So, there’s a lot going on at the moment.
That’s usually the case, of course; since this is my actor/playwright blog, I’ll try and keep things restricted to my theatrical life, and theatrical life here in New York in general. That’s still a lot. Much of it is too personal and mundane to discuss; you probably don’t want to hear about all my research trips to the library this weekend, and the script I’m doing all this research for is still only in the planning stage. There’s also things I probably can’t talk about – the venue where Tuesdays at Nine, my Tuesday night reading series, takes place – we’re back! Come check us out here – is at the center of a protracted legal fight and its future is profoundly uncertain, and I’m not sure if I can say anything more without there potentially being an adverse effect on that aforementioned fight. But even so, it’s September, and with it the start of the fall theatrical season. There’s new shows going up, and casting controversies aplenty, and emerging new writers and new development opportunities and all sorts of theatrical activity, despite all the challenges – be they economic, pandemic-related, or the just the usual difficulties of twenty-first centry life – they may face.
And nobody is talking about any of that.
Instead, everybody is freaking out that Phantom of the Opera has posted a closing date.
Yes, on February 23 of next year – thirty five years and change after its opening night in 1988 – the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical will play its final Broadway performance. It will mark the end of the longest theatrical run in Broadway history. The end of an era. There are folks involved in the technical aspects of the show – the dressers, the running crew, the electricians, etc – for whom their entire career has been spent in service of this show.
It’s wild to contemplate, of course, especially with so many other eras seeming to draw to a close all of a sudden. (People are still broken up about the whole Elizabeth II thing.) But it’s also an opportunity. And I don’t just mean that the Majestic Theatre is about to become available (it’ll probably just go to some new Andrew Lloyd Webber import anyway). Nor am I referring to how this beloved piece of bombast will now be available for regional productions, allowing many more venues to mount the work (and hopefully finance their more adventurous programming in the process). No, I’m referring to the chance for an influx of new work, new opportunities, new voices. All the folks whose lives have been tied up with Phantom are now available to workshop new plays and musicals. The whole vast apparatus that’s existed for longer than many of my colleagues have been alive, designed to keep this one show propped up, is now available to shepherd new pieces through the development process, to get new writers in front of the public, to get remarkable new roles to the folks who’ve served as Carlottas and Firmins for all these years. It’s the whole nature of theatre – every ending, and all shows inevitably end, holds the promise of a new beginning. It can be a source of hope, if you look at it that way.
And a shocking number of my peers are refusing to look at it that way. I keep hearing nothing but “oh my god, the show is closing, all those jobs are gone, the tourists aren’t coming to New York and we’re not going to have Broadway any more.”
Well, honestly, it’s going to be a while before tourists come back. And “Broadway” will definitely feel those economic pangs for a while (it’s the primary reason for Phantom’s closing). But as I’ve said plenty of times before, theater is more than just Broadway. And the argument can be made (and I’m making it) that a theater that’s no longer able to simply pander to the tourist crowd, but has to address the interests and concerns of its local community, is a good thing. Or at least it could be, if we stopped being in thrall to some entity from our past, that perhaps wasn’t as wonderful as we’d always assumed it was. If ambitious artists would go ahead and seize the opportunity.
I really hope we choose to do that. I’m not sure how you choose anything else.