A Look Back: La Cage Aux Folles (musical)

  • A Look Back: La Cage Aux Folles (musical)

Another Japanese revival of the popular La Cage Aux Folles is opening soon, so I figured it was a good time to rerun my modest rewrite. The musical is great fun, but I’ve always been bothered by its preachiness. It shakes a virtual finger to tell us (rather than subtly lead us) to love gays and hate bigots and so forth. As I noted, that “is partly a function of the changing times, a trend that the musical itself helped bring about”. But it’s looking more like a period piece than the pure farce intended in the French film (I haven’t seen the original French play). The French are clearly much more relaxed about sexual matters like this – the film dates from the 1970s, when openly gay-themed shows in English were pretty rare – and their approach was more cunning in underlining the couple’s basic humanity.

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A Look Back: Young Frankenstein

  • A Look Back: Young Frankenstein

I’m pleased to see that Young Frankenstein has opened triumphantly in London in a significantly revised version from the less celebrated Broadway original. I’ve always loved the movie, which I saw in its original run, and a stage show seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, the New York version, which I saw in previews almost precisely ten years ago (Oct 15, 2007), opened against impossible expectations in the wake of the same creative team’s phenomenally successful The Producers, and the producers did themselves no favors by announcing outrageous premium prices (then still a budding concept) before the show even opened. The reaction was perhaps inevitably less than hoped. And I have to say that the middling reception was justified. Continue reading

Premium tickets: Don’t bring us your poor

  • Premium tickets: Don’t bring us your poor

10/10/17 (Tues)

Add another exclamation point to Hello, Dolly! The NY Times reports that premium tickets to the mega-hit between now and the departure of superstar Bette Midler in January will go for an eye-popping $998. That “98” sounds like Walmart marking its prices just short of the next dollar mark, and it would be nice to think that the producers are embarrassed enough to want to avoid four figures. But we know, of course, that they don’t care a whit about what anyone thinks given the overwhelming demand and limited supply for their tickets (which will actually cost $1,009 with Ticketmaster’s usurious charges, reaching four figures anyway).

Once upon a time, the theater was at least nominally an egalitarian business: you stood in line, you got your tickets when your turn came around. You knew that everyone else in an orchestra seat paid the same as you did (other than perhaps discounted day seats). Black, white, male, female, American, foreign, tall, short: everyone had an equal chance at getting a ticket. Yes, scalpers always existed, and we all knew that the rich weren’t standing in any line for their tickets. But we could comfort ourselves with the knowledge that scalping at outrageous prices was at least illegal. Now it’s the producers themselves who are charging those prices, claiming that they’re being deprived of all that illegal money. Got it? Instead of finding ways to prevent illegitimate activity, they’ve simply made it legitimate.

They have every right to do so, of course; no one is forcing the public to buy tickets, and allowing supply/demand to determine prices is the very basis of capitalism. The limited supply of tickets has to be allocated somehow, and doing that through pricing is no less legitimate than though first-come, first-served, i.e., time vs. money. What that means in real life, though, is that like elsewhere in our society, the rich go to the front of the ticket line, and you, the not-rich, go to the back. The theatrical community no longer even pretends to be treating everyone equally. Fair enough. But when the largely left-of-center Broadway community goes on about diversity and the poor and undocumented immigrants and all that, their words ring awfully hollow.

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Prince of Broadway: Wish List

Reviewing Prince of Broadway in Tokyo a few years back, I had made some suggestions on how the creators might have approached the material. I had been hoping for interesting tidbits on the art of producing/directing or even backstage stories rather than just random songs in their original stagings. Harold Prince wanted to present the “arc” of his shows by staging representative numbers, but setting aside whether that’s even possible, that’s not what we got, at least in Tokyo (does “The Ladies Who Lunch” really show the arc of Company, for example?).  And it’s not necessarily what we wanted.

With the show on Broadway now (apparently in much the same format), I’ve been asked — challenged, really — to elaborate. I like a dare, so here are a few examples of the kind of show I would have liked to have seen. I don’t pretend to be a writer – I took these from vague recollections of articles and interviews with a few quotes thrown in and made up most of the rest – but I wasn’t as interested in the details as in conveying the general concept. Hopefully it will get the point across.

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Aladdin (Japanese version)

  • アラジン (Aladdin)

8/8/15 (Sat), Tokyo

I had heard good things about this production of Aladdin, which is completely sold out for nearly a year in advance. I’m always wary of the Gekidan Shiki group because of its Kabuki-like acting style, but as a fan of the movie and still not having seen the show on Broadway, I accepted quickly when a friend came up with a last-minute ticket. His tickets came apparently from a fan from Shizuoka who is seeing this for her seventh time and had two extra seats. I was surprised at the relative lack of children in the audience, but I suppose normal families have no chance against the many rabid Shiki fans like her who are willing to travel an hour and a half on the Shinkansen dozens of times to see the same show. A sad fact for theater fans, but Disney (whose The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid are also successfully managed in Japan by Shiki) must be laughing all the way to the bank.

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A look back: Pacific Overtures in Tokyo (太平洋序曲)

A look back: Pacific Overtures in Tokyo (太平洋序曲)

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(I discovered that an article I wrote back in 2001 for the Sondheim Review (scroll down) is still available online, so I decided to link to it here. I discuss the innovative Tokyo production of the Japan-themed Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures, which later moved to Broadway in both Japanese and English versions. The latter was doomed by a poor choice of venue, though it did win a Tony nomination for Best Revival. Here are my thoughts on its Tokyo debut.)

The idea of a Tokyo production of Pacific Overtures has something of a Victor/Victoria quality about it: a Japanese production of an American musical about the Japanese reaction to the arrival of Americans in Japan.

This is not quite like bringing a Japanese “Pearl Harbor Memories” to Honolulu, but it is true that the momentous changes that Commodore Perry’s arrival helped foment, a quaint story for Americans, are a vital part of the Japanese national identity. Indeed, many of the events and characters portrayed in the show – Japan’s self-imposed isolation from the world, Manjiro, the Tokugawa shogunate, the Meiji revolution and its consequences – are as familiar to any Japanese schoolchild as George Washington and the Revolutionary War are to Americans.

Even so, this is different from Americans enjoying a production of 1776. Because the show was written by Americans for American audiences, the different perspective makes a Japanese production a challenge in some unexpected ways. In October [2001], in a production directed by Amon Miyamoto, Pacific Overtures was given its Japanese premiere at The Pit, a 342-seat space in Tokyo’s New National Theatre.

It was an unquestioned critical and popular triumph for Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, who attended the final performances, as well as the Japanese creative staff.

Moreover, it certainly shed new light on the show. Watching “Someone In A Tree,” the first-act song about varying perspectives, I had a sudden image of Harold Prince in a tree and Miyamoto under the floorboards, both looking at the script. In any event, judging from the video of the original Broadway production and the text (used in Tokyo) of the off-Broadway version, I can say that the Japanese show is a radical rethink.

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