The Fall That Was

The last five weeks have been bizarre ones in the theater. There was the quick meltdown and departure of a respected television star from a Tony winning revival. And the possible firing of a director -- who has been called visionary by more than a few -- from a musical she has worked on for nine years. Oh, plus, a has-been rock star decided to sue the Tony Awards. While these events all happened at the start of Broadway's spring season, to me they more capped off what I found a curious fall season.

This fall I was puzzled by quite a few things. I didn't foresee Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson tumbling so quickly. It had no stars, but neither did Spring Awakening nor a series of other smaller-scale shows that have run longer in years past. I think Bloody Bloody -- which I didn't support as much as most -- might be a symbol of the recession. There is a decreasing desire to spend money on an unknown commodity that won't necessarily deliver either a) star power or b) a feel-good experience.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, my gleaming hope for the season, simply broke down somewhere along the way. I'm actually not sure where. It makes me so sad I can't fully discuss it. (A Free Man of Color, Lincoln Center Theater's other major fall offering, was also a bigger disaster than anyone could have predicted, but, because it was at the Beaumont, it wasn't as public a flop as it could have been.)

The Scottsboro Boys -- the most well-pedigreed season entry -- was always a long shot for commercial success. What surprised me was the groundswell of outrage when the closing was announced and producer Barry Weissler's unheard of campaign to bring it back. He asked people to pledge to buy $99 tickets to the show and said if enough people pledged, he would bring it back. I guess not enough people have pledged yet? I haven't heard about the campaign since it was announced, but the website is still up, asking for signups.

Turning to the more successful, Lombardi. I have to say -- it's not for me. While I always enjoy and applaud a Judith Light performance, I also like plays to be well-crafted and I don't believe this one is. However, I am not the target audience. When I saw it, I looked around at all the happy faces of straight men or the women who love them; they are the audience. The Lombardi promotion team did an amazing job at packaging the show. Light's interviews were very effective at making it seem attractive to a wide variety of audiences. The commercials were crisp and clean. Somehow it became a new genre of show, the show for heterosexual men that women could also sit through. A few of you may remember that about five years ago there was all this hype about producing shows for teen girls. (It didn't work.) After Lombardi, I suspect there will be a few more man shows in the pipeline.

Of course Lombardi hasn't been certified a hit yet. It hasn't recouped. Much of its future impact will be tied up in whether it does. There are three shows from the fall that did recoup: Driving Miss Daisy, Merchant of Venice and Rain. The fact that Driving Miss Daisy recouped didn't surprise me -- the thin, but enjoyable show has a famous name, James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave, and a fairly low weekly nut. But neither that or Merchant is anything special. After all, Broadway has seen tons of star vehicles before and will see countless such entries in years ahead. Even if Merchant had failed, another star-driven Shakespeare revival would have been in the planning stages. They are staples. Rain is a concert, not a show, and so its influence on the future of Broadway will be minimal, as there are only so many musical groups that would warrant such a tribute. It is only Lombardi that could have a real impact on the industry. It's squeaking along now and I'm not sure how much longer it can hold on, but, if it does manage to make money, that will be a notable story.

So, in summary, it was a fall season where there was much I couldn't have predicted ahead of time. I knew A Life in the Theater was a long shot and Merchant of Venice was not, but much of the rest of it surprised me. I imagine the spring will be more predictable, but you never know. Maybe War Horse will turn out to be a comedy.