Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Not Since Tupac.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

By way of the A/V Club, I’ve learned of something called “Holler if Ya Hear Me”, a Broadway musical “inspired by the music and lyrics of the popular rapper Tupac Shakur”.

While some Broadway shows rely on budget reserves to muddle through slow weeks, “Holler” struggled from the outset. The production never brought in more than $175,000 a week in gross revenues, becoming one of the worst-selling musicals of recent years. Last week the show grossed $154,948, or 17 percent of the maximum possible amount, and only 45 percent of its seats were occupied.

Here’s the NYT review:

Drawing on themes that Shakur rapped about in his scabrous, four-letter-word-filled lyrics (no one has taken a kid-friendly Magic Marker to them, I’m glad to report), the musical attempts to draw a vision of black life in urban America that acknowledges the danger, the violence and the self-destruction but also the hope, the courage and the potential for transcendence. To this end, it employs more than a dozen of Shakur’s songs and a couple of his poems. But the lyrical density of rap — in words per minute, many of the songs are off the charts — makes an uneasy fit for theatrical presentation, since the sizzling phrases fly by almost before you can grasp their meaning.

At this point, you’re probably not wondering what brought this to mind:

It will close at a financial loss after 17 preview performances and 38 regular performances at the Palace Theater.

And, of course, there’s the usual invocations of “it’s going to be difficult to do another rap or hip hop show on Broadway” and “Tupac’s urgent socially important insights and the audiences’ nightly rousing standing ovations deserve to be experienced by the world.”

As for the latter, no comment. As for the former:

Yet one new musical featuring rap and hip hop, “Hamilton,” is widely expected to come to Broadway during the 2015-16 season after an initial run at the Public Theater this coming winter. The show is by Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose show “In the Heights,” which also featured rap and hip hop, ran for three years on Broadway and won the 2008 Tony Award for best musical.

Edited to add: more from the PoR:

In truth, the problem with “Holler” wasn’t really the music at all, but the ham-handed, sentimentalized story line concocted to underpin it.

Even more things I didn’t know.

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

A comment by Guffaw in an earlier thread led me to Wikipedia, where I learned:

  1. There is a Jim Steinman Wiki.
  2. Jim Steinman was intimately involved in Batman: The Musical. Yes, you did read that correctly, and no, it was never produced.
  3. The Jim Steinman Wiki does not currently have an article about Dance of the Vampires. However, Wikipedia does:

    On January 25, 2003, after 56 performances, Dance of the Vampires closed. According to The New York Times, it was “one of the costliest failures in Broadway history”, losing roughly $12 million, easily eclipsing the infamous musical Carrie.

Quick random stuff.

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The NYT has a feature on the “industrial musical”.

The 1956 Chevy show cost $3 million, while “My Fair Lady” opened on Broadway with a budget of $500,000. Big budgets attracted top-drawer talent. “Go Fly a Kite” was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the team behind “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock wrote “Ford-i-fy Your Future” for the tractor and implement division of Ford, as well as the songs for “Fiorello!” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Bob Fosse was already at work on “The Pajama Game” when he toured with “The Mighty ‘O’,” a 1953 Oldsmobile show.

$3 million in 1956 money works out to about $25,700,000 in 2013 money. Or about a third of the cost of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”. The NYT piece seems to be mostly promotion for a new book: Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. But I’ll admit: I’m intrigued by the book, and will probably purchase it at Half-Price when it shows up there.

Apparently, there was a serious proposal last year to add bass fishing to the list of high school sports which are approved and regulated by the Texas University Interscholastic League. It did not pass. And honestly, I’m a little weirded out by the idea; where would students practice? How? How often? In boats or from the shore? Can you practice bass fishing in Midland? What would the bass fishing championship look like? Would it be televised on one of cable’s many outdoor channels?

(Not making fun of bass fishermen at all. I realize there’s an active bass tournament scene, and if that’s your thing, God bless you. I just think the logistics of doing this at the high school level are strange. Especially since if you’re a high school bass fisherman, you can probably compete in professional tournaments for real money; it isn’t like professional bass fishing is subject to the same sort of size and weight issue that high school football is.)

Cahiers du cinéma: my most anticipated movie for 2014.

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Lawrence asks me from time to time if there are any movies I’m looking forward to in the coming year.

Generally, my response is the same: I don’t pay that much attention to what’s coming six months from now, so I don’t have any anticipated movies in my queue. I don’t start looking forward to something until I hear about it and hear reviews (or even gossip) about it, which usually takes place maybe a month or so before the movie actually opens.

