“High-culture unions that fight to hang on to an untenable status quo are shooting themselves in the head. Labor leaders invariably respond to managerial cries of disaster-around-the-corner by arguing that their members should not be made to suffer today for the managerial mistakes of the past. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who made the first blunder…”
Archives for April 29, 2011
I snapped this picture from the wings of the theater where Danse Russe was premiered last night by Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theater. Paul Moravec and I were waiting for the cue to take our curtain call. By then we were tired, sweaty, and immensely gratified, for it was surpassingly clear that we had a hit on our hands. Truth to tell, we knew it a few minutes after Andrew Kurtz gave the downbeat. The opening-night audience was excited and responsive right from the start–we got laughs in places where we weren’t expecting them, and dead silence everywhere we wanted it–and the applause at the end of the show merely set a seal on what the laughter had already told us.
I’m too tired to write much more, having just returned to my hotel from a riotous cast party. Come back on Monday and I’ll tell you all about it.
In the last of three drama columns for this week’s Wall Street Journal, I wrap up the current Broadway season with reviews of Baby It’s You! and The People in the Picture. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
Every jukebox musical rises or falls on the mass appeal of the songs out of which its score is stitched. If you don’t care for ’60s girl-group pop, then you’re likely to find “Baby It’s You!” tedious–but you’ll be more exasperated by the book, which takes a real-life story that even a Stephen Sondheim buff could love and turns it into a live-action comic strip so relentlessly simple-minded as to make “Anything Goes” look like a differential equation set to music.
“Baby It’s You!” is mostly about Florence Greenberg (Beth Leavel, who is terrific), a nice Jewish housewife from New Jersey who got tired of doing dishes and started her own record label. One day Mrs. Greenberg’s daughter (Kelli Barrett) told her about four black girls who sang together for fun at the neighborhood high school, and presto! The Shirelles were born. Likewise Scepter Records, which Ms. Greenberg turned into one of the great money-making music machines of the ’60s, thanks to her knack for knowing a hit when she heard one. Along the way she fell in love with Luther Dixon (Allan Louis), who wrote and produced most of the Shirelles’ records, and their scandalous love affair (Dixon was black) broke up Ms. Greenberg’s marriage….
Here comes the catch: Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, who wrote the vapid book for “Million Dollar Quartet,” have done even worse by “Baby It’s You!” Every line is as predictable as tepid canned soup. (How do we know that Mr. Greenberg is a Jew? Because he says “Oy!” a lot.) As if that weren’t bad enough, Messrs. Mutrux and Escott neglected to characterize the four Shirelles, instead turning them into a squealing quartet of interchangeable parts who exist only to sing songs, change costumes, smile and shake their collective booty….
Donna Murphy is one of the best musical-comedy actresses who ever sang a showstopper, and anything she does is worth seeing, at least while she’s onstage. That said, “The People in the Picture” is yet another addition to the seemingly endless list of Lousy Musicals of 2011, an exercise in button-pushing that takes a pair of serious subjects–Alzheimer’s disease and the Holocaust–and uses them to prove the well-known fact that even on Broadway, two wrongs don’t make a right.
The recipe for “The People in the Picture”? iTake Bubbie (Ms. Murphy), a Jewish grandmother who doesn’t get along with her divorced daughter (Nicole Parker). Add Jenny (Rachel Resheff), the perky little granddaughter to whom Bubbie is telling the story of how she once led the Warsaw Gang, a touring troupe of Polish actors who ran afoul of the Nazis. Hint at a Terrible Secret that explains why Bubbie and her daughter don’t get along. Then give Bubbie a conveniently timed case of Alzheimer’s, thus forcing her to spill the beans before it’s too late. What do you get? Two and a half hours’ worth of retchworthy glop, set to the greeting-card lyrics of Iris Rainer Dart (“It’s never been easy/It’s always been rough/I give her my life/But it’s never enough”) and the perfectly serviceable music of Mike Stoller (who is better known as the other half of Leiber & Stoller) and Artie Butler. Ms. Dart also wrote the book, about which I need say only that it actually contains the phrase “Doctor schmoctor” and a joke about Josef Mengele….
* * *
Read the whole thing here.
Donna Murphy sings “Loving You” in the original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion:
If you’re following ArtsJournal, you know all about the bankruptcy of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the apparent demise of the Syracuse Symphony and Seattle’s Intiman Theater, and all the other horror stories that have made April the cruelest month in recent memory for art in America. In my “Sightings” column for today’s Wall Street Journal, I take a look at the current situation. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
What’s the problem? In the immortal (if apocryphal) words of Sam Goldwyn, “If nobody wants to see your picture, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.” Corollary: If nobody can afford a ticket to your show, there’s nothing you can do to make them buy one. When money is tight and ticket prices keep climbing, playgoers and opera buffs will respond by staying home. Moreover, the high-culture business models of the past don’t work anymore. In particular, the subscription-based models that kept opera and theater companies and symphony orchestras afloat throughout the 20th century are no longer viable now that younger Americans are unwilling to commit in advance to attending future performances, and most of these groups are still trying to find consistently effective new ways to balance the books.
And what’s the moral of the story? Here’s part of it: High-culture unions that fight to hang on to an untenable status quo are shooting themselves in the head. Labor leaders invariably respond to managerial cries of disaster-around-the-corner by arguing that their members should not be made to suffer today for the managerial mistakes of the past. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who made the first blunder. Everybody in the culture business, union leaders included, has been guilty of chronic myopia when it comes to outmoded business models. The point is that there is no longer any alternative to root-and-branch fiscal reform. What’s more, managers and board members now know this. Increasingly, they’re willing to shut up shop altogether–or, like the Philadelphia Orchestra, declare bankruptcy–rather than purchase short-term labor peace, as they did in the past, by agreeing to contracts that they can no longer afford….
* * *
Read the whole thing here.
The opening of the Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction of the original 1913 Ballets Russes production of The Rite of Spring, with music by Igor Stravinsky, décor by Nicholas Roerich, and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. The choreography was reconstructed and staged by Millicent Hodson:
“The over-publicized bit about expression (or non-expression) was simply a way of saying that music is supra-personal and super-real and as such beyond verbal meanings and verbal descriptions. It was aimed against the notion that a piece of music is in reality a transcendental idea ‘expressed in terms of’ music, with the reductio ad absurdum implication that exact sets of correlatives must exist between a composer’s feelings and his notation. It was offhand and annoyingly incomplete, but even the stupider critics could have seen that it did not deny musical expressivity, but only the validity of a type of verbal statement about musical expressivity. I stand by the remark, incidentally, though today I would put it the other way around: music expresses itself.”
Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Expositions and Developments