Sunday, December 20, 2009

Give my egads to Broadway. Plus: Chuck's plane speaking.

Barring further logistical fallout from yesterday's Great Blizzard of 2009, I will be venturing into the city tomorrow (here in the Northeast, "the city" can refer to just one destination) in connection with that Potentially Very Exciting Opportunity I mentioned in passing some time back. And if I'm not as specific as I might be, or as some of you would like me to be, it's because I don't want to jinx it. Yes, it's true: I'm trying to be a positive thinker, foreclosing the prospect of a negative outcome simply by not talking about it. We all have these little superstitious bargains we make.

Each time I journey to the city, which isn't often nowadays since I spend most of my time holed up in my aforementioned basement, which is really where I ought to be for the mutual benefit of me and mankind, I find that I end up thinking about Broadway shows.

I think about how much I hate them.

ate 'em. Two or even three hours of grotesque overacting sans nuance or subtlety, brimming with forced, cloying sentiment and/or
if it's a so-called musical—punctuated by regular outbreaks of spontaneous singing, often with marginal relevance to the action at the time, and perpetrated by individuals who, in most cases (though admittedly not all), don't so much sing as shout in a passably melodious timbre. (In my mind's eye, I see American Idol's Randy Jackson grimacing and saying, "It's pitchy, dog, a little pitchy...") I've been to a half-dozen shows in my lifetime, mostly when I was younger, and always because I felt it was "required"* or because I was discharging some romantic debt. Couldn't wait for it all to end. The one semi-exception is West Side Story, and that's only because I love the ensemble dancing in the garage scene ("Cool"). You can keep the rest of it. I actually laughed out-loud when Tony got stabbed, the whole thing was so over-staged and affected. I would've stabbed the entire cast long before that.

I don't understand the attraction. (You may have gotten that idea by now?) I think of myself as a reasonably open-minded guy, and I can at least see the appeal for others of many of the things I personally dislike, but not in this case. My inability to relate to theato-philia is so profound that I find myself thinking that Broadway, like certain other aspects of Manhattan life, is so closely identified with New York and such an embodiment of local pride that Manhattanites almost feel th
ey have to like it, or pretend to like it, or at least defend it, lest their subscription to The New Yorker will be revoked.


While we're on the subject of things I don't understand, we can add the recent dust-up involving Rep. Chuck Schumer, which some have framed as a symbolic mile marker in the gender wars, i.e. one that reveals the misogyny that still lingers in the soul of even the most (outwardly) enlightened male. See, our man Chuck called a female flight attendant a bitch (and not even to her face. He says, and a witness agrees, that he uttered the word under his breath as the flight attendant was walking way. Trouble is, he was overheard). Not a nice thing to do, Chuck; your mama woul
d be very unhappy with you. However, why is this being hyperbolized and interpreted as the token of simmering gender unrest that some, like this essayist, would have you believe it is?

What's Schumer supposed to call a woman he's displeased with?
(And I can think of a far worse word. I'm sure you can, too.) A prick?

I use that last word pointedly, because it's not a term anyone would ever apply to a woman
"That Nancy, she's such a prick!"and yet it's a word you often hear women (and men) use to describe a guy with whom they're displeased. The fact that certain words of displeasure are gender-specific doesn't imply that the use of that word represents a putdown of an entire class of people. I suspect that there might even have been a few times since the dawn of humanity when a woman referred to another woman as a bitch. Even the aforementioned essayist concedes that much.

Anyway, I suggest that from now on, whenever we want to denounce someone, we make sure to use gender-neutral terms. I recommend asshole. As that crass old bit of conventional wisdom puts it, everyone has one....

* There are some shows you sort of "have" to see to be considered socially au courant. E.g Phantom or Rent or, some years back, Les Miserables, which the theater crowd began calling "Lay Miz," and I would gag every time.


RevRon's Rants said...

I'm with you on this one, Steve. I've been to a few shows during the course of my lifetime, but the only one I really and truly enjoyed was "Hair." I guess I just perceive most A-list Broadway actors (male and female alike) as divas, striving to build upon their personas as "entertainers," a la Martin Short... always "on," always panning for the nearest camera, and never appearing remotely natural, onstage or off.

Steve Salerno said...

Adam Lambert...are you listening? (If you can just stop touching yourself for a while.)

Jenny said...