But now I have an exception. Or, to put it another way…

Holy crap! They’ve made a movie out of Charlie Victor Romeo!

I was lucky enough to see the stage version when it came through Austin. I’m glad I went, but I fully understand A.O. Scott’s comment that “It is also one of the most terrifying movies I have ever seen.” The stage version was…intense. So intense that the cast would come out after the show and have a discussion with the audience; I think this was to help both sides decompress.

Right now, it is only playing in New York. I’ve signed up for their mailing list and am hoping for an email with an Austin date sooner or later. To give you some idea about how excited I am: I’m even willing to relax my strict “Alamo Drafthouse only” policy for this movie.

(And RoadRich, if you’re out there, I want you to come with me when I go see it.)

Random notes: January 3, 2014.

Friday, January 3rd, 2014


(* Offer not valid outside of New York City.)

I’m not sure I understand the point of this article. Ostensibly, it is about the supposed economic impact on the neighborhood businesses of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” closing.

But even a full house at the 1,930-seat Foxwoods, the biggest Broadway theater, is just a drop in the bucket of the roughly 400,000 people moving through Times Square daily at this time of year.
And it can be hard to determine just where audience members for “Spider-Man” — some 89 percent of whom are from out of town, according to the show’s most recent research — have been spending their dollars, though some businesses popular with tourists seeking a classic Broadway experience say the show’s absence will be felt.

So it doesn’t seem like the NYT has any way to quantify the impact, just a bunch of anecdotes from businesses in the neighborhood. Some of them expect reduced business, others say they expect people (especially actors) to keep showing up. Is there a point?

Strippers. Always with the strippers.

The new agreement freed the 16 clubs involved in the lawsuits from abiding by the 1997 law and required the owners to contribute $1 million annually to a unit in the Houston Police Department devoted to fighting human trafficking. But a number of religious leaders and advocates for sex-trafficking victims have opposed the deal. They said it sent the wrong message about Houston’s tolerance for such entertainment, and allowed the 16 clubs to buy their way out of complying with the law. The Houston Area Pastor Council is considering suing the city over the agreement.

Is that $1 million from each club, or $1 million total? And is it just me, or is there something odd about private businesses giving money to the police department to enforce the law?

In case you were wondering…

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Joe Allen will not be adding a poster for “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” to his “wall of flops”.

“Any show that plays for three years on Broadway, providing steady employment to members of the theater community and pumping money into the local economy, is no failure in my book.”


Random notes: December 28, 2013.

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Desert Hot Springs, California is in trouble.

Turn north, and you make your way up an arid stretch of road to a battered city where empty storefronts outnumber shops, the Fire Department has been closed, City Hall is on a four-day week and the dwindling coffers may be empty by spring.

Why? I’ll give you one guess.

Here, under the budget enacted last spring, about $7 million of the city’s $10.6 million annual payroll went to the 39-member police force. The situation was so dire that an audit, compiled weeks before municipal elections in November but not made public until later, showed that Desert Hot Springs was $4 million short for the year and would run out of money as early as April 2014.

Last week, the city cut all municipal salaries, including those of the police, by 22 percent. The city also capped “incentive pay” and cut back on holiday and vacation days. Naturally, the police officer’s association is stating these cuts are illegal.

Police officers here, as in many California cities, can retire as young as 50 with 30 years of service and receive 90 percent of their final salary every year — drawing those pensions for decades. Police unions say the fault lies with state and local politicians who failed to adequately fund the pension system over the years, and inflated benefits during boom years. Others wonder whether such salaries and pensions were ever affordable, particularly in cities as small and struggling as this. In Desert Hot Springs, for example, for every dollar that the city pays its police officers, another 36 cents must be sent to Calpers to fund their pensions.

Desert Hot Springs has a current population of around 27,000.

The average pay and benefits package for a police officer here had been worth $177,203 per year, in a city where the median household income was $31,356 in 2011, according to the Census Bureau. All of this had gone largely unnoticed until becoming the center of debate during the recent municipal election.

Oh, and by the way: Desert Hot Springs filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and is still making payments on a $10 million civil judgment against the city.

But, you know, the police aren’t the only people who get large salaries.

An examination of tax records, contracts and other documents by The New York Times found that hefty stagehand salaries at many New York nonprofit performance institutions are more widespread than was previously known.

You don’t say.

