So, in reading this article, I got know a bit more about three musicals I know I would love, provided they are well-executed. I've written about The Scottsboro Boys, (pictured, below) and read with interest the reactions of early preview-goers to the minstrel show style with the white interlocutor and the black ensemble playing all roles - genders and races. Sign of Life, about a woman in a concentration camp who is made to use her artistic skills to create art that depicts life at the camp as propaganda tells it, while smuggling out her real works that depict the horrors. And The Burnt Part Boys, the only completely fictional story of the three, still sounds mightily engrossing, as it tells the story of a group of high school boys whose fathers died on a West Virginia mine, and how the deal with things as the mine readies to reopen. (Andrew Durand who is currently in Yank!, will also be appearing in this show later this spring at the Vineyard.
That most shows with this darker side don't even try to venture to Broadway is both understandable and a shame. But, of course, that depends on whether or not you really see much difference between Broadway and off-Broadway. Gone is the stigma that off is somehow less as more and more writers, actors and other creative artists have very healthy careers going back and forth between the two. To me, if Kander and Ebb, Susan Stroman and multiple Tony winner John Cullum are willing to work for less at a smaller space doing work they love and believe in, that is not less. It is more.
The real truth is that off-Broadway has become the Broadway show out of town tryout, with much less expense. Don't tell me, that with a pedigree like it has The Scottsboro Boys isn't seriously hoping to make the leap. What is holding it back? It's daring, controversial syle and content. And who can blame them? In these times, you have to be very careful.
Still, look at the most recent "dark musicals" on Broadway. Spring Awakening, the subversive and naughty Avenue Q, the subversive and naughty revival of Hair, Grey Gardens, next to normal. Where did most of them start? Off-Broadway! Every season, there seems to be at least one "thinking person's musical". Heck, every season for years there's been at least one Broadway revival of a show by the King of Darkness, Stephen Sondheim. And it looks like this year's "thinking person's musical" will likely turn out to be a revue of his works, Sondheim on Sondheim! Off-Broadway likes him, too... in recent years a major revival of Merrily We Roll Along and Saturday Night, the revues Marry Me a Little and Putting It Together all did major time off the Main Stem.
More and more, serious theatre-goers are looking everywhere for their musical nourishment. I'm just a little surprised that people are just sarting to notice what most of us have known for a long time: off-Broadway costs less, but a lot of the time you have to work much harder as an audience member. For those of us who thrive on that, I say, "BRING ON THE DARKNESS!"
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