Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

The Sorry State of Broadway

Waiting among thousands for the Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert at Millennium Park last week, I scanned the ten shows that were to be reviewed that evening and couldn’t believe how utterly lame Broadway has become.  Of the ten shows, there wasn’t one fully original production.  Not one.  Instead, we were treated to the equivalent of a classic rock band, feeding on the familiar, with not one surprise in the lot.

Here’s the breakdown:

Continuing the trend that was perfected in the 90s, five of the musicals are based on movies: Once, Ghost, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf and Flashdance.

Three shows are showcases of already-familiar music: We Will Rock You, Motown and Million Dollar Quartet.

Two of the shows are productions of shows that are at least ten years old: Wicked and Evita.

There you have it. 

This is hardly a new phenomenon on Broadway.  For over twenty years now, the high cost of musical flops have spurred producers to rely on a built-in audience, spawning shows such as the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Big, The Producers, Spamalot, Billy Elliot, The Adam’s Family, etc.  This year, all four nominees for best musical were based on movies: winner Kinky Boots, Matilda, A Christmas Story and Bring it On.  But hey, at least these musicals had some original music.  More and more, there are the jukebox musicals, showcasing music the audience is already familiar with.  Building off the success of Mama Mia and Jersey Boys, musical lovers have been bombarded with these types of productions in recent years: Movin’ Out, All Shook Up, Ring of Fire, Rock of Ages, etc.

As for Evita and Wicked, both are both original shows that were phenomenally successful.  Kudos to Stephen Schwartz and the writing due of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  Can you write something new now?

I wondered if perhaps the city of Chicago didn’t compare to the originality showcased in New York, but shows currently running (or soon to be running) in the Big Apple are the following:

Annie, Big Fish, The Bridges of Madison County, Bullets over Broadway, Cinderella, Chicago, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots, Les Miserables, The Lion King, Mama Mia, Matilda, Motown, Newsies, Once, The Phantom of the Opera, Rock of Ages, Rocky (seriously) and Wicked.

Shows like this year’s best musical winner, Kinky Boots, and Big Fish, should perhaps get a free pass, because they’re not based on a blockbuster movie, and therefore are produced not with a built-in audience in mind, but with the thought that the musical will be more successful than the film.  In a sense, this is no different than if the musical had been based on a book.  I saw Big Fish last spring in Chicago, and am hopeful that it generates an interest in Manhattan (see my review).   But the likes of 2011 winner The Book of Mormon and 2008 winner In the Heights are all too rare.  

When will Broadway begin to wag the dog of Hollywood instead of dutifully following its master?

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved