THE BLOG
09/15/2014 01:20 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2014

A Musical The Winter's Tale Brings the Community In

Longtime readers of mine know, I strongly believe in the importance of bringing new people into the theater, whether that means onstage or in the audience. I'm not a theater purist -- I still think Christina Applegate should have won the Tony! A lot of New York non-profits have initiatives to get new people in seats. However in the last couple of years, the Public Theater has taken it one step further with their three-day Public Works presentations. With these shows, the Public is putting different groups onstage at the Delacorte. So you have Actors' Equity actors plus, for example, the woman from the senior citizen center down the street, together in a new musical created especially for this purpose.

In last year's musical The Tempest, I really took to the children from Ballet Tech. This year, which offered a musical take on The Winter's Tale, cameo groups included Sesame Street, New York Theatre Ballet, DanceBrazil, Rosie's Theater Kids, Shinbone Alley Stilt Band, Staten Island Lions, and NYC Bhangra Dance Company. I loved so many of them. All the groups worked very well this year (no stand-out puzzlements like the Taxi Workers Alliance), but the little kids were particularly genius. There was a girl who was adorably three steps behind everyone. She was looking at other people to see what she should do before doing it. There was also a particularly tiny child with bright neon sneakers that was just so happy. Actually, the kids looked like they were having such an amazing time, the night I attended, a little girl of about two ran onstage to join them! She had to be escorted off the stage, causing a song to be started anew.

Conceived and directed by Public Works Director Lear deBessonet, with music and lyrics by Todd Almond, and choreography by Chase Brock, the Public Works production of The Winter's Tale also featured Actors Equity actors, including Almond (Antigonus), Christopher Fitzgerald (Autolycus), Isaiah Johnson (Leontes), Lindsay Mendez (Hermione), and David Turner (Clown). All were good, but I give a particular hand to Fitzgerald, who made audience members of all ages laugh, and Mendez, who had a great time with a tonally difficult role.

In general, Shakespeare in the Park, to which I consider Public Works an extension, makes me feel joyous as I sit in the audience. At my core, I'm still the young theater fan I was when my mother used to take me to Theatreworks USA musicals. I've written before about how we're not inclusive enough as a community. The Public Theater, true to its mission, is trying to be more open, more of the people. That is good because yet again we aren't having the big, used-to-be-annual Broadway League concert Broadway on Broadway. Broadway on Broadway used to be my favorite event. Seeing Times Square full of people -- many of whom were not the average Broadway theatergoer -- cheering for musical theater performances, always warmed my heart. I went there before I covered theater, when I was nothing more than one head among the sea of heads. But it was important to be that head there, deciding what musicals looked good. It influenced me and my buying habits. Without Broadway on Broadway, I feel we're losing people. (I asked a spokesperson for the League if any smaller-scale concert was being done as a replacement and, apparently, if one is happening, plans are not far enough along to make a public announcement of them.) Maybe the Public Theater is doing a little to get us them back.