The past week marked two historic endings in the world of musical theatre. The first, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s departure from his smash hit Hamilton, has been celebrated with fanfare (and twenty-thousand dollar ticket prices). The other, however, has exited with little to no notice paid. Broadway’s first livestream, She Loves Me, was removed from Broadway HD on Sunday, without so much as a post-mortem analysis of the experiment. Both of these events (Hamilton and the livestream) now take their place in a tradition of attempts to broaden the audience of what many consider a special interest in the realm of entertainment.
I, myself, was not a voracious consumer of musicals growing up. Besides incidental exposure to Disney, my family’s VHS collection contained three musicals: Bye Bye Birdie, My Fair Lady, and The Music Man. I enjoyed all three as a child, (The Music Man, especially) but even then I knew that this was an artform that took some getting used to. The films seemed to have more of a distance than many of the other films I saw, even the old ones. It was as if they were following a set of rules I was unaccustomed to. At this time, I was not even aware that Broadway existed; this was my only exposure to the genre.
As I grew older, I found my first impressions to be accurate. Musical theatre elicited the same reaction that Classical, Country and Hip-Hop music did in many circles: an aversion due to impressions of the art rather than any direct exposure. It was a one-off joke or at best an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Daria , and even compared to Hollywood, movie musicals seemed exceptionally white. I found myself enjoying the limited access I had into this strange, singing world, but Cobain and Tupac called louder than Larson and Sondheim.
In college, though, my attitude changed. I saw, in quick succession, The Book of Mormon, Lin-Manuel on College Humor, and Dr. Horrible. Exposure to a more accessible world of musical theatre- one that parodied itself, showed me it could appeal to the kind of music I liked, and embraced new technology- allowed me to finally feel like the genre wanted me in on the joke. I sought out and voraciously consumed any musical I could get my hands on, desperate to make up for lost time.
These events coincided wonderfully with the meteoric rise of Hamilton. The play, chronicling the life of Alexander Hamilton- the United States’ first Treasury Secretary- has become a phenomenon, winning eleven Tony’s and the hearts of musical theatre fans and neophytes the world over. I stood no chance against Hamiltonmania. The show was exactly what I had been crying out for. Everything, from the focus on non-white casting, to Lin-Manuel’s twitter presence and the #Ham4Ham lotteries moving online, seemed as if Broadway was finally interested in capturing a new audience.
Thus, I was very surprised that when the first Broadway livestream was announced, it was to be She Loves Me that would be beamed to the world. I didn’t expect Hamilton be the first, (or ever make an appearance, for that matter), but it struck me as odd how traditional the show was. She Loves Me, is a revival that opened in 1965, itself an adaptation of the Hungarian Parfumerie that began its run in 1937. Additionally, the show, which I saw a sampling of at the Tony’s, was one of the only all-white casts I saw that night.
I watched the recording of the stream before it was taken down, and with the exception of some star power, (Chuck himself, Zachary Levi, and Jane Krakowski of 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) I felt as if I was once again watching videotapes at my parents’ house. I’m sure there was some reason that She Loves Me was chosen as Broadway HD’s maiden voyage, but it strikes me as a missed opportunity. There is nothing wrong with the show itself, though I’m not the biggest fan, but She Loves Me is very much a product of its time. There was possibly some value in the juxtaposition between a show about letters and its online broadcast, but there was no mention of it in the extensive preshow on the stream, so the play comes across merely anachronistic (in gender politics as well as in concept).
This year, the average Broadway ticket has creeped over the one hundred dollar mark, and Hamilton itself is not immune from a lack of diversity in their audiences. Livestreams could be a chance for Broadway to bring in a newer, younger, more colorful audience, but if their intention is to change their presentation without changing their politics, no amount of Hamilton’s is going to save the artform from its niche status in the eyes of the average American.