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Well, That’s a New One: Top Theater Trends in 2011

Broadway survived another year and so did we. God bless us, everyone. But before that, here’s a look back at some of the biggest trends in the year that just passed.

Welcome Back, Intermission
In 2010 it was so cool to nix intermission. No breaks. No opportunity to go to the bathroom. No spare moment to look at the person next to you and go, “Is this bad? This is pretty bad, right?” Early rumors even indicated that Follies might forgo the interval and take you straight to Loveland without a chance to buy some peanut M&Ms. But no dice. Follies – and almost every other show this season – took a good old fashioned breather halfway through.

The Year of the Play
The last time anyone we know got obsessed with a straight play and saw it ten or more times was… never. Well, that is, until 2011, when here at The Craptacular we saw David Leveaux’s revival of Arcadia at least twenty times between us. In a year of generally lackluster musicals, the plays were where it was at in 2011. From the mind-melting performances by Mark Rylance in Jerusalem and Cillian Murphy in Misterman, to the heart breaking revival of The Normal Heart, to the beautifully staged War Horse, to every Pulitzer nominee and celeb-studded new play in between, the play was inescapably the star of Broadway. Shit, Charles Isherwood couldn’t even manage to find a single musical to include on his play-centric year end list, so that’s saying something, right? Right?

Holy Shit We’re Totally Out of Theaters
Got a show you want to produce on the Broadway? Good. Sit tight. We’re a little low on real estate right now. Because as 2011 draws to a close, every single Broadway theater is booked solid. Pretty amazing, right? Might be a tough time if you need to get your show mounted, but as a theater fan, that means we’ve got a lot of choices. The business we love seems to be a-booming, and that’s pretty damn exciting no matter how you slice it.

Let’s Make It a Limited Run, Shall We?
In precarious financial times for Broadway, 2011 was the year of the limited run. From Follies to Arcadia, producers hedged their bets by signing up for only a few months of performances. The logic here is a little fuzzy – the initial costs are the same whether you play one performance or a hundred – but maybe they hoped that the limits would help generate buzz and a super-hot ticket. Because the recipe for creating a smash is just that simple, said The Book of Mormon.

I Know, Let’s Stage Our Show in A Hotel (Or Bar, or Old Nightclub)
Once upon a time, when you went to the theater, you went to… well, a theater. But not this year. No. This year you probably also went to a hotel, a gymnasium, or an old church. Because apparently all the cool kids are creating shows that cannot be contained by mere theaters. They are all-encompassing sensory experiences that require you to wear a mask, or sit on some bleachers, or get stuck alone in a hotel room with strangers listening to someone else vacuum the room next door. Or something. Sleep No More, of course, was the king, err, Thane of all the site-specific stagings, largely because, well…the set kind of was the show. Lighting, sound, scent… everything on every surface around you was there to tell the story any way you wanted it to be told (and create one of the coolest, most boundary breaking theater experiences you’ll ever have).

You’re Famous, and Your Show Is Not a Blockbuster
TV’s Kim Cattrall couldn’t keep Private Lives from closing early. Lauren Ambrose apparently wasn’t a big enough name – despite a thriving career on screen – to nudge a much-heralded revival of Funny Girl to Broadway. Bernadette Peters can’t guarantee fully sold-out houses, and neither can names like Alan Rickman, Harry Connick, Jr., Woody Allen, or Samuel L. Jackson. In light of that, you might as well make a play about a horse.

Off-Broadway Is for Losers
What’s so bad about off-Broadway? Damned if we know, but clearly no one wants to be there. With the incredible and immediate floppage of Lucky Guy in 2011, and the hasty transfer of pint-sized shows like Lysistrata Jones, you have to wonder what the deal is with off-Broadway. Is it a total financial nightmare? Is the whole model just outmoded and dead? We hope it’s not true, because we kinda like small shows and the small theaters that house them. In 2012, we just hope that someone can figure out how to viably produce them.

Frank Wildhorn Is… A Victim?
Frank Wildhorn managed to get two shows mounted, critically reviled, and shuttered, all within one year. What’s interesting/curious here isn’t that these shows were bad, or that the critics hated them, but that there is a groundswell of support for Wildhorn, asserting that he is a victim of the Big Bad Theater Critics.  Because apparently, every critic in all of theater criticism on Broadway has a collective personal vendetta against Mr. Wildhorn and they are out to destroy his work regardless of quality, just because they can. Because critics do that all the time! Those bastards rove in packs and aim to destroy good theater like it’s their job. Oh. Wait… maybe Wonderland is just one of the worst shows Broadway has ever seen, and Bonnie & Clyde is marginally better than the worst show ever, so that makes it… boring as fuck but almost tolerable? Wow. That’s an achievement! We’d say “Sucks to be you, Frank Wildhorn,” but a) we had to sit through both of those terrible shows and b) we’re sure you’ll be back again in a few minutes, because there are apparently a lot of people in Florida with more money than taste.

The Blockbuster Musical Is Born Again
Hallelujah! You know a show’s a massive hit when your boss, your random friend who doesn’t even like musicals, and your nail girl are all asking you the same dumb question: So, can I get cheap tickets to The Book of Mormon this weekend? Dude. No, you can’t. You can never get tickets to The Book of Mormon and The Book of Mormon doesn’t care, so go look on StubHub or see if your company will shell out for premium seats and call it a “business meeting,” or do the ticket lottery and chant lucky mantras beforehand. There are no available tickets to this show. Zero tickets. Pas de tickets. And wow, it’s great for Broadway. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a show that’s sold out for literally months at a time. Now if only someone could communicate that clearly to your second cousin.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • adam807 December 30, 2011, 10:55 am

    Commercial Off-Broadway has become very financially challenging, especially with the destruction of nearly all of the mid-sized (299 seats) houses, and tourists’ refusal to go west of 8th Avenue and south of 41st Street. It’s the Broadway brand that sells tickets more than most specific shows. Which is super sad. I miss the Houseman and the Zipper most of all, and can think of so many shows in the last couple of years that should have been in them. Sigh.

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