Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Big Broadway Mistakes

I've decided to dedicate a little series to those great people who tried and failed to bring something new (or something crap) to the Great White Way. This week; Ragni, Rado and McDermott, generally because they've been on my mind a lot with our production of Hair opening in three weeks and also because they have attempted some of the most audacious stuff ever tried on Broadway.

McDermott followed the mammoth success of Hair with Via Galactica and Ragni and Rado with Dude! (which is referenced in the Title of Show ode to flops Monkeys and Playbills). Hair itself was a similar beast- a new concept that rocked the Broadway world and could have gone the same way as its descendants.

Via Galactica portrayed the lives of misfits living on an asteroid in 1972. Yeah way to go, what a great thing to base your musical, how are you planning to portray an asteroid on stage exactly? The production had a strong creative team behind it- McDermott was the more sensible member of the Hair creators and book and lyric writer Christopher Gore would go on to write the songs for Fame. The cast included such stalwarts as Raul Julia, who would go on to originate the role of Guido in Nine and Irene Cara who continued her professional relationship with Gore through her work as Coco Hernandez in Fame. Slightly embarrassingly the director; Peter Hall had previously founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and had found directorial success with the English premiere of Waiting for Godot.

Via Galactica appeared to have a solid director, a well known composer and a talented cast, so where did it go wrong?
The main (flop) man- Galt McDermott

Obviously, I've never seen the production and so can only go on what I have heard and the hard facts behind the show but there are still some obvious flaws in the plans. The biggest contributor has to be the book which is often the weak link in a show- look at most flops and you'll find an incohesive or disinteresting book covered up with some pretty showtunes and magical dancing girls. The main antagonist of the story was a dustbin man named Gabriel Finn, played by Julia but the story just didn't make any sense and theatre goers don't like it where stories don't make sense as they actually have to think. Who wants to pay lots of money to think? The failure of the book have been often cited as the reason for Via Galactica's premature closure but I think there is more to it.
Peter Hall was 42 when he directed the show, McDermott was getting on a bit and the producer, George W George was pushing 50. If it was in a similar vein as Hair as is suggested by having a book and lyric writer aged 28 and the composer of Hair, then would these more geriatric members of the creative team fit in with such as show? I can understand McDermott as he had already found success in a rock musical and George was there stump up the money. But Hall had come from a traditional background of directing Shakespeare, could he really conceive a futuristic rock musical? The answer appears to be no. In a move possible ahead of his time, Hall filled the show with cheap tricks- pyrotechnics, special effects and many giant trampolines (I assume to denote living in space). These cheap tricks would reappear much more successfully in the eighties (cough cough Andrew Lloyd Webber cough cough).

Just a few years after the Apollo 11 moon landings I would have thought audiences would have been interested in a show about space and all things sci-fi. I can even forgive the giant trampolines as at least someone was making an effort to depict space in the Uris theatre. It appears to me that Hall was directing a musical the way he perceived musicals- all froth and cheap tricks when he was putting on a show in a time of great musical change and discovery.

I think I'll split this tale into two halves as it seems to be getting rather long. Oops. More soon guys!

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