I called a woman friend (nobody here at SHAMblog!) a bitch under my breath the other day, but it was sort of in the spirit of the way Hugh Grant calls Julia Roberts a bitch in the movie, Notting Hill. That scene took place in the waiting room where Grant's character "William" had been posing as a reporter for Horse and Hound magazine and talking with another reporter about the fact that Roberts' character "Anna" had taken the flowers William had entered the room with. To keep up the pretense of being a reporter, he didn't want anyone in the room to know he was bringing the flowers to Anna so he had made the claim they were for his sick grandmother, who he was going to see after getting the "interview" with Anna. If you saw the movie, you probably remember that scene:

[talking about Anna]
Writer: Oh, I see she took your grandmother's flowers.
William: Yeah... bitch.

Anyway, I don't know the context in which Schumer uttered the word under his breath, but is it possible he meant it as sort of a private joke to himself (and to whoever overheard him) in the same spirit as Hugh Grant's mock "outrage" in the movie? Even if he was mildly irritated with her (as I was with my friend), the words that came out might have only reflected a jocular attitude to the irritation rather than any real hostility toward her as a person.

In any case, calling someone a bitch does not a misogynist make. :)

Note to Elizabeth: See?! Look. I cursed! *wink*

Anonymous said...

Broadway and opera---ugh. Nobody can tell me that either qualifies as enjoyable music, or an enjoyable experience. And nobody can drag me to either, I don't care about people who think they "must" attend to appear cultured. To me, one is either cultured or not, and if one is, one owes an apology to no man (or woman) for one's tastes and should express those tastes in hopes of influencing the mindless drones who do what they think they should. If I love Bach and Mozart and hate Beethoven and Lizst, damned if I'll pretend I love 'em all just because they're "Classical." Ditto for, say, DaVinci and Modigliani vs. Michaelangelo and Van Gogh (though I'll admit, Van Gogh's sketches are quite good, unlike those grotesque paintings). It's so easy to mock "I know what I like," but it works for me. I do try to shut up when people are gushing on about how much they love Disney or whatever, though: They're entitled, just as I am. In the end, what matters is that you feel genuine passion for the things you love, rather than pretending to love them because you think they're in fashion.

Anonymous said...

Since you're off to THE city, Steve, that means your surprise does not have to do with taping an appearance on Oprah. Dang it.

Note to Jenny: c'mon, that doesn't count and you know it. :)

Mardi said...

Oh I LOVE musicals. How sad you can't enjoy them Steve. They are a modern version of the opera. And Ron, not all are divas. Some (though I would argue most) are hard working, seasoned professionals who have invested much in their craft.

renee said...


The stunning lack of respect here for theather professionals - including those who never step in front of the footlights but are just as dedicated and passionate about the art as those who do - is astounding.

I'm not questioning the tastes of anyone who doesn't like theater or, god forbid, opera. Pity the poor saps among us who do; what could we be thinking? Maybe we're just that gullible.

But the judgement and the superior attitude lurking just beneath some of the comments is simply unbelievable.

As some may have said in Brooklyn, Steve - "I got your culchuh right heah..."

Jenny said...

Elizabeth, I only curse in public sometimes; that way, when it happens, you'll be sure to notice. :)

Steve and company, regarding musicals and opera, I can't quite say because it really varies. Sometimes yes, sometimes hell no. For instance, I found "Hairspray" with John Travolta entertaining. And I can tolerate and even enjoy opera in limited doses. But in general, I am not that into either musicals or opera. "Oklahoma!" -- spare me, please. Same for any long opera.

So, never mind "can't quite say" because I just said....

On the other hand, I enjoy anything my daughter is in. She has been performing in (and even writing) plays ever since she was a little girl. The next one coming up is the musical, "Side Show."

mojo said...

Steve, I will forgive your mentioning "American Idol" hackery in the same sentence as Broadway (Ugh! STAB me in the HEART, why don'tcha!) if you will forgive an obviously biased insider's view of the industry. I have many friends in the B'way community and even my quaintly suburban parents are frequent investors in shows. (Amusingly, the pict you use is Sutton Foster; I worked with Sutton on "Little Women" a few years back, blah blah blah, oooh, aren't you impressed.)

The short of it is, I have access to comps--and even with comps there's a whole BUNCH of popular shows I have not cared to see over the years, even with the free tickets. Some things just aren't worth my time.

