When Race closes on Sunday, there will be no plays on Broadway for a couple of weeks. If, in the last week of August, you decide you want to go see a show on the Great White Way, you better be in the mood for song. This sort of thing happens every once and a while -- I think the last time was in 2007 -- but it is particularly odd that it is happening now, after a season of many hit plays.
Indeed, this season saw many successful straight plays. It all started with A Steady Rain, which not many people thought was actually good, but packed people in because of stars Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. Hamlet had Jude Law, an immediate box office draw. Red starred Alfred Molina and had cache associated with it due to its snobby subject matter and London acclaim. A View From the Bridge and Fences both featured the ideal combination of big stars and great reviews. And, Race, for all its critical pans, made money based mostly on its provocative title and well-liked stars.
As anyone can see from the above list, this season the successful plays revolved around stars. So, while there was much hype that the play was the thing this year, that statement was only accurate if you were discussing plays with big names attached. The presence of these types of productions creates a very different Broadway landscape. When productions can survive without their stars, they are much more likely to last beyond a year. I wish I could have pictured this year's plays being alive in 2011. I could not. Red and Fences could certainly have extended with new people, but it would have been hard for them to last indefinitely.
For, in this climate, the play doesn't really seem to be the thing. I was not a fan of Next Fall and its Swiss Cheese-like story, but I was happy a new play, sans stars, was being mounted on Broadway. Yet, despite critical acclaim and the public support of Elton John, no one went to see it. I could go on about the marketing disaster that was the Neil Simon plays, but, to summarize, I am fairly sure that if there were someone super famous in Brighton Beach, we could all still visit Brooklyn on 41st Street.
Of course, the bigger the star, the less you need in terms of play. Red didn't need Jackman, because many people thought it was good. Take the Red cast and put them in A Steady Rain and that likely would have been a bomb, despite Molina. All I am saying is, this season, no straight play succeeded solely on the quality of the play or the uniqueness of the production's stagecraft. There was no 39 Steps-like Cinderella story.
So now we are left with none. It will be this way until Mrs. Warren's Profession starts up on Sept. 3. Hopefully this season's non-musical offerings will be more long-lasting. Because, while I adore musicals, they are not right for every occasion or person. Not everyone loves a parade.