At nine top such institutions that have contracts with Local 1, stagehands make up 36 of the 98 most highly compensated employees, or about 37 percent. The average annual total salary and benefits of those highest-paid stagehands, at places from the Metropolitan Opera to the Roundabout Theater Company, is nearly $310,000, according to the nonprofits’ most recent tax filings.

That’s good money. I wonder when they can put in for retirement.

Backstage workers can earn more than the onstage talent. Five stagehands at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center were each paid more in total compensation in 2011 than the highest-paid dancer at New York City Ballet, filings showed. And, in 2010, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” paid its stagehands a total of $138,000 a week, while the principals and members of the ensemble earned slightly less than $100,000 put together, according to documents submitted to the state attorney general’s office.

The paper of record seems to want readers to be shocked and appalled at how much stagehands are paid. Personally, I’m glad to hear that they’re making big money; I think they have every right to negotiate lucrative contracts with their employers, and I don’t see any reason to be indignant that “the four top stagehands at the Metropolitan Opera earned more than $500,000 each in total compensation (including retirement and other benefits), tax filings showed.

TMQ Watch: December 3, 2013.

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Instead of a musical interlude, or random snark, we’ve decided this week to bring you something we hope you’ll really like: an interview with Gregg Easterbrook about The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America from Reason magazine. Why? Well, we self-identify as libertarians, we like Reason, and we’d like to give them some more exposure. Also, we think this is a rare opportunity to see and hear the man himself, just in case you were wondering what TMQ looks and sounds like.

After the jump, this week’s TMQ


Millions and millions of dollars.

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Sixty million dollars. At least, that’s the estimate according to the NYT:

Investors and executives with the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” said on Tuesday that the show will have historic losses of up to $60 million when it closes on Jan. 4. The closing follows a sharp decline in ticket sales because of competition from hotter musicals and a lack of star attractions in the cast.


Several investors said they were reeling from the closing announcement, made on Monday night. Three said they have not been paid back anything during the three-year run of “Spider-Man,” which cost twice as much as any other Broadway show, and said they planned to write off their investments. While Broadway flops usually lose $5 million to $15 million, “Spider-Man” will lose far more, given the show’s record-setting $75 million capitalization; the enormous weekly costs of running this special effects-laden production; and its operating losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars a week this fall, as the box office faltered.


“We will see nothing back, not a cent,” said Terry Allen Kramer, a veteran Broadway producer who put about $1 million into “Spider-Man.” “A lot of us feel that it’s an extraordinary show with lousy music, but the main problem is that the budget numbers were a disaster — just a disaster.”

“an extraordinary show with lousy music”. I love that quote.

As the paper of record notes, the show cost somewhere between $1 million and $1.3 million a week to run; weekly grosses went below $1 million in August.

By the end of September, the musical was heavily discounting tickets and its weekly gross had fallen to $621,960.


And the show was also saddled with payments on multimillion-dollar priority loans from a crucial investor, Norton Herrick, and from the show’s lead producers, Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris. (Priority loans made by lead producers and others, and repayment schedules that favor them over regular investors, are standard on Broadway shows that need quick capital to deal with cost overruns.)

That’s…interesting. The producers got their loans repaid up front, and the regular investors will apparently get…nothing. (According to the NYT, those priority loans were at least partially repaid.)

Also: Gene Simmons is the Green Goblin!

Spider-Man, Spider-Man…

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

closing on Broadway in January.

While the musical emerged to become an audience favorite, grossing roughly $1.5 million a week in ticket sales for a time, “Spider-Man” eventually lost popularity. It grossed only $742,595 last week, or 48 percent of the maximum possible amount, with about three-quarters of its seats filled at the Foxwoods Theater.


While “Spider-Man” has grossed $203 million since performances began in November 2010, the musical is still a long way from paying back investors who contributed to the $75 million capitalization. Mr. Harris said he did not know how close “Spider-Man” was to recouping the money. But ticket sales sometimes barely covered the show’s weekly running costs, which exceeded $1 million, so there was relatively little profit to share with investors. Some loans also had to be paid back first.

But don’t worry: the producers are planning to move the show to Las Vegas.

In other news: “King Kong“, the musical?

TMQ Watch: October 29, 2013.

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Did you know that you can find much of the 90s British sitcom “Chef!” (it was all over PBS for a while) on YouTube?

What does that have to do with TMQ? We’ll find out in this week’s TMQ after the jump…


Random notes: October 18, 2013.

