Tuesday, October 24, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: Big Trends: Does Size Matter?

40 Years of Broadway: Big Trends:
Does Size Matter?

It seems fitting that the two current longest-running shows on Broadway are Chicago and The Lion King, when considering the trends we are talking about today. When I came up on the Broadway theater scene in the mid-80s, mega-musicals were beginning their reign - big, splashy extravaganzas. Eventually, they began to lose favor, and more traditionally produced shows came back. Sure there were plenty of dance-y, costume and scenery musicals, but theaters weren't being overhauled and people talked more and sang occasionally. Then, all of a sudden the "less is more" trend took hold. These days, Broadway is a mix of all of it - minimalist shows are as likely to be found in the Theater District as the giant spectacle. And, as if it were the 80s all over again, shows are being installed in completely reconfigured spaces!

Minimalism: The Encores! Effect and John Doyle

Today, the Encores! series at City Center continues to thrive, though its shows are considerably more staged and fully realized than when it began. There is no doubt that this style of theater has certainly influenced the Main Stem. Chicago really got the ball rolling, and several other revivals have transferred to great acclaim and lots of awards. Director John Doyle brought his own style of minimalism to this trend by having his actors accompany themselves on instruments, often used to accentuate character and theme. His influence has been felt all over New York City - not just on Broadway, but off-Broadway, too, notably at Classic Stage Company.

  • Encores!: Chicago, Finian's Rainbow, Into the Woods, Parade
  • John Doyle Broadway: Company, Sweeney Todd, The Color Purple
  • John Doyle Off-Broadway: Allegro, Passion, Pacific Overtures, Assassins

Bridging The Gap: More Traditional Stagings in Answer To Mega-Musicals

  • The 80s: 42nd Street, Grind, La Cage aux Folles, My One and Only
  • The 90s: The Will Rogers Follies, Crazy For You, Beauty and the Beast
  • The 21st Century: Aladdin, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Moulin Rouge!, Some Like It Hot

Maximalism: Environmental Theater

"Slightly" more than traditional staging, but not quite a mega-musical, environmental theater has maintained a presence off and on for decades since the 90s. Though not exactly new, it really came into its own when Roundabout re-did the Henry Miller's Theatre and Studio 54 to create the Kit Kat Club of Cabaret. Today, we have the Millennium Disco of Here Lies Love at the Broadway, and soon, an all-new Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson. 

  • Off-Broadway: Sweeney Todd at Barrow Street
  • Broadway: Cabaret, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet Cazino at the Imperial, Urinetown, Once On This Island (revival), Oklahoma! (revival)

Maximalism: Technical Marvels

Flying tires, crashing chandeliers, helicopters and barricades were just the tip of the iceberg. These days, video projections transport us in seconds, ships wreck and earthquakes can happen 8 times a week. Super heroes and battle villains over our heads, and time can warp with the flip of a switch.

  • Larger Than Life Puppetry: King Kong, The Lion King
  • Magic & Flying: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Wicked, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark
  • Video: West Side Story (2020 revival), On the Town
  • Natural Disasters: Titanic, Tarzan, Shogun, An Inspector Calls
  • Just Really Cool Staging: Rocky
Contest Question #19 (one more to go!):
Which 2 shows pictured above were directed by Julie Taymor?

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