What We Can Not Forget To Celebrate
In less than 24 hours from now, the 2015-16 Broadway season will never be the same as it is in this moment. In just over 12 hours from this moment, the 2016 Tony Award nominations will be announced and everything will have changed. We will be talking about winners, losers, the word “snubbed” will return to our vocabulary and it seems like all we will have worked so hard for might be forgotten. I’m not interested in letting that happen. Despite what award results present themselves to us in the coming weeks, Broadway is much more than a list of nominations or winners. That is why I’m writing this blog post. Today, Luner on Theatre is here to tell you what we can not forget to celebrate about the Broadway 2015-16 season.
Diversity: (Noun) The state of being diverse; variety.
No one can argue Broadway is experiencing one of its most, if not thee most, diverse season in history. While many may argue Broadway’s diversity still has a way to go, I think it’s rewarding to not only examine the season presented so far this year but the incredible groundwork that has been laid for future productions in years to come. Hamilton, this season’s blockbuster, without a doubt began that conversation by bringing to life colonial America (1776) through the eyes and performers of America today. It’s American then told through America now. A cast made up varying ethnicities brings to life well-known historical figures and has reminded Broadway that as storytellers, the conversation can be changed whenever we decided we want to change how we look at what has happened by examining it through what is happening now. While Hamilton may be praised as the season’s most diverse production, plenty of other Broadway shows this season have not only welcomed new stories but new faces and life onto The Great White Way.
Earlier this year, Allegiance hit the stage bringing to life the Japanese-American experience during World War II to life in a fresh new musical featuring a cast of Asian-Americans. On Your Feet!, featuring the music of Gloria Estefan, brings to life the Cuban-American experience as one girl reaches for her dreams supported by a cast of hispanic actors. The latino cast is one of the largest on Broadway since In The Heights shuttered back in 2011. The Color Purple returned to Broadway as well this season with a cast of African-American actors who have been critically acclaimed for their performances spotlighting the life of African-American women in the south during the 1930’s. With so many different stories coming to life this season and new doors opening for the first time or re-opening in a long time, the Broadway season gets to look like the United States of American of 2015-16. Thanks Matthew Murphy for the photo left!
Accessibility: (Adjective) E
Accessibility can be defined in a variety of ways. Accessibility has a lot to do with diversity and at the same time, making theatre accessible to all types of people. Diversity on Broadway this season has opened to door to countless new theatre-goers experiencing Broadway musicals and plays for the first time.
I think it is safe to say one of the most accessible musicals this season came in the form of a Spring Awakening revival, which transferred to Broadway following a run at Deaf West in 2015. The musical revival featured speaking-actors singing and deaf-actors signing in American Sign Language working together to tell the story. Spring Awakening opened up a larger conversation about accessibility on Broadway not only for audiences but performers as well and highlighted the communication problems that still exist in our society today. Thanks to Joan Marcus for the photo right!
The musical revival worked to make sure it was not only accessible to the regular theatre going audience but a deaf audience as well. For example, the show featured a sound design not only built for hearing audiences but deaf audiences as well who could feel the show through hums, thumps and bass at appropriate moments during the performance. Before the show, a lottery held in both speaking and ASL took place each night in front of the theatre teaching basic ASL to audiences as well. Some basic signs taught included applause which was encouraged to be used during the performance.
Accessibility deals as well with the stories we choose to tell on Broadway. By telling a wide-range of stories on Broadway featuring different nationalities and backgrounds, we offer permission to future performers and designers to fulfill their dream of working in show business. We grant permission to the productions of tomorrow when we take a chance on something new today. So when we open the door to tell a story everyone can relate too, we find not only a better appreciation for Broadway but Broadway better appreciating life itself.
Contrary: (Adjective) Opposite in nature, direction, or meaning.
While the diversity and accessibility of this season are enough to celebrate alone, we cannot ignore the contrary stage productions Broadway has offered audiences this season. While the “style of Broadway” musicals often has a certain sound to it, this season has not only strayed from that path but created several new ones as well.
Let’s take a look at the sounds of this season alone. Bright Star features a bright, sweeping score of pure bluegrass music. American Psycho features a persistent pumping score of techno music. Hamilton hip-hops its way through lyrics like there is no tomorrow and Tuck Everlasting presents an elegant yet fascinating score with folk mixed in. We can’t forget to mention the roll and rumble of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock musical adaptation or the latin music of On Your Feet literally getting audiences on their feet night after night. Grammy Award nominee Sara Bareilles has made the trek to Broadway as well this season penning the score for Waitress infusing her one-of-a-kind pop style into a musical format. For the first time in a long time, Broadway not only looks like America but sounds like it too.
Prosperity: (Noun) The state of being prosperous.
There are two different types of success on Broadway. Artistic success and financial success. While all producers hope for both when bringing shows to the stage, most of the time shows will fall into one of these categories instead of both. However, Broadway is on track to break records once again this season not only in overall grosses but attendance. Let us not forget, the year began by Broadway breaking every record ever recorded not only in total grosses but attendance as well. Grosses and attendance have remained steady throughout the spring season not only fueled by the burst of new productions but with several productions from last season hitting the one year mark while staples such as Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Lion King, Beautiful and The Book Of Mormon have continued to pack in audiences. School of Rock, pictured right, has proved a new family favorite this season among both older and younger audiences. Thanks to Matthew Murphy for photo right!
While some may argue artistic success is more important than financial success, that argument is a two-way street. However, Broadway this season has seen a healthy dose of both. While several productions have consistently grossed less than desired, and more than likely needed to continue running long-term, Broadway’s wide-appeal this season has not only appealed to its consistent audience but brought in new theatre-goers as well. Producers are learning that diversity, accessibility and contrasting material is the key to success these days.
From the article above, I hope you can see there is so much more to celebrate this season than just award nominations and winners we will learn of in the coming weeks. At the end of the day and this season, Broadway has won. We not only managed to stage one of the most diverse and accessible seasons in history, but laid the ground work for countless new stories and old ones reinvented to be told on Broadway. Along the way, dozens of future performers, designers and administrators have been inspired but what they have experienced to pursue a life in this crazy business we call theatre. So no matter what happens tomorrow or in the coming weeks, just remember how much we have to celebrate this season on Broadway. We’ve come so very far and still have plenty of ways to go. But in the meantime, let’s not forget just how much we have accomplished.