I always enjoy listening to other patrons of a show discuss how they feel about the show we are seeing (during intermission) or have just seen (on the slow walk out of the theatre). My intermission and exit during/after a recent preview of the musical Come Fly Away was full of vivid conversation and opinion. I will save the specifics and even the tone of those comments for my review, which will be posted the day after opening just like all the others.
Sure, I can understand a chat about how Come Fly Away might not be for "Chad," who is not a fan of dancing, while it is the perfect show for "Sarah," who is an aspiring Broadway hoofer herself. That and other show-appropriate connections are certainly germaine to the moment. I have, in fact, had just that discussion more than once upon exiting next to normal: should we bring Aunt Mary who has much in common with Diana? That is a whole other blog! But, that afternoon, and during several other recent trips, I have come across a very common theme for these discussions: whether or not a show is "family-friendly." And whenever this comes up it is always in the context of: "Did you like it?" "Well, I wouldn't bring the kids to see this." as if that were a measure for the quality of the show. Which leads me to my central question: Why is family-friendly a caveat for whether or not a show is good?
So, since when does the child friendliness of a Broadway show become a qualifier? Apparently all shows deserve that angle of scrutiny, no matter how obviously they are marketed towards adults. I should tell you up front that my parents took me to everything, no matter how adult the show. But I also wasn't allowed to go (except for Peter Pan) until I was 12 or so. And in retrospect, I know now that they took me to everything so that it could springboard into a discussion of topics most parents are scared to broach. Is this what people mean when they say they wouldn't bring the kids? That it might cause some uncomfortable conversation? I doubt it.
What amuses - and angers - me the most, though, is what people do consider family-friendly. Let's talk some of Broadway's biggest hits and the kids:
West Side Story: I think people bring their kids to see this show (and rightly so) because it is a classic. But a closer look reveals gang violence, police corruption, overt racism, three murders of children (teens are kids, too, remember), pre-marital sex, and an attempted rape. But the music is so beautiful, and all of it ends up bringing the feuding gangs together. Really?
The Phantom of the Opera: OK, this one might qualify as a classic too, since its been around over a quarter of a century. And nothing says "bring the kids" like a serial killer who is obssessed with a girl to the point of kidnapping. No matter how cool the getaway boat is, stealing someone through means of hypnosis is a serious crime all by itself.
The bottom line to me is this: whether or not you bring your kids to any show that isn't clearly marketed toward bring them to the show means you are taking your chances with content. Do Chicago, Memphis, A Little Night Music, or the yet-to-even-preview Promises, Promises suggest in any way that you should bring the kids? No. And all are or have been a huge success without hordes of little ones in the seats.
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