Broadway suffers from a similar identity crisis that publishing suffers: a conflict between producing and promoting quality work of true artistic merit versus creating schlock that's sure to be popular and hence pay the bills. I don't need to tell you that it's a publishing truism that 9 books out of 10 don't earn back their advances. As much as writers complain about genre crap becoming blockbusters, the sad fact is those schlocky blockbusters finance the nine tenths that are never going to see a profit.

The NYC tourist industry drives a fair amount of what's on B'way, and as a rule tourists don't want to be challenged or to be made to think. They just want fluff and a souvenir Playbill, so fluff is what's popular--cozy remakes of beloved movies (ugh!) and "jukebox musicals" with plots as thin as icing (ugh ugh!). They are admittedly dreadful, as are the re-written "revivals" of classics--usually "updated" to make them more politically correct, an update that usually drains the life out of it.

The secret to enjoying Broadway is to get beyond the popular and explore some of the smaller (and even off and off-off B'way) shows. That's where a lot of the magic and experimentation is. Which is tough to do when the shows are so outrageously priced. And even with $100+ ticket prices (and even the major stars don't get all that much, salary-wise, compared to what they could get in television or movies), it's hard for most shows to make their weekly nut and stay open.

Broadway, in its defense, is one of the very few art forms in which the writers are respected, are given full creative power, and are pretty much treated like GODS. The actors--far less so. Far from being divas (yeah, there's the occasional horror story, but it's not the rule), Broadway actors pretty much do what they're told, or they get fired. (It's remarkably brutal, really.) Like most groups of people, Broadway folks are very nice and very hard-working. It might look like a lark to an outside observer, but eight perfs a week is nasty, hard work.

Of course, I can go on and on, blah blah blah, but the simple fact is, the theater is not for everyone. Different strokes and all. If some people feel the need to do something they don't like just for appearances' sake I feel terribly sorry for them. But I'm a hopeless and shameless theater geek. Always have been. It's a sickness.

As for people's ability to sing, well, don't get me started on that. No one can TOUCH Ella Fitzgerald in my insular little world. So there.

Martha said...

I have been reduced to reading your headlines these days...but they are plenty amusing! (I originally typed "assuming," where's Freud when you need him?)

Re Shumer -- I don't care what he called her, he called her a name for doing her job, trying to get the plane in the air so everyone can land on time, and, my vote is that after 9/11 we are as nice as we possibly can be to flight attendants. They've got a pretty darn scary job, if you ask me. We don't need a public servant to be denigrating them no matter what epithet he chooses to use.

Re B'way: Well. I bet you can guess what my favorite show is. But then, I pretty much lowered my bar a few weeks ago.

Martha said...

Jenny et al:

Why 'dis Oklahoma? Get past the cornball hokum accent and you'll find some wonderful songs that speak directly to the human condition. (For a really fresh look at the show, watch the DVD of the London production.) There is actually a deep, dark creepy (intentional) undertone to it. Judd is a villain who would be perfectly at home on Nancy Grace.

South Pacific is about racism. Carousel is about domestic violence.

It's pretty gritty stuff.

As for Professor Henry Higgins...totally cut from the same cloth Steve is. (but not nearly as fun)

Stever Robbins said...

Timely topic, Steve. I confess that I love theater.

I just met with a couple of successful Broadway producers last week and a couple of Broadway actors, so I could better understand the business and the people.

The business is beyond brutal. It's essentially one giant charity being supported by investors who invest because they love theater. In a world of mass media, theater doesn't scale in any meaningful way, and it only becomes economical in when something hits big. Really big.

Most of the people I met were on the business side. They were uniformly passionate and devoted like I've rarely seen in business. Remove the profit motive and it's amazing how hard people will work for something they love.

Even when a show is a mega-hit, the producers may not see much of the money, as they give their repeat investors first dibs. ("You lost money with me sixteen times. Now that the show's a huge success, you keep the profits so you'll invest in my next show.") Again, their goal is as much to drive their ability to keep doing shows as it is to make any money with them.

On the creative side, I can't say much. I like the few Broadway shows I've seen. I recently saw Jersey Boys and was impressed by the skill of actors/dancers. I can barely sing "Happy Birthday" holding still, much less four part harmony while doing a modern dance number.

To each his own. I don't play fantasy sports, so I suppose it all evens out.