Regardless of whether it should or not (cuz, y’know, ongoing pandemic and everything), Broadway is dead set on reopening, which means that Broadway’s whole vast promotional apparatus is lurching back into operation, getting us excited enough about the coming season to be willing to risk sitting next to strangers in an auditorium again. As the month of August began, the mechanics of this apparatus began making a massive amount of noise, building incessant hype for some tremendous development that was just days away from being announced. A weary theater community waited anxiously, hoping for some rescue, some resuscitation of our artform, some magic wand to wipe away all our misfortunes, in the form of this miraculous piece of news.
Turns out there’s a revival of Funny Girl next spring. Beanie Feldstein’s starring in it – she’s the one playing Monica Lewinsky in that new FX miniseries. She’ll be fine.
Of course, this was only “news” in the Broadway community for about an hour or so. Shortly thereafter, Broadway leading lady Laura Osnes was fired from a one-night benefit at Guild Hall in East Hampton (hey, I’ve worked there!) when it was learned that she had chosen not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, despite the theater’s explicit policies and her own previous assurances to the contrary. Shortly thereafter, she was dismissed from an upcoming “Disney Princess” tour – or withdrew, there’s disputed accounts – for the same reason. It’s an ongoing epic, which you can read about here.
And shortly after all of that, a number of women began coming forward to detail their history with another Broadway leading lady, Alice Ripley (Tony-winner for Next to Normal), leveling accusations of her grooming them and maintaining inappropriate contact with them. You can read about this outcry here: it’s a complicated story, so I don’t want to say much other than that the story exists, and has resulted in upcoming performances of Ms. Ripley’s being cancelled amid the whole furor.
So that’s been August so far. And since I don’t have any first-hand information about any of these stories I don’t really want to spread rumor or gossip – though I would mention that maintaining healthy boundaries and getting vaccinated against Covid are both good things, which I would have thought would have gone without saying, and yet here we are.
But I do keep thinking about Funny Girl.
Not that I’m looking forward to Funny Girl. I’m not not looking forward to it, either – it’s simply not a show on my radar, and that seems to be true of most of my colleagues and friends, who greeted that particular piece of news with a collective shrug. And that shrug, really, is the point.
Because Broadway’s hype machine, its Powers That Be, were convinced we’d be delighted by it. That there’d be a great chorus of hosannas. That this would be the sign that at long last, Broadway – the traditional Broadway model of splashy star-driven musicals with name recognition for tourists – was back, baby.
And the clear response of the past few weeks – the response that the Powers That Be keep refusing to hear, to their professional peril – is that we don’t want it to be.
It’s elitist and expensive. It’s provided a safe haven to too many scoundrels for too long. And as we start the long and painful process of rebuilding after everything’s that’s happened over the past year and a half, we can’t help but notice that Broadway’s Powers That Be are going out of their way not to notice. To pretend that everything’s back the way it was, and the way it was is just fine for everybody.
It’s clearly not – advance sales for those long-running, tourist-friendly shows which have announced their re-openings, and on which that version of Broadway relies, are significantly down. (You can actually get Hamilton tickets. ‘Nuff said.) The fury which Osnes and Ripley have received indicate an audience which no longer has any patience for or loyalty to that old model, and is more than happy to burn it down. So if we actually care about theater – not Broadway, necessarily, but the art and history of theater – than we need to find a better model of it going forward.
I’m sure that model can accommodate Funny Girl somewhere.