Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lessons Learned: On Ragtime and Riedel

If you read my blog regularly, you know that today was the day I was supposed to see the Broadway revival of Ragtime. You also know that as the time, and the PR grew, so did my excitement. I guess after over a quarter century of attending Broadway theatre and well over 30 years attending all other levels of performance, that I'd know better than buy the promotional bit hook, line and sinker. And in this case, I think I did.

A show closing is sad news all around - for the company out of work, for the shows audiences will never see, for the local economy, etc. Even a bad show, a mediocre show, and even a long-running, well past its prime show. No one goes into the business to fail. Hopes are high each and every time a new show announces itself and continue to be just that right through to the final curtain. It is true, I am sure, of Ragtime.

Yes, I bought their PR like it was gospel, and I should have known better. Even most novices know the quotes that bombard the advertising are taken totally out of context, sometimes sliced down to one word. "Exhilarating!" screams the taxi topper. Sure, maybe one day, Ben Brantley called X show "exhilarating," as in possibly " That show was an exhilarating adrenaline rush from curtain to curtain!" but could be just as likely: "Leaving the theatre to a gust of winter wind was exhilarating after a tedious evening at the theatre." Funny enough, my fellow blogger and theatre producer, Ken Davenport, blogged on this very topic just yesterday. (If you don't follow him, you should - scroll down and find the link to his blog on the right, after you finish this!) I also should have taken note at the desperation, and not the sheer volume, of Ragtime showing up all over TV - The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (CBS), The View, Good Morning, America... Yes, you get your show on such national platforms to boost tourist ticket sales, but full audience giveaways of tickets during the Christmas holidays should have had me realizing their days were numbered. I have learned my lesson (for now).

Davenport also recently had a blog about producers being so hungry to get to Broadway that they are erroneously making the move based on one or two solid reviews. Not a good move, says he, and I'd have to agree - look at Finian's Rainbow, most of those critical huzzahs were based on an above-average concert staging, not an attempted full-blown musical.

But Michael Riedel (above) of The New York Post, a man beloved and hated for the same reason: he is blunt, bitchy, and boldly honest, perhaps put it best into perspective for me in his January 8 article, "From riches to 'Ragtime'." In it, he rather succinctly and sharply takes the producers and a great deal of the cast to task for piling all of their dreams into a production based solely upon a good review from The Washington Post's Peter Marks, who was reviewing the show as a regional production. Of course, this calls to mind just two seasons ago when the exact same thing happened with Glory Days, and we all know how that turned out. (For the record, I enjoyed the show very much, but do question its place on Broadway, versus, say, off-Broadway.) Well, apparently, Ragtime closed at a loss of some $8.5M; still the Kennedy Center must have had pretty deep pockets to foot the bill as long as it did. Another lesson learned: temper my desire to see a show on Broadway with a look at where it comes from. I mean let's be honest, if all it took was a rave review from the local gazette, Broadway would be teeming with regional productions of obscure plays, community theatre productions of The Mousetrap, and high school productions of Bye Bye Birdie, uh, wait.. high school productions of The Sound of Music.

There is one more thing Mr. Riedel brings up in his article, and that is the praise of Bobby Steggert, who played Mother's Younger Brother*. The writer concedes that Mr. Steggert got something out of it, after all. He was announced to star in the off-Broadway production of Yank! (below, from a few years ago) And Riedel intimates that maybe this new kid is on his way. Hmm, well, with all due respect to himthe writer, perhaps a little more homework was in order. First, Steggert has long been associated with the entire gestation of this new musical, so it should come as no surprise that, now free, the producers of that show offered him the chance to re-up. (Note to the producers of Rock of Ages: Kerry Butler is due to leave about showing Savannah Wise some of the same love and getting her back as Sherie?)

*And further, wasn't Bobby Steggert the golden child a few years ago when he turned a small supporting part into a star turn in the revival of 100 in the Shade? OR is he one of the growing list of "stars to be" that chance after chance never really make it in the majors, but bloom legitimately in regional productions? I'm thinking the similarly anointed, but similarly one hit wonder or hitless Melissa Errico, Stephanie J. Block, and yes, folks, even maybe our beloved Cheyenne Jackson, not to mention a few of Steggert's Ragtime co-stars - Christiane Noll and Ron Bohmer. More time would probably yield me a long list of who's almost who. In all honesty, I wish everyone nothing but the biggest success. But, another lesson learned: Success on stage doesn't have to happen in midtown Manhattan in a theatre with more than 600 seats. Caveat to lesson learned: When is someone no longer up and coming versus tried but never got there?

The bottom line is this for me: Ragtime served as a clarifying reminder that even the most seasoned theatergoer can be suckered. And I'll never know if Peter Filicia of is right - was Ragtime the best revival of the year? Ragtime was never my favorite show - I still maintain tat the OBCR is the best and only essential part of that production. But I am sorry I missed the revival for 1 main reason, now I won't have seen every new musical revival this season. The completist in me aches.

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