“The end of Broadway . . . blah, blah, blah.”

The NY Times review of the strangely suspenseful Legally Blonde reality show ended with this old chestnut . . .

. . . I’ll still be watching, even if a victory by either one takes us another step closer to the end of Broadway as we know it.

Really?  That’s the conclusion?  That old hackneyed “end of Broadway” whine that is usually saved for closing time at Marie’s Crisis?

Despite what I think of the NY Times as an advertising vehicle, I still think their articles are well written and edited, which is why I was shocked to see this cliche slip through the editorial cracks.

Here’s my issue with it . . .

The review seems to be preaching about the commercialization of Broadway musicals, as if the medium is too sacred a cow to exploit in this manner.  This isn’t the first time members of the press and many others have made this argument over reality shows, star casting, discount promotions and more.

My point is not whether it’s too commercial or not too commercial, or whether reality shows have a place for the theater or not.  We’ll save that for another blog.

My point is that . . . is the New York Times really surprised that the Broadway musical looks for commercial opportunities?

Look at the roots of the American musical.  The first musical was born by accident, because a ballet company was ousted from their venue by fire and shoe-horned into another show down the block.  Vaudeville, minstrel shows, burlesque, etc. were all the precursors of the American Musical, and you can’t get any more commercial than the magicians, animal acts, acrobats, etc. that made up those acts (I’d bet your yankee-doodle-dandy that George M. Cohan would have done a reality show).

The commercialism of Broadway isn’t the end of Broadway . . . it’s just doing what it has always done.  We shouldn’t be surprised, and we should predict the end of art form because of it.

Instead, we should be even more proud of the Show Boats and Spring Awakenings that actually manage to get done, challenging the “quo” without alienating the audience.

  • Esther says:

    Honestly, I don’t understand what’s so bad about being commercial. Some of the shows I love the most – like Wicked and Hairspray -are the most successful. If they’re “commercial,” so be it! And I also love Spring Awakening. I definitely agree that you can challenge the quo without alienating the audience. You can be as noncommecial as you want, but you still have to be able to connect with an audience on a basic level. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  • Chris says:

    [Personally I thought he was being tongue-in-cheek with that last line.]
    I’m not opposed to any commercial opportunities for Broadway at all, I just want them to be organically grown.
    Legally Blonde’s show is a perfect example of successful commercialization – it may be corny, melodramatic, and annoying to refined theatre-goers, but it appeals to the demo the show was designed for. Legally Blonde isn’t “great” theatre; it’s “fun” theatre, and the show is an organic extension of that (I think the inclusion of some theatre industry celebs like Seth Rudetsky was a wise creative decision too).
    That organic extension is key though because audiences (and especially younger audiences) are highly cognizant of commercialization thanks to the proliferation of marketing over the past couple of decades. If a commercialization or marketing effort is not natural, I think it’s been shown that audiences will respond negatively. Definitely this is the case with viral marketing on the Internet, and I think that this rule will be extended toward Broadway as the great white way continues to be more appealing to the masses (as the Wickeds, Spring Awakenings, and with any luck, 13s of the world get produced).

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