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Just Because It’s Broadway Doesn’t Mean It's Good

Jillian Shweky

Opinion Editor


"Instantly disposable trash, " were the words used to describe the Broadway Musical Les Miserables by a renowned theater critic, Clive Barnes around its opening in 1987. Audiences went on to prove Clive Barnes wrong as Les Mis has won numerous Tonys and has been revived three times. This case is a rarity as most shows would struggle to survive after a scathing review from a major critic. In fact, seventy percent of Broadway shows fail. I know that might come as a surprise because when thinking of Broadway, most think of it as being the best of the best theater experiences out there, with these shows featuring large budgets, elaborate sets, and immense talent. Especially in the Broadway world, it is so difficult to produce a hit due to the need to appeal to a broad audience, the stress to make a profit, and this art form being so subjective. So who gets to decide if it's good?

If you asked me, I would tell you that the current production of Moulin Rouge was one of the best shows I have seen. If you asked my mother, who was sitting next to me, she would tell you to save your money and watch the movie. However, we both silently suffered together through New York, New York knowing that it was closing in a few days, but hoping they might consider closing it before the second act so we could leave. Unlike with Les Mis, we should have listened to the critics.

With Broadway shows’ desperation to make a profit, let alone make their money back they sometimes become uninspired because the focus is solely on financial success and not the artistic aspect. New York, New York demonstrated that perfectly. I still can’t understand how they spent twenty-five million dollars on this musical, and it only ran for three months. Since the show lacked a true storyline due to all the simultaneous plots, it was difficult to find characters to connect with and care about. It seemed all the effort was put into the set and not into the show itself. I can understand their desire to make the city of New York the star, but in turn, they created a dull and underwhelming show. Even Lin Manuel Miranda was involved and it was just a miss.

Human nature drives us to want to go big or go home, so when we want a theater experience our minds jump to the opulent and beautiful Broadway. We forget that all around us is theater that doesn't have all the commercial and financial pressure that Broadway does. These regional theaters allow for experimentation in the art of theater and are extremely precious and vital to the future of theater. As I’ve talked to Broadway directors and Broadway actors over the years I’ve come to learn that the Walnut Street Theater is highly regarded in the Broadway world and features many Broadway performers; it happens to be one of my favorites.

Since it is evident that not every show on Broadway will be a sensation, what still needs to be figured out is for Broadway, who is the arbiter of taste? Broadway reviews don’t just happen in major newspapers and magazines, now they are reviewed on social media like TikTok and YouTube. This gives potential audience members the opportunity to find a critic whose taste resonates with their own. So the concept of “location, location, location” being the determining factor of whether something is good or not may apply to real estate, but most definitely does not apply to Broadway.

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