Favorite Quotes Vol. 40: What M.A.S.H. and a Great Musical have in common.

Broadway hot dogIf you’re a Broadway Producer, a Broadway playwright or a Broadway chef, it’s important to have a focused vision on the type of work you want to produce/write/cook.

People ask me what Broadway show I would have loved to produce, or what type of show I am looking to produce.  I usually give a long-winded waxing-poetic answer (shocking) about moving audience members through the range of emotions . . .  and I’m assuming I’ve put you to sleep already.  Wake up!  Wipe the drool off your keyboard!  No more waxing anything from now on, I promise!

I stumbled on this quote from M.A.S.H. star (and over 10 time Broadway vet) Alan Alda, who was asked why the heck M.A.S.H. episodes were so dang popular.  Alan said . . .

What they do is give viewers a great-tasting hot dog but that nourishes them like broccoli.

And that’s when I realized I never had to explain an audiences range of emotions when asked about the type of musicals I’d like to produce, or describe the Aristotelian structure of Les Miz or Rent.  I just had to channel my inner Alda.

IMHO, great musicals, great paintings, and great art are both appealing to the senses, and appealing to the mind.  It thrills and teaches.  It moves the mind so the audience will try and move the world (to paraphrase a lyric from Kinky Boots, a perfect example of this phenomenon).

Many producers and writers feel the need to force feed their audience their vegetables.  No one wants to eat vegetables.  I’m convinced Vegetarians don’t even want to eat vegetables!  They just know it’s good for them.

People go to the theater first and foremost to be entertained.  So don’t be afraid to give your audience the juiciest of hot dogs, with ketchup and sauerkraut and onions and anything else that looks like it could cause a heart attack on the spot.  Just make sure it’s chock full of the best vitamins on the inside.

Need a great example?  Take a cue from Alan and watch M.A.S.H.


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  • Alan L. says:

    That’s the reason that almost every night I watch an hour of M*A*S*H reruns!

    Although that show is not a musical it has given me the elements that I need to incorporate into my musical – hurt & compassion; comedy & reflection. Achieving the balance and interweaving those elements is what made that show so successful.

  • I agree that most people feel the “value” or “education” they get from theater is the vegetable and the sensations they experience are the hot dogs. that’s probably so. HOWEVER – I think we’re taught not to like veggies as much as hot dogs. We’re taught that the “message” or education we get from something isn’t really “fun”.
    I bet if kids weren’t taught to “be good and do your homework!” they’d like to do their homework. I got made fun of in camp because I loved the veggies, especially spinach.

    I think down deep audiences also love the “message” they take home. Your’e right that you may have to “sell” these poor potential audience members who don’t realize the message can bring joy into their lives.

    Oscar Hammerstein’s wonderful Broadway lyric, “You’ve Got To Be Taught” opened my eyes to this many years ago. I didn’t fully get his message until I was much much older.

  • George says:

    Boy! Could devote an entire blog (and Life) to this one…

    But I picked up the dusty theatical “glove” after having dropped it (some 25 years ago to “get on” with the rest of my Life) because I felt that I had an – angle – on the Art form that was entirely “earned” i.e. while I stopped acting, writing, directing or even criticizing… I never stopped going to the Theatre.

    And what [re]attracted me most about getting back into the Theatre was that I truly began to appreciate the “classics” as just GENIUS works… because they loaded up the “dog” with good stuff… but, afterwards (after a good burp, if you will) you thought about it some more and BING! You realized that there were many layers that you had never considered…

    Shakespeare and Moliere do it BEST! (Though most of Moliere is LOST in translation and English/American audiences are not a verbally oriented as the French) but NOTH knew that there were “groundlings” and you had to put some tasty treats out there for them… sharp tongue clowns or servants, sword fights and boxing the ears of a knave.. women talking about sex (in Moliere) and men playing women… talking about sex (in Shakespeare)

    But – as our first experiences being TAUGHT to enjoy the deeper meanings by teachers (some who barely understood the deeper meanings themselves…) – we know that these playwrights were saying far deeper that 99% of the crowd could even care about… you question Moliere’s heroes do not really change or learn from their (storyline) experiences… and you start to get in touch with Moliere’s nihlistic sense of humour. The more you trying to pin down William… was he a Royalist? a Republican (in the 17th Century definition) a Catholic? a Protestant? an Athiest? a Theist?

    Or did He eschew all those label (that we find so convenient to use in our own day) and simply write Warm, Hot, Proud, Vain, Delluded, Sick ALIVE Human Characters and let the chips falll where they may…

    Coversely, as I have been studying for my 2nd play, Sardou – he wrote 2,000 plays – most custom fit for Sarah Bernhardt – some major success “La Tosca” ran over 3,000 performances… but now it only survives as Puccini’s Opera… even in France, unproduced…

    George Bernard Shaw summed it up “Sardoodlum” well written, well crafted plays.. about things that were only interesting to the immediate audience… go ahead, write a comedy or tragedy about “Obama Care” or “Iraq” – utterly meaningless ten (if not five) and twenty and thirty years out… you wanna see a play about the “Tea Pot Dome Scandal?”

    Nope – like it or not – Theatre is THEATRICAL! And it has gotta grab a critical mass of the audience pretty darn quick… else they will be wondering why they didn’t catch a movie instead… or stay home and watch TV – or the most popular today – play a video game!

    But take Heart – most movies and television and video games are about as universally engaging as an evening of Sardou!


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