It worked once. It’ll work again, right?

Lightning in a bottle is hard to capture once.

So, when people try to use the same bottle to catch another bolt, I always get nervous (this is one of the reasons I won’t be coming out with another interactive show anytime soon).

The popular fiction biz depends on trying to catch secondary bolts.  John Grisham writes a best selling legal thriller like The Firm and immediately his publishers put  him on a schedule of producing a novel a year to earn his paycheck, praying that his readers “subscribe” to his novels.  And all of the novels have similar settings, and similar structure.

But were any of his later books ever as good as The Firm?

That’s what made me nervous when I stepped into the Mark Taper Forum this past Sunday to see the Deaf West production of Pippin (a show that I’ve never been a huge fan of).

This production has the unique distinction of using “deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors as voice and American Sign Language are interwoven with music, dance, and joyous storytelling.”  (i.e. there were two Pippins).

Unique, right?  Absolutely . . . except that there was a revival of Big River on Broadway a few years ago brought to us by Deaf West and The Roundabout.  So, I walked in with an expectation of what I was about to see and hear . . . something I knew was special . . . but something that, well, I had already seen and heard.

Get this.  They exceeded my decent-sized expectations.

Maybe it’s because Pippin lends itself to a more theatrical treatment like this than Big River.

Maybe it’s because the newly redesigned Mark Taper Forum provided one of the most comfortable theatrical experiences I’ve ever had (the lobby, the seats, the restrooms, and even the ticketing-system were extraordinary).

Maybe it’s because I had been disappointed by the actors-as-musicians Company after seeing Sweeney Todd.

Or maybe it’s because the creative team led by Jeff Calhoun knew that they couldn’t just serve up what we’ve seen before, and they worked their asses off to prove that they weren’t trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

They were trying to create the lightning.

So if you want to do something similar to what you’ve done before, or what someone else has done before (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got the next Blue Man Group!”  Or “I’ve got the next Mamma Mia!”), go for it.

But go for it twice as hard as you went after it the first time.

  • Danielle says:

    I saw that production of “Pippin” and was blown away. I went in with the same expectations: I wasn’t a fan of the show going in and I was worried that they would come off as trying too hard when they had two Pippins. It was also my first time in the Taper and I was worried that I would have poor sight lines. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I wish that I could have seen it twice.

  • Richard says:

    Actually, I’m not a huge fan of Pippin either. (I didn’t see the production you’re referring to, though.) I think it’s one of those shows that’s 70% right. About three of the songs are just too mediocre, but the worst part is the ending. The ending is dreadful.
    I thought the flaw with the John Doyle Company was that with the exception of four actors, they all weren’t very good actors. And, if Barbara Walsh didn’t nail her character’s hidden vulnerability at the end, well, it would have really been two-dimensional. Of course, I have other problems with Company anyway. I think the librettist didn’t explore the issues enough. It’s so unclear: at the end, is Bobby settling? or is the point that he’s not settling? And the music–so frustrating. Half of the songs are really good. And half are mediocre. (Of course, they’re Sondheim, why wouldn’t half the songs be mediocre?)
    Interactive show? Of course you should do another. Some kind of demented twist on the American Idol/reality show conceit. Some judges are plants/some are paying ticket holders. Some auditioners are plants/some are paying ticket holders. Little dramas, etc. It’d be a wonderful exploration of anthropology, and serve two audiences: marketed right, it’d attract the people who really enjoy American Idol. But it’d also attract the cynical folk like me who think American Idol is a great example of what’s wrong with American culture.

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