In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column, I take a look at a little-known survey that sheds light on the future of theater in America. Here’s an excerpt.
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As theater lovers wait restlessly for Broadway to resume performances after the coronavirus pandemic has been brought under control, the revival of “The Music Man,” which stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster and is now set to open on February 10, 2022 (yes, I know, we’ll see), is the show that has stirred up the most excitement. That’s no surprise, since it’s a great musical with a dream cast. But for me, the most interesting news about the American musical is not the latest rescheduling of an as-yet-hypothetical revival: It’s the release of a statistical survey that, read carefully, serves as a crystal ball in which you can see the possible future of American theater.
Dramatics, a monthly magazine for theater students and teachers, has been publishing since 1938 an annual survey of the musicals and plays most often produced by American high schools. Thousands of drama teachers throughout the country supply Dramatics with the data for these lists, and National Public Radio has taken on the daunting task of compiling all of the surveys, thus making it possible to see how the favorites have changed over time….
You may wonder why anyone other than their parents should care about what musicals high-schoolers are performing. Certainly most journalists seem not to: So far as I know, NPR is the only major media outlet to take note of the most recent of these surveys. But I think they’re making a mistake. According to Dramatics, nearly 50 million people attend high-school musicals each year, most of them young people for whom they serve as an introduction to the musical as a genre. It stands to reason, then, that the shows they see and in which they perform today will have a powerful influence on the ones they’ll want to see on Broadway ten years from now—or 40….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
A scene from Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird: