The Broadway musical. It’s a truly American art form, like jazz, or apple pie. Or NASCAR. Since the beginning of the last century, hundreds of thousands of Americans, and foreigners, have journeyed to the Great White Way. Many see it as a place where dreams can come true, while others see it as something to do in between the Statue of Liberty and an early dinner at the Hard Rock Café.
The last decade has seen a marked growth in the musical form. Some might go so far as to call it a Renaissance, if only perhaps for the considerable amount of revivals since the year 2000. Some include “Oklahoma!,” “Gypsy,” “Assassins,” “West Side Story,” “South Pacific” and “Gypsy” again.
The ’50s rock musical “Grease” was revived in 2007, starring two actors chosen by American TV viewers on a reality show. This can only be explained by a shocking shortage of talented actors already living in New York City. Other signs of these unexpected talent droughts can be seen when American Idol runners up are forced to take the stage. Here’s looking at you, Constantine Maroulis.
The original 1971 production of “Grease” was one of the first rock musicals, and the form has continued to thrive in the past 10 years. The advent of the “jukebox musical” can shoulder much of the responsibility. A “jukebox musical,” for the ignorant reader, is a show crafted around the canon of an already established pop or rock group. Some notable examples are “Mamma Mia!,” “Good Vibrations,” “Movin’ Out” and the Tony-award-winning “Jersey Boys.” New York Times theater reviewers Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood were contacted for this article to comment on the ascendence of the “jukebox musical.” There was no response. I don’t want to put words in their mouths. But surely Brantley’s silence can only show his full support for the medium, and his hope that one day soon his own script, “Makin’ My Dreams Come True: The Hall & Oates Musical,” will finally find willing producers. Charlie “Dancing Queen” Isherwood was clearly too busy seeing “Mamma Mia!” again to surf this reporter’s google wave.
Another form of the rock musical that has found a home on Broadway is the supposed “original” show. These are brought to the stage by those who presume that they can create music and lyrics better than those that already line the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Some of these chumps actually luck out and receive “critical acclaim” and “audiences.” One such writer is Steven Sater, who won a Tony for Best Book of a Musical for his “groundbreaking” work, “Spring Awakening.”
“I think what Spring Awakening did is it brought a different demographic to the theater,” Sater said. “And it showed producers that different kinds of musicals can be succesful.”
Perhaps this is true, but an “original musical” still cannot hold up to the titan of Broadway musicals. Sure, you’ve got your Sondheims, your Schwartzes, your Lloyd Webbers, if you will. But the true king is known the world over.
His name is Disney.
“Disney is a big force on Broadway,” Richard Czaja, co-president of Stahl Real Estate, a company that owns half of Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theater on West 46th Street, said. The theater has most recently hosted productions of “Beauty and The Beast,” which filled houses from 1994 to 2007, followed by The Little Mermaid, which featured simulated underwater swimming via the heely sneaker-skate footwear. Additionally, Czaja is the father of identical twins Andrew and Emma Czaja ’12. Set to open at the Lunt-Fontanne next is a musical adaptation of the Addams Family, starring Nathan Lane of “Producers” fame. The advance ticket sales according to the elder Czaja are “doing very well.”
Czaja was asked how often he and his family attend musicals. “We go a fair amount,” he replied.
Indeed, people flock to the theater, and have continued to do so in this — the first decade of the millennium. Revenue has continued to grow as the years wear on. Even in this harrowing recession, when jobs are being lost and banks can’t foot the bill, millions of American’s bravely line up to watch their favorite stars on stage. The kick lines soldier on, the divas step fearlessly into the spot light. And the show goes on.