TT: Busman’s holiday

Now that I’m a drama critic, I rarely get to go to working rehearsals, which I love to do, so it was a great pleasure to fly into the Raleigh-Durham airport last night, jump in a car, drive straight to the stage door of the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, and charge into the theater just in time to hear Robert Weiss, the artistic director of Carolina Ballet, speak the following words into a microphone: “Dancers, we’re going to try to go all the way through without stopping–unless there’s a train wreck.” I sighed with delight and plopped into a seat just behind Weiss and Lynne Taylor-Corbett, the choreographers of Monet Impressions, who were furiously dictating last-minute fix-this notes to their assistants as the dancers on stage ran through Weiss’ “The Gardens at Giverny” and Taylor-Corbett’s “Picnic on the Grass.”

The New York Times ran a half-page preview
of Monet Impressions yesterday, so I’ll let their excellent reporter walk you through the show:

After carefully trolling the North Carolina Museum of Art’s “Monet in Normandy” exhibition, seeking inspiration for a new dance, the choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett ended up using a painting not in the show: Monet’s D

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TT: Reality is the word

No, I didn’t watch the debut of Grease: You’re the One That I Want–I was otherwise occupied–but I wrote a “Sightings” column about it for The Wall Street Journal last fall. In case you didn’t see that piece, here are some pertinent excerpts:

It was inevitable: “American Idol” is coming to Broadway. Not literally, of course, but “You’re the One That I Want,” the reality TV series in production at NBC, is the next best thing, a program whose viewers will pick a pair of unknowns to star in a Broadway musical. The musical in question is “Grease,” the rock-and-roll romp that ran from 1972 to 1980, then returned to the Great White Way in 1994 and played for four more years. It might actually be good–Kathleen Marshall, the director, staged the brilliant Broadway revivals of “The Pajama Game” and “Wonderful Town”–but even if it’s bad, it’ll be big. Six million Brits watched the BBC series on which “You’re the One That I Want” is based, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” If the NBC version is comparably popular in this country, it will be seen by 30 million Americans. That’s a whole lot of potential ticket-buyers.

Is “Grease” the future of Broadway? If so, it’s a “future” that to some extent has already happened. Many theatrical producers are using focus groups, tracking polls, and other sophisticated research tools to make marketing decisions about the shows they present. In the past, such information has only been used to develop ad campaigns–but as the public response to “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” made clear, it can also be used to make artistic decisions….

Is that such a bad thing? After all, “Grease” isn’t Shakespeare, or even Neil Simon. It’s an innocuous confection whose sole purpose is to amuse, and I won’t get even slightly bent out of shape if 30 million TV viewers should suddenly take an interest in the burning question of who will play Sandy and Danny in the Broadway revival. As Samuel Johnson told us long ago, “The Stage but echoes back the publick Voice./The Drama’s Laws the Drama’s Patrons give,/For we that live to please, must please to live.” In any case, there are better places than Broadway to see serious theater, not only in New York but in Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and the countless other American cities where first-rate regional companies can be found. Anyone who looks to Broadway for creative leadership is looking under the wrong bushel.

I’m not a cultural relativist. I believe devoutly in the superiority of Shakespeare to Neil Simon. But I’m also a realist, and I keep a close eye on the myriad ways in which information-age capitalism is transforming American life by maximizing consumer choice. That’s why I’m interested in “You’re the One That I Want.” I don’t know whether “Grease” will be better or worse for having been cast by popular demand–but I have no doubt that its opening night will mark a sea change in the culture of commercial theater in America.

Needless to say, I’ll be there.

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TT: So you want to see a show?

Here’s my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.


Avenue Q* (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)

A Chorus Line* (musical, PG-13/R, adult subject matter, reviewed here)

Company (musical, PG-13/R, adult subject matter and situations, reviewed here)

The Drowsy Chaperone* (musical, G/PG-13, mild sexual content and a profusion of double entendres, reviewed here)

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)

The Vertical Hour (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here, closes Apr. 1)

Voyage (The Coast of Utopia, part 1)* (drama, G, too intellectually complex to be suitable for children of any age, reviewed here, closes May 12)


The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children old enough to enjoy a love story, reviewed here)

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris (musical revue, R, adult subject matter and sexual content, reviewed here)

Meet Me in St. Louis (musical, G, very family-friendly, reviewed here, extended through Feb. 18)

The Voysey Inheritance (drama, G, adult subject matter, reviewed here, closes Feb. 10)


Room Service (comedy, G, reasonably family-friendly but a bit complicated for youngsters, reviewed here, closes Jan. 29)

Two Trains Running (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here, closes Jan. 28)


Slava’s Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here, closes Sunday)

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TT: Almanac

“Good plays drive bad playgoers crazy.”

Brooks Atkinson, Theater Arts (August 1956)

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