And they said things were bad in the 70's. The dirt, the porno shops, the streetwalkers -- the Disco. All that is now a fond memory for many New Yorkers who gamely braved that bit of Hades to attend a real Broadway musical. Don't get me wrong, when I say real I am not merely referring to the golden age of Rodgers and Hammerstein, culminating with the genius of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and the like.
I am referring to something even scarier than the cheesy "newer" musicals that populate today's "Great Whitebread Way." Sure, of course they don't make 'em like they used to -- all art forms mature and become a museum as they veer off to the inevitable arrival of the avant-garde. What I am talking about is the breaking down of the Broadway orchestra - my ire spurred on by the recent halving of West Side Story's string section to be replaced a synthesizer. Then I was half driven mad by the discovery of the snarkily named Fauxharmonic. A sort of a karaoke, but it is played by an actual human. If you are interested in the inventor's lame defense of his product please go to WNYC's Souncheck. I will not waste one more moment of my life attempting to explain what that thing is, although I gleefully admit even my tone-deaf husband and all the callers immediately knew live from Memorex. Also note the use of the more mathematical Baroque and Classical composers rather than Romantic. They did not have the audacity to try pulling this off with Puccini or Wagner.
Back to Broadway -- we were being "downsized" way before the advent of today's technology. I was obsessing ( as I am wont to do) as to why the original cast recording of Carousel's "If Loved You" (1947) was so much more haunting than in the 1960 revival's cast recording. Certainly it was not the voices, as they were actually superior in the latter. The newer recording even opened up some of the song cuts on the original recording.
So what was the deal?
I finally figured out what was bothering me about that otherwise fine revival as I uncovered that the production had cut down the original orchestra and modified the deliberately Puccini-esque musical arrangements to (you got it) save money.
Fast forward to 2005's minimalist Sweeney Todd, as directed by John Doyle. Was this a "brilliant cutting edge production" or was it possibly done on a shoe string budget, because paying over 100 dollars a ticket was a bargain? Did someone actually think it was an artistic improvement to throw the orchestra under the bus by double casting the actor/singers as musicians accompanying themselves, reducing the show to a fife and kazoo-like travesty? Mostly well reviewed, the Emperor's partially clothed revival was somewhat accepted, but many fans were seething underneath. This trend continued with Company, Follies and the now ravaged A Little Night Music.
There is some good news. Happily, the estate of Richard Rodgers made sure that the revival of South Pacific was fully orchestrated, as does the miraculously conceived Dallas Lyric Stage - a production company in the state where everything is bigger. The holy grail of a full Carousel was filled in 2007, as well as every musical they take on. As much as this "libertarian" hates the idea of government funded art, I have to be honest and say the National Endowment is involved. That subject is for subsequent pondering.
When I say Armageddon you might think I mean it figuratively, but I most definitely do not. I mean it as literally as any soap box prophet. Also, in spite of my personal aversion to the current cultural situation, I will not make the judgment that all this is "wrong" or that we must repent.
My personal belief is that the Old Testament was written (perhaps edited by God) by some geniuses back then who realized we needed to be protected from ourselves. These savvy ancients cannily grasped since the invention of the wheel that human nature would never be able to progress along side with the advent of the exponential advancement of technology. Having not yet fully read the New Testament I have delved into some "End of Days" research.
One of the hottest sayings of passing years has been the resigned "it is what it is." What is God's intention after all? A number of Christian fundamentalists believe a la Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind series in the literal occurrence of "Earth's Last Days" as influenced by Testament ll's "Revelations." As intriguing as that is, I myself prefer 1991's The Rapture -- a mesmerizing movie with Mimi Rogers and the yet to be diagnosed sex-addict, David Duchovny.
In Apocalypto (hey, I get to mention Mel Gibson without pondering on his precarious emotional state) the implications of mono-cropping (Maize, a precursor to the evil High Fructose Corn Syrup) was clear as was played out in the Old Testament stories of Joseph, the Exodus, and the Canaanites. If you plant just one thing you end up with human sacrifice and temple prostitution to appease the gods when the crop fails. Same deal in the (must see) modern Pagan movie, the original The Wickerman.
Well, if Moses and Jesus is not your thing consider the "God" of technology. It seems that these computers are really out to get us -- especially in Avatar, a mind-numbing combination of political correctness, digitized computer images and corporate business all rolled into one odious yet well loved snore fest. Weren't we warned by 2001's sentient computer HAL -- "I can't let you do that Dave" that this all a slippery slope?
All of which leaves me wondering if the music in Hell is digital as the harps of Heaven remain uncorrupted by "Satan's Technology." I guess I am on a soap box after all!