro Boys.
It’s an absolute crime, a soul-crushing travesty, that this show is closing, while elsewhere lighthearted Abba tunes will be sung in seeming perpetuity.
Yes, the show had a healthy run at the Vineyard, and no, the point of creating art should not be to turn a profit. You can even make the argument that it was a mistake to try to transfer such a risky show. But I’m not buying it. This show deserves to be seen, and it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Broadway gives it the best chance to do that.
I refuse to believe, POSITIVELY WILL NOT ACCEPT the idea that there are not enough people out there who want to be moved, to be challenged, to be changed by a musical in order to keep this show running.
It’s going to be easy to blame the marketing of the show, or the subject matter, claiming that it’s just too tough of a sell for Broadway. Bullshit. Here’s all the marketing a show like this should need: “It’s fucking amazing. Go see it. Now.”
Years down the road, pundits will shake their heads and say, “The show simply didn’t find its audience.” I’ll argue differently. The audience simply didn’t find its show.
If we are going to complain about the state of Broadway, then we, as an audience, AS A THEATER COMMUNITY, have a responsibility to actively seek out productions that are extraordinary, to support them by paying for tickets, and to promote the hell out of them through word of mouth, social media, blackmail, whatever’s necessary to advance the cause of innovative, exceptional theater.
I didn’t do that with The Scottsboro Boys. I waited until the closing notice had been posted to buy my ticket. I should have rushed out immediately. I should have been the first in line. I should have shouted from the rooftops.
I didn’t do that.
And, apparently, I wasn’t the only one.