Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nothing to Dance About

Those who would like to dismiss me as an impossible-to-please curmudgeon are going to love this post, but never let it be said I was afraid to state my honest opinion.

For most of my conscious life, each fall brought the fresh excitement of a new theatre season. But in recent years, that once-reliable excitement has been fading -- and I fear it has finally landed at point zero. I cannot pretend any real interest in the musicals heading to Broadway in the months ahead. The score to Billy Elliot is so tuneless and witless that I have no reason to waste two and a half hours of my life seeing the show attached to it. Every bit of 13 that I have heard so far has left me cringing, and as much as I love classic musical comedies, I see no compelling reason to drag out Guys and Dolls yet again. Oliver Platt as Nathan Detroit? Good grief -- if Nathan Lane were dead, he'd be spinning in his grave . . . as it is, he at least need not fear memories of his brilliant performance in that role being matched, let alone eclipsed. Much as I enjoy anything related to Harry Potter, I have no desire to see Daniel Radcliffe's genitals in a staging of Equus that drew universal critical shrugs. I'll admit that a musical version of 9 to 5 has some comic potential, but I can't help feeling that this project has come along a few decades too late to make much sense. The casting for Pal Joey does not entice me, the very idea of Shrek as a musical leaves me queasy, and I have to wonder at the wisdom of reviving West Side Story with (if rumors prove true) a 30 year old playing Tony.

And speaking of Bernstein musicals, I will attend the Encores production of On the Town with real trepidation. Thanks to the large Encores subscriber base, this concert staging will doubtless be well attended, but I suspect it will merely remind everyone why every New York revival of this show has been a resounding critical and financial failure. The original Jerome Robbins choreography is dazzling to see, but the creaky plot and cliche-ridden characters make for meager theatre.

The one bit of Broadway news that has tweaked my interest so far is the announcement that Noel Coward's sublime comedy Blithe Spirit is coming back with Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett, helmed by Michael Blakemore. Now THAT is a combination I can get excited about -- all three are perfect choices for this material. If they can come up with an equally interesting actor to play Madame Arcati, the potential for theatrical magic will be damn near unbearable. Bring it on!

I know there will almost certainly be a few surprises between here and next June. Perhaps someone fascinating will follow Lupone in Gypsy (a most unenviable task for whoever might dare it), and a new musical may take off in a non-profit venue and become Broadway's next Urinetown. In the meantime, this will be a great season to catch up on my reading and DVD collecting . . .

Does that make me a curmudgeon? Possibly. But I refuse to believe that it is curmudgeonly to wish for something exciting in a season that promises yawning mediocrity.

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