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Law enforcement agencies across Europe are on alert over the proliferation of gun-making software that is easily found on the Internet and can be used to make a weapon on a consumer-grade 3-D printer…
No wonder that in the European Union, which has much stricter gun-control laws than the United States, officials worry that it is becoming much easier to covertly obtain and carry potentially lethal weapons.

A couple of things that are bothering me:

NYT headline: “Court Rules on ‘Stand Your Ground’ Costs“.

And the lead goes on to refer to “a major ruling on the ‘stand your ground’ debate over personal safety”. Except if you keep reading, it doesn’t appear that this ruling had anything to do with “stand your ground”, but is based on self-defense law in Washington state, as well as legal interpretations of that law going back to the 1930s.

(The court ruled that a defendant who successfully argued that he acted in self-defense was entitled to reimbursement for his legal defense and lost wages.)

And Charles Isherwood reviews a revival of “The Winslow Boy”:

During the sometimes languid first act of “The Winslow Boy,” I occasionally found myself wondering whether we really needed to hear so much about a character’s crack cricketing (Rattigan was an avid fan), or, indeed, whether the kernel of the plot — the question of whether a 13-year-old boy stole a “postal order” (whatever that is!) of “five shillings” (whatever that is!) — was really substantial enough to merit such expansive dramatization.

Little Ronnie Winslow (Spencer Davis Milford) insists, even through terrified tears, that he did not steal the fatal five-shilling postal order (let’s just say it’s a cashier’s check for a small sum), and Arthur’s instinctive trust in his son inspires him to question the expulsion, although the school insists that there is ample proof of the boy’s guilt. (The play was inspired by an actual case.

I may be misreading Isherwood here, but he seems awfully dismissive of the case that’s at the heart of “The Winslow Boy”, and, by implication, the actual case it was based on. I admit that I have not seen a production of “The Winslow Boy”, or the film version of it: I would very much like to, but have not. (The play has not yet been produced in Austin, and I just haven’t gotten around to watching the movie. Maybe one night at movie night…)

But some years ago I read Alexander Woollcott’s essay on the real case of George Archer-Shee. Woollcott, as I recall, referred to it as one of the high points of English law, and I have to agree with him. Here is a young boy, accused of theft and expelled from his school without any hearing at all. Here is one of the greatest lawyers in England taking on the government itself. And all of this over a matter of honor. (There’s also some neat tricks here. I like Carson’s use of the “petition of right“. And not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry, but mentioned in Woollcott’s essay: when Carson and the family were trying to secure compensation for Archer-Shee, they got a friendly Member of Parliament to introduce a bill cutting the salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty by 100 pounds a year. That got his attention.)

(“… the school insists that there is ample proof of the boy’s guilt”. Again, I haven’t seen the play. But in the real Archer-Shee case, once there actually was a hearing, it came out that there was basically no evidence at all against Archer-Shee: the entire claim that Archer-Shee had stolen the postal order revolved around the testimony of an elderly half-blind distracted postal clerk who couldn’t even identify the boy.)

This, I think, is a good summary of why Woollcott and I find the Archer-Shee case so moving, and why I think Isherwood’s review gets a little under my skin:

The English public found the Archer-Shee case irresistible with its David versus Goliath implications. The idea of a young boy wrongly accused of stealing and being dismissed from his school without due process shocked and angered the public. They found his family’s behaviour, particularly his father’s willingness to risk his fortune to defend his son, emotionally appealing. The outcome also satisfied the public sense of outrage at an obstinate governmental bureaucracy and at an injustice eventually righted.

Fiat justitia ruat caelum.

(Edited to add: Another part of Isherwood’s review that bugs me: “the fatal five-shilling postal order (let’s just say it’s a cashier’s check for a small sum)”. I really didn’t feel like I needed Isherwood to explain what a “postal order” was to me. I’ve dealt with postal orders and money orders myself, and I’m sure many of the NYT‘s readers have as well. In any case, there should be enough clues from context to allow the average NYT reader to figure out what a “postal order” is, without Isherwood’s condescending explanation.

And five shillings is a “small sum”? According to the British National Archives, five shillings in 1910 money translates to 14.27 pounds in 2005 money. Sadly, the currency converter doesn’t go past 2005, but 14.27 pounds at current exchange rates works out to $23.10. Perhaps that’s a small sum to Isherwood, but I suggest that was a non-trivial sum of money to a 13-year-old boy in 1908.)