Saturday, December 06, 2008
It's not a trip to New York without catching some shows and while the main objective was the Thanksgiving Parade, that didn't mean we couldn't his some theaters.
The tough economic times are especially rough on the theater. But their trouble is the fan's opportunity. I went straight from the Fox and Friends broadcast to the newly renovated TKTS booth. Lot's of shows were "on the board" at half price. After consulting with my wife and son by phone, we compromised on Young Frankenstein, or as the full title goes The New Mel Brook Musical: Young Frankenstein. Mel is nothing if not self-effacing.
Despite only buying tickets that morning for a Wednesday matinee, we had fantastic seats in row M on the aisle. At intermission, I observed that the back four rows of the orchestra were completely empty.
The musical follows the movie plot very closely, only in color, not black and white. With the opening of Shrek, there are now three shows on Broadway where one one of the stars has to wear green greasepaint.
While not the original cast, and Frau Blücher (neigh!) was an understudy, all the performers were excellent. Roger Bart and Cory English in particular bore striking similarities to Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman. Not so good were the songs. Out of context, they would be banal at best. In the show, the just underscore how dependent Mel Brooks is on penis size jokes and other double entendres for his humor.
Verdict: Rent the movie instead and appreciate the comic genius of the original rather than the singing and dancing monster that has been cobbled together out of spare parts.
Somewhere between the Disneyfied production of Mary Poppins and the R-rated topics of Spring Awakening is the tweener-aimed demographic of this audience. Essentially an Afterschool Special set to music, the show is the story of a boy whose bar mitzvah is ruined when his divorced mom moves him from New York to Indiana where he has to try to fit in at Dan Quayle High, home of the Fighting Quails. As you can imagine, it doesn't go as planned. All the expected sterotypes are on parade: the brain, the nerd, the jock and his lackeys, the good-girl, the queen bee bitch, and more.
The cast is astoundingly talented. Many of them have previous Broadway experience including some that have been in the original casts of the family-oriented shows elsewhere on The Great White Way. The star has a certain Zac Ephronish charm and I fully expect at least one or two to go onto bigger and better things. The show itself is a brisk 90 minutes long with no intermission which agrees well with the 8-14 target audience but is a little light to justify full price Broadway show prices.
My wife had gotten some discount tickets online for this show on the aisle in the fourth row. Seeing the stage was no problem since much of the audience needed booster seats. This show was in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre theater which is one of the smaller venues in the Theater District and usually shows plays like Three Days Of Rain (where we say Julia Roberts). Despite the small venue, the side sections of the orchestra were only half full and the balcony was nearly empty.
Part of that may have been due to the time of the performance. Since Broadway is (mostly) dark for Thanksgiving, most shows have a bonus Friday matinee to make up the missing Thursday performance. This is one of the great secrets to seeing shows on Thanksgiving weekend. Between Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there are about seven chances to see a show. Throw in the shows that do have Thanksgiving performance, you can see shows all weekend long until your eyeballs bulge.
Verdict: Look for this one coming to a community theater production near you, but without the future superstar talent.
Since 13 was so short, we were able to race out of the matinee and get in line for discount tickets to Gypsy. Evening show tickets go on sale at 3 pm and some shows were selling out by the time we got to the front of the line at about 5:30. We were able to get Gypsy tickets in the middle of the mezzanine. The St James theater is one of the older ones and the seats redefine uncomfortable. It's nearly impossible for a person of normal stature to sit without their knees pressed against the row in front. My wife was squeezed between me and a lady that while not huge, was much, much larger that the average theater goer from a hundred years ago. At intermission, my wife moved over to some unsold seats on the far right section of the theater and said she still had a great view.
We saw a touring production of the Tyne Daly version about twenty years ago. Bernadette Peters also tried to fill Ethel Merman's shoes a few years back. The draw for this production is Patti LuPone, Broadway fixture and the original Evita, playing the ultimate stage mother. All three leads in this show won Tony Awards and you can see why. Laura Benanti in particular is stunning as Gypsy Rose Lee who has to transform from the mousy tomboy to the show-stopping stripper.
Patti plays Mama Rose a little lighter and less brassy than the classic Ethel Merman performance which brings a little extra touch of humanity. Her standing ovations are well-earned.
Verdict: LuPone is contracted through March when this show will probably close rather than try to go on without her. Catch it while you can even if you have seen this classic before.
A lot of the shows I have seen in recent years like Avenue Q and Spamalot are scheduled to close in the next few weeks. Based on our eavesdropping on the TKTS staff, some shows like Wicked and The Lion King are still doing well and never put tickets on discount. But the mid-level shows are taking a beating.
Clearly high prices are to blame. In the time I have been seeing shows, the top ticket prices have gone from $90 to over $120 and that is before a plethora of silly fees and charges kick-in. Even more assiduously, once a show has become a hit (and sometimes before), the producers hold back the best seats to sell through captive scalpers at prices up to $400 each. We didn't pay full price for any of our shows and say a wide variety of good to excellent shows. Most of which won't be around this time next year. There are bargains to be had, but you have to grab them quick.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What movie, story or historical event should be made into a musical?